Sunday, December 16, 2007

[DVD] Layer Cake (2004)

I Will Be Bond Soon!

Layer Cake was the film touted to have had convinced the 007 producers that Daniel Craig had what it took to take over the mantle of the franchise from Pierce Brosnan. At first ridiculed for his "blonde-ness", we all know now through hindsight what Craig had done to invigorate a flagging franchise. I think there were enough Bond like moments in this film, such as the way he first wielded a pistol (in fact thinking he was indeed James Bond), his erm, rippling upper body muscles (which were toned further for Bond, given how we know the world's premier open-secret spy likes to shed his clothes as he gallivants with the ladies), and that steely resolve in his eyes, never mind that he gets physically whacked for the most parts in the story.

Daniel Craig plays a nameless drug dealer, who for all intents and purposes, is called XXXX (1 extra X than xXx). He's a businessman whose trade and goods are illegal, and is one job away from calling it a day. In some parts, the introduction of his character is like Hong Kong movie Protege combined with the effects of Fight Club (check out the FCUK product placement - you will not believe they were actually ok with that). He explains his modus operandi and methodology in his approach to the business, and being at the top of the game, he soon finds himself caught in a bad web of intrigue which seems to slowly pigeonhole him into bad corners, with increasing stakes that may include his life.

Getting rid of one million ecstasy pills isn't as easy as a stroll in the park, even for a seasoned industry veteran, and XXXX soon finds himself involved with East Europeans from whom the goods were ripped off from, their hired gun, betrayal from associates, and basically, murphy's law. And here's where it's fun - watching him squirm and wriggle his way out of situations, not in a panicky, cowardly way, but in a coldly calculated manner as he puts his master scheme together, leaving you guessing until the very last moments.

For that, the credit has to go to JJ Connolly, who wrote the story and the screenplay. It's a complex story, made up of layers which builds upon one another, and then slowly broken down into its individual portions again. What I liked about the treatment of the story, was how first-time director Matthew Vaughn (who would go on to helm Stardust earlier this year) didn't treat his audience like idiots, in seeing the non necessity to explain everything on screen. Through narrative style and editing, it allows even the laziest of us to join the dots and make the necessary connections ourselves.

Having produced Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch, both of which were directed by Guy Ritchie (who was rumoured to be slated to direct this), you can't help but feel that Matthew Vaughn had probably subconsciously influenced by Ritchie in the stylistic techniques used in Layer Cake, with the slick edits and transitions, and even the con games and the sleight of hands that pepper the storyline. And what more, they are all gangster movies too.

But if you're a fan of the genre, then Layer Cake deserves a watch, for its witty (and oft vulgarity laden) dialogue, and especially if you're one who likes to root for the underdog as he struggles to stay afloat when all round seems to be closing in, until it all becomes clear exactly how much well executed cunning would come to be useful in situations like these. Great ensemble cast too, with the likes of Michael Gambon and Sienna Miller.

The Code 3 DVD by Sony Pictures Classics comes in anamorphic widescreen presentation, which seemed a little soft all round, but nonetheless a flawless transfer. Audio comes in English Dolby Digital 5.1 or French Dolby Digital Surround. Subtitles are available in English, Chinese, French, Korean and Thai, and scene selection is available over 19 chapters.

For a one-disc edition, the Special Features are surprisingly loaded with stuff. You have the Director and Writer's Commentary which has to be listened to as you peer into the technicalities, difficulties, and various other informative nuggets that Matthew Vaughn and JJ Connolly dish out from the production process, and listen out for differences between the book and the film.

There are a total of 14 Deleted Scenes and 2 Alternate Endings, which thankfully comes with a play all option, and optional Director's and Writer's commentary to explain the rationale behind why these scenes were dropped. In no particular order in this listing (so that you can't guess the chronological sequence of events), they are Lunch at Jimmy's (0:49), Where is My Prisoner? (3:15), On the Rooftop (0:30), Duke at the Cafe (1:24), Fishing (2:42), Meeting at Gene's (2:14), Charlotte (1:59), XXXX in Bed with the Gun (0:50), How to Find Charlotte (1:34), On the Staircase (0:30), Setting Up the Meeting (1:38), Guarding the Goods (0:52), Sidney and Sam (1:14) and Tiptoes has been Calling (0:24).

And a good thing that the ending in the feature film was left as it is, which was secretly shot without Sony's knowledge, as they had preferred Driving Away (0:37). The other alternate ending, Sidney (0:48) felt a little clunky and suffering from indecision on how and when to end the movie. So all's good in the final product.

Storyboard Comparisons has 2 sets for you to do a side-by-side comparison with, but because one of the titles contain a spoiler, I will choose not to list it. With a total combined runtime of just over 4 minutes, you can use the "Angle" button to alternate bringing up the actual feature and the storyboard itself to the foreground. Pretty neat to see how symbols on storyboards are used to describe succinctly how the shot is to be composed and developed.

Featurettes contain 2 clips. One is a Q&A (29:02) with director Matthew Vaughn and actor Daniel Craig at the National Film Theatre in London in September 2004, after a screening, where Vaughn talks most of the time, covering a range of subjects from his transition from producer to director, about the gangster genre, and working with a relatively small budget yet want to show the scale and layers of London. It's still quite amazing how they got FCUK to say yes to those unflattering product placement shots, but there's a major spoiler in one of the questions asked, so watch the feature film first.

The other is a very short Making of Layer Cake which runs slightly less than 6 minutes, containing interviews with the director and various cast members, with limited behind the scenes look. There's a play all option available for both featurettes.

Poster Explorations contain 24 of them! But alas, all are almost thumbnail sized which prevents you from viewing them up close and personal, and some differ from others in only colour schemes.

Wrapping up the extra features is a set of Trailers for Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle (1:38) which also autostarts when the DVD is popped into the player, Snatch (1:58) by Guy Ritchie, who was supposed to direct Layer Cake, and comedian David Chappelle: For What It's Worth (1:22). Too bad there wasn't the trailer for Layer Cake included, as they were quire irreverent to the actual movie, as intended by Matthew Vaughn.

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