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Bob Rafelson
Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Julia Anne Robinson, Scatman Crothers, Charles LaVine, Arnold Williams, John P. Ryan
Writing Credits:
Bob Rafelson (story), Jacob Brackman (and story)

Oscar winner Jack Nicholson stars with Oscar nominees Bruce Dern and Ellen Burstyn in one of the most influential and unforgettable films of the American cinema.

Two years after his star-making role in Five Easy Pieces, Nicholson reunited with director Bob Rafelson for this gritty story of small-time losers and big-time dreamers in Atlantic City. Dern co-stars as Nicholson's older brother, a scam artist who's all style and no substance, and Burstyn excels as an aging beauty who has prostituted herself for an elusive shot at happiness.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $124.95
Release Date: 11/23/2010

Available Only as Part of “America Lost And Found: The BBS Story”

• Selected-Scene Commentary with Director Bob Rafelson
• “Reflections of a Philosopher King” Featurette
• “Afterthoughts” Featurette
• “About Bob Rafelson” Text Biography
• Trailer

• 112-Page Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The King Of Marvin Gardens: America Lost and Found - The BBS Story (Criterion Collection) [Blu-Ray] (1972)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 29, 2010)

Folks of my generation - that is, people for whom The Shining was probably the first time they'd seen Jack Nicholson in a big movie – have gotten awfully accustomed to watching Jack essentially play Jack. Oh, he's awfully good at it, and he has a larger-than-life persona second to none, but the fact remains that most of his roles of the last 30 years don't seem to have made him stretch too much.

As such, it's nice to check out pre-1980 Nicholson movies and discover that Jack didn't always play himself. Today's case in point: 1972's The King Of Marvin Gardens, in which Jack performs a very non-flamboyant role as David, an introverted radio monologist.

As we learn early in the film, David's semi-estranged brother Jason (Bruce Dern) is a petty crook and a big-time loser who's always on the make for that big score. Jason gets David to visit him in Atlantic City and entices him with tales of how they're going to start a new vacation paradise near Hawaii. David remains skeptical of the whole deal but slowly buys into it, as it feeds his fantasies of a more exciting life, since his seems pretty darned dull.

Interestingly, Jason seems much more like the somewhat scuzzy, splashy part we usually see Nicholson play, and according to the disc’s extras, Jack originally was supposed to perform as Jason and Dern was going to do David. Apparently director Bob Rafelson decided to spice things up by reversing the roles.

Overall, this was a successful decision, for both actors do well in their parts. Nicholson shows that he can pull off a somewhat timid and meek persona, and Dern is convincing as the eternally scheming con man. Really, their performances are probably the best part of the movie.

Unfortunately, it doesn't have much else to offer. At its heart, King really seems like a vague remake of Of Mice and Men in that we have a couple of guys who are perpetual losers in some fashion but they continue to dream of their big score. In fact, during one scene David even mockingly alludes to Mice; as true as it is, that line is probably the movie's best.

But despite that momentary cleverness, we're still stuck with a film that really goes nowhere. It's a character piece that doesn't tell us all that much about the characters. In addition to David and Jason, a couple of women - Jason's girlfriend Sally (Ellen Burstyn) and her stepdaughter Jessica (Julie Ann Robinson) - are along for the ride, but they seemed to be absolutely superfluous additions. They add virtually nothing to the story other than some decent skin during one scene and some convenient plot motivation.

The brothers themselves never develop much beyond the sketchy descriptions I've already supplied; we know little more about them by the end of the film than we did at the beginning. And as for that end - oh Lord does this movie have a weak conclusion! I won't give it away, but I think it seems ridiculously abrupt and tacked-on; it feels like no one knew how to finish the story so they took a blunt and quick way to do so.

The King Of Marvin Gardens offers some good acting and a few interesting scenes, but it feels like a muddled piece as a whole. What little story it provides barely moves, and the characters themselves aren't interesting enough to make me want to stay with them. It's not a failure, overall, but I don't much care for it, even though it does let me look at another side of Jack Nicholson.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio C/ Bonus C+

The King of Marvin Gardens appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. I thought the transfer replicated the source material accurately.

Which meant the movie usually looked somewhat drab, as that fit with the story and the film stocks of the era. Sharpness was generally good, though it became the weakest link. Most of the movie exhibited positive delineation, though wide shots could be a bit soft.

I noticed no issues with jaggies, shimmering, or edge haloes, and I saw no problems with digital noise reduction; the film maintained an appropriate layer of grain. Don’t worry about source flaws, as the flick came free from specks, marks or blemishes.

With its gloomy winter Atlantic City setting, the film went with a pretty restrained palette. A few lively tones materialized, but the majority of the flick stayed subdued. Within the design parameters, the hues appeared solid; they displayed appropriate clarity. Blacks were deep and firm, while shadows offered fairly nice delineation; a few slightly murky shots emerged, but those remained in the minority. Overall, this was a good presentation of the film.

King came with a perfectly mediocre monaural soundtrack. Speech appeared a bit loose and occasionally sibilant; the lines were never especially natural. Still, they remained easily intelligible and lacked prominent problems.

Very little music showed up here, and none of arrived as score. All of the music came from recordings or live performances in the film, so those elements really became effects. Both the music and the actual effects didn’t have much to do here; they remained background components much of the time. At no point did they appear especially warm or lively, but they also lacked distortion or other flaws, so they seemed acceptable. That remained true for the track as a whole; it was adequate and that’s about it.

When we launch into the disc’s extras, we open with an audio commentary from director Bob Rafelson. He provides a “selected-scene” track, so his notes cover only part of the movie; all together, Rafelson’s chat lasts one hour, one minute and 13 seconds. The director discusses the film’s opening, story and development, cast and performances, various visual design choices, influences, locations, the lack of music, and a few other production areas.

I would guess that Rafelson sat through the whole movie but spoke semi-infrequently. If that’s the case, I’m happy Criterion chose to edit out the gaps rather than make us sit through them. This doesn’t mean Rafelson yaks constantly, though; even with the cuts, we still find occasional dead air.

Despite those gaps, Rafelson manages to give us a lot of useful content. He mixes good insights with various anecdotes to turn this into a generally positive piece. It’s too bad the director can deliver enough info to cover the entire movie, but at least he makes the most of his 61 minutes.

Two featurettes follow. Reflections of a Philosopher King goes for nine minutes, 47 seconds, and provides notes from Rafelson and actor Ellen Burstyn. The show looks at the opening monologue, locations, camerawork, performances and circumstances on the set. Despite the billing, “King” focuses almost entirely on Rafelson’s remarks; Burstyn speaks for no more than a minute, if that. Some of the material repeats from the commentary, but we still find a fair amount of fresh info in this engaging little piece.

Afterthoughts lasts 11 minutes, one second, and features Rafelson, director of photography László Kovács and actor Bruce Dern. The program looks at the opening sequence, locations and photography, casting and performances. Do we really need to hear about the monologue and the bird outside the hotel window again? No, but at least Kovács and Dern offer some new perspectives. They help make this a decent program.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get a text component entitled About Bob Rafelson. It uses four stillframe screens to give us a quick biography/filmography. It’s decent but not especially detailed.

A big old 112-page booklet covers all seven films in the “America Lost and Found” boxed set. It includes essays on five of the seven flicks: Head, Easy Rider, The King of Marvin Gardens, Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show. It also delivers an essay about BBS, credits and photos. Criterion usually produce excellent booklets, and this one delivers another terrific companion to the movies.

I didn't dislike The King Of Marvin Gardens but I thought it was a fairly bland and pointless character piece. The Blu-ray provides pretty good picture, average sound and a few interesting supplements. While there are worse films you could see, I think this one's for die-hard Nicholson fans only.

Note that as of November 2010, this Blu-ray version of King of Marvin Gardens can be found only in a seven-movie boxed set called “America Lost and Found: The BBS Story”. This package also includes Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Head, The Last Picture Show, Drive, He Said and A Safe Place.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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