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Featured Blu-ray Review: Hostage, Rounders, and Swingers

September 22nd, 2011

Hostage - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Rounders - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Swingers - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Lionsgate has been releasing a series of catalog titles of Blu-ray. On the 23rd of August, three more such films were released: Hostage, Rounders, and Swingers. The screeners arrived late, so let's get right to it.


Bruce Willis stars as Jeff Talley, a hostage negotiator with the police. In the opening scene, we see a hostage situation go particularly bad. Flash forward a year and he has a new job in a new city, much to the dismay of his daughter. He's moved to a smaller town hoping to get away the crime in the big city.

However, things change one day when Mars and Dennis are out for a drive, with his younger brother, Kevin, along for the ride. They spot Walter Smith and his two kids, Tommy and Jennifer (Michelle Horn). Mars and Dennis decide to pull a home robbery, as Walter is clearly a rich man. Unfortunately, they trip a silent alarm and the cops show up. Jeff is one of the first cops on the scene, but when he witnesses the first cop there shot and killed, he decides to let the big city cops take over the hostage situation.

This is when the big twist comes in. Walter Smith makes his money working for organized crime, and he was preparing to deliver a CD full of encrypted data to his boss when his house was robbed. Now Walter's boss, The Watchman, holds Jeff's ex-wife and daughter hostage forcing him to take control of the hostage situation at the Smith's house long enough for them to get a team in and retrieve the CD themselves.

So that's the setup, but how is the payoff? It's mixed, at best. Bruce Willis had played this part far too often by this point in his career and his performance seems a little tired. Ben Foster isn't able to pull of the intimidating criminal either, but for the opposite reason. (He overplays his part.) This means neither the hero nor the villain are real selling points to the movie. The action also seems, well, borrowed from earlier Bruce Willis movies. Instead of offering us much new, the script just throws in a few too many twists and hopes that's enough. It isn't.

The Extras

It's shovelware. There's an audio commentary track, behind-the-scenes, and deleted / extended scenes, which is not a lot of extras. The film looks good in High Definition, for the most part. There are a few scenes with a little too much grain, but I would rather have that than overuse of DNR. Also, a lot of the movie takes place at night and there are times when the shadows eat up a lot of the detail. It's not bad, per se, but the film cost $75 million to make just six years ago. It should look better. The audio is better than the video is with the surround sound speakers getting a workout. There are lots of directional effects, panning, etc. while the dialogue remains clear at all times.

The Verdict

Hostage isn't a terrible movie, but there's a lot of smaller flaws that chip away at the film's effectiveness. I think if you are a fan of Bruce Willis, then it is worth checking out. However, it has limited replay value. On the other hand, the Blu-ray does cost just $8.


Matt Damon stars as Mike McDermott, a small time poker player, who is looking to take his stab at the big time at the beginning of the film. Despite warnings from Joey Kinish, he goes for it and risks all he's saved up, $30,000. It looks like his big gamble is going to pay off, until he runs into Teddy KGB at the poker table. One bad hand and he's left with nothing.

Nine months later, Mike's working a crappy job just to pay for his tuition and any dreams he's had of going to Vegas have ended. The loss hit him hard, but he also promised his girlfriend, Jo that he won't play cards anymore. He's even able to impress his professor, Abe Petrovsky. It looks like he's finally getting his life back on track. And then Worm gets out of jail. Worm is an old friend who went to the same prep school as mike, but unlike the rest of their classmates, they were not rich kids, but the sons of the janitor and groundskeeper respectively. They did a lot of small cons while they were kids, but when they tried something big, Worm was busted. He took the fall, and Mike finished high school and went on to law school.

Now that Worm's out, he's looking to get back into the action, not realizing Mike's gone cold turkey. But a bit of needling from Worm wears on Mike's resolve and it isn't long before he's hanging with the old crowd (including Petra, an old flame) and he's gambling again. And that will have a lot of repercussions, especially when Worm loses a lot of money to the wrong people.

I love this movie. It's one of my favorite movies of all time, and my favorite poker movie of all time. The opening poker game is still able to draw me in, even though I know exactly what cards are going to be dealt and how it ends up. That's the power this film has in my eyes. This is partly because of the very well-written script, but also the incredibly talented cast. It's a movie about a gambling addiction, but you are rooting for the addiction to win. It's like watching Trainspotting and cheering for Ewan McGregor to fall off the wagon. It's amazing that the cast and crew were able to create a movie that does that.

The Extras

Again, the Blu-ray is shovelware, but there's plenty of extras, starting with two audio commentary tracks. The first is with the director, the two screenwriters, and Edward Norton and it is your typical audio commentary track. The second is with a quartet of real-life professional poker players, and it is one of the more unique extras on any Blu-ray. They are obviously most active during the poker scenes and do comment on poker strategies, the dangers of a home game as opposed to casino game, etc. There are two short featurettes, the first is a behind-the-scenes and the second is on real life poker. Finally, there are poker tips. It's not bad, but not a fully loaded disc either.

The film does look really good on Blu-ray, at times. This film was a relatively low budget production, and a lot of it was shot in dark and smokey rooms, so it doesn't have the visual flair of a big budget special effects film. However, there's still a lot of fine detail, and when called for, there's lots of color. The audio is also strong, when needed. It's mostly a dialog driven film, but you get ambient sounds that add to the overall experience.

The Verdict

Rounders made its Blu-ray debut last month, and while it is shovelware, there are enough extras and the audio / video quality is strong enough that it's worth the $11 asking price on


The film that put Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, and Doug Liman on the map. In the film, Jon Favreau plays Mike, a comedian from New York City who was just dumped by his long time girlfriend and his now living in Los Angeles. He's best friends with Trent, who is trying to get him back in the game, with the help of a trio of other friends, Rob, Sue, and Charles (Alex Désert). Although "helping" might be a bit of a strong word when it comes to Trent, but at least he's a little better than Sue.

There's three basic plot threads in this movie. There's the above one about Mike getting over his bad relationship with the equally bad advice from his friends. The second is Rob coming to Los Angeles to start an acting career, which doesn't get off to a great start. And then there's the general buddy comedy aspect of the film, which has a lot of appeal. Much of this film is just five guys going to clubs, hanging out, and just talking. Fortunately, Jon Favreau is really good with dialog, and the entire cast has a lot of charm. This helps lift what could be a rather tiresome film, to one that has high replay value and is very quotable. Apparently it is the source of the term "Wingman" when it comes to dating. How many films can you name that changed the way people talk?

The Extras

Like the previous two Blu-rays on this list, this one is shovelware. There are two audio commentary tracks, the first with Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, while the second is with Doug Liman and the Editor Stephen Mirrione. Both are worth checking out. There's also a nearly 50-minute making of featurette, deleted scenes, and a fake trailer for Swing Blade.

The video quality of this film can give you whiplash. There are shots that are beautiful, like when they first arrive in Las Vegas, but there are also shots that look simply terrible. There is an easy explanation for this, the film was made for just $200,000. There's no way this movie was ever going to look amazing on Blu-ray, but it arguably looks as good as it is going to get, given the source material. The audio offers clear dialogue, but the surround sound speakers won't get a huge workout.

The Verdict

Of the three films on this story, Swingers earned the best reviews and while I like Rounders better, this is still a very good movie. It doesn't exactly shine on Blu-ray, but it is worth paying the $10.50 it costs on

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Filed under: Video Review, Hostage, Rounders, Swingers