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review added: 10/31/02



Made & Swingers: The Money Collection
1996/2001 (2002) - Artisan

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Made & Swingers: The Money Collection Film Ratings (Made/Swingers): B-/C+

Disc Ratings - Made
(Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/A-


Disc Ratings - Swingers
(Video/Audio/Extras): B-/C+/F


Specs and Features

Disc One: Made
94 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.78:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, illustrated audio commentary (with writer/director/star Jon Favreau, producer/star Vince Vaughn and co-producer Peter Billingsley), deleted scenes, extended outtakes, alternate versions, scene edit workshop, 3 documentaries (Getting it Made, The Creative Process and Making the Music of Made), theatrical trailer, cast and crew info, production notes, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Swingers
96 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (13 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned


Made

"Here's what I'm gonna ask of you. We're going to be spending the night in New York, so it works out well for all of us. I want you to take it back to the business class; I want you to round up a couple of honeys. At our hotel room we're gonna have kind of a pool party. California gangster-style, you know what I mean?"

Made is essentially the follow-up to Swingers, though it was released about five years later. Once again, Jon Favreau writes and stars alongside Vince Vaughn, but this time out Favreau also slides into the director's chair. What results is arguably a better film than Swingers ever aspired to be. The plot is tighter and more focused this time, though a touch of aimlessness wanders in, and the acting is a subtle notch above these guys' earlier outing. And dare I say it, the writing is even better here. Swingers was a tour de force of witty slang, inside references and hip personas. This time, Favreau sees fit to craft more realistic participants for his dramedy, all of whom are hauling a piece of cool, but are less burdened with the aura of the Rat Pack homage that Swingers was.

The story goes like this. Favreau is Bobby. Vaughn is Bobby's best friend Ricky. In order to buy his girlfriend (and her daughter) out of a stripping job to crime boss Max (played by Peter Falk of Columbo fame), Bobby joins Ricky on a drop job cross-country in New York. Once there, Ricky's antics derail what was supposed to be an easy gig, and Bobby's left unsure whether he'll even survive long enough to get back to his girls in L.A.

Unlike their earlier film, Favreau and Vaughn are sitting smack in the middle of a drama as much as a comedy. The fate of the two guys is actually secondary to Bobby's motivation, to save his girlfriend and her daughter from the life Max will afford them. But Favreau is never willing to go full steam ahead on the drama front, retaining the cool comedy he was put on the map with in Swingers. A less capable team would end up with a train wreck of a movie, never sure of its identity, but this team scores with a unique balancing act.

And thanks to Artisan, who gave these guys a fixed sum and told them to go make a movie without any creative interference, the DVD represents the epitome of film school nuts and bolts. However, let's get the film's presentation out of the way first. Visually, this is a dark film. There are a handful of scenes played out in the stark California sun, but most of the movie is a nighttime setting. On this DVD, the darks come through quite nicely, with strong contrasts and only a bit of artifacting. There's a hint of grain present throughout, but it's not distracting and will go unnoticed by the average viewer.

The soundtrack here is a balance of dialogue and music, with a few well-placed sound effects. The music for this movie was so important to Favreau & Co. that it got its own featurette, and thankfully it comes through quite nicely without overwhelming the actors' dialogue on screen. Since heavy action sequences are absent, you'll find everything pretty much front-loaded on your speakers, and that's fine. The key is to keep the dialogue balanced against everything else, and that's accomplished here.

Now about those nuts and bolts, this DVD is one of the best when it comes to stripping the film down to its basics. Most DVD extras, even when they are excellent in taking you behind the scenes, have a degree of polish on them. The deleted scenes are done up nice. The making-of features are essentially controlled documentaries and nobody's complaining. The Made special edition is a whole other puppy.

There are, as it turns out, three quite decent mini-documentaries on the making of the film here. The first one, Getting it Made, focuses on Favreau and Vaughn's desire to do a film together where they'd have total creative control. Artisan stepped in, gave them a lump sum, and they got it made. It's a nice primer on how these low-budget films get conceptualized and finally reach a theater near you. The second featurette, The Creative Process, is an interesting insight into how these guys think about their acting and writing. Peter Falk is heavily featured here with his comments on Favreau's style of creative development, but ultimately this documentary is no highlight. Finally, Making the Music of Made shows a group of friends who basically were given the chance to make a soundtrack the old-fashioned way. Favreau and Vaughn gush over the four guys they picked to slap this together, and you can tell this aspect of the film was truly a labor of friendship. It's a nice, feel-good piece.

But all of that aside, the gems on this disc are in the extra footage, music cues and commentary. First up is the commentary, done by Favreau, Vaughn and co-producer Peter Billingsley. You can choose to just listen to this, but there's an option for an illustrated commentary where the guys can draw lines and circles on the screen to highlight what they're talking about. At times, this "Madden-style" play-by-play is hit or miss, but it's mostly a hit, and one scene in particular will go down as the funniest commentary bit ever. In one scene, there's something like 46 (give or take a few) uses of a particular four-letter word rhyming with cluck. In order to see just how many, the guys keep a running tally on screen via the illustrated feature.

Before you watch this, however, you should dive into the extra footage and music cues. They've essentially stripped all the music cues out of the movie, allowing you to listen to everything sans footage. Then, they've got oodles (and I mean oodles) of more music cues that never made into the film. It can be a chore to sift through all of this, but film students will appreciate the chance to see this element of filmmaking laid bare. The extra footage is divided into deleted scenes, outtakes and alternate sequences. All but the outtakes have commentary, and by the time you're done with all of this (which will be a while) you'll feel like you've seen everything from the cutting room floor. The deleted scenes really flesh out the story. The alternate sequences extend what we already saw (and show Favreau's penchant for extremely long first acts). The outtakes, however, are not mere funny gags. These are literally reel after reel of a scenes being shot with all the screw-ups and acting differences there are. That they trusted the viewer enough to leave all of this material in is a testament to these filmmakers, but it really provides a new insight on how a film gets constructed.

And once you've got enough of that, you can actually use various takes of a series of shots to construct your own edit of a scene from the film. Once completed, you can see your version against the actual film cut. It's a bit hamstrung by a slowness in the menu response, and the chapter jumps between cuts will detract a bit from the viewing experience of your edit, but this really depends on your player. Either way, it's a nice way to bring you into the filmmaking experience.

DVDs are often called film schools in a box, and perhaps no DVD lives up to this more than the Made special edition. Any serious film fan will have this in their collection, whether it's the stand-alone release or as a part of this two-disc set.

Swingers

"There's nothing wrong with letting the girls know that you're money and that you want to party."

Let's just get this said and done with, because I know people are going to heap great mockery and scorn upon me for the following statement. Swingers was not all that hot. In fact, the film was tepid at best, only rising on the efforts of some witty dialogue here and there. But then, just as quickly, it falls back into an aimless wandering from scene to scene, much like our characters travails in club after club.

For those not in the know, Swingers was sort of a paragon of mid-nineties cool wrapped up in the guise of indie filmmaking. Centering on writer/actor Jon Favreau's character of Mike, an aspiring comedian-actor who's girlfriend of six years dumped him six months ago. He bolted to L.A. with his pals, and he's spent that time pining over her while his friends try to get him back into the dating scene. His friends, led by Vince Vaughn's character of Trent, are a rough approximation of the Rat Pack. All of them spend the movie drifting from diner, to club, to party, to videogame hockey match looking for a hot score. There's even a brief jaunt to Vegas.

The problem is, that's about all there is going on here. The plotline, such as there is one, basically revolves around whether or not Mike will get over his ex-girlfriend and find the next beautiful baby. Everything else is witty dialogue and homage (or parody, depending on your perspective) of the singles scene in Los Angeles. That's good enough for a few laughs, and Vince Vaughn is irrepressible in his attempts to keep the comedic momentum flowing, but as a movie it leaves a bit to be desired. Sure, it's got a hip factor, some cool Dean Martin style and plenty of inside references to other (better) films. But the hype on this made it out to be the next best film of the mid-nineties. And that, Swingers is simply not.

Of course, all the good in the movie could still make a good DVD. Take a gander at Miramax's Collector's Series release and you'll see why. But on this two-disc set, you're stuck with the movie only release and a mediocre presentation. The video is passable for the average viewer, and in some scenes it looks solid. Overall, however, it has its fair share of grain and washed out contrasts. The worst scenes are those in Mike's apartment, where essentially black and white are the only colors available. It's largely a hit and miss affair throughout the film.

The sound, on the other hand, is poorly balanced. This is a dialogue film, so the emphasis should be on the dialogue. The music, an element Favreau is very keen on, is emphasized too much, causing the dialogue to come out more muted than it should be in much of the film. All it would've taken to fix this was to dial the music down a couple notches and dial the dialogue up. Again, this is passable but not exactly something to write home to Wisconsin about.

And then there are the extras, or lack thereof. This was a movie-only release, so I suppose we should be thrilled to have a trailer on here. I'm not. Are you? Shame on Miramax. They get points for releasing the aforementioned special edition, but that doesn't help out this two-disc set. These two films are like bread and butter if you're a fan of the Favreau-Vaughn pairing, and given that Made was a bang-up special edition giving tons of insight on the making of film in general, it would've made this combined release all the more worthwhile had we gotten the special edition of Swingers to go with it. Instead, we're stuck with this.

So here's the bottom line. If you're a fan of Made and less a fan of Swingers then go ahead and grab this two-disc set. You'll get everything you really want. On the other hand, if you're a fan of both, pass this up. Grab the stand-alone Made special edition and the new release of Swingers, courtesy of Miramax. You'll walk away ten-times more intelligent about film.

Brad Pilcher
bradpilcher@thedigitalbits.com




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