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Angela's Ashes

For fans of Frank McCourt (and his fan base seems to be legion), Alan Parker's adaptation of Angela's Ashes, his memoir of his dirt poor days in Ireland, is surprisingly faithful — it's just as excruciatingly boring as the book. Those who have not gotten enough of McCourt's tale of woe — first from the book, then from the audio tape, then from the complete audio tape, and then from the movie itself (can't wait for the sitcom) — are now also able to hear the story yet again as McCourt follows along with the movie on his audio commentary track on this DVD. Does anyone not know the story by now? Little Frank McCourt leaves New York City when his family fails to make a go of it there and new babies start dropping like flies. Back in Ireland, the McCourt clan is led by a depressed mother (Emily Watson) and a drunken father (Robert Carlyle), and the fluctuating brood (for each one born another seems to die) do the usual things — go to school, go to the movies, play in the street, and die in their sleep in maggot-ridden beds. Parker, who also has a commentary track, points out locations and notes when shifts in power occur, such as when the mom starts getting on the dad's ass, or when little Frank rebels against dad. In fact, nobody seems to like the dad in this thing. However, one can appreciate Parker pointing out such things, as they were not immediately apparent upon first viewing. Paramount's DVD comes packed with extras. As already noted, the two audio commentaries are listless affairs, with McCourt basically re-telling you what you are already looking at, or announcing, "Yes, we really used to do that," or exclaiming repeatedly how "astounded" he was by the authenticity of the set. Parker keeps to the practical "we-did-this, we-shot-there" style of commentary, with lots of luvvie digressions about how great everyone was to work with. What's telling is that Parker says his favorite moment is one that isn't in the book, when at the end, on the verge of returning to America, an older McCourt "sees" two of his younger manifestations standing in the street looking back at him. One gets the impression that the film was a journeyman affair for Parker, and one he wasn't particularly enthused about; that he should favor this moment (a cliché since Gore Vidal invented its literary precedent in the '50s) is also telling. Solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), which one would expect from a recent film, but Parker shot the movie in desaturated colors, so (though well-photographed by Michael Seresin) it's more like a grainy black and white film. Dolby Digital 5.1, but as this is a chatty movie, John Williams's score is the chief beneficiary. Teaser and theatrical trailers, 26-minute "making of" documentary, 19 minutes of cast and crew interviews. Keep case.
—D.K. Holm

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