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TH!INKFilm presents
Second Best (2005)

"You're a loser. Your mother's a loser."
- Elliot Kelman (Joe Pantoliano)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: November 16, 2005

Stars: Joe Pantoliano, Jennifer Tilly, Boyd Gaines, Bronson Pinchot, Barbara Barrie, Peter Gerety
Other Stars: Matthew Arkin, Polly Draper
Director: Eric Weber

MPAA Rating: R for (language & sexual content)
Run Time: 01h:29m:58s
Release Date: November 15, 2005
UPC: 821575541855
Genre: black comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
D+ D+DD+ C-

DVD Review

Character actor Joe Pantoliano used to be one of those guys we always recognized in movies, but could never put the name with the face. That all changed with his excellent supporting turn in The Matrix, with that mega-blockbuster making Pantoliano a household, if difficult to pronounce name. Since then, he has still pretty much stuck to what he does best, including an unforgettable role during a season of The Sopranos. The new indie-film, Second Best, finds Pantoliano in a rare headlining role, one that almost begs to be called semi-autobiographical.

Elliot (Pantoliano) is a nebbish of a man who writes a newsletter featuring numerous rants on society and the like. Elliot stays way behind the scenes, though, hiring a college student to post the newsletter anywhere he can around New Jersey. Spending much of his time on the links, Elliot is an avid golfer with a tight circle of friends, one of which is Richard (Boyd Gaines), who is the most successful of these men. This Hollywood mogul is visiting from Los Angeles, causing Elliot to reflect on just how unsuccessful he is, especially when Richard won't even give his screenplay the time of day.

This is definitely Pantoliano's show, as he pulls off this complex character that spends most of his time verbally assailing others, while never taking time to realize that he himself is a bona fide loser. When he shacks up with a married crossing guard (the always lovely Jennifer Tilly), he does so seemingly to improve his self-esteem, when such an act is actually only enhancing his loser status. Pantoliano uses his trademark charm and smarminess to make Elliot very believable, challenging the audience to love and hate him at the same time. Tilly has worked with Pantoliano before (Bound), and their chemistry continues, making their subplot the most interesting aspect of Second Best.

The rest of the supporting cast isn't very interesting, including Bronson Pinchot (yep, Balki from Perfect Strangers), who is the weakest of his friends. There's just not a single, likeable soul among these guys, including the token "seriously ill" one. Still, Elliot is the main character, and the writer/director Eric Weber does deserve some kudos for keeping the plot from veering into clichéd Hollywood land. Instead, he makes Elliot's life as difficult to turn around as it should be, maintaining as much plausibility as he can along the way. Unfortunately, Weber doesn't succeed in the most important aspect of the film, namely making us want to invest our feelings in Elliot's plight.

Second Best is just an uncomfortable movie to sit through, thanks to some very annoying camera work. It was shot on DV, so there's an inherent graininess to the proceedings, but there are just far too many close-ups and jittery motions with the camera to make an audience want to stare at the screen for any length of time. I'm all for a low-budget indie film, but most of the time, even the lowest of those budgets results in a somewhat professional appearance. This just looks like the filmmakers took the easy way out, and, if they had pulled off a more engaging story with characters that were easier to care about, this visual problem might have been forgiven.

Rating for Style: D+
Rating for Substance: D+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This full-frame transfer is very disappointing, highlighting all that is bad about shooting on DV. Whether you're partial to the format or not, this is not going to help its proponents strengthen their case. The massive amount of grain is very annoying, and the camerawork is just shoddy, while the color scheme is bland and muted throughout. Pixelation is evident as well, with the more impressively produced DV transfers doing a solid job eliminating this distraction.

Image Transfer Grade: D


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is as bland as can be, with literally each and every sound remaining confined to the front of the sound field. While the dialogue is nice and clear, the rest of the sound is lifeless, with little to no music and sound effects to add to the overall mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: D+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Murderball, Dallas 362, The Aristocrats
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Joe Pantoliano and director Eric Weber
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Aside from four trailers (including the one for Second Best), the only extra feature is an audio commentary track with writer/director Eric Weber and Joe Pantoliano. Much of this is spent discussing what goes into making an independent film, so aspiring filmmakers should find this worth a listen. For those who don't see themselves as future directors, the piece is still worth a listen, if only to hear the (almost) always great Pantoliano muse about making this film.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

I had high expectations going into Second Best thanks to Joe Pantoliano and a solid supporting cast. However, this cast never really gels, and the story never reels us in, making this one of the more disappointing independent films of the year. Thinkfilm's DVD doesn't do much to impress either, with only a couple of extra features and lackluster audio and video presentations.


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