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Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good DVD Review

Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good DVD cover art - click to buy DVD from Amazon.com Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good

Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated / Video Debut: July 29, 2011

Director: Jonathan Flora

Featured Performers: Gary Sinise, Kimo Williams, Gina Gonzalez, Mari Anne Jayme, Julie Dutchak, Jeff Vezain, Kirk Garrison, Mitch Paliga, Danny Gottlieb, Beth Gottlieb, Ben Lewis, Ernie Denov

Other Noteworthy Interview Subjects: John Vigiano, Moira Sinise, Ella Sinise, Mac Sinise, Sophie Sinise, Dale Dye, Mykelti Williamson, Connie Stevens, Raquel Welch, John Ratzenberger, Robert Duvall, Jon Voight, Melina Kanakaredes, Gary Cole

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 2.1 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5 DVD-ROM) / Black Keepcase
Suggested Retail Price: $16.99

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Here's an exercise to appreciate just how iconic Lieutenant Dan is: try to think of other characters from 1990s movies who you can mention without surname and have people know exactly who you're talking about. I can think of a few, most of them from animated films, the Batman and Star Wars franchises, and Reservoir Dogs.
But there's something so distinctive and unifying about "Lt. Dan." You can hardly even utter the name without assuming Tom Hanks' Forrest Gump drawl. It helps that the movie was one of the most widely seen of its time and also that Hanks' simpleton says his name frequently, always using his rank and first name.

Gary Sinise, who received a supporting actor Oscar nomination for his work in Robert Zemeckis' epic 1994 comedy/drama, may be less of a household name than the Vietnam War officer he played. But he followed up that role with appearances in other high-profile films, including Apollo 13, Ransom, and The Green Mile. Since 2004, Sinise has starred in the popular spin-off "CSI: NY." Moving to television doesn't indicate that film offers have dried up for the 56-year-old. He's welcomed the stability of his CBS procedural drama as his priorities changed in the wake of September 11th.

The new documentary film Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good details those changes, as Sinise has supplemented his acting career with a number of goodwill tours out of respect to American troops and their families. Yes, there is a Lt. Dan Band and there has been for over seven years, unbeknownst to me until a couple of weeks ago. The act was born out of the jam sessions of bass guitarist Sinise and electric guitarist Kimo Williams, who met when Williams composed music for a production of A Streetcar Named Desire by Sinise's Chicago-based Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

"Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good" opens at Ground Zero, contrasting modern reflections by Gary Sinise with powerful images of the September 11th World Trade Center terrorist attacks. Julie Dutchak and Mari Anne Jayme make one soldier feel special as they sing "A Natural Woman" to him.

Directed by Jonathan Flora, whose thin filmography includes a short film and two seemingly unreleased features, For the Common Good is not merely a band documentary. It is as interested in Sinise's life, his various outreach efforts, and the audience he targets of brave young people risking their lives for our country in the armed forces. Both Sinise and his wife Moira have many links to the military in their families, but it wasn't until 9/11 that the actor got involved, lending his presence and shortly thereafter, the music of his cover band, to boost morale. While celebrity USO tours were fashionable back in 2001-2003, Sinise has stuck at it, using weekends off from "CSI: NY" to make appearances all over the world.

It's a tricky thing to document someone doing good deeds. The second you bring a camera crew into the equation, acts of charity are tainted by airs of self-promotion. Such airs linger over this film, as it spends over an hour and a half singing the praises of the actor. No one can dispute that Sinise has donated a lot of his time to causes, for which he was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal during George W. Bush's final weeks in office. And no one can dispute that such causes are worthy, as Sinise and his band lift the spirits of those going through basic training, those fighting in Iraq, and families who have lost a parent and/or spouse in the ongoing wars.

If ulterior motives are to be considered, so too must surface ones. Clearly, the documentary sheds light on volunteer work, painting a fulfilling portrait of patriotism and calling attention to the individual sacrifice and loss too many take for granted. There also must be the commendable hope that in glorifying Sinise's devotion, others of comparable comfort and celebrity might be compelled to similarly give of themselves.

Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band rock out for the brave men and women in uniform. Some historical perspective for celebrity USO tours is supplied with this clip of Bob Hope and Connie Stevens entertaining the troops.

While the subject might make some viewers uncomfortable, the movie itself is remarkably enjoyable and well-produced. Performances by the band are spread throughout and include modest renditions of The Who's "Baba O'Riley", Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze", Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman", Mariah Carey's "Hero", and an original song by Gina Gonzales.
The movie doesn't overstate the musical achievements of the band, repeatedly acknowledging "the actor who plays bass" as a reason for skepticism. That raises questions about the value of the band's performances, which the passion both of the band and of the often uniformed audience quells.

Beyond the band, we get biographical segments on Sinise, enlightening information on his committed approach to Forrest Gump (with remarks from Mykelti "Bubba" Williamson and military advisor Dale Dye), looks at some of the other heroes he has paid tribute to (such as Brooklyn's fallen first responders to the World Trade Center), fascinating tours of Saddam Hussein's lavish homes and manmade lakes, and a brief history of USO tours (with comments from and clips of Connie Stevens and Raquel Welch). The moral of the film is that Gary Sinise is a great American for recognizing the efforts of those who fight to defend our freedoms. And while that may seem better suited for a "60 Minutes" segment than a 96-minute film, the time is well-spent and edifying.

Documentaries are a tough sell commercially and I don't know if Flora had a specific release plan in mind during the two years he spent making this. For the Common Good makes its debut next Friday exclusively at Amazon.com as a made-to-order CreateSpace DVD-R.

A picture of Gary Sinise in his younger days features in a segment explaining how he moved from music to theatre in high school. Prominent throughout, guitarist, composer, and Vietnam veteran Kimo Williams was there at the start of the Lt. Dan Band, then called G & K Classic Rock.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The movie is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and enhanced for 16:9 displays. You never know what to expect from a self-published DVD-R, but the picture quality here is quite good and about what you'd expect from a small but proven independent studio. As often is true of documentaries, the sources vary and some parts look better than others, but all are watchable and clean without quite being mistakable for hi-def.

For audio, you can choose between 5.1 and 2.1 channel mixes. I opted for the former and was satisfied by it. The surrounds only really get put to use on the song performances, but when they do, it is to good effect. Like the picture, the clarity of the dialogue ranges from solid to acceptable. The entirety meets basic standards, with professional recordings and consistent volume levels.
One thing that will upset those with hearing troubles is that neither subtitles nor closed captions are offered. Even a movie unlikely to sell five figures' worth of copies ought to invest the effort to transcribe the audio, especially considering how many veterans must suffer from hearing loss.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Sometimes, the smaller a documentary, the more bonus features you'll find. That isn't the case here, though, as For the Common Good is unaccompanied by any extras. The film's producers are currently entertaining interview requests, so they must have something to say about making this, but I imagine that most viewers will find that the documentary speaks just fine for itself. Though I enjoyed the movie, I'm relieved I didn't have to sit through a dull commentary on it.

The basic, static menus recycle cover and title imagery, while offering an appropriate number of scenes to select and looped, delayed music on the audio set-up page.

If you really study them, the case and disc art do display an ever so slightly less than general retail quality. The inside of the case also has a funky plastic smell to it. These facts are worth mentioning because there are so few details to share. A review with a bonus features section with fewer than 150 words? Inconceivable!

In one of the film's more memorable scenes, Gary Sinise is taken on a tour of several of Saddam Hussein's once-luxurious homes. Academy Award-winning actor Jon Voight is one of a few conservative celebrities lending their voices to this documentary.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I didn't know what to expect from this DVD. I literally saw the words "Lt. Dan Band" and knew this was something I needed to review. I have to admit part of me is disappointed to discover that Sinise doesn't appear in character. That shirtless, unshaven, bandanna-wearing look screams rock 'n roll to me. Of course, as tempting as it is, I shouldn't be making Forrest Gump jokes while summing up my thoughts on For the Common Good, which, for the most part, is no laughing matter. I enjoyed this film, even if the veneration of Sinise and men and women in uniform did less to make me appreciate them and more to deprecate myself.

Though it's a no-frills DVD-R, this release delivers a perfectly satisfactory presentation of the documentary.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed July 23, 2011.



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