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The Spin Sheet

DVD reviews by Adam Jones of The Digital Bits

Ocean's Twelve

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Ocean's Twelve
Widescreen Edition - 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.

The 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.

Open Range

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Open Range
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 over-budget Waterworld, 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.

The 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 film.

Open Range went largely ignored in theaters. Here's your chance to discover a film that deserves to be noticed.

Catch Me If You Can

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Catch Me If You Can
Widescreen Edition - 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 Tom Hanks.

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.

DiCaprio 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 various deceptions.

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

Adam Jones
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