Thursday, February 15, 2007

CASINO: Blu-ray (Universal 1995) Universal Home Video

Martin Scorsese’s exploration of mob ties to Las Vegas; Casino (1995) is perversely misshaped like the villainous smiles of Shakespearian senators cast on two sides of the same Janus-faced Roman coin - one, an above board glittering playground for good times and fast action; the other, a nightmarish descent into the underworld of mob rule.

The film stars Robert DeNiro as Sam 'Ace' Rothstein, the consummate bookie and hand-picked front man for the wise guys back east, put in charge of one of the biggest gaming palaces on the strip, The Tangiers. Initially Sam is assigned to clean up the petty corruption of local con artists. After all, the mob can’t be the one’s getting scammed.

However, when Sam meets Ginger (Sharon Stone) caution is thrown to the wind in favor of a good time. Sam and Ginger marry on the fly. For Sam it's really love. Then he finds out what sort of gal Ginger really is; drug addicted and hopelessly in love with loser, Lester Diamond (James Woods).

Based on a true story, the screenplay by Nicholas Pileggi and Scorsese takes a turn with the arrival of Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci); a villainous pint size ‘Little Caesar’ whose heavy-handed ways as ‘big man on the strip’ repeatedly land him in hot water with the Dons back east. Nicky becomes Ginger’s ally against Sam, the two plotting to do away with Sam using a car bomb.  The bomb goes off but Sam survives. Having had enough of Nicky, the mob bosses send him on a one way bloody trip to an abandoned corn field where a pair of thugs are waiting for him with their steel baseball bats. 

Scorsese’s ‘end to mob rule in Vegas’ is a spectacular tone poem populated with a veritable who’s who of old time/big name talents; Don Rickles as floor manager, Billy Sherbert; Kevin Pollack, fronting for the mob as squeaky clean, Phillip Green; and Alan King as spurious go-between, Andy King. Perhaps most unsettling of all, the story is based in truth. 

Universal Home Video's Blu-ray rectifies the sins of its old 'flipper' DVD release. I have to say I'm still not a fan of compressing a nearly 3 hr. feature and almost 3 hours of extras on the single side of a single disc. Blu-ray's compression ratio is good - but not that good. Something has to suffer. Thankfully, the feature doesn't look any worse for the wear.  We get a very smooth, sharp and colorful transfer, 1080p and exhibiting some very fine clarity throughout. Selective DNR has been applied, but the grain structure seems naturally reproduced. This is a stellar visual presentation. The audio is DTS 5.1 but not quite what I expected. While the film's score and period pop tunes sound  alright, and dialogue is clear and crisp, SFX are rather underwhelming - particularly the car explosion that kicks off the film. I think perhaps compression is an issue herein.

Universal has outdone themselves on extra features. Not only do we get a ‘making of’ documentary that is thorough, but we get a History Channel back story of the mob in Vegas with intense and thorough biography specials on the mob’s biggest bosses. An audio commentary and the film’s theatrical trailer round out the extra features. Highly recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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