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Spike Lee Joint Collection – Volume 1 (Blu-ray Review)

Spike-Lee-Joint-Collection-Vol 1Finally some more Spike Lee “joints” are getting the love on Blu-ray.  The Spike Lee Joint Collection features two volumes and four films.  I don’t know if there is any more planned beyond these two releases, but I hope its the start of something.  This first volume of the set covers 1998’s He Got Game and 2002’s (overlooked for awards) 25th Hour.  Both films feature brand spanking new commentaries with Spike Lee himself as well as Edward Norton and Ray Allen.  For 25th Hour, the bonus material from the DVD has made its way over as well.  These are two films that feature very New York stories as we are accustomed to seeing from Spike Lee, one of history’s more interesting, strong spoken and bravest filmmakers.

25th Hour 2

25th Hour 

Monty Brogan is about to start a seven year prison sentence for getting caught dealing drugs.  We follow him on his last day before going to the slammer.  There’s a special VIP area reserved for his last night out at the club where he wants to spend it with his two childhood friends and his girlfriend Naturelle.  Others seem to believe Naturelle may have been the one who led the police to discovering Marty’s stash, but Marty doesn’t think so.  Curious as to find out who ratted him out before he goes to jail, he does want to know for sure that Naturelle didn’t do it.

Right off the bat, I’m pretty sure this might be my personal favorite Spike Lee film.  It features a really honest portrayal of some people and I think this is one of Norton’s top performances.  The film is full of terrific dialogue and absolute dynamite monologues, in which people like Brian Cox deliver some fantastic speeches.  I really enjoy the calm and cool character of Monty as he truly has no one to blame but himself for everything and never once is looking for a way out and is someone who seemingly is taking ownership for what he’s done.

Spike Lee’s voice is all over the film, but I really think its a film where he lets his actors act, but they in turn are incredibly respectful of his direction forming a happy medium.  This ensemble cast is terrific.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Barry Pepper share plenty of chemistry as Monty’s two friends who spend a lot of time together.  Very perfect Yin and Yang guys.  It’s a shame I can’t think of any other movie where these two share screen time together.  This was during a time where Hollywood was pushing the Barry Pepper experience on us and it wasn’t really taking.  Rosario Dawson is an actress who I think you see constantly making strides in her improvement over her career and this film was another step up.  This is especially noticeable in this double feature release as you can compare her in He Got Game to this and its almost night and day.

As I mentioned in the intro paragraph, this movie really got no award recognition which was pretty shocking to me.  The performances alone take this already great screenplay up many notches.  It has some kind of forced Ground Zero stuff in the film, which distracts slightly, but does manage to naturally weave its course in the conversation.  Watching it now, its inclusion makes the film very “of its time”.  But still, even in this time, this last day of a man before he faces prison ballad is some sheer greatness and an absolutely compelling and thoughtful drama to watch unfold.

He Got Game 2

He Got Game 

Jake Shuttlesworth is serving time being convicted of murdering his wife.  His son, Jesus, is the top high school basketball recruit in the nation.  Jesus is on the cusp of deciding what college he’s going to attend or if he’s gonna go pro.  The governor then lets Jake out on parole for one week to try and convince Jesus to attend his alma mater.  If he can convince him, there’s a possibility Jake will get out sooner than planned.  The only problem is, Jesus doesn’t want any part of any association with his estranged father.

I saw this movie back when it came out (it was a pretty high profile film back in 1998), but I tell you what, most of this movie has been cleared from my memory.  With this review, aside from people in it and some little piece here or there, it was almost like watching it for the first time.  I do remember the liking the film well enough back then.  However, while this isn’t a bad film per se, I wasn’t all too enamored with it this time and found myself sort losing focus and interest at many sanctions in the story, but it had moments to reel me back in for a while.

Denzel Washington is terrific in this film (isn’t he always).  This film has a pretty crazy storyline that kind seems like something out of an over the top B level action movie, but Denzel sells it and makes it feel all sorts of natural.  Ray Allen is decent for the most part (for an athlete), but in the scenes that he shares with Denzel, he’s actually really good.  Denzel just seems to elevate the people around him.  I also really enjoyed Milla Jovovich here and the scene with her an Denzel were a breath of fresh air in terms of acting in the film as there’s a lot of scene with athletes acting with one another and actors in side roles/one-liners that would have a hard time convincing me they were walking in a room.

I think some of the problem with this film is that it runs far too long and gets too mixed up in some unnecessary details and subplots.  There’s times where the film gets flat out exploitative and ridiculous and it doesn’t really seem to fit the story we’re following or add to the reason we’ve enjoyed some of it.  It does all culminate in a fantastic finale which features a one-on-one pickup game between father and son that is intense and has some high stakes.  Its an enjoyable film, but watching it at times feels like as long as it takes Jesus Shuttlesworth to make the most important decision in his life.

25th Hour 1

Video

25th Hour 

He Got Game 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 25th Hour – 1:40.1 / He Got Game 1:85.1

Clarity/Detail:  25th Hour comes in a bit soft with some solid detail work.  Most of its problems and lack of being a fantastic transfer are due to its decision to have more naturally lit scenes.  He Got Game looks much better and is a sharp crisp picture, but in some instances is a bit too smooth in closeups and has a smudgy sort of look with quicker movements.

Depth:  He Got Game is a little more toward the flatter end of things, while 25th Hour has a some impressive looking scenes, especially when someone is sitting on the park bench looking at the river.

Black Levels:  Black consumes a lot of the dark scenes on 25th Hour and masks details and softens the picture.  He Got Game has more ideal looking blacks and gives the film a more full feeling.

Color Reproduction:  Both films have colors that are bold and pop when applicable.  Blues and reds shine through the most.

Flesh Tones:  Both are solid and consistent with 25th being more on the cold end while He Got Game proves to be more warm.

Noise/Artifacts:  He Got Game features minimal gain and specs.  25th Hour is very grainy in many darker scenes but doesn’t feature a lot of dirt or any other possible defects.

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Audio

25th Hour 

He Got Game 

Audio Format(s): 25th Hour – English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital / He Got Game – English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French Spanish

Dynamics:  These are some solid track that sound great, but are very front heavy.  Both films could have sufficed with 2.0 tracks and been well off.

Low Frequency Extension:  25th Hour experiences some great sub use with the car at the beginning and the music in the club.  He Got Game has some use in the score, but not much else.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Both films really could have sufficed with lossless 2.0 tracks.  25th Hour fairs better, but there’s not much to speak of aside from some ambiance and lower volume scoring.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Really good clean, crisp audio on both films.  Very much center focused.

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Extras 

This double features is a 2-disc set and not a shared disc.  Each movie gets its own Blu-ray.  All bonus features, sans the new commentaries have been ported from previous DVD releases.

25th Hour

Audio Commentary By Director Spike Lee And Actor Ed Norton – A fresh, brand new commentary recorded for this least, and very recently I might add.  Spike is great and its awesome to have Ed Norton to discuss the film with him instead of just Spike himself which we already have here on the disc from the previous release.

Audio Commentary By Spike Lee – Ported over from the DVD release.

Audio Commentary By Screenwriter David Benioff – Ported over from the DVD release.

The Evolution Of An American Filmmaker (HD, 22:23) – Made at the time of 25th Hour, this takes a look back at the life and film career of Spike Lee, featuring some of his past and frequent collaborators talking about him.

Deleted Scenes

  • Sway (HD, 1:33)
  • Little Odessa (HD, 3:09)
  • Naturelle, Mom And Monty (HD, 2:44)
  • Party Plans (HD, :54)
  • Sneaking Mary In (HD, :49)
  • Monty’s Death Scene (HD, 1:02)

Ground Zero – A Tribute (HD, 5:33) – Footage of Ground Zero and trucks and workers cleaning it up.

He Got Game

Audio Commentary By Director Spike Lee And Actor Ray Allen – A newly recorded commentary reunites the film’s director and star.  Its interesting to have Ray Allen go back and look at this point that was so early in his career.  His basketball career and legacy as a player has become a bigger deal than this movie ever was.

He Got Game 1

Summary 

For me, I would have just bought 25th Hour as a bare bones Blu-ray.  But getting both these films at a such a great pricepoint is a big time win.  If you’re a fan of the director, these are a no brainer.  Plus, the two new audio commentaries for both are quite great.  I wish both’s presentations could have been better, but I think they are merely a product of their source material  But, anyway you shake it, its the best either have looked and this is the ideal way to own and view them.  Below, you’ll see my pre-order link.  While I appreciate it greatly when you click it and order something from me, I appreciate you even more as just merely a reader and want to look out for you from my appreciation.  You can currently get this one and Volume 2 for $11.99 each from Barnes and Noble and that’s a stellar deal that you really can’t pass up.

Spike-Lee-Joint-Collection-Vol 1 -Blu-ray

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

1 Response to “Spike Lee Joint Collection – Volume 1 (Blu-ray Review)”


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