If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD
This review is sponsored by
Details At A Glance
Main Menu Audio & Animation-George Jones vocal : Grand Tour
Trailer-Secret Window, The Missing, 50 First Dates
Year Of Production
||Cast & Crew
Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Larry W. Hunter
NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.
The Polish brothers are probably the least known of the brother teams at present making American movies. Director, actor and screenwriter Michael Polish first collaborated with his identical twin brother, screenwriter and actor Mark, on Twin Falls Idaho in 1999, the year in which they turned twenty-eight. This initial film was the story of Siamese twins, played by the two brothers, and it was a poignant yet frank entry into a world most of us would not want to acknowledge. Their second feature was Jackpot followed by Northfork (2003), the final film in their "Northwest trilogy". The middle film, Jackpot, is here under review despite the fact that it may be difficult to readily find a retail copy in Australia. At least one local site lists the title as "no longer available". Why review an older, maybe unavailable, title? Because I have belatedly just seen the Polish brothers most recently released film, The Astronaut Farmer, and, moved and excited by that experience, I feel duty bound to review this earlier, neglected movie from the minds and hearts of these two remarkable young men, two filmmakers who will be around for many years to come.
The central character of Jackpot is, like the Siamese twins, someone we also would probably not like to acknowledge. Glen Allen Johnson (Jon Gries) is a man with a dream, or a dreamer, which has a whole different connotation. His dream is to be a country and western star, and, as the first step up the ladder to superstardom, Sonny hits the road to enter karaoke contests in dives, taverns and bars that turn up along the highway. The Emerald City at the end of this road is the town of Jackpot, Nevada, where "Sonny Holiday" will compete in the ultimate karaoke face-off. So, abandoning wife, Bobbi (Darryl Hannah), child and friends, Sonny sets off in an impossibly pink Cadillac, his agent/companion Lester (Garrett Morris) by his side. Initially we do not have compassion for Sonny in the pursuit of his dream because it very early becomes achingly apparent that he has no talent whatsoever. He is the equivalent of the no-talent wannabe who enters an "idol" contest, totally deluded as to his ability and driven by an overactive, undernourished misplaced ego.
The structure of the film is that of a road trip, a structure that is only too familiar. We see Sonny and Lester in strange and varied settings, interacting with strange and varied characters. The difference here, though, is that the Mark Polish screenplay fights against the built-in structure of the road trip, flashing backwards and forwards in time with jarring effect - the image used being the fast-forward and rewind buttons on a tape player. Some scenes become almost collage-like sequences of frozen action, as in the parking lot fight between Sonny and Lester. The resulting effect is a reflection of the chaotic, unstructured life that Sonny is living. By the end of the film, however, we have been drawn to recognize Sonny's right to this dream, regardless of whether or not it has any basis in reality. This is a theme which also lies at the core of The Astronaut Farmer, with Billy Bob Thornton living, and Virginia Madsen supporting, his dream.
Performances are excellent. Jon Gries (Men in Black), whose film debut was in Will Penny (1968), has been in all of the Polish films and he absolutely lives his role of the balding, aging, rather seedy would-be western star. Equally as sound is Garrett Morris (TV's "Saturday Night Live") as Lester, praying with Sonny before each performance, applying salve to his bruised ego, pinching pennies and constantly supporting his client in his dream. Darryl Hannah and Anthony Edwards have small roles but are outstanding, particularly Edwards in a most atypical role. There are many other excellent minor appearances, including those by Adam Baldwin and Peggy Lipton, plus a couple of enjoyable cameos from Mac Davis and Mark Polish, who must give one of the worst musical performances ever captured by a camera. The music makes a major contribution to the film, sometimes attractive and sometimes not. Making a nice ironic point is the prominent use of George Jones' Grand Tour, the cowboy lament of the male abandoned by his wife and child, where here we have the male doing the abandoning.
Now we get to the BIG problem with this release. Working on every one of their films has been Jackpot's Director of Photography, M. David Mullen, and the photography in a Polish film simply has to be seen to be appreciated. Every 2.35 image in The Astronaut Farmer is worthy of framing, and, no doubt seeking the economically best possible image for Jackpot, the makers utilised Sony HDW-F900 DV cameras, the same as used for Star Wars : Episode II. The quality of the 2.35:1 image on the Region 1 transfer has been described as "superb" and "dazzling", with particular mention of "the gorgeous color schemes". Sadly Sony have given us a 1.33:1 transfer of the movie, which results in a loss of almost half the original widescreen image. The Region 1 release is a double-sided disc, with the 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced transfer on one side, and the 1.33:1 transfer on the other. In his comments on the disc , reviewer Dan Lopez states that the 1.33:1 version is "not recommendable", asserting that :
"the extreme loss of image ruins the entire feel and flow of the movie. It's a textbook example of how pan-and-scan really damages the filmmaker's vision."
It is not necessary to physically compare the two versions in order to assess the image and artistic loss. Scene after scene jars with awkward composition, and loss of key information. Hopefully this sort of thing would not happen today. Perhaps Sony will release a new widescreen anamorphically enhanced transfer - at a bargain price. The original RRP for the local release was/is $39.95!!!
In conclusion, an unusual, refreshing and frequently funny use of the road movie format to explore the misplaced dream of a very ordinary man. Surely everyone has the right to dream? Michael and Mark Polish are compassionate filmmakers, and if you don't know their films get busy on the internet and track them down. It's well worth the trouble. I'm eagerly awaiting my Amazon Marketplace purchase of Jackpot, in all its anticipated widescreen glory.
As a footnote, the brothers Polish have in post-production for 2009 release Manure, a story about a manure salesman starring Billy Bob Thornton, and they are currently filming Stay Cool, starring Mark Polish and Winona Ryder.
Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.
All comments below are tempered by the fact that this 1.33:1 transfer does considerable damage to the film.
The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The original ratio was 2.35:1.
The transfer is sharp enough, though there is an overall softness to the image.
Detail is good, both in the interior and exterior scenes.
There is a complete absence of grain, no doubt due to the original "filming" process used.
Blacks are deep and dark and the colour is often dazzling, as in the garish bar and saloon scenes.
There is no low level noise.
There are extremely slight compression artefacts, most notably a small degree of shimmer.
There are no subtitles.
The disc is single layered.
Video Ratings Summary
The audio is limited to a single stream, English Dolby Digital 2.0, Surround Encoded.
Although there is nothing sensational on the audio side, the sound is quite attractive.
The dialogue was clear and easy to understand, despite the, at times, heavy accents. There are no sync problems.
The dialogue was centred, with just the occasional use of direction for doors slamming, cars moving off screen and the like.
The surrounds were used quite extensively for ambient sounds on the highway, and particularly in the bar and tavern scenes.
There is no background noise at all, providing a clear open soundstage. There were no drop-outs.
The original score by Stuart Matthewman is extremely spare, but the extensive use of C&W songs and the karaoke numbers are all very nicely reproduced, though noticeably lacking oomph in the bass.
Audio Ratings Summary
|Surround Channel Use|
There is disappointingly nothing extra on this disc except four trailers of films that bear no relationship to Jackpot.
Animated stills montage with audio of George Jones complete recording of Grand Tour.
Options presented are :
Chapters : Nine screens with twenty-six thumbnails - no audio.
Theatrical Trailers : All four are presented in the ratio of 1.85:1, in 4x3 transfers, with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded audio. The trailers are :
Secret Window (02:00)
The Missing (02:24)
50 First Dates (01:56)
R4 vs R1
NOTE: To view
non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually
also NTSC compatible.
The Region 4 release misses out on :
* Second version of film presented in the correct 2.35:1 ratio, with 16x9 enhancement.
* Dolby Digital 5.1 audio
* Cast and Crew Biographies
* Cast and Crew Filmographies
* Original theatrical trailer for Jackpot
* Four additional trailers : Twin Falls Idaho, Dogma, Pollack and The Tao of Steve.
* Feature length commentary by Michael and Mark Polish.
The Region 1 release misses out on the trailers of films which have no connection to Jackpot.
This is a gentle, frequently humorous, look at a very ordinary man pursuing an extraordinary dream on a road trip to who knows what. With some beautifully observed sequences, whether on the road, in taverns, motel rooms or bedrooms, by the end of the film there is a genuine acceptance, if not compassion, for this man whom, in the first scene, we probably despised. Spot on performances, loads of mainly country and western music - but sadly a w-i-d-e-s-c-r-e-e-n movie given a 1.33:1 transfer. My advice would be to track down a rental copy or pray for a re-release in the correct ratio. In the meantime, catch up on the other three films by the extremely promising Michael and Mark Polish.
© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Monday, August 25, 2008
|DVD||Onkyo-SP500, using Component output|
|Display||Philips Plasma 42FD9954/69c.
Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player.
Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
|Speakers||VAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)|