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Friday, August 30, 2013

Lay the Favorite Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Professional odds-maker Dink (Bruce Willis, the Die Hard franchise), is running a small-time sports gambling enterprise when a former stripper named Beth (Rebecca Hall, The Town) promises to help him score big… and turns his world upside down.  With his connections and her knack for numbers, the lucrative business of sports betting will never be the same.  Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago, The Mask of Zorro) and Joshua Jackson (“Fringe”, “Dawson’s Creek”) round out a talented cast of misfits who are willing to risk everything for their dreams. Sly and sexy, heart-warming and hilarious, Stephen Frears’ Lay the Favorite is based on the Beth Raymer’s best-selling memoir, “Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling.”  




 

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

When I was offered this movie to review, I hadn’t heard of it which was surprising to me considering the cast and director involved in it.  Based on the fact that Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vince Vaughn, and Rebecca Hall starred in it and it was directed by Stephen Frears who brought us The Queen, The Grifters, Dangerous Liaisons, and more, I happily accepted it and I’m glad that I did.  This movie about a young woman navigating the gambling world is perfectly suited for the small screen and while it had a few low points, I enjoyed the movie for the most part due to the strong performances.
Rebecca Hall plays Beth, a young woman who abandons her stripper profession when it gets too scary and she moves to Las Vegas to become a cocktail waitress.  In a fortuitous turn of events, she somehow manages to get a job as an assistant runner for Dink (Bruce Willis) who runs a pretty big bookie business that could use some extra luck.  Lucky for Beth, that’s exactly what Dink thinks she brings to his business as her arrival coincides with several wins for Dink, Inc. and things are going great for all of them.  Dink is happy because he’s finally winning some real money and Beth is happy because she immediately fell in love with Dink and dreams of wooing him away from his insecure wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
Beth turns out to be a gambling prodigy and her talent for numbers brings her closer to Dink much to the fury of Tulip who fears that she will lose Dink to the beautiful and younger woman.   While we spend much of the movie cheering for Beth, it’s hard to support all of her decisions as she single-mindedly goes after the susceptible Dink with no empathy for his wife or his feelings for her.  Eventually, Tulip forces Dink to choose between Beth or her and Beth learns the hard way that despite her sex appeal and apparent good luck, Dink’s heart still belongs to Tulip.
Hurt, but ready to move on with her life, Beth hooks up with some guy she meets in a casino (Joshua Jackson) and moves to New York with him.  While there, she reconnects with one of the bookies she met while working for Dink named Rosie (Vince Vaughn).  The two of them hit it off well and it’s not long before they open up an offshore gambling site that Beth runs for Rosie.  Up until now, Beth has remained stubbornly oblivious to any possible repercussions of her chosen profession, but her illegal lifestyle is about to catch up to her and she will have to rely on her old friend Dink and another unlikely ally – Tulip to help save her.
Lay the Favorite is a fun little movie that coasts along thanks to the many good performances that power it.  Rebecca Hall does a very nice job playing an immature, sexy, and smart young woman in a well-rounded performance that makes the character feel real.  Bruce Willis takes a break from his recent roles of playing an unemotive tough guy to play someone that feels human and it’s nice to see him really acting again.  Like Beth, Dink is a very likable character with flaws and Willis shows us his good and bad qualities equally.  In smaller roles, Vince Vaughn is fun as the manic Rosie, Catherine Zeta-Jones is miscast as the insecure wife (she’s far too lovely to be that worried about losing Dink), while Joshua Jackson is fine as the young man who gets swept up by Beth’s choices.  It was also good to see my favorite guy from “Treme” Wendell Pierce for a couple of minutes in a blink or you’ll miss it role.  Frears keeps the movie moving from location to location and makes this small budget movie looking more polished than it should.  In fact, I enjoyed the movie enough to want to read the memoir by Beth Raymer that the movie is based on.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.85:1) transfer looks pretty good overall but does have some drawbacks to its presentation.  The film’s colors look striking and the detail to be found is sharp, but the black levels aren’t consistent which throws off the look of the film from scene to scene.  I suspect that this movie was filmed with a digital camera and the resulting image would explain that.  The film has a naturalistic look which works well for the movie, but it occasionally runs into trouble with noise and the aforementioned black levels.  Overall, this is still a strong presentation, but it could have looked even better.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Lay the Favorite’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is also fairly good but it won’t knock your socks off.  The best part of this mix is how it handles the overlapping dialogue which happens frequently in this movie.  Whether it’s in Dink’s office where multiple people are yelling at the same time, or in Rosie’s offshore gambling base, the lines of dialogue are always clear and easy to understand.  The music by James Seymour Brett is also well balanced with the rest of the audio.  There’s not a lot of opportunities for the surround channels to really engage, but the few times there are, it does sound pretty good.  For a dialogue driven movie, this mix does the job.

Extras (2 out of 5 stars) 

I wasn’t expecting too many extras and I got what I expected.
  • Deleted Scenes – There’s eleven deleted scenes in total and none of them really needed to be included in the movie.  They mainly would have just added more screen time to for Laura Prepon and Vince Vaughn.  Included are: “Outside Darren’s House”, “Beth & Holly at the CafĂ©”, “Best Job Ever”, “What’re You Doing?”, “Don’t Get Old”, “Beth Phones Dad”, “New York Is Hot”, “Beth & Jeremy”, “Beth Calls Rosie”, “Beth Visits Doctor”, and “Dink’s Voicemail.”

Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This is a small charming movie that’s filled with a lot of talented actors taking a break from their usual career choices.  Despite its low budget, this film comes across more polished than you’d think, thanks largely to its director Stephen Frears.  This was a breakout role for Rebecca Hall whose career is on the rise and who is about to be seen in Iron Man 3.  This Blu-ray presentation is pretty solid with a good transfer and a decent audio mix, but I wish they had included more extras than just deleted scenes.  If you are a fan of these actors then you should enjoy this movie and at this price it’s an easy movie to recommend!
Order your copy today! 

2 comments:

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    1. Thank you for the nice comments and for reading the review! I appreciate it!

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