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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Matchstick Men (RECOMMENDED).



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#1 of 17 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted February 18 2004 - 05:39 AM

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Matchstick Men





Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 2003
Rated: PG-13
Film Length: 116 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Enhanced Widescreen
Audio: DD 5.1
Color/B&W: Color
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $27.95 or $39.98 for the CD Version
Package: Snap case regular movie edition/Keepcase 2 disc movie-CD version.





The Feature:
Nicolas Cage -- where do I start...? Gotta admit up front, I have mixed feelings about Cage. Sure, he has done a few decent films but more often than not, I'm left feeling rather unattached from him. I don't know if it's his long and deliberate formulated responses complete with furrowed brow, the seemingly melodramatic intensity of his persona (“seemingly” being the operative word here…), or perhaps his propensity to at times, simply overact. Regardless of my past feelings for Cage, I thought he was absolutely outstanding in this film, with it being his best role since Leaving Las Vegas. The fact is that Cage plays these over-the-top roles quite well. Not only was I surprised by Cage’s performance, I thought the film itself was superb. Warner Bros. presents the film based on the book by Eric Garcia, with a screenplay by brothers Ted and Nicholas Griffin and directed by Ridley Scott who’s responsible for such films as Gladiator, Thelma and Louise, Blade Runner and Alien.

Roy Waller (Nicolas Cage), is a telemarketing con-artist with his cocksure partner in crime and protégé, Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell). Roy is a troubled man who is agoraphobic and who also suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, among many other debilitating afflictions. His compulsion is so extreme that he completes tasks in series of three's and suffers nervous tics including a twitch with his left eye. He refuses to let anyone walk on his carpets with their shoes on (see, it's not just us Canadians...) and was even suicidal but refused to complete the task fearing the mess it would leave on his precious carpet. He is an absolute clean freak, forever vacuuming, cleaning the windows and keeping his aseptic home spotless.

In essence, Matchstick Men, has three individual stories taking place at the same time. Obviously the main storyline (by the very definition of the term "Matchstick Men"), is about Roy plying his trade as a con-artist. Secondly, the disabilities highlighted allow us to see a character that’s as vulnerable as those he and Frank swindle on a daily basis. It seems as though Roy’s justification for what he does is simple; he doesn’t take other people’s money, "they give it to me." Remember those words, they’ll be critical... The third and final storyline which takes place deals with his 14 year old daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman), a girl he never knew he had from a previous marriage and his attempt at becoming a responsible father figure. Even though the man who can barely care for himself is now caring for a needy teenager, his daughter seems to be just what the doctor prescribes in terms of his recovery. It seems as though after finally finding someone to share his life with, many of the demons that haunted him have suddenly vanished.

This is one of those films that knowing much more that I have outlined would potentially ruin it for those who haven't yet seen it. So in terms of a synopsis, I'll leave it at that. The film needs to be seen, not discussed. Suffice it to say, the film has a lot going for it. Not only is it a visual treat to look at but the actors (who are brilliant) were provided with an outstanding script to work from, which is as fresh as anything I have seen in recent months. It’s somewhat disappointing that the film didn't garner more attention from the Academy as I would go as far as to say that this was one of my favorite films from 2003, but in a year where the competition is as stiff as this, the lack of attention is understandable (so is my faith in the Academy, but we’ll save that for a different discussion).

I initially reported this disc was to be released in a keepcase as it seemed as though many of WB new big releases have/are being released in keepcases eg. The Last Samurai. It seems however, that the regular movie edition will come in a snap case. I was sent the 2 disc set with the 2nd disc being a CD of the entire soundtrack which is housed in a keepcase. The CD contains 22 tracks containing various scoring pieces and titles that were used throughout the film. Whether or not you’ll want to pony-up the extra funds for the extra CD version will be determined by your fondness for film scores, and this is very good one. And finally, Beware: there is a fullscreen version of this disc.



Video:
Shown in 2.35:1 enhanced widescreen, this transfer is beautiful. WB has delivered another visual treat to disc which is virtually flawless. Though I didn't see this film theatrically, I can only assume it is absolutely representative of what was shown and it is a visual delight to look at.

The black levels were outstanding and were as deep as imaginable. White levels were contrasted nicely in comparison. Although I wouldn't necessarily classify the colors as overly vibrant, they were seemingly accurate and were nicely saturated, including skin tones, always looking realistic. During many of the Cage scenes, it seemed as though a blue filter was used presumably to add an almost clinical sterile look to the film adding to the effect and mood of the character's frequent compulsions. It was most effective.

As for image clarity, for the most part it was sharp as a tack with only the occasional softer scene. Grain was virtually non existent and there wasn't a trace of any film dirt or blemishes. There were many outdoor scenes and while I was looking for haloing I could only locate a couple examples that would be iffy at best. The disc was also free of any compression issues.

Another top notch transfer that looks superb...!



Audio:
The soundtrack offered is a DD 5.1 track. The movie is pretty much dialogue driven with the exception of a few scuffles and a short chase scene and although the soundtrack is solid, it's not likely to leave fans awestruck.

Most importantly, dialogue was always as clear as imaginable – never competing for attention. The movie has a fairly eclectic selection of music to accompany the film scored by one of my favorites, Hans Zimmer. There's everything from a accordion tango style score with a pretty solid beat to Roxy Music's "More Than This", which sounded fabulous (as if anything from Avalon, doesn't sound fabulous...). The track offers a nice sense of fidelity and a relatively balanced frequency range. The front soundstage was fairly wide with a decent sense of spaciousness.

The track was sufficiently robust and full as was demonstrated by various doors and car doors slamming... not earth shattering but very nice. As for the surrounds, I felt they could have been employed slightly more aggressively as they were used rather sparingly and primarily for music filler and ambiance. As for LFE, your sub is not likely to see much of a workout... but hey, this isn't a film that begs for such an aggressive soundtrack.

A track that is not necessarily remarkable but certainly better than
average. A very nice job.



Special Features:
This disc comes with three special features starting with:
[*] The first feature is a Commentary by Producer/Director Ridley Scott, Writer Nicholas Griffin and Writer/Producer Ted Griffin which is very good. It sounds as though these two segments were recorded separately and blended for the commentary. The DVD supplement friendly Scott is extremely forthcoming and offers up a ton of great info and is pretty serious throughout the entire piece and keeps it interesting for the duration. The inclusion of the Griffin brothers is less informative and it seems as though they’re keen on infusing humor into the piece. Personally, I would have preferred Scott featured in the entire commentary. Word of warning, there are a couple lines discussed that could potentially spoil the ending of the film if there is anyone inclined to listen to the commentary before watching the film. All in all this is a very good commentary.
[*] Tricks of the Trade which is a is documentary directed by DVD producer and fellow HTF member Charles de Lauzirika, The documentary is comprised of three sections; pre-production, production and post-production. Everything from casting choices, set creation, and costume design is discussed as well as a focus on location scouting and Scott’s decision to shoot in California which includes many field trips to the specific locales discussing why these places were chosen. Many of the cast members were featured as well as various crew members. Ridley Scott himself, was the topic of discussion as his reputation was discussed and how he has seemed to mellow out through the years. The documentary is extremely well done. There are a few laughs added to the piece to lighten things up. I’m not necessarily a huge fan of standard audio commentaries per se – more films should include pieces similar to these. Great job Charles, very well done…! Duration: 71:40 minutes.
[*] Lastly, the Theatrical Trailer is included.



Final Thoughts:
I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't skeptical going into this film. I knew very little about the film but I knew Nicolas Cage was in it. Despite an admittedly rather slow start, the payoff was worthwhile. It was an absolute pleasant surprise. Despite the obvious complexities for potential plot flaws, this film worked for me. It’s certainly not about to replace The Sting or another film with similar qualities, Paper Moon, as one of the all time great con artist films, but it was one of my favorite new releases of the year. In this case the con artist is the protagonist; one who is not only a likeable guy but one who basically transforms from a slick con-man to quasi-responsible family man.

The A/V presentation on this disc is rock solid and the special features are rather plentiful and substantive. If you're a fan of the quick switch or complex con films, have I got a disc for you. And if you find any lottery tickets at the local laundromat, just run like hell...

Recommended..!




Release Date: February 24th, 2004
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 17 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted February 18 2004 - 06:11 AM

Thanks for the review, Herb. This was a wonderful and under-appreciated film. It's on my must-have list.

M.
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#3 of 17 OFFLINE   Marc Colella

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Posted February 18 2004 - 06:53 AM

Thanks for the review Herb (my fellow Hamiltonian Posted Image )

I was also surprised with how good the film was.

With Adaptation and now with Matchstick Men - I can start taking Nicolas Cage seriously again.

The one problem I had with the film was the ending.
It would've been better to end it about 5 minutes earlier with:

Nic Cage crying at his ex-wife's doorstep instead of the happy ending which seemed a little forced. It just feels more fitting to have a heartbreaking ending then it did with a cliched happy one.

Otherwise it was a solid film.

#4 of 17 OFFLINE   jake moosey

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Posted February 18 2004 - 08:41 AM

Good review Herb!

I saw this in theaters and loved it. Will definatley be picking this up.
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#5 of 17 OFFLINE   PaulP

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Posted February 18 2004 - 09:28 AM

Can't go wrong with Ridley!

#6 of 17 OFFLINE   Shane Martin

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Posted February 18 2004 - 01:16 PM

My wife hates Nicholas Cage yet we both really enjoyed this movie. I plan to pick it up immediately!

#7 of 17 OFFLINE   NeilK

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Posted February 18 2004 - 02:27 PM

Cool BeansPosted Image

#8 of 17 OFFLINE   Rob Willey

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Posted February 19 2004 - 09:24 AM

Thanks Herb. Glad to hear the transfer is up to snuff. My copy is on the way.

Rob
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#9 of 17 OFFLINE   Matt Butler

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Posted February 19 2004 - 10:32 AM

I enjoyed the flick quite a bit. I just might be picking it up next week.

Good review! Posted Image
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1. Zodiac 2. Dawn of the Dead (1978) 3. The Good The Bad and The Ugly 4. Blade Runner 5. The Warriors 6. Dark Knight 7. The Godfather  8. Bullitt 9. Experiment in Terror 10. Raiders of the Lost...

#10 of 17 OFFLINE   ZacharyTait

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Posted February 19 2004 - 10:44 AM

I'm going to be picking up this movie as well. I loved how the three intertwining stories held up on their own. No matter where we went, the story being told was interesting. While I think Cage might have had a shot at a nomination, with the 5 that were, it's understandable.

My 3 friends who watched this with me on DVD didn't like it. Morons! One of them works at Blockbuster and they get their movies 1-2 weeks early which is how we were able to watch it. I didn't want to give anyone the impression I had a bootleg copy or something.

#11 of 17 OFFLINE   adrian b

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Posted February 20 2004 - 03:34 PM

great review but you might want to edit the 1st synopsis part to state that the disc does come in a keepcase and not a snapper. (or is that reserved for those of us who actually read these reviews? Posted Image)

#12 of 17 OFFLINE   Tom Tsai

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Posted February 20 2004 - 03:40 PM

^ I thought only the 2-disc version with the CD soundtrack comes in a keepcase.

#13 of 17 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted February 21 2004 - 01:59 AM

Thanks Adrian... I use a template and the "snap case" is usually common, so I just leave it filled in.

Tom... that very well may be the case. I had made notes that indicated MM would use a keep case... and perhaps that was just for the CD version. If that's not the case, if someone can report in after it streets, I'll change it. Thanks.


Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#14 of 17 OFFLINE   Tom Tsai

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Posted February 21 2004 - 09:18 AM

^ I'm not 100% sure, but I'm just guessing from the scans (and TV commercials) that I've been seeing...which include that black plastic snapper opener on the right side of the cover.

from CNL.com
Posted Image

from Chapters.indigo.ca
Posted Image

from cinemaclock.com
Posted Image

I really don't know, they may have changed it all to keepcases last minute, but mine is the CD version so I can't confirm.

#15 of 17 OFFLINE   Miles

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Posted February 21 2004 - 01:42 PM

I have the snapper version...

#16 of 17 OFFLINE   Bill J

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Posted February 21 2004 - 02:32 PM

The ad I saw in EW today showed a snapper case.

#17 of 17 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted February 22 2004 - 02:57 AM

Thanks guys for your help. I changed the review to reflect the proper cases.


Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...