reviews by Peter Schorn of The Digital Bits
2007 (2007) - Warner Brothers
Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C-/B-/C-
After the globe-trotting misfire that was 2004's Ocean's
Twelve - the sequel to Steven Soderbergh's 2001
updating of the 1960 Rat Pack classic Ocean's
Eleven - Ocean's Thirteen
finds George Clooney's Danny Ocean, Brad Pitt's Rusty Ryan, and
Matt Damon's Linus Caldwell and their gang of (almost literally)
thousands firmly rooted in Sin City for more breezy capering and
After the gang's elder statesman Reuben (Elliott Gould) is
screwed out of his partnership in a new hotel-casino by Willie
Bank (Al Pacino), he suffers a massive heart attack and is
bed-ridden. Danny approaches Bank about restoring Reuben to his
share and is rebuffed. As Bugs Bunny might say, Banks don't know
who he's messing with and thus an outlandish and thorough
preposterous scheme is hatched to rip off the casino to the tune
of a half-billion dollars on its opening night.
rub salt in the wound, they also endeavor to deny Bank a coveted "Five
Diamond Award" that all his prior establishments had received
by sabotaging the stay of the reviewer (David Paymer). Did I mention
the millions in diamonds on the top floor, the Deep Thought-grade
computer in the basement which monitors everything in the casino to
detect shenanigans, and the simulated earthquake they are going to
trigger using the drill used to dig the English Chunnel? That stuff
is in there, too.
Soderbergh and company assume viewers know the series and don't
waste a millisecond setting up the characters, launching into the
plot and daft disguises immediately. It moves along smartly on a
cushion of slick charm, but with at least 18 significant characters,
there isn't much time for much deep characterizations. It's just a
opportunity for the cast - including returnees Don Cheadle, Bernie
Mac, Casey Affleck, Eddie Jemison, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, Shaobo
Qin, as well as newcomers Julian Sands, Eddie Izzard, and Bob "Super
Dave Osbourne" Einstein - to get in a scene or two of flashy
showboating before returning to respectable thespian pursuits. The
token "girl" in this sausage fest is Pacino's Sea
of Love co-star Ellen Barkin as Bank's right-hand
facilitator. She gets an amusing showcase sequence where her "cougar"
character is seduced by Linus' alter-ego, but it's a little
depressing to see her 52-year-old lopsided grin puffed into a
collagen-enhanced duck bill during close-ups. (What's worse: Aging
or staving it off ungracefully?)
While the script gets a little to cutesy at times - a pair of
characters are named Greco and Roman and the dialog makes sure we
recognize the joke; a guise for Cheadle is named "Fender Roads"
(Get it? Like a Fender Rhodes piano? Har har. Ahem.) - Ocean's
Thirteen manages to avoid the self-indulgent Cannonball
Run II vibe that hung over much of Ocean's
Twelve. The caper is ridiculous, but other than a
needless detour where Affleck's Virgil Malloy foments a workers
rebellion at the dice factory where he has been sent to tamper with
the goods, we're along for the ride. Clooney is in ultra-low key
mode here, acting thru his eyelashes with the assurance that being
the male Angelina Jolie (i.e. any woman he wants is his) provides
him. Pacino is blessedly restrained as well, with nary any of his
trademark theatrics in evidence. Bank's is a slimeball, but he's an
While the story may be glitzy and smooth, the 2.35:1 anamorphic
transfer is an awful mess. Shot by Soderbergh under his nom de DP of
Peter Andrews, he eschews the obvious glamour cinematography a story
like this deserves in favor of gritty, grainy, color-tweaked palette
more like his work in Traffic.
There is tons of grain and the color balance is pushed all over the
place in an ersatz Seventies Technicolor mélange. But
artistic decisions aren't the problems - the severely
over-compressed and filtered transfer is. It looks like something
from 1997, not 2007 with all sorts of edge-enhancement and pulsing
patterns in the background. The digital effects of The Bank hotel
towering over the Strip are hard to appreciate due to the jaggedness
on angles and distracting flickering of buildings. A few spots rival
VHS for sheer blobby softness. For such a high-profile title, that
it looks like a bootleg is disappointing. The pretty people and
places deserve better.
On the audio front, things are much better, though not spectacular.
The English Dolby 5.1 Surround presentation is front-heavy like a
showgirl (ba-da-bump!) and a tad muddy in the dialog as Soderbergh
goes for an available sound style to go with the available light
photography. There is some nice LFE activity during the earthquake
at the end, but for the most part you can give 2.1 of your audio
setup the night off.
Extras are also thin like the proverbial front-heavy showgirl (I'm
here all week!) with no commentary and darn little film-related
materials to speak of. The handful of Deleted
Scenes (totaling 4:30) are all run as a single choice and
mostly consist of extended or alternate versions of what was in the
film. A couple could've been used instead, but their absence isn't
ruinous. The Jerry Weintraub Walk and
Talk (2:23) is nothing more than the veteran producer
strolling through the casino floor sets and pointing out where the
actors will be in the climatic scene. Superfluous overstates its
Most interesting is Vegas: An Opulent
Illusion (22:46), a look at the history and changes in
Las Vegas over the ages since Bugsy Siegel began transforming this
sleepy Mormon settlement in the early Forties. The subtle psychology
behind the design of casinos is discussed by hoteliers, architects
and Vegas writers. While occasional clips from the movie are
sprinkled in, this plays more like a Discovery Channel program,
however it is worth watching.
Fans of the first Ocean's
flick who were let down by Twelve
will enjoy Ocean's Thirteen.
It's a slight romp, but we don't watch these movies for their
lasting nutritional value. Unfortunately, the poor visual
presentation and sparse supplemental materials make a recommendation
of anything more than a rental hard to justify.
Trust You to Kill Me
2006 (2007) - First Independent Pictures
Film Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/C-
Andy Warhol famously said that in the future everyone would be
famous for 15 minutes, but he never elucidated just how that
quarter-hour would be obtained. Is it better to be famous for
your own accomplishments or because of a fortuitous association
with a popular celebrity and what are the pros and cons of using
the latter to attract attention to the former?
For the achingly sincere alterna-blues-rocker Rocca Deluca,
years of toil in the L.A. club scene paid off when a crew member
on 24 recommended him up
to series star Kiefer Sutherland, who proceeded to sign Deluca
and his band, The Burden, to the Ironworks record label
Sutherland runs with musician/producer Jude Cole.
initially suspicious of the duo motives, the band came around and
signed with the label. During 24's
Christmas 2005 production hiatus, Sutherland acted as tour manager
for quick mini-tour of London, Dublin, Reykjavik, and Berlin, in the
hopes of giving his charges some European touring experience and
exposure for their upcoming album - which provides the title for
this tour documentary: I Trust You To
Through the constant gaze of director Manu Boyer, we are granted
less a musical journey than a contrasting pair of portraits - one of
a musician getting a break, but somewhat conflicted as to what it
means; the other a candid look at an actor as he seems to be trying
to figure out what he's doing with his life, despite being at a
career peak. Through interwoven interviews with Sutherland and
Deluca, interspersed with substantial concert performance footage,
we're taken along for the occasionally bumpy ride.
Unlike the always in command Jack Bauer, Sutherland is an earnest,
if ill-equipped, manager whose seat-of-the-pants methods always have
the band on the edge of an ersatz Spinal Tap catastrophe, though no
miniatures of Stonehenge are in danger of being trampled by dwarves.
When they arrive at the Dublin date to find that only two tickets
have been pre-sold - due to an outlandish ticket price of 20 Euros -
Sutherland manages to avert catastrophe by calling radio stations to
plug the show on the air and taking to the streets and pubs,
offering free tickets, until he's managed to pack the club.
While this scene caught a lot of sneering comments in reviews upon
the film's theatrical run, those critics missed the point entirely.
As a label owner and tour manager, Sutherland's first obligation is
to get people into the shows to see his artist and by hook or crook,
he does. Just as Madonna's rage at faulty monitoring in Truth
and Dare may've seemed uncalled for to civilians,
musicians and those who work with them will understand the
justification for such behavior.
Using a mix of austere B&W and color videography Boyer segues
between segments with snippets of Deluca's effected Dobro guitar and
it keeps the proceedings flowing with a minimum of arty pretension
though the unexplained recurring presence of a guy in a bunny suit
made me wonder if he would rather have been filming The Flaming
Lips. As a profiler, he's weak at digging below Deluca's tender
surface. Deluca speaks about jamming with John Lee Hooker and Johnny
Cash, but how he was able to get in those situations isn't
explained. His father is described as a sideman for many blues
artists, but is never named and the usual online reference sites
didn't have anything more than what is here. (For someone so
experienced, he hasn't left many footprints.) The parallels between
his and Sutherland having tenuous relations with mostly absent
fathers are interesting, but not really explored.
As for Deluca's music, I must confess that his style with its
yowling, overwrought emotionalism and wailing angst-drenched songs
and vocals are not my cup of tea. Sounding like a cross between Dave
Matthews, Jeff Buckley and Jack White, he frequently set my teeth on
edge and it comes off as precious, as if the world contains too much
pain for such a tender soul and we should all want to take him home
and feed him soup. (Granted, there is a substantial audience for
precisely this sort of music, so please take my comments as more
descriptive than critical.) When the Burden gets cooking, they
percolate nicely in a polyrhythmic groove, but every college town in
the world has at least one band just as good; they just don't have
the power of Jack Bauer behind them. (They also don't get to stay in
nice hotels across Europe; fans' living room floors and Red Roof
Inns more their lairs.)
The most remarkable aspect of I Trust You
To Kill Me is Sutherland's low-key manner of leveraging
his fame in order to promote Deluca's music. Unlike the many actors
who dabble in the music business, he's less on a rock star ego trip
vacation than quest fueled by a genuine passion for Deluca's music.
Anyone can fund a band's record, but to have "I Trust You To
Kill Me" tattooed in big black Norse runes on your forearm
bespeaks volumes more commitment to the cause, though the irony of
the star's figure occupying more cover space than Deluca and the
Burden combined isn't overlooked.
However, the fact that we're even discussing Rocco Deluca and the
Burden is due to Sutherland's presence here and by offering a
glimpse into the "play hard" yang that goes with his "work
hard" yin - the notorious Christmas tree tackling incident is
shown - it serves as Trojan Horse within which the music is
delivered to an audience that may've been otherwise unreachable.
I Trust You To Kill Me may not
be a great documentary, but as an extended commercial it is better
than you'll get from watching VH1 for the same amount of time.
Shot on DV video, the 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is at a natural
disadvantage due to the realities of its source format. The largest
problem is noticeable noise and graininess, partially from the low
lighting levels in the locations and whatever post-processing may've
been done. Some aliasing on angles and instances of interlacing were
noticed, but they're forgivable. Color and detail is as good as can
be expected, though shadows tend to get murky.
Audio choices are English Dolby 5.1 Surround and 2.0 with subtitles
in English. Belying the seemingly lo-fi vibe of the documentary and
the small venues they play, the recording of the all-important
concert scenes is very good. The instruments are clear and musically
There isn't much low-end action, so it doesn't rock as hard as it
could, but you'll be able to experience the songs well enough to
enjoy (or be annoyed by) them. Dialogue scenes are naturally
rougher, but whenever the levels get dicey, subtitles are provided
to ensure audience comprehension. Surround activity is limited to
some reverb during the musical performances.
On the extras tip, we get a trio of videos - for "Swing Low"
(3:54), "Gravitate" (2:56), and "Colorful"
(3:03) - which.are low-budget, low-gloss clips presented mostly in
gritty B&W except, appropriately, "Colorful". The
songs are OK, but not as distinctive as the title track is, and the
video production is Spartan.
The I Trust You To Kill Me: "How It
Started" - Japan 2005 featurette (12:44) featurette
shows Sutherland on a 24 press
junket to Japan that he brought Deluca along with. While Sutherland
goes from one interview to another, Deluca wanders around playing
blues guitar in cafes and markets, mostly attracting little notice.
Toward the end Sutherland says to Boyer (who's filming) that maybe
he should come along and shoot the upcoming tour. It's a mildly
interesting bit, but not very insightful.