'25th Hour' - In 24 short hours, former king of Manhattan Monty Brogan (Ed Norton) will go to prison for seven long years. In his last day on the outside, Monty tires to reconnect with his father, reunite with two old friends and figure out if his girlfriend was the one who tipped off the cops.
'He Got Game' - A convict given one shot at a second chance to be a father to his estranged son Jesus. Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington) is granted temporary release from state prison in order to persuade his son, the nations’ top college basketball recruit, to play ball for the Governor’s alma mater.
Please welcome Kyle Newton to High-Def Digest!
Please welcome Kyle Newton to High-Def Digest!
The 25th Hour
Has there ever been another filmmaker as consistently bold as Spike Lee? Sure, people have made bolder films, but not as many as Spike. For the past thirty years, he has been making movies that raise very important and controversial sociological issues, and even though I might not agree with all of his politics, I have respect for the man as a filmmaker.
The topic he chose to take on here is the state of New York City after 9/11, specifically the state of Wall Street and the stock market. Comparing a Wall Street broker to a High School teacher, and how racism has changed and evolved due to 9/11. It also takes on a very controversial message about injustices within our current judicial system. All of this serves as a backdrop for the main plot which is: if you knew you only had 25 hours before you went to jail for seven years, what would you do?
Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) is a drug dealer who is really a good guy that fell in with the wrong people and now is sentenced to jail for seven years. Besides an obvious heavy that he keeps by him (Tony Siragusa), if you met this guy on the street, you would never know what he does. He has a beautiful girlfriend named Naturelle Riviera (Rosario Dawson) and his father (Brian Cox) owns a bar for firefighters. Monty gets raided by the Feds, and suspiciously, they seem to know exactly where he keeps his money and his drugs. Now, Monty has 25 hours before he goes to jail, and he wants to spend it with the people closest to him and tie up loose ends.
Frank (Barry Pepper) and Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are two childhood friends taking him out on the town one last time. Frank is a typical Wall Street stockbroker. He thinks he's God’s gift to women everywhere, has no manners, and has a chip on his shoulder about Monty getting pinched. Jacob is a high school literature teacher who is starting to become interested in one of his students named Mary (Anna Paquin). Jacob is a kinder person and more loyal friend to Monty than Frank is, and does not blame him for getting pinched.
As the night goes on, the three men meet up with Naturelle at a local club where everything comes to a head. Mary sees Jacob going into the club and convinces them to let her come in with them, and eventually outs Jacob about his growing feelings for her. Frank shows his disappointment in Monty. Monty must close up all his loose ends with everyone he loves and with one obvious question looming over him: who was the betrayer that snitched on him?
Edward Norton is captivating, and he does an excellent job keeping you on his side despite his choice of profession. You sympathize with his character so much here. He's just a guy looking to get by, doing what he thinks he does best. He is also your typical rags to riches story. You understand why Monty chose this path for himself. He is extremely charismatic and people naturally like and trust him. You get the sense that the people that dealt with Monty actually liked him as a person. Despite getting snitched on by someone close to him, he doesn't actually blame anybody but himself. There is actually a great scene with Norton looking at himself in the mirror when his reflection (representing Norton’s darkest thoughts) starts blaming everyone and every race in New York. Then Norton corrects himself and admits the truth: that he is the only one to blame. He takes full responsibility for the life he leads.
Like I said before, the New York post 9/11 vibe is strong here, and that is quite amazing knowing that this movie came out January of 2003. That doesn't leave Spike Lee a lot of time following the actual tragedy. But he has constructed my favorite film about this topic. Unlike most Spike Lee movies, this is the most subdued that I have seen. The plot is simple and relies on these characters with damaged relationships to carry the film and the politics. You see that there isn't much difference between Frank and Monty. There is a line in the movie that states that the way Monty makes his money is off of the suffering of others. So what is the difference between him and Frank? Frank is a reckless stock market broker who gambles with other people's money all on one idea of his because of his own ego. Why is Monty going to jail and Frank not? Frank is told not to gamble with people's money so recklessly and for good reason. If Frank were to lose that money, tons of people would be in financial crisis. This is a great debate that is very relevant in a post 9/11 era and one that is fascinating (especially considering the financial collapse that occurred just a few years after this film's release).
Then you have Jacob at the opposite side of the spectrum. Jacob has worked hard not to lose his innocence, unlike his two friends who have both lost their way. But what Jacob doesn't know is that his innocence is going to be challenged because his student Mary is starting to come on to him. Hoffman plays this role just right and doesn't come off as creepy. He is just a really naïve person who thinks he can control the situation and nothing will happen. But that doesn't make him a bad person per se.
Now this movie isn't without its problems. Some of its messages are heavy handed and some of the score can come on too strong to the point of being distracting. In one scene you find out that Frank's apartment is literally across the street looking down on ground zero as the World Trade Center is being rebuilt, while loud dramatic music blares from every speaker. That is just too much for my taste. The fact that he actually lives across the street is bad. But if that's not bad enough, the loud music with close ups of construction workers rebuilding throws me over the top. I know it's a part of New York now, and you can see them rebuilding still to this day, but the way this comes across is kind of pandering to people who aren't quite picking up the messages that are being laid down.
Also there isn't that much for the character of Naturelle to do here. She just plays the usual girlfriend role, standing by her man through anything. Later in the film, she stands accused of something and it just made me say: Really? Why? Because the film doesn't really give her enough screen time at all.
I remember the first time I saw The 25th Hour back in 2003 and my feelings about it haven’t changed a bit. If anything, I like this movie more now that we know how accurately represented its messages are. For such a simple story, it's themes and characters are ones that can be the debated between your friends and family for hours. That is this movie’s greatest achievement and one that cannot be understated.
He Got Game
Let me be honest with you. Sports movies aren't usually my thing. For the most part, they seem to all offer the same thing with a very similar story. The main character either starts out as an underdog or becomes one but succeeds at the end, or gains the respect they deserve. But this movie is directed by Spike Lee, and for those of you who don't know, Spike doesn't do generic. Even with his failures you can't say that the movie wasn’t ambitious.
With He Got Game, Spike makes another bold move and wisely focuses on the corruption of the basketball industry rather than the actual events themselves. On paper, I can see how this might seem like a bad idea: a basketball movie with very little basketball action. But that's how this movie sets itself apart from others in its already bloated genre; its focus on the corruption of the game and the politics involved, along with the expectations that come with the game. Whether it's expectations from peers, family expectations, or relationship expectations, everyone wants something from you. That aspect is much more fresh and unexplored on the level this movie is at.
We start off with Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington), who is in prison for murder. He has a son, Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen), who is the number one draft pick in the NBA, and a daughter named Mary (Zelda Harris). A state official has arranged a reduced sentence for Jake in exchange for convincing his son to go to a certain college team. Jake takes the opportunity to get out of jail and see his children again
A lot has changed since Jake went away. Jesus is graduating high school and taking care of his baby sister. He also has “the decision of his life to make” as everyone calls it. Jesus must decide whether he wants to go pro straight from high school, or go to college; and which college or pro team does he want to go to? Everybody has their opinion on where he should go. His girlfriend Lala (Rosario Dawson), his coach (Arthur J. Nascarella), even his grandfather, who took him in after Jake went to jail. They all are trying to profit from Jesus by persuading him to go to the college or team that is willing to give them something.
Jesus and Jake’s relationship isn't just damaged, it's broken. Jesus holds deep resentment toward Jake for what he did. You see, Jesus remembers all the times Jake would push him too hard shooting hoops as a child, and he remembers the night Jake went too far. Jake is remorseful about his past of course, but he sees it a little differently. Jake believes that he pushed Jesus as hard as he did so that one day he would be the best. With all this history between them, Jake meets Jesus at a local ball court to mend things with his son and try to convince him to go to the state official’s college so he can get his reduced sentence. Will this family mend their differences? What path will Jesus take and who will he trust enough to listen to and go to the college or team of their choosing?
Now Denzel Washington was deserving of an academy award long before he got one, but this is the first movie I saw him in where I wondered why he didn't have one already. He is electric in this role and commands every scene he is in. Whoever is in a scene with him in this movie doesn't stand a chance, because he is going to snatch the scene from them like Ray Allen snatches balls from people on the court. He has such charisma and attitude on screen that you actually root for the guy despite what he has done in his past. The best scenes in the movie are when Washington and Allen are on the ball court together confronting each other about their past. The way Washington conveys regret, remorse, and anger toward his past is truly captivating. To me this was a career defining role for Denzel. One that put him on the road to being the A list star he is today.
The story this movie tells works to this movie’s advantage as well because of how fresh the topic is. Focusing on the angle of corruption and the choice of deciding who to sign with is fascinating. Everybody wants something from Jesus. He is on his way to stardom and riches and everyone wants a piece of that pie. The corruption goes so deep that it feels inescapable. From the people in Jesus’s life, to the colleges who will do anything to tempt him, to the agents who will give him anything to sign with them, it seems impossible to make the right decision. In fact, when he makes his decision, we find out the person who wanted him to go that route wanted him to go that way for their own personal reason.
There are also some negatives here, one of which is the casting of Ray Allen. He comes across as kind of flat. It's not as bad as it could have been, but still, it is clear that this is the best acting we are going to get from Allen, and it's adequate at best. I don't get why you need a real life pro basketball player to play this role for the story they wanted to tell. There is very little actual basketball playing in this film, so this movie doesn't even get to show off why they chose Allen for the role. They could have trained a more seasoned actor to play basketball just as well as Allen does here. In fact they did do that with Denzel. Every scene that Denzel and Allen are in together, Denzel out acts Allen and it takes me out of it a bit, because they should be equals.
The biggest problem with this film is that it lags quite a bit. After 45 minutes of showing Jake’s remorse and seeing how corrupted Jesus’s life is, you get the point. But this movie keeps on going with it, partially because this movie really doesn't have anything else to do. Most of Spike Lee’s films have a political message behind the story that is being told which helps carry the story when it hits a lull. But the statement of corruption in professional sports and the father/son relationship is so much a part of this story that when there is a lull, it doesn't have anything to fall back on.
I have always had a love for this film for its unique take on the sports genre. But more importantly, I always find Denzel Washington absolutely captivating and electric in this role. There are some pacing and casting problems but that doesn't stop the momentum Washington gives this movie.
The 25th Hour
The 25TH Hour comes to Blu-ray framed at 2:40:1 aspect ratio with a 1080P MPEG-4 AVC encode. Spike Lee shot this film in 35mm, and like most of his films, it isn't exactly made to be a highly stylized piece of work. It's meant to be more urban and have a little grit. But despite that, I was impressed with this transfer and its improvements from its DVD counterpart.
I was expecting a highly grainy transfer with a lot of noise also. But I'm happy to report that with the exception of a couple of scenes, grain is very appropriately handled with this transfer, and at no point in time is it ever overbearing. Like I said before there is a normal amount of grain throughout, but that is this film’s style and that should not be a knock on the transfer.
As far as black levels, they fare very well here, and are not problematic. Never did I think the black levels crushed or hampered any of the detail in any of the scenes. But like I said before, this is more of a grittier film and deep black levels do come with that aesthetic. With that being said, I commend this transfer for taking the care to make sure those deep blacks don't effect the rest of the transfer.
Unfortunately, there are two issues with this transfer. The bigger issue is the overall lack of detail and fine lines in this film. I know not to expect a very slick transfer, but this movie has a slightly sharper and less soft transfer. The other issue is with the very first scene in the movie where Monty and Kostya save what will be Monty’s dog named Doyle. This scene has always for some reason had heavy grain to the point of being distracting. Unfortunately, it is no different here. This may be a stylistic choice for this one scene, but it is not one that I like.
Overall this transfer could have been a problematic transfer. Luckily most of the problems of overly graininess and crushing blacks are not an issue. In case you were wondering, skin tones and color levels are just right in this transfer and are a non-issue as well. I was pleasantly surprised with this transfer and I commend the people who worked on it for taking the care needed to give this film the transfer it deserves.
He Got Game
He Got Games comes onto Blu-ray with an impressive 1080P AVC encode framed at its true 1:85:1 aspect ratio, that is almost a slam dunk. Right from the beginning title you know you’re in good hands where you see how much the titles pop here. Detail work is mostly good here. This movie came out in 1998 and is almost twenty years old. That is why the detail we get here is so impressive. Otherwise I would consider this just a hair below something you would see today. Black levels are surprisingly just what they should be here. This can be a darkly lit movie at times and those deep blacks never take away from this transfer at all.
Color tones and skin tones can be a problem in some scenes, however. In certain scenes, you can see definitely that the skin tones run a little hot. One example is in the first scene that you see Lala and Jesus together, where Lala's skin is almost orange. Another small complaint is that there is a lack of sharpness here. Like I said, this is a movie that is almost twenty years old, and that is the reason for the softness of the picture.
Overall this is a very impressive transfer for this film’s age, and I commend the people involved that made this transfer look so good
The 25th Hour
The 25TH Hour hits Blu-ray in with a moderately subdued DTS-HD 5.1 track. I remember first hearing the audio track on the 2003 DVD and being blown away by how loud and bold it was, especially with the soundtrack to this film. It was actually one of those transfers I had to turn down at certain points when other people were in the house.
That is why it pains me to tell you that when I did a side by side comparison of these two tracks, the Blu-Ray is not as bold of a track. Most of that is due to the overall level of the audio. If the audio level is a ten on the original this is around a seven for the majority of the film. That still isn't bad but it just lacks a little punch. That is, except for the club scene. The club scene is done perfectly in this track and I have no issues with track as long as they are in the cub.
But this isn't a bad track by any means. The surrounds are mainly dedicated to the soundtrack of the film with the exception of a few scenes. But I don't see that as a bad thing. At least they are active for a great majority of the film. Vocals are crisp and clear. Fronts are as dynamic and switch between each other with ease when needed. As for the LFE channel, it does an excellent job assisting the soundtrack. Especially during the club scene where the bass kicks in and hits hard like it should.
I just want to clarify that this is actually a really good audio track. I just felt the obligation to tell readers when any aspect of a review isn't as up to par as its DVD counterpart.
He Got Game
He Got Game dribbles its way into Blu-Ray with a mediocre DTS-HD 5.1 track. I'm a firm believer in the fact that just because a movie is a drama, doesn't mean it has to have a lifeless audio track. This track unfortunately falls under that category. Spike Lee is a passionate director and his audio tracks should reflect that. There is very little passion here.
I will start off with the good here. The dialogue is crisp and clear and easy to hear. The fronts are very active and have good dynamic range. In fact, for a movie that barely uses the LFE Chanel at all, bass primarily comes from the fronts here. Good thing I have some pretty hefty front speakers to help that bass along in this track.
The rest is lacking here in a big way. My subwoofer was barely used to assist the fronts even when the score of the film did kick in. So the LFE track is lacking here. Then there are the surrounds. Other than a few scenes the surrounds don't kick in at all. I actually did a test on my surrounds afterwards to see if they were working properly, and they were.
There was very little done to this track to make it better than its DVD counterpart. An audio track is supposed to enhance an experience, but in this case it actually takes away from the overall experience and that is a shame.
The 25th Hour
Audio Commentaries – there are three audio tracks here and two are ports from the DVD. There is an audio track that features Spike Lee and Edward Norton that is the new track on this Blu-Ray. This commentary mainly focuses on New York post 9/11 and its changed New York. They joke around a lot about some scenes and generally have a good time, but it's not the informative piece I wanted. The highlight was when they talked about David Benioff's novel and how it differs from the script. There are also standalone commentaries that were on the DVD releases with Spike Lee and Benioff. I found these to be more informative regarding the actual production and Benioff’s writing proses.
Deleted Scenes – There are nine deleted scenes here that really don’t add anything to the film. They were right to cut all of these scenes. There is one interesting one where all the dealers that dealt with Monty decide how to handle him going to jail. But it's ultimately not necessary.
The Evolution of an American Filmmaker – this was a fun documentary that starts at the beginning of Spike’s career and ends at The 25th Hour. The most interesting thing about it was to hear what other legendary filmmakers such and Martin Scorsese and Sydney Lumet had to say about him and his impact on the industry.
Ground Zero – A 3Tribute – This is just a feature shot on an overhead camera of the rebuilding and construction of The World Trade Center.
He Got Game
Audio Commentary – This was a new addition for this Blu-Ray and the only special feature on this disc. It is just an average track; Spike Lee going through specific places where he filmed and Ray Allen chiming in as much as he can. The real shame is Denzel would have been the person I would want on this track. Not Allen.
Spike Lee is a very influential filmmaker. Even if you don't agree with his politics you have to like his style and his ambition. He has always had a way to ride that line between Hollywood projects and indie films in a way that few have. These two films are a fine representation of Spikes work, and both are presented here in a solid transfer that has a lot to offer. Whether you're a fan of Spike Lee’s work or a newcomer interested in his work, this would make a great part of anyone's collection.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.