Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Scarface: Limited Edition Steelbook Blu-ray Review

In the spring of 1980, the Mariel boatlift brought thousands of Cuban refugees to the sun-washed avenues of Miami in search of the American dream. From acclaimed director Brian DePalma, Scarface is the rags-to-riches story of Tony Montana (Al Pacino), who finds wealth, power and passion beyond his wildest dreams…at a price he never imagined. Tony Montana’s meteoric rise, lavish life and soul-destroying fall, are the elements of the film have that inspired a worldwide following and changed the fortunes of the movie from a mediocre box office under-performer into a phenomenon. The role of Tony Montana gave Pacino one of his most memorable roles as he blasts his way to the top of Miami’s drug underworld in a bravura performance.

Film (2 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Brian DePalma’s Scarface is a remake of Howard Hawk’s original movie and an ode to excess in every way imaginable.  The violence is more excessive than it needs to be, the acting (while excellent), is over the top and melodramatic, and the tale of Tony Montana (Al Pacino) is presented as rags to riches story albeit a twisted version of the American Dream.  The years since this movie was released to mediocre financial and critical success have mythologized both the movie and the character of Montana himself.  Now, Montana is everywhere – on t-shirts, key-chains, boxer shorts, toys, belt buckles, video games, ties, and more.  Montana has also seemingly inspired rappers to include lyrics about him in their songs as well as copy his aesthetic taste in their videos and home decor.  After watching the movie finally for the first time, all I can ask is why?
Tony Montana is a vicious psychotic thug whose only redeeming quality is that he refuses to kill children.  He has no problem killing others for any reason, or even his closest friends, but even Montana does draw the line there.  While watching this movie, an impromptu commentary occurred between myself and the bulk of the Why So Blu staff who put on the movie after learning I was watching it.  I must add a disclaimer that every one of them loves this movie. Some of them even think that Montana is a great man which completely baffles me since all he does is kill everyone blocking his way to the top of a gang.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s start at the beginning first…
The movie opens with some newsreel footage of the Cubans that Fidel Castro has kicked out of Cuba which included around 25,000 criminals mixed in with the refugees.  This collection of people were basically interned in camps under the freeways in Miami while the authorities processed their paperwork for green cards.  Montana (one of the criminals) and his closest friend Manny (Steven Bauer) and their lackeys bide their time in the camp as they wait for their green cards.  Patience is not one of Montana’s virtues and once word reaches him a drug dealer named Frank (Robert Loggia) has put a hit out on a recent arrival to the camp and that green cards await whoever kills him, Montana gathers his men together to execute this once powerful man.
Rewarded with green cards for their brutality, Montana and the gang get jobs that they feel are beneath them. When one of Frank’s associates named Omar (F. Murray Abraham) offers the duo a job to buy cocaine from some Colombians they are faced with a decision to either continue working at a roadside diner or deal in drugs, the two take the easier yet riskier path.  Unfortunately, they are double-crossed by the Colombians which results in a violent scene involving a chainsaw which gave the movie it’s notoriety at the time of its release.  This debacle makes two things clear about Montana…he would rather die than help the Colombians and that he has no hesitation in killing people in broad daylight in front of a crowd full of people.
Suspecting a set up, Montana and what’s left of his Cuban posse deliver the drugs and the money to Frank directly since they don’t trust Omar at all.  Frank likes Montana’s style and hires him on the spot.  Frank’s larger than life persona and his trappings of wealth impress Montana, but what really catches his eye is Frank’s girlfriend Elvira (Michelle Pfieffer).  It isn’t long that he begins to covet her as much as he does Frank’s position and wealth.  Time goes on and Montana starts making some serious money but it’s never enough for the greedy man.  As he says, “I want the world… and everything in it,” and he refuses to accept anything less.  After waiting until he had a lot of money to impress his relatives with before returning to visit his mother and his sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), he quickly discovers that his mother isn’t impressed by his money because she knows he earned it through evil deeds.  Gina however, is just happy to see him and doesn’t mind taking the money he offers her.  When Montana notices Manny checking Gina out, he goes berserk and warns him to never look at his sister again.
Montana and Omar go to Bolivia on belhalf of Frank’ who wants them to talk to the drug kingpin Alejandro Sosa (Paul Shenar). Sosa appreciates Montana’s straight talk even if it is exaggerated and asks him to stay when it’s time for them to leave. Sosa’s reasons become clear once his men kill Omar for being a police informant by hanging him.  When Sosa questions Montana about Omar, Montana tells him truthfully that he never liked Omar and didn’t trust him, but that Frank was a good man and that they could make a deal.  When Montana returns home to tell Frank the news, Frank is furious at both the loss of Omar and the fact that Montana thought he could make unauthorized deals on his behalf.  It’s the final straw between the two and Montana leaves to start his own criminal empire and begins an even more public display of propositioning Elvira.
Soon, Montana’s higher profile and actions make him a target for crooked cops like Mel Bernstein (Harris Yulin) and the target of Frank who now has a vendetta against Montana.  It isn’t long before Frank sends two men with poor eyesight to kill Montana in a club.  Despite being near their mostly drunk target and using machine guns, the two thugs hit just about everyone in the club except Montana.  Certain that the two men were hired by Frank, Montana gathers his couple of men and goes to Frank’s place to get even.  Inexplicably, despite Frank’s wealth and power, he is unable to even hire some security guards to protect him as Montana basically waltzes right in.  Despite being personally targeted for death by Frank, Montana leaves the job of killing Frank to Manny and focuses instead on killing the corrupt cop Bernstein.
Now that Montana is able to consolidate his power he quickly informs Elvira that she belongs to him and begins running the cocaine business and opening up multiple companies to front his illegal empire.  The constant demand for cocaine makes Montana a very wealthy man and he’s taking in so much money that the bank that launders his money informs him that they can’t handle that much quantity anymore without charging him more money.  With unlimited wealth and power along with his trophy wife Elvira, Montana has everything he ever wanted and it’s just a matter of time before his volatile anger and paranoia take it all away from him.
I realize that I am in the minority about disliking this film.  Perhaps if I had seen it back in the eighties, it would hold some fond memories for me and it might have seemed fresher than it does now.  As I told my colleagues, not only is this movie far too long (almost three hours long) but the predictable storyline has already been done before and done better by other movies.  The story of a young man who becomes a bad guy and moves up the crime ladder by killing people only to end up alienating everyone around him was done with more flair and substance by The Godfather Part II (which ironically also starred Pacino).  The entire time I watched Scarface (which seemed like forever), all I could think about was how much better The Godfather movies were able to tell a similar story so much better.

Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (2.35:1) transfer’s quality is wildly uneven.  In daylight scenes, it offers a highly detailed picture that show every wrinkle and bead of sweat on Pacino’s face, but the night-time scenes are filled with noise.  There’s also a lot of edge enhancement throughout the movie and the quality just jumps around.  Textures look very good as do flesh tones for the most part (especially during well-lit scenes).  Colors pop for the most part and this is definitely better than the portions I’ve seen on TV and DVD.  This could have been better but it also could’ve been a lot worse.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

Scarface’s DTS-HD Master Audio  7.1 mix doesn’t disappoint and it sounds a lot better than I anticipated it would. The cheesy music, the dialogue, and most especially the various explosions, gunfire, and of course the multiple deaths all in glorious 7.1 sound.  I don’t know if the extra two channels were needed, but this sounds fantastic! There’s also a lot of nice ambiance showcased in this mix especially in the clubs and the immigration camps.  The quality of the sound was the one thing that all of the Why So Blu staff agreed on.

Special Features (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

These extras are a mixed bag.  While I love that Universal included the original film as a bonus disc, there’s also a bunch of worthless extras that have nothing really to do with the film other than proving some people love the movie.  If you skip all of them except for The Rebirth, The Acting, and The Creating, you won’t miss anything.  Those three however, are all good and include the film’s cast and crew. There’s also some art cards and a digital copy of the film included which is always nice.
  • Scarface (1932) – Universal generously included Howard Hawks’ original  1932 version of Scarface starring Paul Muni as Antonio “Tony” Camonte. The film offers a 1.33:1 transfer and mono soundtrack as well as an alternate ending and an introduction by film historian Robert Osborne.
  • U-Control – There’s two interactive features that give viewers some extra options.  There’s a Picture-in-Picture track with clips of the cast and crew (that’s also included in the special features) and a scene comparison between the 1932 and the 1983 versions of Scarface.  The second track is Scarface Scorecard  which tracks how many times “fuck” is said and how often gunfire goes off.  It’s kind of juvenile but some people may like it.
  • The Scarface Phenomenon – At almost forty minutes I thought this would be the highlight of the special features but I was sorely disappointed.  Instead of a in depth documentary featuring the cast and crew, we get a few clips of DePalma, Bauer, and Loggia and a whole bunch of C-list celebrities and rappers.  This is a complete waste of time since the majority of these people have nothing to do with the movie at all and I have no idea why there are in this.
  • Deleted scenes – A collection of needless deleted scenes including a montage of different takes of Montana’s final stand.  What’s amazing to me is that there’s actually footage left over that wasn’t included in this already over-long film.
  • The World of Tony Montana – Here’s more people not involved in the film talking about the movie and why they like it.  This time it includes policemen, authors, and some film-makers.
  • The Rebirth – Finally we have a real extra!  In this featurette, we get to finally hear from the big name actors and DePalma and Bregman as they talk about the original movie and how this remake began.
  • The Acting – Each of the main actors are profiled with a lot of emphasis on Pacino and his thoughts.  It’s only around fifteen minutes but it’s got some good info here.
  • The Creating – This is the crown jewel of the extras and it’s basically a making-of documentary with De Palma, Stone, and Bregman talking about making the film and the challenges they faced in doing so.  Between having to leave Miami to film in LA  because of angry Cubans to Stone’s research into the drug world that almost got him killed, this is a great look behind the scenes.
  • The Making of “Scarface: The Video Game” –  A look at the video-game that came out a long time ago for the Playstation 2 that looks pretty rough.  It’s too bad since it seems like the game creator’s really tried to capture the world.
  • Scarface: The TV Version – A look at some of the ways this very adult movie into an acceptable form to show on TV by replacing words and a lot of editing.
  • BD-Live Portal - If you want to see the Def Jam Presents: Origins of a Hip-Hop Classic featurette  and the film’s theatrical trailer, both are available via BD-Live.

Final Thoughts (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The movie’s only saving grace in my opinion was its fantastic cast but even that comes with a caveat as each of them are chewing up so much scenery that the catering bill for the movie must have been non-existent.  Pacino is without a doubt the biggest perpetrator but he’s so big and so over the top, that it actually works for the most part.  The only time it completely fails is when he gets really mad and his eyes bulge out as the music builds to a super cheesy crescendo.  Those scenes are so bad and so exaggerated, that it killed me every time.  I understand why Pacino’s audacious performance has gained so many admirers who love the smug over-confident swagger of the character, but I don’t understand why the character himself is held in such high esteem.  I had no sympathy for the character at all which really limited the appeal of the movie for me.  Tony Montana is simply a low rent Bond villain bent on world domination but without a dependable henchman or a clue how to resolve anything without a weapon.  If this movie’s run-time had been cut in half, I think it would have been a far stronger movie although I realize that I’m in the minority on this one.  I wanted to like the movie but I just couldn’t take the over the top tone of the film and the cheesiness of the angry Tony parts with the unintentionally funny music cue.  Although the movie has some good lines, I would rather watch DePalma’s The Untouchables instead so go ahead and get your pitchforks and say good night to the bad guy!
Nothing exceeds like excess so order your copy today you cockroaches!

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