Choke DVD review

Fight Club's writer returns to the big screen. Ron had many doubts, but is beguiled by a good film with great extras...

Choke

I was publicly hesitant about Choke when it was in development. It’s my favorite book by Chuck Palahniuk, and possibly my favorite book ever, so a movie adaptation of something someone loves is always a scary, scary thing. I missed it when it screened here in Louisville, and when I got the DVD, I was actually a little scared that I’d open it and would instantly regret having indulged in my curiosity.

First time director whose previous writing credit was What Lies Beneath and who is known mostly as a sitcom actor? No budget? Reads like a recipe for disaster to me. Fortunately, that disaster never happened and my Chokepocalypse plans can now be safely discarded.

Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) is a charismatic sex addict who drifts from restaurant to restaurant, choking. Inevitably, some kind soul will save his life and thus, feel obligated to support Victor when, weeks or months down the road, he feeds them a sob story letter talking about how he has a problem with his gums or his car is broken down. He does this to pay his mother (Anjelica Huston) Ida’s medical bills. Being a historical reenactor at a colonial-themed tourist trap doesn’t exactly pay well, even if it does allow him to work with his best friend Denny (Brad William Henke).

Ida is suffering from the late states of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald) might have the solution, but it puts Victor’s entire life and what he knows about himself up for questioning. When everything you know about yourself is a lie, how exactly can you find out the truth?

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Clark Gregg has really put in a lot to get this adaptation off the ground. He writes, directs, and plays High Lord Charlie, who serves as sort of the anti-Victor. It’s his first time behind the camera, and as such, there’s some issues with pacing and editing in some scenes. Some scenes go on too long. A lot of stuff ended up on the cutting room floor/as DVD extras. The camera is pretty stationary. That said, there are no egregious errors (aside from continuity with Victor’s hair) and the movie moves at a pretty brisk pace.

The script is lighter in tone than the original book, and has some very funny moments, though it strains plausibility at times. It is buoyed by the significant chemistry between Sam Rockwell and his three significant on-screen partners, Denny, Ida, and Paige. Rockwell is great as Victor; he’s just sleazy enough to reveal Victor’s emotional distance and flawed nature, but not so much as to be unlikable. Rockwell’s got a great kind of slimy appeal to him that’s perfect for the role. Brad Henke makes an excellent Denny and has a great knack for comedy. Anjelica Huston is stellar as Ida, both in flashbacks as younger Ida and in the present as fading Ida. She gives the best performance of the film, which is saying something, considering how great Sam Rockwell is.

The only performance that doesn’t seem to gel is Kelly Macdonald. For some reason, and I can’t adequately put my finger on, she doesn’t feel right as Paige. Maybe it’s her voice. She’s not gratingly bad, but she’s definitely the weakest link out of all the main roles.

One of the biggest hurdles the film faces is its lack of budget. You can really tell that it was shot on cheaper film stock. There are some sound balance issues in some scenes, and there’s very little in terms of background music. At least the dialog is clear and easily understood thanks to the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack presented in English, Spanish, and French.

I’ve seen a lot of Special edition DVDs lately that aren’t so special when it comes to the extras. Sure a great picture and sound options are well and good, but if you’re not going to give me deleted scenes, commentary tracks, and some features other than a digital copy, then don’t bother calling it a special edition, because there’s nothing special about it. This is a DVD that has earned the title ‘Special Edition’.

Choke is loaded with special features. There is a gag reel, deleted scenes (with surprisingly funny and honest commentary from Clark Gregg and Sam Rockwell), a traditional commentary track with the aforementioned Gregg and Rockwell that borders on hilarious, and something I found incredibly fascinating, a conversation between Gregg and Chuck Palahniuk. From the behind the scenes aspect, there’s a making-of documentary and an in-depth examination of the process of casting the actors for Choke.

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The conversation between the screenwriter and the book writer was one of my favorite extras, even if I wish they hadn’t cut it down to 15 minutes. Palahniuk grills Gregg on several changes made in the process of adapting the book to the screen, not because he’s irate (he’s not) but because, like most authors, he’s curious as to why some changes were made. I was too, which is why I’m glad someone asked and why I’m glad Gregg cheerfully answered the queries. I would have liked to have seen more of the film’s question and answer session from the LA Film Festival, too. The teaser isn’t as much as I’d want. I’m sure it was filmed, so I’m not sure why they didn’t just go ahead and include the whole thing.

Choke is a movie that has quite a few flaws, but it’s never not entertaining. There’s a lot of charm here, and it’s obvious that it was a labor of love for Clark Gregg. In spite of all the problems that you run into with an independent movie, that love comes through in the finished product.

Film:

3 stars
Disc:
5 stars
US correspondent Ron Hogan has never been more thankful to be made to eat his words. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

Rating:

1 out of 5