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If there was ever one aspiring filmmaker that we could trust indefinitely, it would undoubtedly be the extraordinary Paul Thomas Anderson, who sneaked his way onto the scene back in 1996 with the quiet release of his casino thriller, Hard Eight, which immediately gained critical appraisal upon its limited release. The follow-up to his first major feature was the brilliantly crafted Boogie Nights, which explored the adventures and misadventures of a communal group of people involved in the production of adult movies in the San Fernando Valley during the retro days and eves of the 1970s and 1980s. The immediate success of Boogie Nights, which earned Anderson and two cast members (Burt Reynolds and Julianne Moore) Academy Award nominations (among other awards), reserved a place for Anderson under the Hollywood spotlight. Critics and audiences awaited in anticipation for his next, should they hope, masterpiece.

And a masterpiece it was. 1999 celebrated Magnolia, an almost flawless follow up to his 1997 achievement that presented itself as a portrait of intervening struggles across the San Fernando Valley. The quality content of Magnolia earned Paul Thomas Anderson a second Academy Award Nomination as well as nominations for best original song (from the talented Aimee Mann, who beautifully formed the musical backdrop of the film) and the surprisingly talented (well, in this role, anyway) Tom Cruise. Once again, critics awaited his next masterpiece.

This is where I am given the pleasure of introducing Punch Drunk Love, Anderson’s 2002 project that sustains his tradition of quality. Take the title literally, because the eccentricity of this wonderful romance is far from sober…

Punch-Drunk Love
Movie
Unlike Anderson’s previous successes, Punch Drunk Love doesn’t come equipped with a fantastic ensemble cast. Alternatively, the concept of an ensemble cast is relieved by two fantastic leads who form part of a beautifully intimate character study with, you guessed it, a “twist”.

Meet Barry Egan (captivatingly played by Adam Sandler, of all people), a melancholic business man with a phobia for social-intercourse. Egan works as an executive in the hygiene industry selling toiletries and is continually subject to the copious amounts of stress imposed by his seven sisters, whose claustrophobic invasions are slowly boiling up to an unknown, lingering cause. Although professional and cheerful on the surface, the somewhat likeable Barry can’t stop himself from bursting into spontaneous acts of anger in privacy. I assure you, these random acts of violence aren’t alluded to like his predictable comedies Anger Management or Happy Gilmore. They successfully evoke emotion and feeling in the audience, consequently making us sympathise for a character who we come to know through Anderson’s remarkable process of understanding.

Through what would appear as chance, Barry meets the mysterious and starry-eyed Lena Leonard (miraculously played by the talented British actress, Emily Watson), who strangely enough, asks him to look after her car during their first meeting. Through a fateful second meeting the chemistry between them both is instantaneous and the mysticism that sits between the two sees them as an immediate, albeit far from ordinary, couple. In addition to the love story on the surface, the sub-plot manages to form the darkening cloud. A family of small time crooks who run a discreet adult phone-sex business manage to threaten Barry with an amateur attempt at credit card fraud, which to Barry’s anxiety, could unfortunately lead to further commotion.

Barry is the kind of entrepreneur that remains stationed in his office, so to his misfortune he doesn’t usually get to travel the world on business all that much. His love, Lena, however, is an executive who is continually travelling the world on business trips. With Barry’s current situation at hand, Lena’s upcoming trip to Hawaii seems discomforting, so what better option remains at hand than to accompany her?

Thanks to mysterious corporate promotional error, Barry devises a plan that, through the purchasing of various groceries, will reward him with a lifetime of frequent flyer miles that will allow him to follow his love around the globe at any time he wishes. The plan seems flawless, and I’m not going to spoil any further plot details for you – but I can assure you that the bittersweet plot-twists leave the viewer sometimes squirming and sometimes chuckling in this glorious off-beat romance that just keeps on ascending in crazy spirals.

Yes folks, once again, Paul Thomas Anderson has succeeded. In short, Punch Drunk Love is an original blend of depth and romance that continually pleases. Although indescribably different from his first three major projects, Punch-Drunk Love is possibly one of the most original love stories of recent times. Anderson uses regulars Luis Guzman and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as supplements beneath the intimacy of Watson and Sandler, which adds perfectly to the subliminal atmosphere of the film.  

Punch-Drunk Love
The film incorporates the spellbinding artwork of Jeremy Blake into its milieu, which nicely frames the story in an effective and intriguing manner. The glittering cinematography is also marvellous as well as the eccentrically different musical score that executes its job perfectly.

I can honestly confess that I’m not an overly huge fan of Adam Sandler. Sure, his slumber party comedies that are aimed at an early teen demographic can sometimes provide us with a few chuckles but I can’t remember paying for a ticket to one of his films at the cinema in recent times. Punch-Drunk Love, however, is a showcase of the man’s talent. Not only is he a potty-mouthed comedian, but he’s also an impressive actor. His serious portrayals of deep emotion and anger are a pleasure to watch. It’s usually quite an adjustment for a comedian to undertake such dramatically challenging roles (Jim Carrey failed to convince anyone in The Majestic), but Sandler is appealing, convincing, dark, and strangely comedic in this quirky extravaganza. Even if you aren’t a fan of the man’s work, I assure you your grudge against him won’t be held throughout the entire ninety-or-so minutes of Punch-Drunk Love. A truly commendable achievement on Sandler’s behalf.

Now, as for Ms. Emily Watson, who perfectly fills the shoes of Lena Leonard, Barry’s love interest, well, where can I start? I’m going to try my hardest to avoid being biased here, as she is one of my favourite actresses, but it’s definitely going to be difficult! Ever since her heartbreaking film debut in Lars Von Trier’s Breaking The Waves (only in 1996), I’ve fallen in love with her ability to adapt to the roles that are required of her. As such a magnificent actress, one would predict that her role in Punch-Drunk Love would add yet another gold star to her resume – and I promise you with all my sincerity, it does.

So, what to say overall? Well, all of my friends and family know that I fall for any film that’s strikingly weird and quirky. Without a question, Punch-Drunk Love fills the cup generously but that’s only a minor appeal of the film. In addition to its alluring oddity the chemistry between the leads is astounding. I love how Paul Thomas Anderson is able to transform such a simple story into an amazing, electric powerhouse that is so full of energetic life. Charmingly written, artistically produced, and skilfully directed, Punch-Drunk Love is concreted in its position as one of the most appealing films of 2002! The film reinforces the director’s talent to an even further extent that makes me look even more forward to his upcoming work. An achievement on all counts.

Video
We can thank Columbia for the genuinely radiant transfer that we’ve been treated with here. The video experience compliments the wonderful film, in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, which is, of course, 16:9 enhanced. At given times, the film is immensely colourful, and at others, it’s very dark in contrast and relies upon shadow. This may make the viewing experience a minor discomfort for those who have extremely sensitive eyes, as the transition between light and dark can sometimes be quite violent, but overall it shouldn’t stand in the way of the enjoyment. As mentioned before, Jeremy Blake lends his artistic talent in order to provide extremely colourful artwork, which is beautifully presented through this impressive video transfer. It’s difficult to explain how the artwork is incorporated into the movie, as it appears consistently, but it’s definitely a merit.

The colours are healthy and beaming throughout and remain perfectly contrasted for the entire feature. The sharpness of the picture is also very impressive, presenting itself as clear, crisp and concise. The transfer is also very clean and free of excess grain – only the intentional coarseness of the print is noticeable at times but once again it is part of the atmosphere of the film.

I have been lucky enough to view a Region One Superbit Deluxe version of Punch Drunk Love in addition to the Region Four 2-disc set and can sincerely say that the Region Four transfer, compliments of Columbia, is identical, save for the differences in display formats. A thoroughly impressive transfer compliments this movie perfectly!

Punch-Drunk Love
Audio
With Columbia’s reputation we’d be able to assert that the audio treatment on offer here would be quite commendable, and it sure is. Although the Region Four version of Punch-Drunk Love isn’t equipped with the DTS 5.1 soundtrack that the Region One Superbit Deluxe set was given, the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround option here is excessively strong and forceful, making this set a dream come true. The dialogue here is as clean as a whistle. At no time are there any audio flaws that will distract you from your viewing pleasure. The only thing that stands in the way of the dialogue, however, is the sometimes dominant musical score that is intended to make you experience the confusion and discomfort that the characters are experiencing at given times.

I can confidently say that all surround channels are used to the best of their ability. For a movie of this sort (well, it’s not exactly an action blockbuster), what more could we expect in terms of surround? What we are given in terms of sound treatment is purely fantastic. We too experience these tipsy moments of tumbling confusion through this generous surround option. All channels deliver more than what is expected of them, not to mention the occasional workout that this soundtrack gives the subwoofer. This mix really is Dolby Digital at its best. With a surround treatment as fine as this, who needs DTS?

Extras
You’ll be relieved to know that the extras contained within this fabulous 2-disc set are identical to that of the Region One Suberbit Deluxe release. The film is exclusive to the first disc, as the extra features are to the second disc.

With a notably strange film comes a notably strange showbag of extra features. Upon first glance what we’re promised seems like a lot of pleasing goodies, but if we look a tad closer, what we’re given may not seem to be that exciting.

It would have been interesting to see the process behind this film. After the fantastic documentary found on the Magnolia DVD, entitled Magnolia Diary, one would have only hoped for something similar in the case of Punch Drunk Love. Unfortunately, nothing like this is offered on the second disc of this presentation. Not even a brief promotional featurette. Instead, we were given Blossoms and Blood, which is an incredibly cryptic short film (I would consider it more of a ‘montage’) that consists of Punch Drunk Love film excerpts, alternative takes of existing scenes and unseen footage. Paul Thomas Anderson mingled all these takes together to make a filmic smoothie that, sadly, seems like a waste of twelve minutes.

Punch-Drunk Love
In addition to Blossoms and Blood, two deleted scenes are also included in the package. The first scene, called “The Sisters Call”, is an extension of one of the opening scenes in the movie, in which Barry receives endless amounts of phone calls from a number of his sisters whilst trying to sell merchandise to clients. This deleted scene, which totals seven minutes, takes you through even more conversational dialogue between Barry and his sisters. Toward the end of the scene, Barry may scare some viewers with his rather bizarre form of, errm, expression. The second scene, called “Are you from California?” features alternate conversation between Barry and “the four brothers”. Now, onto the strange stuff…

The feature entitled the Mattress Man Commercial is simply a mock advertisement featuring Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character, who trying to promote his business through television advertising. It’s interesting for what it is but far from special. In addition to the Mattress Man Commercial, 12 Scopitones are included. The scopitones are basically 12 short clips from the film that are dressed with Jeremy Blake artwork and an instrumental film score. These are quite pointless and you’ll most likely find yourself getting bored after the second-or-so one. If you’re quite happy to be weirded-out some more, then check out the additional Jeremy Blake artwork. Quite personally, I thought enough of it appeared in the film, however, if you want more, you got it.

To wrap things up, three theatrical trailers are also included in the package. One is the theatrical trailer, which effectively makes this movie look strange and mysterious. I can remember seeing this trailer at the cinema and it certainly carries out the job of teasing fans of Paul Thomas Anderson quite nicely. The remaining two trailers are even more cryptic and hardly promote the film well. If you’re a fan of trailers, I would suggest you watch the first and scrap the latter two to save yourself some time.

To sum things up, one would expect more than is on offer here. Most of the extras aren’t of any major value and barely entertain, consequently making this second disc a disappointing (and generally useless) supplement. I think a commentary by Paul Thomas Anderson (similar to the Boogie Nights recording) would have done this package justice, in addition to a journal that recounted the production process. Dare to dream.

Punch-Drunk Love
Overall
Forgetting the somewhat strange extras package, the Punch Drunk Love set is still a worthy addition to anyone’s collection, thanks largely to the amazing talents of Paul Thomas Anderson, Adam Sandler and Emily Watson as well as an impressive audio and visual presentation. This has to be one of the finest films of 2002 and easily one of the more memorable romances of recent times.


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