25th Hour/He Got Game (US - BD RA)
Jonathan checks out the Blu-ray release of two of Spike Lee's better films...
In 24 short hours, former king of Manhattan Monty Brogan (Norton) will go to prison for seven long years. In his last day on the outside, Monty tries to reconnect with his father (Brian Cox), reunite with two old friends (Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Barry Pepper) and figure out if his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) was the one who tipped off the cops. (From the Touchstone synopsis)
This remains one of my favorite Spike Lee films to date. I tend to lean toward the movies where Spike Lee is telling a crime story written by someone else. Richard Price co-wrote the screenplay for the excellent Clockers, Russell Gewirtz penned Inside Man, and 25th Hour was made from a novel and screenplay written by David Benioff. These authors bring a good story the table, and Lee's knack for location and multicultural flair compliment them very well. The plot of 25th Hour sounds like it could be two-plus hours of sulking and sentimentality, but Benioff's screenplay gives all of these characters things to do on Monty's last day. A good deal of the screen time is intelligently dedicated to Monty's friends, and these bits are arguably better than anything featuring Monty himself. Hoffman and Pepper are at their best playing an insecure teacher and a ruthless stock broker who know how to get at each other's throats. It is clear Monty was the common ground between the two of them, and both feel lost without him. The versatile Brian Cox is a convincing flawed but loving father. Rosario Dawson is great too, but is sadly given little to do here and exists in the story for little reason other than to support Monty. Lee's auteur touches are put to great use here. Jump cuts and showing the same thing happen twice in rapid succession are two things I would normally find obnoxious, but they are deftly used to punctuate various moments in the story. His dolly shots have more context and purpose than usual. There's a long scene where Monty curses various ethnic groups at his own reflection in the mirror, before turning on himself. The scene feels long and excessive, and like it might belong in Do the Right Thing more than this personal story, but the excess plants the scene firmly in your brain and makes a callback to it in the finale all the more emotionally potent. If there is one scene that doesn't work, its when Monty is confronted with the reason he was caught and asked to kill a man who snitched on him. The mystery of how Monty was caught and whether or not his girlfriend had anything to do with it isn't nearly as intriguing as the personal dynamic between all of these friends. A bit overlong and a bit misguided at times, it still remains a potent cautionary tale with award worthy performances from the principal cast.
As you can hopefully tell from the screen caps, this Blu-ray release is a huge step up from the dated Touchstone DVD release. The 1080p transfer has a significant increase in detail. Compare the last set of caps and just see how many small details become more visible on the Blu-ray transfer. There are flowers that didn't exist on the DVD. Some scenes are heavily stylized, like the blue-lit club scenes or the montage of people Monty curses at into a mirror. The latter uses filters and has an extra grainy appearance that looks fine on the new transfer with little to no artefacting taking place. The club scenes have more of what looks like digital noise, but I suspect is just a lack of image information being present in the transfer due to the very strong lighting. It doesn't quite look like compression and it doesn't look like film, but it is hardly distracting. Black levels were already deep and borderline crushing on the DVD transfer, largely due to stylistic decisions, but they are much more consistent on the new disc. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also a major upgrade. Cymande's "Bra" and the weighty score of Terence Blanchar have never sounded better. This is largely a dialogue-focused movie so the sound mix isn't particularly showy, but the extra sound channels are used well to bring both outdoor and loud indoor club environments to life. Rear channels are restricted to ambient noise. Voices are appropriately leveled and easy to interpret even in loud club scenes.
Unlike many of Touchstone's catalogue releases, there is something new in the extras section. For this release there is a brand new Audio Commentary with Director Spike Lee and Actor Edward Norton, and it is a pretty good listen. Norton and Lee balance each other out well. Lee, as expected, can be a bit over the top but Norton grounds him and continues to ask interesting questions throughout. Norton also likes to pull out comparisons to the book from time to time. There are some long stretches without any commentary from the two, which is a shame. It isn't the most rapid and informative track out there, but fans will find it well worth a listen. The disc also contains the old Audio Commentary with Spike Lee from the DVD, which is still a good and informative listen but I strongly prefer the new commentary with Norton's participation. There's also the original Audio Commentary with Writer David Benioff. Benioff isn't the most lively commentator but he comes across as a wise individual and it is cool to hear how the movie came to be and what the inspiration behind many scenes was. The Evolution of an American Filmmaker (SD, 22:23) is a nice little documentary from the DVD that functions partially as a behind-the-scenes featurette but also spends a great deal of time looking at Spike Lee's career, with interview footage from many people in the film business that have worked with him. The six Deleted Scenes (SD 10:18) from the DVD are also present without any remastering. Last of all is Ground Zero - A Tribute (05:33) which is just some footage of the remains of the World Trade Center set to the score.
2014 Touchstone Blu-ray (Top) VS 2003 Touchstone DVD (Bottom)
He Got Game
A story about a convict given one shot at a second chance to be a father to his estranged son Jesus (Ray Allen). Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington) is granted temporary release from state prison in order to persuade his son, the nation's top college basketball recruit, to play ball for the Governor's alma mater. (From the Touchstone synopsis)
He Got Game seems like it could easily be just another family/sports drama, but from the opening credits it is clear you are watching something off the beaten path. There's a gorgeous montage of street basketball and there isn't a hip hop track accompanying it. Instead, the footage is paired with a score that feels like it could be from an old David Lean epic. Everything is filmed with the same grace and finesse that the players exhibit on the court. It's a beautiful start to what is one of Lee's most pure storytelling examples. From here things get into a much more familiar flow as we watch the drama slowly unfold between warring family members. Washington is at the top of his game here. Ray Allen, who is an athlete first, doesn't possess the qualities you would normally associate with a great actor, but there is something inexplicable about him that just works. He is easy to like, and I had no problem buying him as a young man with the weight of the world on his shoulders as numerous family members and college scouts pressure him to make decisions about his future. That he holds his own in multiple scenes with Denzel Washington is saying something. The dramatic weight of the central storyline is bogged down by some excessive subplots, but Lee's visual flair and playful editing techniques keep the material from feeling too conventional. Same goes for the more melodramatic scenes. The scenes of yelling back and forth move with an unusual flow that keeps it from getting too corny and sentimental. This is probably my favorite fictional basketball movie (top honors still goes to Hoop Dreams). I love when you can just look at a movie and tell who made it. This is something only Lee could've made, and his passion for the sport and toward his characters is contagious throughout.
He Got Game doesn't look as great in 1080p as 25th Hour, but this is still a tremendous upgrade from the 1998 non-anamorphic DVD release. Sixteen years later it is finally getting a worthy home release. Compared to the DVD, the new transfer has a far more natural color range, but the colors that are meant to pop still do. Detail is a massive upgrade. Just take a look at the full size caps and examine the change in detail on the outdoor table surface, or the pattern on Jesus's shirt. Some scenes still have a washed out appearance and an unnatural looking shimmer, but given Lee's varied use of filters it wouldn't shock me if this was inherent to the source material. Artefacts aren't an issue, but at times part of the transfer looks dirty and aged. Still, this is by far the best the movie has looked and it is given its own disc and a healthy bitrate in the set, which is better than many catalogue titles get. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also a major upgrade. Aaron Copland's beautiful and versatile score steals the show from the opening credits, and Public Enemies' memorable soundtrack is just as great. The music is the highlight here. Dialogue is easy enough to make out, but the overall sound mix feels aged. It isn't nearly as spacious and levels aren't so perfectly attuned like more modern releases. There isn't much separation between sounds here, it all just tends to blend together in the front channels. It is certainly well above DVD quality though. The only extra on the disc is a brand new Audio Commentary with Director Spike Lee and Actor Ray Allen. I love that Ray Allen is credited for his acting in the extra listing. This is mostly a fun listen with a lot of enjoyable trivia bits. Spike Lee, as usual, is very excitable and seems to really have fun revisiting his films. Spike Lee asks Ray Allen a lot of questions and keeps him involved in the dialogue, thought many of them are off topic. I enjoyed listening to Allen complain about how Denzel got to wear a pair of Jordans in the movie and he did not. On the track they sound like a pair of old friends getting back together. It's amicable and enjoyable to listen to, even if its not always on topic and super informative.
2014 Touchstone Blu-ray (Top) VS 1998 Touchstone DVD (Bottom)
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 10th June 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English (both films), Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish (25th Hour), Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish (He Got Game)
Subtitles: English SDH (both films), French (both films), Spanish (both films)
Extras: New Audio Commentary by Director Spike Lee and Actor Edward Norton (25 Hour), Deleted Scenes (25 Hour), Audio Commentary with Spike Lee (25 Hour), Audio Commentary with Writer David Benioff (25 Hour), "The Evolution of An American Filmmaker" Featurette (25 Hour), "Ground Zero" - A Tribute (25 Hour), New Audio Commentary with Director Spike Lee and Actor Ray Allen (He Got Game)
Easter Egg: No
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Edward Norton, Barry Pepper, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Denzel Washington, Milla Jovovich, Ray Allen
Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance and Sport
Length: 271 minutes
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