Once willing to wait until after the kudocast for an expected Oscar bump on homevid, studios now use DVD launches to goose their films’ chances of getting nominated in the first place. So it happens that “Junebug,” “Hustle & Flow,” “The Constant Gardener” and “Broken Flowers,” four smaller movies with award aspirations, are debuting on disc in the weeks leading up to the Oscar nomination deadline. The discs tend toward the minimal — none approaches Universal’s elaborate valentine to “Cinderella Man” last month — but each contains extras showcasing the films’ distinctive qualities.
For sheer buoyancy, it’s hard to top “Hustle & Flow,” a movie about finding your voice and following your dream. The disc’s infectious spirit starts with the groovy kaleidoscopic menu and carries through even the slightest of extras. Throughout, writer-director Craig Brewer reiterates the importance of believing in your vision and sticking to your creative guns.
Consider the casting of Terrence Howard: “A lot of studios didn’t want Terrence because he’s not a rapper, but I thought that’s not what this movie’s about,” Brewer says in his chatty commentary. This movie, he stresses, is about someone on the outside trying to make it in.
Producer Stephanie Allain says studios didn’t even want Howard’s character DJay to be a hustler to start with. “They said, ‘Does he have to be a pimp? Could he be a plumber? Could he be a mailman?'” she recalls in one of the featurettes.
Brewer is frank about his struggles to get the movie made — “It took me four years to get it going” — and how much Memphis characters inspired the tale. His enthusiasm is so infectious it sweetens the hometown preem footage — usually a throwaway exercise in self-promotion — into a heartwarming extra.
“This is a story about a guy realizing his dream, and it kind of felt like we were helping Craig with his,” pic’s DJ Qualls says in a behind-the-scenes featurette.
“Craig was really our DJay and we his ‘hos,'” Allain seconds.
“The Constant Gardener’s” extras are more uneven, with writer John le Carre stealing the show in the featurette devoted to him. The novelist confides he considered oil as the nexus for African intrigue, “but then I thought oil was too much on the nose.” An old Africa hand recommended the pharmaceutical industry instead.
The writer, a veteran of film adaptations, lauds helmer Fernando Meirelles for bringing a Third World eye to his story. “There’s hardly a line left, hardly a scene intact in this movie from my novel, yet I don’t know of a better translation from novel to film,” he says.
Alas, the disc’s behind-the-scenes featurette is marred by Movie Trailer Voiceover Guy, who injects a promo sheen onto a movie praised for its near-docu style. A featurette on filming “guerrilla-style” in Africa is more successful, and the deleted scenes are mostly interesting, although an explanation about them would have helped.
The pared-down feel of “Junebug” carries over to the pic’s DVD extras. Behind-the-scenes featurettes are markedly short; commentary by thesps Amy Adams and Embeth Davidtz doesn’t offer much beyond praise and self-criticism.
The “Broken Flowers” DVD, while predictably minimalist given helmer Jim Jarmusch’s involvement, takes a more creative approach, serving up a few offbeat extras. The “start to finish” featurette strings together droll micro-vignettes with the snap of a clapboard. Even more intriguing is the enigmatically named “Farmhouse” featurette, which explores Jarmusch’s approach to filmmaking in general and “Broken Flowers” in particular. “I like to have scenes where you have no idea what’s going to happen next,” he says.
After ruminating further on the meaning of the film, helmer avers: “It’s not my job to even know what they mean. My job is to make them.”