reviews by Adam Jones of The Digital Bits
- 2004 (2005) - Warner Bros.
Film Rating: C
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/F
The last time we saw Danny Ocean and his cohorts, they had
swindled billionaire Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) out of $160
million from his own casino, not to mention his girl, Tess
(Julia Roberts). Three and a half years later, Benedict manages
to find all of Ocean's eleven, except for Danny, demanding that
they repay what they stole from him... plus interest. Scared out
of their wits, the members of Ocean's crack team are forced out
of retirement to pull off one last job. Globe-trotting from
Amsterdam, Paris to Rome, our heroes attempt to come up with a
plan to return the money. Of course, since these guys are
con-artists, they're always looking for something in it for
themselves as well.
All of the original cast members are back for Ocean's
Twelve, along with director Steven Soderbergh. The
production values are high, and you can see that Warner Bros.
spared no expense. The problem is, the movie isn't all what it's
cracked up to be. Everyone on-screen seems to be having a great
time, but you can't help but feel it's at your expense. The
chemistry just isn't there this time around, and the jokes,
while certainly clever in some spots (the "cameo"
sequence being the best), just don't match the wit and charm of
Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven.
This movie isn't so much suffering from a case of sequel-itis as
it is from George Nolfi's script, which doesn't seem to have a
handle on the characters or what the story is trying to
accomplish. Sure, it wants to entertain, but in the end you're
the one who feels like you've been ripped off.
biggest problem with Ocean's Twelve
is that is suffers by comparison to the film that spawned it. With
Ocean's Eleven, you were
seduced by its appeal, humor and quirky cast of characters. The
twists were original and didn't seem forced, and it was enormously
entertaining. That feeling is missing from this film, which is a
major disappointment considering the amount of talent involved.
Soderbergh has become so good as a director, that it's easy to
overlook that he's being a tad lazy this time. The cast appears so
slap-happy to be back together, that someone forgot to bring the
allure that made them so appealing in the first place. It's all one
big VIP party, except we don't get the VIP passes.
Speaking of which, the DVD production is where you really get
shysted. There's nothing on this disc in terms of extras but a
theatrical trailer. Indeed, it appears that Danny Ocean needed to
tap into the Warner Bros. vaults to pay back Benedict as well... and
the studio couldn't afford any bonus material. Perhaps everybody
also realized that the final result wasn't all that great, and are
trying to distance themselves from the project. How else can you
explain the absence of bonus material?
Picture-wise, the movie looks great in newly mastered anamorphic
widescreen video. The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix is solid
as well. Now let's get back to making great movie, shall we?
Understand, Ocean's Twelve
isn't bad, it's just not very good. Here's hoping it was successful
enough to warrant another sequel, because now at least, the
filmmakers know what not to do.
2003 (2004) - Touchstone (Buena Vista)
Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/A
Kevin Costner has received an undeserved bad-rap for a long
time. For a while in the early nineties, he was a blockbuster
star, gaining both critical respect (Dances
with Wolves, JFK)
and commercial success (Robin Hood:
Prince of Thieves, The
Bodyguard). Then, somewhere in between his overblown
epic Wyatt Earp and his
the movie-going public suddenly turned on him, seeming to forget
his considerable appeal as both a filmmaker and an actor. Yes,
he had his big dud (The Postman),
but Costner has continued to quietly make some terrific movies.
Open Range isn't so much a
return to form but more a confirmation of Costner's talents.
Robert Duvall and Costner lead a group of "free-grazers",
cattle-herders who are essentially nomadic in nature, drifting
across the plains of America trying to escape their dark pasts.
In the tradition of classic westerns, our group of troubled
gentlemen wander into the wrong town at precisely the wrong
time. A greedy rancher is provoking fear among the town's
denizens, and of course he clashes with the cattle herders.
best thing about this movie is its sense of loyalty, honor and
morality. With so many action movies these days, violence erupts in
the story simply to spice up the narrative or jolt the senses. With
Open Range, the violence comes
late in the film, and only because that's the direction the story is
going. Costner takes his sweet time building up the tension, but
when those revolvers start firing... well, you have what I think is
one of the best shoot-outs ever put into a Western. It is obviously
the highlight of the movie, all the more potent because of the way
it's planned and executed (and also because we've grown to know the
main characters and their ways). It's this attention to character
detail that makes the film work. Without it, the gunfight would be
just another gunfight. The only slight misstep is the love story
involving Costner and Annette Bening. Sure, for the story it needs
to be there, but it could have been inferred more than shown.
Sometimes you get the feeling that Costner as a director is just
killing time up until the big showdown.
On disc, Open Range looks
spectacular. You really get to absorb those rolling plains and
expansive vistas. Director of Photography James Muro saturates the
screen with rich images, and the anamorphic widescreen transfer
carries those images nicely onto your TV screen. I don't really need
to mention the sound mix, except that you really want to crank it up
during that showdown. Both Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound is
available, and with the DTS switched on, the gun shots will roll
through your living room like a thunderclap.
The bonus material is up to par with the epic scale of the movie.
This 2-disc set includes a great documentary on the making of the
film. Everybody has a story to tell, and you can witness Costner's
passion for the project first hand. I won't spoil anything, but
let's just say that the production company went through hell and
back to get this movie made. It's a shame more people didn't go see
it in theaters. The film disc also includes an audio commentary with
Costner that's rife with information. Many times he's switching
topics in mid sentence to keep up with the changing scenes, but his
enthusiasm is admirable. Costner is hardly in league with some of
his other contemporaries (Scorsese, Spielberg, Cameron and Ridley
Scott, to name a few), but he certainly knows how to make a great
Open Range went largely
ignored in theaters. Here's your chance to discover a film that
deserves to be noticed.
Me If You Can
- 2003 (2004) - Amblin/DreamWorks (Universal)
Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A/B-
Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A
Steven Spielberg seems to be making movies on a whim these
days. Just look at his tremendous creative output in 2002 and
2003. You have A.I.: Artificial
Intelligence, his "collaboration" with
Stanley Kubrick. Then there was Minority
Report, which was much more Kubrickian than A.I..
Finally, released the same year as Report,
was this wonderful tale of whimsy starring Leonardo DiCaprio and
Based on a true story, Catch Me If
You Can tells the story of Frank Abagnale Jr.
(DiCaprio), who successfully passed off millions of dollars in
phony checks, while posing as a lawyer, a pilot and a doctor.
FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Hanks) eventually caught Abagnale, only
after years of trying to corner him. Spielberg said Catch
Me If You Can was a nice breath of fresh air after
two very dark films, and you can see how much fun he had making
it. However, that's not to say that the film doesn't have
serious tones or absorbing drama. Quite the opposite, actually.
In fact, it's the unique dynamic between the two main characters
that makes this film so enjoyable.
turns in a complex performance as Abagnale, Jr., a smooth operator
of deception who is forced to grow up too fast, due to the break-up
of his parents. DiCaprio manages to keep the character likable and
charming, despite the fact that he engages in criminal behavior and
constant lying to everyone around him. A role like this requires
impeccable charm, and DiCaprio is as effortless in his acting as
Spielberg is with his directing. For all the trouble Abagnale gets
himself into, DiCaprio doesn't miss a beat switching to and from his
In many ways, Hanks has the more difficult role. After all, you like
DiCaprio so much that you find yourself wanting him to get away with
what he's doing. Hanks portrays Hanratty with such straight-arrow
conviction, that he's quite the opposite of DiCaprio's amiable
nature. But Hanks can also be deceptive in his subtlety, where he's
acting without acting. Never do you feel he's overplaying dialogue
or underplaying scenes. Hanks makes you understand Hanratty's
convictions and his attitude towards his job.
A story like this also requires a superb supporting cast, and you
get marvelous performances from everyone, particularly Christopher
Walken as DiCaprio's father. He's only in the film for about 25
minutes, but you can see why the son would want to emulate his
father. One of most touching scenes occurs with Walken reminiscing
over how he met his wife, after she's left him for another man.
Broken and beaten down by the system, Walken's speech shows there is
a deeper, more painful existence undermining DiCaprio's fun antics
on the surface. Like father like son, indeed.
Technically, the DVD presentation is of superb caliber. The bright
colors of Janusz Kaminski's cinematography glow on this disc, and
the Dolby Digital and DTS sound mixes really bring out John
Williams' marvelous, jazzy musical score. The special features are
sufficient, but from watching the mini-documentaries, you suspect
there was a lot more material archived that could have been shown
here. And typical of Spielberg, you don't get any audio commentary
(he feels the film should speak for itself), which is fine. As fun
as it would be to hear him muse over one of his films, he doesn't
need to. What Spielberg puts on the screen IS his commentary