Category Archives: DVD Review

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DVD Review – The Breadwinner

Category : DVD Review

Director: Nora Twomey

Starring: Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Noorin Gulamgaus

Year: 2017

Nora Twomey is an Irish artist/director known for three films: The Secret of the Kells, Song of the Sea, and The Breadwinner, all of which were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Film in their respective years.  That’s an impressive feat, given that these aren’t Disney, Pixar, or Lego movies, that they’re instead indie films that attempt to present sophisticated story lines to young audiences through hand-drawn animation.  No knock on Disney/Pixar, I love their work as much as the next current parent who grew up in the 80s and 90s, it’s just refreshing to also see a slightly different perspective.  GKIDS, the distribution company that was in charge of Twomey’s pictures, also brought Studio Ghibli to American audiences; that’s all I would have needed to know, that would have made me trust anything they chose to present.  And so it’s no surprise that The Breadwinner is an amazing animated feature, that it’s richness and uniqueness shines through in every cell, that it’s one of the very best of not only its year, but of its decade.

The Movie

Parvana lives in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2001, during the control of the Taliban.  These religious zealots hold the countryside under their sway, instituting harsh curfews, gender laws, and intimidating the public into following every command of even their rawest recruit.  Women are not allowed to leave the house without a grown male relative as an escort, female faces and hair must be covered at all times so that they don’t tempt men to stray from the righteous path, girls are not allowed to work or to buy food, and any rule breakers are taken to prison immediately.  Paravana lives with her family as quietly and as carefully as possible, not wanting to draw the attention of the armed soldiers who walk the city streets, not daring to stand up or speak out.

When he angers a young Taliban fighter, Parvana’s father is arrested and her house is raided, destroying the simple life in precarious balance that her family was trying desperately to cling to.  Now, with only women in the household since Parvana’s older brother Sulayman died, there is no one to go to work, no one to buy food, and no way of seeking help, as the mother and the sisters can’t even walk through the door without being beaten and sent straight back.  So Parvana does an extremely brave and incredibly necessary thing; she cuts her hair, puts on her brother’s clothes, and calls herself by a boy’s name, completely changing who she is on the outside in order to keep her family alive.  Out in the city, which has now opened up to her in a way it never would before, she can feed her family and search for her father, even as war comes nearer and the danger of being discovered mounts.

With its animation and its message equally strong, The Breadwinner is a film that you must see, a story that you must hear, and an experience that you must have.  I fully enjoy Disney princess musicals, I love how open Pixar movies are to every member of the family, I crack up watching Lego movies, but there is something about an animation team that is willing to step completely out of the box and risk everything on an unorthodox plot and delivery that really gets me fired up.  Laika, Ghibli, and the people who brought us this fine trio of international, animated instant classics, all aided by the eye of Nora Twomey; if you aren’t expanding your horizons to see movies produced by these companies and these people, you are doing yourself a great disservice.  And you are holding back something special from your kids as well, for while these films take themselves seriously and should perhaps be screened before being shown to some younger, more sensitive audiences, they are among the most powerful animated tales being told today, and they deserve to be allowed to wow you.

As far as the film itself is concerned, its a credit to its genre, another incredible reason to follow/watch/talk about indie animation and to share it with your kids so that they can be educated in film beyond the typical.  It’s a story that resonates, even though it is set 17 years ago.  We’re still talking about women’s rights, we’re still talking about terrorism, we’re still talking about gender roles, and this film touches every base on its way home.  The depth of meaning, the beauty of backdrop, the simplicity if idea, the imagination of presentation; this is all you could ask for.  The music, the color, the secondary tale, the authenticity, the poignancy; I’m having trouble nailing down the exact positive attributes of this feature only because there are so many and they are so broad.  Regardless of my inability, The Breadwinner never stumbles when presenting its point, and it does so with wonderful accuracy and talent, in every single scene.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 (1080p HD Widescreen), the video quality of this Blu-ray disc is phenomenal, with visuals that will take your breath away.  Not only is the animation flawless in its simplicity, but it’s stunningly realistic as well.  And then there is a tale within a tale that uses a different style of animation, much more 2-D and paper-like, but it adds another dimension that really captures the eye.

Audio – The disc was done in English DTS HD 5.1, with subtitles available in English SDH.  The language is English, this isn’t a naturally subtitled pictured, at least not here in the U.S., if that makes a difference to you.  It’s set in Afghanistan and features native music, so the blend between Afghani and English is a tricky weave, but extremely well done.

Extras – There are many special features on this Blu-ray disc, including Feature Commentary with the Filmmakers.  Also, in The Making of The Breadwinner section: Behind the Scenes with the Cast, Animating the Film, Creating the Music and Sound, and Telling the Story.  Lastly, a Theatrical Trailer and More from GKIDS.

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended.  Last year’s animated class wasn’t extremely strong, but even if it had been one of the best groups of recent memory, The Breadwinner would still have earned its place among the nominees.  It’s a relevant message well told, from every angle you look at it.  We need to hear this story, its importance hasn’t disappeared, and it’s presented so well, with such solid artistry, that is has a real chance to make a big difference, if we would only let it.  The video is awesome, the sound it great, and the extras are plentiful, so the technical aspects support the storytelling quite nicely.  If you missed this movie last year, give it a chance now; it may not be what you’re used to, but it might show you why it should.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Porto

Category : DVD Review

Director: Gabe Klinger

Starring: Anton Yelchin, Lucie Lucas

Year: 2016

Anton Yelchin’s death was less a tragedy and more a robbery; something was taken from us that we’ll never get back.  I don’t mean to sound possessive over a person, nor do I want to diminish what his family went through personally, but I think for many of us that’s how it felt, like someone had stolen something special that we hadn’t even had a real chance to cherish yet.  Yelchin was a tremendous young actor who was just stepping into his prime; we should have been able to enjoy him for years and years to come.  Now that he’s gone, what we get are his classic roles and his final performances, one of the most adult coming in the indie drama Porto, a romance set in a foreign country that’s not near as good as its lead actor’s legacy.

The Movie

This is the story of Jake and Mati, a couple brought together by fate and destined to only be together a short time.  Jake is an untethered young man searching for meaning in a mixed up world.  His parents are diplomats, he’s been all over the world, he’s worked every type of job, but he’s never found the one thing that makes him contented.  He sees himself as normal and boring, a regular person doing regular things, not anything special that the universe will take notice of.  Mati is a French woman traveling for a university program, and she’s fallen in love with the freedom that such a life brings her.  She doesn’t want to be tied down by the typical, wants to experience all there is to experience, wants to have lived when she dies.

Jake and Mati meet in Porto, Portugal, and the chance encounter changes their lives.  They see each other first at a dig site where Jake has only worked for two days and Mati is helping with research, they see each other again at the metro, and then once more in a cafe.  It’s fate perhaps, or very unlikely chance, so they introduce themselves and take a walk through the city at night, eventually making their way to Mati’s apartment.  There, they will fall in love, or at least fall into one another in a way they never have before, producing a moment in time that will stick with them both forever.  But when the morning comes, when real life comes crashing back into place, what will it all have meant, and what has it really changed?

This is perhaps Anton’s most adult role and one of his very last, so it’s important to remember it so that we can remember him.  He always carried such an earnest likability into every film he appeared, creating characters that were partly what was written and partly just himself.  Tom Hanks does the same thing, every role he plays holds a little bit of the actual guy, and Anton could have been that kind of performer.  It’s awful that he’s gone, awful for anyone who ever knew him, and it’s apparent how much he was loved by the time filmmakers take to say goodbye to him in their films.  I think his friends and coworkers will be making art ‘For Anton’ for years to come, and I also think he deserves it.

Yelchin is the highlight of Porto, but nothing else really shines.  Lucie Lucas plays Mati well, but it’s a very cold character, someone we never really get to know, despite the best efforts of the director.  She remains an enigma, Jack becomes a tortured character, and it’s difficult to like either of them by the end.  The film holds an extremely strong Before Sunrise feeling, it’s obviously being referenced, with a little more sex and angst, a little less happiness and hope.  It’s really a depressing story, told darkly and strangely until it becomes quite difficult to enjoy.  The plot is chopped up and mixed, we get different points of view of the same encounters, the whole idea becomes clunky; there is strong intention here, there is a strong lead, but the resulting feature is rather weak.

The Blu-ray

Video – With aspect ratios of 2.35:1 and 1.37:1 (1920x1080p), and using Aaton Xterà, Arricam LT, Arricam ST, Arriflex 16 SR, Arriflex 416, and Canon AZ 814 cameras, the video of this Blu-ray is definitely interesting, if not exactly mind-blowing.  Different formats and different cameras are used to represent different memories and to set the stage for different scenes, so the film is very visual in its delivery of defining moments, it’s just not a trick that outshines the movie itself.

Audio – The disc was done in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, with an option of DTS HD Master Audio 2.0.  Audio commentary by director Gabe Klinger can be accessed in this menu.  And subtitles are available in English, English SDH, Spanish, and French.  The dialogue is mostly in English, but also features French and Portuguese, so that’s cool, and there’s a solid soundtrack backing the action.

Extras – There are quite a few extras on the Blu-ray, more than usually come with an indie film like this.  Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater is a documentary by Gabe Klinger, a bonus film that runs 70 minutes.  Making a Documentary is a look at this process.  Outtakes give you more insight into Porto.  A Portuguese News Report adds some color.  There is Super 8 Footage for those looking for more.  And lastly, a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

Rent It.  This film is only an hour and fifteen minutes long, so you won’t have to sit through an epic movie to hear the story of this couple, and that short run might be the best idea the filmmakers had.  I don’t mean to say that Porto isn’t worth any time, but I imagine that the longer it ran the less I would enjoy it.  It’s a heavy story, a sad look at fleeting love, and it was done in a unique style that grows very old very fast.  I don’t like seeing the same moment from different characters’ viewpoints; that’s a used trick, and it wasn’t needed here.  If they really were taking inspiration from Before Sunrise, they should have kept it as simple as that film did, allowed the actors to do all the storytelling themselves.  The video was intriguing, the audio was nice, there are lots of extras, so the technical aspects actually held there own, but unfortunately the film itself wasn’t special enough to warrant high praise.

☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – The Teacher

Category : DVD Review

Director: Jan Hrebejk

Starring: Zuzana Maurery, Csongor Kassai, Martin Havelka

Year: 2016

My brother-in-law is Czech, and grew up in Communist-era Prague during the 70s and 80s.  I texted him while watching this fascinating film to get translations of street signs and propaganda, although the setting here is Bratislava, Slovakia, not the Czech Republic; close enough.  He is always on the lookout for Czech or Slovak films, and this one really piqued his interest, as it focuses on a very specific time frame, one which he experienced first hand.  But at the same time, this story is an example of the Communist ideal (and abuse thereof) worldwide, a snapshot of what it’s like to live under the thumb of a regime that proposes to make every comrade equal, an existence that comes at a very steep price.

The Movie

The year is 1983, and Czechoslovakia is under Communist rule.  The families of suburban Bratislava accept this as the way of life, even if this Russian-backed regime isn’t what they would have chosen for themselves.  They get along as best they can, sliding into the complicated puzzle that is this government while trying not to stand out or make too much of a ripple.  The Kuceras work hard, the Binders rely on past physical prowess, and the Littmanns try to live down the defection of their matriarch, a brilliant scientist who fled to Sweden instead of bowing to the new power.  Far from a worker’s utopia, life for the middle class is a constant balancing act between finding satisfaction in one’s self and integrating into something much larger and more dangerous.

When a new school teacher comes to town, this high wire act will get all the more treacherous.  Mrs. Drazdechova’s first day in the class room see’s her gleaning information from her students; who are your parents and what do they do.  Each time she needs a favor (a car ride, a lamp fixed, a cake baked, groceries picked up, her house cleaned), she uses a student, their mother, or their father, expecting immediate aid and no questions asked.  If they are impertinent enough to balk at the task, the student’s grades mysteriously suffer, to the point where they lose all after school privileges.  Some parents want to stand up to this new tyrant, but others are afraid of the repercussions, knowing that their lives could very easily and very quickly get much worse.

On the surface, this is a very simple story told very swiftly to make a singular point.  The teacher is an Umbridge-ian villain, she uses her power irresponsibly, she is corrupted by her position, and it is up to the students and their parents to stop her.  The sequence of events is scattered throughout the timeline, with two paths converging at different points to make the watching of the story more interesting, but really the plot is very simple; let’s get the crazy lady out of town.  The acting prowess behind the characters is understated but very strong, especially when it comes to Maurery, who you will absolutely hate.  Martin Havelka reminded me of a modern Charles Bronson, whose parents were Lithuanian, but still.  Each actor, and not forgetting the kids, played his/her part wonderfully, which led to an extremely believable atmosphere.

And that’s just the surface, there is much more going on here past the obvious plot.  First, this is a metaphor for Communism in general, or for any social setting in with someone with control abuses it for perhaps no other reason than that they can.  This kind of dystopia existed and exists; not just in one place, not just in Russia, and not only with Communism, but anywhere where there are individuals who preach equality, only to use their own status to make themselves anything but.  It’s a fascinating look at corruption, and the film also peers in on human interaction as well, in a very 12 Angry Men kind of way.  Setting the parents in a room together, we see how each acts in the face of uncertainty; afraid, angry, denying, resigning, bravely standing when no one else will.  It’s an example of the human experience, the human experiment perhaps, and as well-captured a poignant message as we could wish to see.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 Widescreen, the video quality of this DVD is nothing to write home about, a foreign flick that captures the 80s but never tries to impress with visuals.  I did love the apartments, the dedication to detail, the tight spaces inhabited by these characters and their families.  It was fun to watch, to be transported, just don’t expect HD cinema.

Audio – The disc was done in 5.1 Surround Sound and 2.0 Stereo, both in Slovak with English subtitles.  That’s it as far as language or audio options, the sound not a factor that was ever a focus.  There is a catchy soundtrack throughout that sets the tone, but other than that you won’t remember much more from the audio.

Extras – There are only a few special features on the DVD.  Sacrilege is a bonus short film, running 15 minutes and telling the story of Saoud, a once-proud king of the ‘hood.  There are six trailers available to view.  And About Film Movement will tell you more about the distributor.

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended.  A little more than an hour and a half long, The Teacher makes its point rather easily, without having to hammer anything into our brains.  It’s a frustrating story about a manipulative woman, but it’s also a commentary on the power that she represents, the greed and the evil that is far too often behind these historic movements.  You can enjoy this movie for its surface or for its depth, and that’s not something that can be said about every feature released.  The video is only OK, the audio forgettable as well, and there aren’t many special features, so look elsewhere for technical marvels, but appreciative this story for what it has to say, and this movie for how well it says it.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – True Love Ways

Category : DVD Review

Director: Mathiue Seiler

Starring: Anna Hausburg, Kai Michael Muller, David C. Bunners

Year: 2014

True Love Ways (which is a title that doesn’t really make any sense in English, I wonder what its native translation actually means) is a film that seems to have picked far too many specific niches to possibly be a movie that more than a very small number of audience members could really enjoy. German, noir, horror, black&white, bloody, trippy, sexual, snuff; there is almost too much to see, more than anyone can focus on without getting dizzy, despite the slow pace and the relatively simple story.  If the director had only chosen a narrower lane, he might have made his movie more accessible for a larger group.  As is, True Love Ways is a blur of ideas and a hard pill to swallow.

The Movie

Severine no longer wants to be with her boyfriend Tom, an unsettling feeling of discomfort creeping over her life and affecting her happiness with him.  It’s both physical and mental, this change, and all she wants is space.  She has been having a recurring dream about a stranger in a white car, someone coming to take her away from her trouble.  Tom doesn’t take the news well, impulsively confiding in a dark man in a bar, telling him about the sadness into which Severine is about to plunge him.  This man convinces Tom that he has a crafty solution to the problem and that, much like El Gallo, his theatrical abuse of the damsel will set a hero up to rise, Tom winning Severine back to him by “saving her” from harm.

But what Tom doesn’t know is that this sinister man has an evil plan.  He bugs Severine’s apartment, discovers her routine, and sets a trap that will deliver her into his and his partner’s hands.  What they will do with her then is beyond imagining, but they will not be returning her when they are finished.  Now Tom will have to become an actual knight in shining armor, but not before Severine must step up to save herself, taking violence away from the men who want to hurt her and turning it directly back on their unsuspecting souls.  She will have to reach deep down into some primal place in order to survive, and she will have to be willing to spill blood if she hopes to see tomorrow.

There are too many movies here to critique at once, too many ideas and styles splintering off the original, until the point is lost somewhere in the muddle.  It’s almost a throwback to an old, Teutonic, melodramatic, black&white, deeply-hidden genre flick that only a few know about and which they all consider a cult classic.  The odd camera work, the dangerous sensuality, the lack of standard plot elements, the absence of meaningful dialogue; it’s definitely intentional, definitely purposeful, but the result is almost too stylistic, too out there to be appreciated by, well, normal people.

Sometimes Seiler slips in a little magic; the giant stuffed bear, the tape-recorded vibrator, the killing in the woods, hiding behind the shelf in the catacombs.  There are moments that catch you off guard and will delight those looking for an off-beat version of the standard thriller storyline, surprising us when we didn’t think we were capable of being surprised any more, when we thought we had seen it all.  But these quick flashes of originality are buried beneath a bizarre plot and some nonsensical characters, until you get tired of sifting through the junk for the precious trinkets underneath.  Built upon too wide a range of concepts and influences, True Love Ways ends as a derailed train, and I’m not really sure where we were headed in the first place.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and shot in black&white, the video quality of the film is poor if we’re being critical, fine if we’re not.  The clarity of picture will not impress you, and there is obviously no color to speak of, so the visuals slide away under the story until they are completely forgotten.

Audio – The DVD was done in German 2.1 Stereo.  That’s it; no audio options, no language choices, nothing.  The music that forms the backing track is creepy and classic, but not of any significant quality.

Extras – There are no special features, no menus of any kind, on the disc.

Final Thoughts

Rent It.  Though not a terrible experience, watching this film is definitely a forgettable one.  There are elements that feel like homages to the cinema of the past, and that can be appreciated, but there isn’t enough in the way of new material to warrant much audience enjoyment.  The video isn’t great, neither is the audio, and there are no bonus features, so forget about any supporting technical aspects.  And the film needed some support, from somewhere, to carry it when its classic roots could hold it up no longer.  It lacked special qualities to keep it viable once you understood the nods and were ready for some new content, failing to becoming something independently entertaining, or even worth much of your time.

☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Walking Out

Category : DVD Review

Director: Alex & Andrew Smith

Starring: Josh Wiggins, Matt Bomer, Bill Pullman

Year: 2017

One of my favorite movies from the late 90s, during my teenage years, is The Edge, a razor-sharp yet simple thriller about two men, a bear, and survival.  In that way, Walking Out isn’t a far cry, as far as the plot is concerned anyway, though this film focuses on family and coming together, while the former takes a much darker turn.  They are also completely different in quality, especially quality of performance, and that’s where this movie begins to resemble something else entirely.  For while the story and the setting hold up, the acting does not, and that’s when audiences will have the most trouble continuing the trek.

The Movie

David isn’t a country boy, but he finds himself in Montana anyway, despite his wishes.  His parents aren’t together, his mother and he live in Texas, but his father is a certified mountain man, living in the middle of northern nowhere, with only snow to keep him company.  David makes his yearly visit, but all he really wants is to play on his phone and pass the time, not try to become the hunter his father so desperately wants him to be.  He does a little bird shooting, listens to stories about his grandpa, and counts the hours until he can return home to a life that is much more his style.

Cal, the father, isn’t an awful man, he simply wants his estranged son to follow in his footsteps, the way he followed in his own father’s, picking up the love of hunting for your supper in the great, expansive wilderness.  David does eventually concede to go on a long hike into the mountains to find a moose that Cal tracked earlier, to make his first kill as a young man.  But it’s no joke up there, you could die in any number of ways, father and son about to learn this the hard way.  When Cal is injured, David must carry him home, summoning all his strength and perseverance for the impossible task ahead.

First, the good, then we’ll talk about the bad.  The film looks great, that’s probably the best that can be said about it; it’s nice to physically watch.  The mountains, the snow, the streams, the trees, the campfires; from the first shot on, audiences are given solid visuals, capturing the spirit of the unforgiving landscape very well and allowing us to be transported to a place that’s much easier to visit from our living rooms.  The film isn’t long, the plot is simple, the characters are few, we receive some backstory; the stage is set well, everything is available to us and to the filmmaker, the problem lies solely in the execution.

Acting is what I focus on when watching a movie more than anything.  No story, no passion, no music; I’ll forgive most anything if the actors involved convince me that they are invested completely, that their skill can and will pull me along.  Obviously there are exceptions, but Walking Out isn’t one of them; the acting failed and therefor so did the intent.  Bomer was never going to get us on board, Pullman is more a joke than a serious casting, and although I held out hope for Wiggins coming in, there was a scene near the beginning when he decides to go on the hike that offers no explanation, no reason for changing his mind, and he is unable to convey his character’s emotions in a way that satisfies questions.  These three men couldn’t perform their duties well enough to make magic, and that’s a disappointment.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (1080p HD Widescreen) and with cameras and lenses by Panavision Sony F55, the crisp air video quality of the Blu-ray disc might be the absolute highlight of the film.  Most scenes are outside, in the snow, cold and clear, with mountains in the background; no complaints here.  That sort of landscape lends itself to some solid visuals, and the movie didn’t miss out on capitalizing on them.

Audio – The Blu-ray was done in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, with an option of 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio, if you so desire.  Subtitles are available in English and in Spanish.  That’s it for the sound, and there isn’t much of a soundtrack, with father and son trekking through the frozen tundra most of the time, conversing while trying to catch their breath and remembering through flashback.

Extras – The special features on the disc are few: Deleted Scenes (7 total), Behind the Scenes – Made in Montana (3 minutes long), and a theatrical trailer.

Final Thoughts

Rent It.  Very quickly, I realized that Walking Out wasn’t going to be as bad as a movie you never heard of could be, but that it also wasn’t going to surprise.  It had a very specific ceiling, and that cap probably has more to do with the acting talent available to the director than with anything else.  A different casting would have resulted in a far different film; I know you can say that about every single project, but that fact is very clearly on display here.  The video held up its end, the audio was forgettable, and there aren’t many bonus features on the disc, so the technical aspects are a bit of a mixed bag.  Perhaps if acting isn’t something you focus on, if what you want is a simple father/son story, then you might find some enjoyment from this film, that’s not a preposterous idea, but keep your expectations low either way.

☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Goodbye Christopher Robin

Category : DVD Review

Director: Simon Curtis

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Will Tilston, Kelly Macdonald

Year: 2017

An imperfect but heart-melting melodrama, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a new Finding Neverland and another peek into the private world of an author’s inspiration.  Like its predecessor, this film follows a recipe guaranteed to play with our emotions.  A playwright, his personal struggles, the magic that both allows his artistic juices to flow and also heals the wounds of a life that didn’t turn out quite the way he would have written it up; we’ve seen but enjoyed it before.  And don’t forget the little boy who serves as inspiration but who has a life of his own, a child who is both a character to love and an individual who longs for it.  I don’t blame this movie for sticking to the script and betting on its ability to make us well up; it’s a smart idea, it was developed as well as the parameters would allow, and it succeeded, at least as much as can be expected.

The Movie

This is the true story of A.A. Milne’s classic books surrounding the misadventures of one very special bear, Winnie the Pooh. Milne was a veteran of WWI, an upper-crust author who couldn’t quite slide smoothly back into a life of parties and speeches after witnessing the horrors of the trenches of the Front. So he moved his family to the countryside to seek fresh ideas, but he never imagined that they would come from within his own home and from the woods surrounding it. Milne’s son, named Christopher Robin but called Billy, loved imaginary journeys through the forest, and these fictions combined with his adoration for stuffed animals led to the idea that would become one of the most successful family franchises in literary history.

But fame doesn’t come without a price, and as Christopher Robin became such a public figure, Billy lost what he needed the most; a unique connection with his parents and a world that was all his own.  He became a stunt to parade throughout the country to sell books, and the life that is owned to a young boy was taken from him, replaced with a celebrity he didn’t want.  His nanny became his closest friend, other than his beloved stuffed bear, but the dynamic within the family would soon tear things apart, from his nanny to his parents, as fame burned away the beauty that was the essence to the entire magic of Pooh.  Reclaiming the past isn’t easy, nor is piecing together a crumbling home, but with love, hard work, and a little faith, anything is possible.

It really was as if Domhnall Gleeson took over Johnny Depp’s role, which is fine because they both have a random ‘h’ in their first names.  The characters’ situations were similar, Berry was even mentioned in the movie to be at a Milne play, the boys were equally cute, and audiences were given the opportunity to see the why behind the what.  I really don’t mean that as a negative though, I’m sure there are countless books I would be fascinated to the know the meaning behind, and I’m also sure that many of those are very personal and perhaps even sad.  Goodbye Christopher Robin is predictable in that way, somber and sobering, but with a magical quality that can still give you a smile.

Gleeson is good not great as Milne, Robbie seems to be phoning in her performance, Macdonald and the kid basically stealing the show.  The woods are beautiful, the meanings are clear, I’m glad I learned; just don’t expect Oscar-winning aspects to assail you as you watch, this is Finding Neverland content without being exactly the caliber.  Director Simon Curtis always focuses on true stories, but his talent for crafting them into cinematic hits isn’t quite honed.  He’s only ever done two other feature films (My Week with Marilyn, Woman in Gold), and his lack of experience in that department shows each time he steps behind a camera.  His movies are good but not great, real but not moving, they simply fail to reach the next level.  This attempt is no different, an average drama with some solid elements, but not something we’ll remember in a year.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 Widescreen, but with little other detail available beyond that, this Blu-ray disc will disappoint those looking to be blown away by incredible visuals, but will satiate those simply looking for a crisp picture with lovely colors.  Many scenes focus on the woods, the country home, the boy and his bear; they are pleasant to view, rich in hue, but not exceptionally noteworthy.

Audio – The disc was done in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, with options of English Descriptive Audio 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, and multiple other languages.  Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, French, and many other languages as well.  The soundtrack to the film is quite nice, if not exactly memorable, and the same goes for the sound quality as well.

Extras – There are many special features on the Blu-ray disc.  Commentary by Simon Curtis and Franck Cottrell-Boyce can be accessed here or in the Audio Menu.  A collection of Promotional Featurettes are available, including A Walk in the Woods, Healing a Nation, A.A. Milne, Hello Billy Moon, Daphne Milne, The Story, Christopher Robin & Nanny Olive, and The Cast.  There is an image Gallery, a Theatrical Trailer, and Sneak Peeks of three other films.

Final Thoughts

Recommended.  The biggest hurdle to loving Goodbye Christopher Robin is that we’ve seen it before.  Yes, it’s a different true story, and yes, it focuses on the life of the boy a little more than the life of the writer.  But still, this film carries a Finding Neverland feel from start to finish, and so audiences can only find themselves so impressed.  We know this formula, we like it, we’ll watch it, but if you don’t add anything else to the mix we’ll forget your concoction and we’ll move on.  The video was nice, the audio fine, there were some bonus features, but the technical aspects won’t be enough to hook us.  And the movie won’t either; it’s merely good, never great, and will be forgotten, which in no way means that it’s terrible, but isn’t a ringing endorsement either.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Camelot (1982)

Category : DVD Review

Director: Marty Callner

Starring: Richard Harris, Meg Bussert, Richard Muenz

Year: 1982

In 1960, Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot opened on Broadway and ran for 873 performances.  Based on the classic T.H. White novel The Once and Future King, this bold musical would go on to have a U.S. tour and appear on stage in London, but it wasn’t done just yet.  In 1967, there was a film version adapted for the screen starring Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave, which revitalized the show and led to a revival of the stage version in 1980.  In 1982, a live performance was captured on tape at the Winter Garden Theater in Manhattan, which is how we come to this DVD and a rare opportunity to revisit this lovely musical.

The Movie

The story of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table is well known, based on British legend that is most likely one part rough reality, one part pure fantasy.  In this version of the story, we meet Arthur when he is a young king, unsuited to the job and needling at being married to a woman that he has never met, a princess named Guenevere.  His faithful teacher is Merlin, a wizard who is living backward in time, a wise man who knows all the answers, but might not know exactly when to share them.  Merlin is taken from Arthur just when he is needed most, when Arthur meets and falls in love with his destined bride.

Guenevere is afraid of missing out on her maidenhood, a time of fancy and fun that she will never know, being married to the greatest king in all the land instead.  But when she meets a young man whose identity she doesn’t at first know, she falls in love, and realizes that her dreams are about to come true.  She marries Arthur and the pair create a home in Camelot, a place of wonder and glory where love fills the halls.  Arthur’s vision of a peaceful England where knights fight for right, not for might, is becoming a reality, especially with the addition of the noble Lancelot, a man whose deeds are too amazing to be believed, and unfortunately too attractive to be denied.

Lerner & Loewe were coming off of an enormous success in My Fair Lady when they launched Camelot, so the pressure was on and the expectations were high.  Their followup wasn’t as big a smash as their previous hit, nor was the film version as beloved, but for my money I’d choose Arthur Pendragon over Eliza Doolittle any day.  So would John F. Kennedy; he was a huge fan of the musical, it was his favorite album, and to this day we refer to his presidency as Camelot, in part because of the ideals he stood for, but also because this show was like a background soundtrack for his life.

Watching this version is a very unique experience, because we are essentially audience members for a live performance, a chance like that, to go back in time, to me that can’t be oversold.  It’s a sketchy recording for sure, you won’t expect more, but that just helps lend an air of authenticity to the whole thing.  It’s just a pretty show, with such nice music; you wouldn’t call it perfect or a masterpiece, it’s too simple for that, the songs are too easy to sing.  Richard Harris isn’t actually a strong singer at all, but he doesn’t really need to be, and I’m not sure why more community theatres don’t do this play; perhaps it’s a rights issue.  But you should enjoy this treat at least once in your life; it’s full of iconic music and wonderful costumes, a tragic drama to rival Shakespeare but with a comfortable quality that makes it seem almost home made.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, originally airing on HBO, and then released on tape, the video quality of this DVD is exactly as awful as you’d imagine, but that’s absolutely no one’s fault.  It’s a live recording of a play in the 80s; you’ll understand when the picture is terrible and you have to constantly rub your eyes, look away, and remind yourself that real life doesn’t look this fuzzy.

Audio – The disc was done in English, but there are no sound options or subtitles.  The audio is poor, of course, but without the echoing you might expect, and not too bad if you put it in context.  The music of the show is a major highlight, so enjoy that, just don’t expect clear, crisp sound.

Extras – In the main menu, the film can be played all at once or parceled out into three acts.  Also, there is an Image Gallery that takes 2 minutes to cycle through.  That’s it for the special features.

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended.  A strong recommendation for this feature will have to come with some asterisks, out of necessity.  One would be that you have to accept thatis a recording of a play; it feels very different from an actual film.  The other would be that you have to love live theatre, especially musicals that aren’t Les Mis or Phantom, but are instead something much sweeter and easier to consume.  This movie is a good representation of the production, so go in with an open mind, pretending that you’re being transported back in time, and you’ll be alright.  The video is bad, obviously, the sound isn’t much better, there aren’t any real bonus features, so don’t count on any technical marvels.  Enjoy Camelot for what it is, have the songs stuck in your head for days, don’t be too hard on it, relive a night on the town that you may not even have been alive for.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – The Square

Category : DVD Review

Director: Ruben Ostlund

Starring: Claes Bang

Year: 2017

I have never seen a film quite like The Square, and perhaps that feeling is bolstered by how little I was prepared for it.  I knew it was a talked-about foreign film, I heard Elizabeth Moss’s name, and I saw that it was 140 minutes long, and so I guess I made a bunch of assumptions that held me back from making it a priority on my list.  But what I didn’t know turned out to be so much more important.  I didn’t know that this was Ostlund’s next feature after the excellent Force Majeure, I didn’t know that Moss and every other actor were merely supporting, and I didn’t know that the story would be the exact level of bonkers that I’ve been enjoying all year, from Mother! to Sacred Deer, another in a delightful trend of wacky movies that make remarkable points through their pure, enriched intensity.

The Movie

Christian, the curator of a Swedish contemporary art museum, is coming face to face with decisions of character and of direction that will completely alter his personality and his path. A controversial new exhibit is coming to the museum, the Square, a place of empathy and helpfulness by advertisement, but also a stunning juxtaposition to the world outside its small borders. This exhibit acts as a catalyst, but the events in Christian’s personal life reflect the battle going on within each of us. His wallet is stolen; how will he react. He sleeps with a journalist; how will he treat her. He gives to a beggar; how far will he go. The bizarre events of the film are as unpredictable as they are hilarious, but they have a darker side as well, one that we typically don’t choose to see.

Set against a backdrop of the kind of art that is often seen but rarely appreciated, the plot takes on a similar quality; every day conversation and awkward moments that are part of our typical lives but that aren’t often shown on screen.  These more mundane pieces of reality are mixed in with the more insane experiences in a person’s life, creating a timeline for Christian that is a mix between boring and completely unexpected.  Thrown in, seemingly at random, is one of the most captivating movie moments of the year, the Monkey Man, and what he signifies might be the strongest message the film has to offer.  Prepare yourself for something strange, but also something strangely important.

This is one of those movies that the more I think about the more I like, that I want to revisit again to enjoy, but that I also want others to see so I can tell if I’ve gone insane or if it actually is that good.  I’m relieved that it was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar; maybe I’m not that original after all, maybe everyone recognizes that The Square may be tremendously weird but that it is also simply tremendous.  Partly in Swedish, partly in English, it’s a roller coaster ride of physical sensations and existential musings, an uncomfortable plot that’s funny because it’s true.  Bang plays Christian to perfection, other characters swirling around him as he sinks deeper into the whirlpool of his conscience, and in the end you completely understand what he just went through because you went through it right alongside him.

It’s a film that needs to be labelled as “not for everyone” if ever a film did, not because of content exactly, perhaps because of its lack of content instead.  There is a story, there are reasons to view from point A to point B, but mixed in are some of the most radical scenes you’ll see this season, unpredictable happenings that take the movie to another, existential level.  The plot slides along, but the people Christian meets become as important as his actions, and it’s the way they weave into his narrative that gives the movie its mood and its humor.  Because The Square is a funny film, it’s hilarious at times, but often uncomfortably so.  The entire experience is uncanny and unconventional, but that’s exactly what makes it great.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (Widescreen) and shot using an Arri Alexa XT camera with Zeiss Master Prime lenses, the video quality of the DVD is quite nice, without being so impressive that you’ll want to buy simply for the visual excellence.  The cinematography is stunning, based heavily on art and architecture, instead of the conventional landscapes and sunsets.

Audio – The disc was done in English 5.1 Dolby Digital, with subtitle choices in English, English SDH, or Spanish.  The film is Swedish and so that language is spoken throughout, with subtitles for American audiences, but it also switches to English quite often.  The duel languages work well, the sound quality holds its own, and so the audio won’t disappoint.

Extras – There are a few special features on the DVD, if you’re looking for a bit more from this story.  Behind the Monkey Man Scene is a 12-minute look at the iconic moment.  Casting Tapes are available to view from many of the cast members.  A Behind-the-scenes Photo Gallery can be accessed here.  And there are many previews as a bonus, including a theatrical trailer for the film and a look at other Magnolia features.

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended.  This recommendation comes with some hesitance, not because I am unsure of my own opinion of the film, but because it’s extremely hard to guess how other audiences might react.  As I said before, there isn’t a ton of mature content, the story is not so out there that I need to warn people away, it’s not five hours of paint splatters and sad faces.  It’s simply a higher level of expression circling around a plot that’s wacky at its core, without too many standard American elements, which always make us feel a little better.  The video is very nice, the audio holds its own, there are some extras on the disc; you won’t be let down hard by the technical aspects.  But if you are to be sucked in, it will be by the absurdity and the audacity on display, not by any one feature that you can point to.  So come for a unique viewing; stay because it’s a success.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Marshall

Category : DVD Review

Director: Reginald Hudlin

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Dan Stevens

Year: 2017

Director Reginald Hudlin hasn’t attempted a feature film since a string of odd choices in the 90s and early 2000s.  House Party, Boomerang, The Great White Hype, The Ladies Man, Serving Sarah; that’s an odd group, to say the least, and the array of television episodes that he’s directed since then are even odder, and would take much longer to type out.  My point is, he’s been out of the game for a while, and even when he was in the game he wasn’t exactly winning.  And so his most recent movie, Marshall, feels more like a TV special than it does an awards-caliber film.  But that isn’t a completely terrible thing, if you’re prepared for what you’re about to watch; a true story that would probably fit better on the History Channel than in a theatre near you.

The Movie

Thurgood Marshall, a lawyer working for the NAACP, was known as a man who stood tall and stayed clearheaded in the most trying of situations.  His job was to travel the country to important spots where the battle for equal rights was being fought the hardest, to be the voice for those were being shouted down.  When an innocent black man was accused of a terrible crime because the system had been rigged against him for centuries, Marshall would arrive to give legal counsel, to defend the case, to coach other lawyers, to show the nation that men are created equal, and that their legal rights should be treated the exact same way.

In one of his most famous cases, Marshall came to Connecticut to defend a black driver who was accused of raping his white employer.  Joseph Spell worked for the Strubings, and was always kind to the Mrs., especially when her husband was away on business.  But one night, Eleanor Strubing went to the police claiming that she was raped and thrown over a bridge to be drowned, and that Spell was the culprit.  The story was fishy and Spell refused to plead guilty to a crime he said he did not commit, so Marshall arrived to find the truth and to get this man a fair trial.  Because he was from out of state, he was not allowed to speak in the courtroom, relying instead on local attorney Sam Friedman, and insurance lawyer who was about to get the education of a lifetime.

For a film titled after the famous true character, Marshall had very little to do with Thurgood and more to do with Friedman, a turn I did not expect.  They tried to throw in a little backstory, Thurgood’s wife and their struggle to have children, but the focus remained on Friedman throughout, especially in the courtroom, where he was the one who was historically allowed to speak, so that makes absolute sense; I was simply surprised that the film tilted his way so much.  We even got a lot of Dan Stevens, which I was fine with; he’s one hell of an actor, and you hardly miss his dashing British accent.  Regardless of the characters, the case ended up taking center stage, and that’s as it should be, with the verdict an important step toward equal treatment under the law.

Dan Stevens was strong, Sterling K. Brown is a revelation, James Cromwell was the perfect judge, but it’s hard to take Kate Hudson seriously; she just isn’t talented enough to hold her own opposite these other players.  Chadwick Boseman is though, and his rise to stardom is an important one.  He does a lot of biopics, he’s also Black Panther, he seems to have a solid path carved out already; I’m ready to watch him become something special.  Now, Josh Gad is a bit of a mixed bag, a funny man who is trying to play serious, a little bumbler who wants to put up a fight.  I don’t think he quite has the chops, but he does fine when he’s in the spotlight, just not impressing as much as the opportunity allowed.  The film is intriguing, it does show more like television and less like a film, it won’t win any awards, but the story is important enough to pass along, the delivery good enough to warrant a light recommendation.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.00:1 (1080p HD Widescreen) and shot using an ARRI ALEXA 65 camera with Prime 65 and Vintage 765 lenses, the video quality of this Blu-ray disc is excellent, perhaps even unnecessarily so.  The clarity is great, the color is vibrant; it’s almost lost on this movie, which required nothing more than that we heard the tale and understood the meaning.

Audio – The disc was done in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, with an option of Descriptive Video Service in Dolby Digital 2.0.  Subtitles are also available, in English SDH and Spanish.  In the sounds menu, button sounds can be turned off or on.  The audio quality of the Blu-ray disc is great, a solid compliment to the action of the story and the setting in which it takes place.

Extras – The only extras are 8 trailers for contemporary films.

Final Thoughts

Recommended.  Thurgood Marshall would of course go on to be the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, but I didn’t know much about his road there, and I feel thankful now that I have had the opportunity to learn.  Most of us have the means to jump on a computer, our phones, or Wikipedia to find out any information we want, to educate ourselves about any historical figure we could imagine.  But sometimes it takes a film or a book or a play to nudge us in the right direction, to get us motivated to open up our ears and our minds.  The video of the movie is top-notch, the audio is strong, the extras are few; technically there won’t be any distractions.  So while Marshall may not be the courtroom drama of the century, it has a lot to offer, if we are simply willing to hold out our hands.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Theeb

Category : DVD Review

Director: Naji Abu Nowar

Starring: Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh AL-Sweilhiyeen

Year: 2014

Out of the United Arab Emirates and filmed in Jordan comes Theeb, a film nominated for Best Foreign Language Feature at the 2016 Academy Awards.  ‘Theeb’ means ‘wolf’ in Arabic, and is the name of our main character, as well as a point of metaphor throughout the movie.  You won’t fail to be impressed by this look into another world, nor will its impact miss the mark for many.  And yet while its differences are its strengths, they are also its weaknesses, the delivery of the story so unlike what we are used to seeing that they catch our attention only to make us feel somewhat unwelcome here.

The Movie

Theeb is a young boy, the son of a sheik, from a Bedouin people deep in the deserts of the Ottoman Empire.  Times are changing as war rages outside, the Ottomans choosing sides, many rising up against them, the British stepping in to take command as usual.  One English officer requests the aid of Theeb’s brother to guide him to the railway many miles across the barren landscape, through dangerous terrain.  Theeb follows so as not to be left behind, shadowing the brother that he loves so much and who he can’t stand to be parted from.

Theeb will experience the world in a way he never imagined, growing up on the sand while the harsh truths of survival prowl around the outskirts of the party’s campfire.  Tribes war with tribes, bandits roam the arid countryside, wells are prized possessions, and no one is safe traveling in small groups, yet Bedouins are fiercely proud of their survival skills, and absolutely dedicated to those they decide to guide along treacherous paths.  When the group is attacked, Theeb will have to take care of himself in a land that knows no pity and can kill with rapid, unthinking precision.

The landscape is by far the greatest positive about this film, and some of the visuals will blow you away.  It’s not that this is a big-budget, Hollywood picture with amazing cinematography, it’s that the movie transports us directly into the heart of a beautiful land, but one that is also unimaginably difficult and stark.  Some of the shots of the canyons and deserts are breathtaking, made more so by the simplicity of the story around them, the focus on being present in the moment instead of forcing us to pretend that we’re in Jordan.  We are there with the characters naturally; those emotions don’t need to be manufactured.

But I’ll go back to try to explain the point I was trying to make in the introduction; what makes this movie special also makes it a bit unreachable.  The style is unique, at least to what we are used to, paring down the dialogue until you barely need it at all, making the film about an area and less about any one specific person.  Theeb is the focal point, but he’s also simply a vehicle for us to travel around in.  It’s so barren, the set and the story, that you’re left with the lonely feeling that I think is one of the points, but that becomes a negative as well as a positive.  It would be hard to say that this film inspires love; it’s uncommonly transportative, but its lack of drama can’t be seen as an undoubted asset.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 Widescreen and shot using an Arriflex 416 camera with Hawk V-Lite 16 lenses, the video quality of the disc may be its strongest feature.  The landscape is stunning, it’s something we don’t see very often, and then never quite like this, like we are in the desert with the characters, not on some movie set with celebrities’ trailers just out of sight.

Audio – The DVD was done in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround, with an option of 2.0 Stereo.  Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.  The film is in Arabic, which is an amazing language to sit and listen to, the movie flowing so well that you barely need subtitles at all.  Also, the music of the movie is surprisingly solid, with a nice recurring theme used throughout.

Extras – There are plenty of special features available on the disc if you’re interested in learning more.  First, there is a bonus short film entitled Waves ’98, a 15-minute animated movie about a teenager in Beirut.  In the bonus menu, you can access commentary by director Naji Abu Nowar, as well as six Film Movement trailers: My Love Don’t Cross That River, The Best Intentions, Wondrous Boccaccio, Breathe, Secrets of War, The Dark Valley.  Lastly, a paragraph to teach audiences a little bit about Film Movement.

Final Thoughts

RecommendedTheeb is a film to see, if not exactly a film to buy.  It’s a sensory experience more than it is a cinematic one, or at least that’s the impression it left upon me after a viewing, like I witnessed something and was taken somewhere, but not like I would remember it forever.  The story is simple, the action muted, even the violence more realistic and less dramatic, which, again, is somehow both a weakness and a strength.  The film is almost too real for us to want to add to our collections, if that makes any sense at all, while also being one of the best snapshots of this time period since Lawrence of Arabia.  The video is special in what it reveals, if not exactly in quality, the audio is strong, and there are some special features for those who want to look deeper, so the technical aspects pull their weight.  Enjoy for what it does right and attempt not to hold it up to the American projects that we have become accustomed to, and you might find a gem.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay