Week Ending February 27, 2004 This week I had a pleasure of discovering two new films that I can affectionately call an old and new favorite. Put them both at the top of your "must see" list. Matchstick Men Pygmies! Meet Roy Waller (Nicholas Cage), who next to Nicholson's character in As Good As It Gets may be one of the most obsessive/compulsive persons you have yet to see on screen. Despite his flaws, Waller happens to be one of the best operating grifters around. By day he and his protégé Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell) con money from the rich, the old, and the lonely. They are the best at what they do, and they are about to make a big score with a shady businessman (Bruce McGill). But a wrench suddenly gets thrown into their plan with the sudden appearance of Angela (Alison Lohman), Roy's 14-year-old daughter out of his broken marriage that he has never met. Out of frustration of her rocky relationship with her mother, Angela is intent on staying in her father's apartment. It's not long, however, before she becomes a third wheel in Roy and Frank's money-laundering scheme. I don't want to say too much about this film because it is vital that you know very little about it going in. I will say that though I wasn't particularly "conned" into this story, I found it to be highly entertaining based on the performance by Nicholas Cage and the stylish storytelling by the film's director, Ridley Scott. Ridley Scott is one of my all-time favorite directors. The reason why I enjoy him so much is because he is a visual director. The man has total grasp upon his cinematography and with every Ridley Scott release I find myself less involved with what is going on in the story as opposed to how the director is showing it. In Matchstick Men, Ridley Scott once again sets a particular mood to his film with some terrific visuals enhanced with old Sinatra tunes and a jazzy score by Hans Zimmer. I wish I had ordered the CD set instead of just the DVD, as I really loved the music. The transfer on this film is gorgeous, particularly in the outdoor shots of Waller's backyard and pool. There's so much clarity within this transfer that it almost sometimes pushes the boundaries of High-Def. Since the film is mostly dialogue-driven, there wasn't much activity from the surround channels. Audio quality is excellent, particularly with the presentation of dialogue in the center channel that came across quite crisp. Matchstick Men is just plain fun. It's one of those cool, hip movies that is the perfect vehicle for its star, Nicholas Cage. In fact, I would rate this as his best effort to date (with Adaptation as a close second). Do what you can to rent this film. Worthy of a blind purchase in my opinion. The Man who shot Liberty Valance So, I'm a little late reviewing this film. Okay, to be more precise, I'm three years late -- but this is a film I finally had an opportunity to watch for the very first time, and I feel so strongly about it that I wanted to make certain it ended up in everyone's collection. It was actually a co-worker who knew I was discovering great westerns that urged me to take a look at perhaps the greatest western of them all. And how would it not be when you combine the talents of John Wayne, James Stewart and Lee Marvin all under the direction of the legendary John Ford. I mean, Ford practically invented the western. Told mostly through flashback, this is the story of Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) a city lawyer who arrives in the small town of Shinbone as a beaten and defeated man after being whipped at gunpoint by outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) and his gang. Ransom vows revenge citing the laws of the land, but it's a local cowboy, Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), who advises him to put a gun in his hand instead of a law book. Though Ransom is not a fighting man by nature (he certainly has never shot a gun before) he realizes that a showdown with the notorious outlaw Liberty Valance is inevitable. Transfer quality is mixed. Most of the first quarter of the film looks a bit dirty, with blemishes throughout the print. The film's appearance quickly improved to the point where I was able to appreciate the nice B&W contrast levels and underlying detail. There is a noticeable amount of surface grain, but I had expected such. For years I heard numerous impressionists like Frank Gorshin and Rich Little doing their best John Wayne imitations. One of the biggest surprises that came out of watching this film was finally learning where that word "Pilgrim" came from. It seems to be the one word that gets thrown into just about every John Wayne impersonation I have ever known. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance sits amongst the three greatest westerns I have ever seen. I place it behind Once Upon A Time In The West and in front of The Searchers. Sometimes I wonder how it took me so long to discover a movie like this. Just buy it if you don't already own it.