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Number 110 - May, 2004

Staff

 


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The Cooler The Last Samurai
Paycheck

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Lions Gate Films

2003, Color, Rated R

1 Hr 42 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16:9 Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring Alec Baldwin, William H. Macy, Maria Bello, Paul Sorvino

Directed by Wayne Kramer

 

DVD Release Date 5/4/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

N/A

Violence

Yes

Sex

Explicit

Language

As bad as it gets

"The Cooler"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Bernie Lootz (Macy) works in a Vegas hotel, the Golden Shangri La, where he serves as a "Cooler". That is someone whose luck is so bad, all he has to do is walk by a table and everyone there starts losing.

Shelly Kaplow (Baldwin) runs the casino, and uses Bernie all evening long, every night, to keep the winnings in the casino's pocket instead of letting patrons walk away with lots of money.

The mob sends some businessmen, including Johnny Capella (Joey Fatone) to the casino and they tell Shelly that the casino needs modernizing, which includes getting rid of the lounge singer, Buddy Stafford (Sorvino).

Shelly reacts negatively, and Johnny Capella knows what he must do.

In the meantime, Bernie meets Natalie (Bello), one of the casino hostesses. She takes a liking to him, and they begin an affair.

When Bernie and Natalie fall in love, his bad luck changes, making things worse for Shelly at the Casino. Shelly tells Natalie she must break off the love affair.

Commentary

Cooler is an Indie (Independent) film, and it is superb. It's one of the best movies I have seen this year. Movies about Las Vegas are always negative, yet it remains an incredibly popular city. In fact, it is one of the fastest growing cities (population) in the United States. We go there every year for CES.

Extras

These include the Director and Crew Commentaries, Anatomy of a Scene, Storyboard, and Music Track Only.

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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Warner Brothers

2003, Color, Rated R

2 Hr 34 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16:9 Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French

 

Starring Tom Cruise, Timothy Spall, Ken Watanabe, Billy Connolly, Tony Goldwyn, Hiroyuki Sanada, Koyuki

Directed by Edward Zwick

 

DVD Release Date 5/4/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

N/A

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"The Last Samurai"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Following the American Civil War, in 1876, retired Captain Nathan Algren (Cruise) is commissioned by fellow officer Colonel Bagley (Goldwyn) and a Japanese businessman Omura (Masato Harada) to go to Japan and organize the Japanese army to find and capture a rebel Samurai named Katusmoto (Watanabe), in the name of Japanese Emperor Meiji (Shichinosuke Nakamura). Compatriot Sergeant Zebulon Gant (Connolly) goes along to help Nathan train the troops. Englishman Simon Graham (Spall) is to photograph the whole thing for a book he is writing.

Upon arriving in Japan, Nathan realizes that it will take a long time to train unseasoned troops, who are basically just farmers who have been conscripted into the Army.

In spite of their inexperience, Omura and Col. Bagley order Nathan to march and find Katsumoto.

The troops engage Katsumoto and his army in the forest, and are defeated. Nathan is captured and taken to Katsumoto's village, where he is held captive while his wounds heal. Katsumoto decides to keep him alive and discover what makes his enemy tick.

During his stay, Nathan meets the beautiful Taka (Koyuki), Katsumoto's sister, and falls in love with her, only to discover that he is the one who made her a widow in the forest battle.

Nathan learns the culture and language of Katsumoto's people and realizes that maybe he is on the wrong side, and must decide whether to fight with or against Katsumoto.

Commentary

Samurai is an excellent film, except that Tom Cruise is not a very good actor. He has star presence, but pales next to real actors like Ken Watanabe, who deserved an Academy Award for his performance in this movie, in my opinion. In fact, the acting of the entire Japanese crew in the film is stunning.

Extras

These include the Director Commentary, History Channel Documentary, Production Design, Costume Design, Training for a Samurai, Deleted Scenes, and other material.

 - John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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Paramount

2003, Color, Rated PG

1 Hr 58 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (16:9 Enh)

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Stereo

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring Ben Affleck, Aaron Eckhart, and Uma Thurman.

Directed by John Woo

 

DVD Release Date 5/18/04

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"Paycheck"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

Michael Jennings (Affleck) is a brilliant computer engineer hired for top-secret projects.  After each job, Jennings' short-term memory is erased so that he cannot recount any project information.  Emerging from his latest assignment, a three-year contract with an eight-figure paycheck given to him by his longtime friend, Jennings is jolted when he is told that at the end of his assignment, he agreed to forfeit all payment.  Jennings has no recourse - until he receives a mysterious envelope containing clues to his forgotten past.

Commentary (warning: plot spoiler within)

I had such high hopes for this film.  I have been an admirer of most of John Woo's work and I heard with this film he was going to try and do a Hitchcock style thriller.

Boy, was I let down.

Ben Affleck is NOT, as Woo suggests in an interview, a modern Cary Grant.  But gross under acting (yes, under acting) by both Affleck and Thurman is not the only problem. The poetic action we expect from Woo is replaced with rather banal sequences which had me sitting eager for them to end so we could get on with other things.

One can detect elements of a Hitchcock style plot here, and it was going well until they threw in the whole "seeing the future" nonsense which dragged it down to a Saturday morning B sci-fi story.

It's worth watching if there is nothing else to rent this weekend, but that's about it.

Extras

There are two Commentary tracks, one by Director John Woo, the other with Screenwriter Dean Georgaris.  I just was not interested in checking out the latter, but the first one will be of interest to students of John Woo's work.

There is a featurette called Paycheck: Designing the Future.  Its not at all a making-of type piece and feels rather like an extended preview, narrated by the actors and behind the camera talent.

The other featurette is called Tempting Fate: The stunts of Paycheck.  It is a pretty straightforward "How'd they do that?" piece.

Some deleted scenes and an alternate ending are available for you to check out.

Trailers round out the extras.

Technical

The picture quality is rather disappointing.  I thought we were starting to grow out of such nonsense as too much edge enhancement and then, POW, there it is in Paycheck.  It's not a particularly sharp picture anyway and colors feel a little too strong.  Grays and blacks seemed to have been dialed in just right though.

The soundtrack is a tough one for me.  There is nothing particularly wrong with it:  dialogue is clear and intelligible, music is nicely spread, surrounds are used judiciously, and it is dynamic, but it just felt somehow lifeless, like it needed a good kick in the pants. 

 - Brian Florian -

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