399 House of Games

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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Lost Highway
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Re: 399 House of Games

#101 Post by Lost Highway » Wed Jun 19, 2019 5:10 am

Thanks for that invaluable information!

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andyli
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Re: 399 House of Games

#102 Post by andyli » Wed Jun 19, 2019 5:27 am

No need to get sarcastic. I'm merely pointing out the fact that no label is factoring the quality (or freshness) of a master into their SRP. New 4K resto could as well end up in a bargain bin as Criterion et al. charge a premium for old HD transfer. On average it all levels off for people buying stuff on a regular basis. I too wish labels were releasing movies solely from 4K restorations, but until the restoration cost/licensing fee drop to a manageable level it's simply not gonna happen.

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tenia
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Re: 399 House of Games

#103 Post by tenia » Wed Jun 19, 2019 5:35 am

The issue has never been using older masters, but using outdated ones. It's all the more surprising with Criterion that they have tons of DVD releases that could be upgraded through brand new restorations (just like Fists in the Pocket that received a new 4K restoration) and yet, they regularly choose to upgrade instead titles who don't have anything else than outdated masters (and I'm not sure people were eagerly waiting for that House of Games upgrade, especially in these conditions).

Other labels doing so isn't an excuse (but rather a sophism), especially when some of them sometimes complain behind-the-scenes about how these masters should have simply been retired years ago. A probably-20+-years-old master like House of Games shouldn't be offered for BD release, and yet, the rightholder doesn't care, and the label chooses to go ahead anyway. It's not as if it was a "this or nothing" situation : the movie still is available on DVD for anyone who just wants to see it in good enough conditions. But what is the technical added value of a BD release with such a master, especially considering the premium usually asked for a BD release ?

I had a similar issue with Indicator earlier releases, who not only digged into Sony's older masters, but into vastly outdated ones. It currently seems to be less and less the case, which is good, but in an ideal world, buying releases based on older masters wouldn't be risking facing not just a not-brand-new master but a problematic one.
andyli wrote:
Wed Jun 19, 2019 5:27 am
I too wish labels were releasing movies solely from 4K restorations, but until the restoration cost/licensing fee drop to a manageable level it's simply not gonna happen.
As written above, it's not an issue of only using new restorations, but avoiding using older masters that are not just old but also relatively poor. Within Criterion, that's the difference between, say, Woman in the Dunes and Sword of Doom.

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Lost Highway
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Re: 399 House of Games

#104 Post by Lost Highway » Wed Jun 19, 2019 6:05 am

andyli wrote:
Wed Jun 19, 2019 5:27 am
No need to get sarcastic. I'm merely pointing out the fact that no label is factoring the quality (or freshness) of a master into their SRP. New 4K resto could as well end up in a bargain bin as Criterion et al. charge a premium for old HD transfer. On average it all levels off for people buying stuff on a regular basis. I too wish labels were releasing movies solely from 4K restorations, but until the restoration cost/licensing fee drop to a manageable level it's simply not gonna happen.
I have bought crappy releases from Arrow (Dark Water, Pulse), but at least they were nearly half price of what Criterion charges when new and I picked them up at a sale at Fopp for £7. If one charges nearly $30, releasing a blu-ray that poor is a rip-off and I don’t know why they even bother. It’s the last time I put in a pre-order with Criterion. House of Games was one of my most anticipated titles on blu-ray, so the disappointment has made me extra cranky.

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andyli
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Re: 399 House of Games

#105 Post by andyli » Wed Jun 19, 2019 6:12 am

Thanks for your detailed thought, tenia. This is an issue that intrigues me a lot, and I replied first in the hope of inducing a more in-depth discussion anyway.

I have absolutely no idea what goes on behind the scene in terms of choosing what to upgrade or not. A quick survey of this year's release calendar shows that Criterion have 7 upgrade titles with HD transfer (Berlin Alexanderplatz, Stranger Than Paradise, Night on Earth, House of Games, Veronika Voss, Magnificent Obsession, An Angel at My Table) and 6 titles in new 4K resto (Notorious, Blue Velvet, The Marriage of Maria Braun, Lola, Do the Right Thing, Fists in the Pocket). It's about 1:1 ratio. So I guess if Criterion goes solely on 4K-ready upgrades they would have ended up with half the amount of upgrades. The reason they choose to do the former batch over other potential 4K-ready titles I can only guess. The contractual pressure to put something out sooner rather than later may play a role here. The BRD trilogy seems to serve as a crystal-clear case in which they'd choose not to wait for Veronika Voss.

If you factor in the newer restorations that may not look that good for the money, it becomes even more complicated. Swing Time comes to mind as a recent example. Warner might have chosen a 2K route because of the sorry state of the film elements, yet the new 2k transfer still fall short of expectations. So at the end of the day I stuck to the 'on average it's worth it' kind of mentality when buying them.

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andyli
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Re: 399 House of Games

#106 Post by andyli » Wed Jun 19, 2019 6:21 am

Lost Highway wrote:
Wed Jun 19, 2019 6:05 am
I have bought crappy releases from Arrow (Dark Water, Pulse), but at least they were nearly half price of what Criterion charges when new and I picked them up at a sale at Fopp for £7. If one charges nearly $30, releasing a blu-ray that poor is a rip-off and I don’t know why they even bother. It’s the last time I put in a pre-order with Criterion. House of Games was one of my most anticipated titles on blu-ray, so the disappointment has made me extra cranky.
Actually I can feel your pain as I also adore House of Games and have secretly wished Criterion would give it a royal treatment. I guess it's harder to take when it's your precious movie that gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop. Maybe people from Arrow would come to the rescue and perform a 4K scan like they did with The Apartment & Alfredo Garcia?

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Lost Highway
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Re: 399 House of Games

#107 Post by Lost Highway » Wed Jun 19, 2019 6:49 am

Let’s hope for the best, but I thought Criterion were the best bet for a decent release. Anyways, apologies for the sarcasm, we are on the same page. I shouldn’t post within an hour of getting up... :D

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tenia
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Re: 399 House of Games

#108 Post by tenia » Wed Jun 19, 2019 8:08 am

Lost Highway wrote:
Wed Jun 19, 2019 6:05 am
House of Games was one of my most anticipated titles on blu-ray, so the disappointment has made me extra cranky.
I'd argue it was to be expected though. There has been no new restoration of the movie, the Criterion was stated to be sourced from a "high def transfer" (which is their usual blurb for "pre-existing master"), so there was no way the outcome would have been different. It remains disappointing, I'm not arguing that, but all the clues were there, and I'd certainly have ne trouble putting pre-orders for other Criterion releases since it's quite easy to know what to avoid.
andyli wrote:
Wed Jun 19, 2019 6:12 am
So I guess if Criterion goes solely on 4K-ready upgrades they would have ended up with half the amount of upgrades. The reason they choose to do the former batch over other potential 4K-ready titles I can only guess. The contractual pressure to put something out sooner rather than later may play a role here. The BRD trilogy seems to serve as a crystal-clear case in which they'd choose not to wait for Veronika Voss.
I understand the rationale when bulking titles for boxsets, but that certainly doesn't explain why they're choosing, say, House of Games rather than Z. Moreover, as I wrote, there's not just the question of being some kind of 4K-extremist. There are also plenty of fine 2K restorations, but also many fine but dated (or dated but fine) HD masters. I'm not going to list movies that could be upgraded by Criterion, but there are tons of them, many with better HD masters or restorations than these 2019 upgrades (An Angel at my Table isn't very good either, for instance). Boudu is one of them (at the top of my head), but And The Ship Sails On, Pickup on South Street, Les dames du bois de Boulogne or Salvatore Giuliano would be titles I would have expected to be upgraded way faster than these other titles.

nitin
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Re: 399 House of Games

#109 Post by nitin » Wed Jun 19, 2019 9:01 am

Lost Highway wrote:
Wed Jun 19, 2019 6:05 am
andyli wrote:
Wed Jun 19, 2019 5:27 am
No need to get sarcastic. I'm merely pointing out the fact that no label is factoring the quality (or freshness) of a master into their SRP. New 4K resto could as well end up in a bargain bin as Criterion et al. charge a premium for old HD transfer. On average it all levels off for people buying stuff on a regular basis. I too wish labels were releasing movies solely from 4K restorations, but until the restoration cost/licensing fee drop to a manageable level it's simply not gonna happen.
I have bought crappy releases from Arrow (Dark Water, Pulse), but at least they were nearly half price of what Criterion charges when new and I picked them up at a sale at Fopp for £7. If one charges nearly $30, releasing a blu-ray that poor is a rip-off and I don’t know why they even bother. It’s the last time I put in a pre-order with Criterion. House of Games was one of my most anticipated titles on blu-ray, so the disappointment has made me extra cranky.
Isn’t your comparison slightly distorted by comparing a sale purchase with a pre-order though? Arrow regularly charge 15-18 pounds for a new release with an older master. Granted, on sale, the House Of Games blu would still be $20 but that comparison would be fairer.

nitin
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Re: 399 House of Games

#110 Post by nitin » Wed Jun 19, 2019 9:06 am

Tenia, I assume it’s something simple like X producer liking a particular film and wanting to upgrade it. And then they budget for the release depending on forecast sales etc. Otherwise, it is strange that something like An Angel At My Table gets an upgrade (from an older master) when it is unlikely to be a huge seller.

Also, pretty sure House of Games master is from 2007, so not 20+ years old.

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tenia
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Re: 399 House of Games

#111 Post by tenia » Wed Jun 19, 2019 9:17 am

nitin wrote:
Wed Jun 19, 2019 9:06 am
Tenia, I assume it’s something simple like X producer liking a particular film and wanting to upgrade it. And then they budget for the release depending on forecast sales etc. Otherwise, it is strange that something like An Angel At My Table gets an upgrade (from an older master) when it is unlikely to be a huge seller.
This is most certainly the case, but I'd also expect a premium label to include technical possibilities into the business case (Criterion has some flexibility in the sales potentials area, though, so why not). I'd also assume that producers can't do whatever they want, because in the end, the brand-name is the front-end. They're still within a company with a reputation to hold.
I doubt, for instance, that whoever is above them who let the producing members upgrading a string of movies all having only dated HD masters just because they like those movies and want them upgraded. So it most certainly already is part of the upgrade business cases, it just seems that how outdated the master can be seems, at times, quite too much for whatever reason.
On the other hand, maybe these titles are actually allowed to be upgraded in these mediocre conditions because, precisely, they're not that big sellers. I imagine Criterion would get way more flack if this would happen on, say, their Eisenstein movies.
nitin wrote:
Wed Jun 19, 2019 9:06 am
Also, pretty sure House of Games master is from 2007, so not 20+ years old.
Fair enough.
Many of the pre-existing HD masters on the market are rather from early 00s (or late 90s) than late 00s, though, hence my remark (and seeing how this one looks, it seemed to fit this era).

nitin
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Re: 399 House of Games

#112 Post by nitin » Wed Jun 19, 2019 9:49 am

Criterion produced the HD master for their 2007 DVD and it was supervised by the DOP and restored at that time. It’s not one of MGM’s made for tv HD telecines :)

Also, re sales, I could be wrong but I would imagine titles upgraded with existing masters like Stranger Than Paradise, Night on Earth and House of Games are probably strong sellers. Which is why it is a bit baffling that these didn’t at least get newer restorations. I get something like An Angel at My Table but not these.

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hearthesilence
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Re: 399 House of Games

#113 Post by hearthesilence » Sat Dec 12, 2020 1:49 pm

I've been reluctant to get this because reviews for the BD weren't so great, but I just saw some
screencap comparisons with Criterion's DVD and it's stunning how little it improves on the DVD. Except for a small shift in color and the slight squishing going on, quite a few shots are barely distinguishable. The DVD may have been well done, but I think it says more about the softness and lack of detail in the HD transfer, which seems to resolve the film grain poorly.

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Brian C
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Re: 399 House of Games

#114 Post by Brian C » Wed Jan 20, 2021 11:51 pm

I watched this for the first time a couple of nights ago, and I was surprised to be disappointed. I'm not overly familiar with Mamet's career - I've seen every theatrical film he's directed from The Spanish Prisoner and after, though this was the first one I had seen made before that film - but I consider myself a fan, and I have some idea what to expect in terms of narrative, performances, Ricky Jay appearances, etc. Still and all, I think I was ultimately let down by the realization that this movie was really just about a person having a midlife crisis, and all the con artist stuff was just a MacGuffin to dress that up ... dear god in heaven, this is a character study.

Judgments of Crouse's performance aside, this is just not a very interesting character to center a movie around. She's relentlessly gullible, to the point of implausibility, and this is really to the film's detriment. What if she had picked up that she was the mark, and gone along with it? How might she have been able to turn the tables? What layers would this have added to her psychology, and her interactions with the murderess? Instead ... frankly she's just kind of a dullard, another rube that falls for a con, like presumably a million others before her. One poster up earlier in this thread said that they were curious about how she'd react to the big reveal, but it turns out that's not even very interesting; she's just hurt and angry, which, of course. REALLY hurt and angry, it's true, but even at that, I don't really think I believe the choices she ends up making.

Like a lot of films by first-time directors, and especially first-time directors who go on to notable careers, I think the movie mostly is notable for demonstrating how much better they got at their craft. By this point of his career, there was obviously no question of Mamet's abilities as a writer, but as a director he would go on to greatly refine and improve his technique. There's one shot in the film, when
SpoilerShow
we see that JT Walsh's character is a cop (or "a cop") from the reflection in the mirror of the gun and badge tucked into his shirt
that is the kind of elegantly thought-out and executed shot that I'd expect from Mamet, and it's fun to see Jay and Mantegna do their thing. And the very last scene in the film, the epilogue, shows a somewhat different, more mischievous direction that the character could have gone, even if it feels like a bizarre cap to this particular film. But while I can't speak to the next few subsequent movies that he made, all of the other movies of his that I've seen - literally every one - are more sharply conceived, more psychologically penetrating, more coy with the direction of their narratives, and simply more fun to watch. But then I'm usually not a guy who "likes their early stuff" when it comes to music, either.

Also - this has been commented on already, but the Criterion Blu-ray really is a travesty in terms of PQ, especially for a disc that was only released fairly recently. If this had been one of the early upgrades from 2009 or so, that would be one thing, although most of those discs hold up better than this one anyway. But from a 2019 release? Just falls way short.

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therewillbeblus
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Re: 399 House of Games

#115 Post by therewillbeblus » Thu Jan 21, 2021 12:27 am

House of Games is definitely a warm-up exercise for Mamet in using classic cinematic techniques to con the characters and audience together, the ending jumps the shark a bit, and Crouse's character and performance are both vapid- which I could see as either an intentional choice or as miscasting since she was Mamet's wife at the tail-end of a marriage. Regardless, if I viewed this as a character-study -which I admit is definitely one fair reading of the film you illustrate well- it would be the worst character study ever because Crouse is hardly a character. Her affect barely regulates, but when it does it's in step with our own captivation and amusement at the wonderment of life outside of our complacent lives of safe limited expertise. I prefer to view her as the ultimate audience surrogate, a completely empty vehicle- not even a character- for us to enter and be wooed by these cracks in the walls of our milieu we didn't know contained treasures in subcultures of skillsets. That helps me turn on autopilot and enjoy the short and long cons with equal measure, but yes, beyond that it's a deeply flawed film when taken seriously- and the fact that it takes itself so seriously at the end kind-of undoes this reading by trying to reclaim its character as one that's 'developed'. However, I think part of Mantegna's expression of his perspective at the end is true, and Crouse's final actions aren't prompted by empowerment as much as they're reflections of an inability to cope with being made submissive and facing real consequences outside of a playful vacation- but, frustratingly, I don't think Mamet shoots the scene to sell this interpretation at all.

Don't sleep on Homicide, Brian- it's one of Mamet's best and really benefits from having seen all Mamet's later filmography you already have plus this one, because the "reveals" go against the grain of expectations and recontextualize Mamet's own normally-superficial definitions of conspiracy down to their existential roots.

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Brian C
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Re: 399 House of Games

#116 Post by Brian C » Thu Jan 21, 2021 12:54 am

Yeah, that makes sense.

To be honest, I kind of chafe at an "audience surrogate" in the first place, because I tend to view that kind of structure as lazy at best and outright condescending at worst on the filmmakers' part. Why would we even need a surrogate to this world, when we could just make Mike the central character and experience it that way? I feel this way over and over again when we're given an empty vessel to serve as a "surrogate"; it ultimately ends up feeling kind of insulting, as if we need some kind of intermediary, like we're not going to get it if we don't have someone to ooh and aah on our behalf. Just make the movie about the subject of your film, instead of some meta thing about what it's like to watch the subject!

(Not really relevant, but I think the worst example I've ever seen of this is The Last King of Scotland, where we have to suffer through James McAvoy's wide-eyed nothingness in reaction to Idi Amin - if the filmmakers wanted to make a movie about Idi Amin, they should have just made the fucking movie about Idi Amin. And then I had to watch McAvoy play essentially the exact same character in that terrible Tolstoy movie I've forgotten the name of and don't feel like looking up.)

But like you say, even on this level the movie doesn't really hold together, so I guess it's kind of moot.

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therewillbeblus
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Re: 399 House of Games

#117 Post by therewillbeblus » Thu Jan 21, 2021 1:14 am

I hear what you’re saying, but I think it specifically works in this case (in theory more than in practice) because the entire idea is unveiling the con as a magic act for us. Making a film about Mike isn’t the interest of the film, even if it might be more interesting- Mamet is literally using cinema to con us, and uses a naive body as the casualty within the narrative that’s necessary in this case to make it work. However Soderbergh has given us interesting lead characters and allowed us to be our own position at the end of a con in his heist films, which are far more successful, but Mamet isn’t working on such a masterful level here.

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Brian C
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Re: 399 House of Games

#118 Post by Brian C » Thu Jan 21, 2021 1:48 am

Yeah but Mike essentially tells Margaret to her face so many times that he's conning her that I think the film is a complete failure at "unveiling the con as a magic act for us." Any moderately attentive viewer has to know what's going on the whole time, starting with the very first card game and the ring. In the parlance of the film, Mamet shows us "tells" everywhere, as if he doesn't trust the viewer to follow along. If it's a magic act, it's one where the magician hasn't quite figured out how to distract his audience from his sleeves, much less figured out how to move beyond such simple tricks as hiding things up his sleeves to begin with.

That's why The Spanish Prisoner is so much more effective to me. We know the twists and turns are coming, and furthermore the characters know it, but it still catches both us and them off guard. Or at least, that's how I remember it; it's been 20+ years and I was a younger naive body myself back then. Maybe on a rewatch I'd feel differently.

At any rate, I do agree with you that it works in theory more than in practice; but I also reject the theory. Or, more precisely, like I say I think it's just a lazy way to organize a narrative. And I also agree that the Soderbergh comparison is a good one and unflattering to this film. But later Mamet is itself unflattering to this film.

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therewillbeblus
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Re: 399 House of Games

#119 Post by therewillbeblus » Thu Jan 21, 2021 2:33 am

I agree with you around the obviousness of the at-times transparent "tells"- though I do wonder if it would be as obvious for viewers going into this film in '87 less aware of Mamet's con-game stamp, or it's at least impossible to completely go in blind when you know what Mamet is up to from experience. Either way, what I find successful about the film isn't that it's surprising that we're "being" conned, but that it's entertaining to watch it all unfold. It's the act of unveiling, rather than a shock factor; the enjoyment of being invited into this underground world of con artists and wondering how the long con will play out in the little details, not musing over whether there will 'be' a con at all. That's why, even though I don't love this film, I do find myself returning to it every so often. I know all the setpieces in North By Northwest by heart too, but I still revisit it every few months because it's pleasurable to engage with- but now I've just compared one of my favorite films to one of my least favorite Mamets, so it's probably time to turn down the thermostat of charitable defenses.

The Spanish Prisoner is arguably my favorite Mamet, and definitely the best example of his strengths on this front. It's also the film where he channels Hitchcock's twisty rhythm better than any singular film I can think of offhand, even though Chabrol embodies his spirit in versatile methods throughout his body of work.

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knives
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Re: 399 House of Games

#120 Post by knives » Thu Jan 21, 2021 7:37 am

I’d argue, and think I have before, she’s less an audience surrogate and more a stand in for a type of character that Mamet is repelling against. This is kind of the anti-Woody Allen view of New York and metaphorically Jewish expression with her representing why Mamet wants to rebel. She is boring.

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swo17
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Re: 399 House of Games

#121 Post by swo17 » Thu Jan 21, 2021 8:31 am

knives, I think you just made the movie click for me!

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knives
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Re: 399 House of Games

#122 Post by knives » Thu Jan 21, 2021 8:56 am

Thanks. That, no joke, is the biggest compliment I’ve had here.

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therewillbeblus
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Re: 399 House of Games

#123 Post by therewillbeblus » Thu Jan 21, 2021 11:29 am

knives wrote:
Thu Jan 21, 2021 7:37 am
I’d argue, and think I have before, she’s less an audience surrogate and more a stand in for a type of character that Mamet is repelling against. This is kind of the anti-Woody Allen view of New York and metaphorically Jewish expression with her representing why Mamet wants to rebel. She is boring.
I agree with that- though I'd add that her "boring"-ness is also used to process the surrogate experience, where we are subtly challenging our safe, complacent, banal existences against these more exciting players by looking in the mirror at how vapid our lives are. I don't think he really pulls off either very well because he doesn't commit to one v the other in a manner that works. Your interpretation is a great one, but it's undercut by the clear affinity Mamet has with her as she executes her unearned empowerment in the end. I choose to see the film along these lines of your/my readings with her as a negative character, but it's a harder sell for me to believe that Mamet is on that side, in blatant or subtle positioning, because of how he seems to dilute the ethical dilemmas of complexity in the final scene- less so in action (which is definitely morally ambiguous) and more in how he approaches the scene with language and directing behavior that feel cartoonishly simplified.

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