Category Archives: DVD Review

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DVD Review – What Will People Say

Category : DVD Review

Director: Iram Haq

Starring: Maria Mozhdah, Adil Hussain

Year: 2017

A foreign language candidate out of Norway came to America this summer and was mostly missed by audiences, including myself.  The critics that saw the film sung its praises, but otherwise it slid under the radar and went under-seen, which needs to be remedied.  I came across it by accident, knowing nothing about Iram Haq’s strong debut five years previous, I Am Yours.  The Pakistani-Norwegian director tells emotional stories about women living where two cultures clash, and attempting to steer their way through expression and emotion while this battle rages on.  What Will People Say is a coming-of-age tale from this perspective, a look at how the most exciting time of a young person’s life can quickly become a waking nightmare when she is restrained from freedom by family and by expectation.

The Movie

Nisha is a typical Norwegian teenager; slightly rebellious, mostly appropriate, likes to spend time out of the house with her friends, gets good grades, loves her family, has a potential boyfriend, chats on her phone too much, all normal activities and none too egregious to warrant action or concern.  But her family is not like others in Norway, and the expectations for her adolescence are quite different from that of her friends.  Nisha’s parents are from Pakistan, and they brought their culture, both its positives and its negatives, with them when they settled in this new country.  Her father owns a small store, her mother stays at home, her brother is being groomed to be a doctor, her sister is still young; it’s a tightly knit family, they love one another, but at times Nisha’s youth and individuality clash with the traditions of her parents’ homeland.

The discrepancies seem mostly bearable until a night when she sneaks a boy into her bedroom after hours, and he accidentally wakes up her father.  A side Nisha has never seen awakens in a man she has always trusted, and the police are called, children’s services stepping in as well to help her tell her story and protect herself from domestic abuse.  But that’s half of Nisha’s life, Norwegian law, the other half is more traditional, Pakistani male dominance and family ownership.  She subsides to the pressures and promises of her family, but is tricked by her father and brother into going with them aboard a ferry and then to the airport.  With threats upon her life and the promise of becoming an outcast if she protests hanging over her head, Nisha is sent, basically kidnapped, to Pakistan, where she is expected to learn to behave if she is ever to have any freedom again, however limited, and however lifeless.

Haq’s first feature is much more sexual, much more mature, her second focusing more on youth pushing back against the walls that threaten to cage it in, and the consequences of such defiance.  Nisha’s tale is one that, on the surface, I could never understand personally, but I’ve never understood how people can say that they don’t relate to another human story since we are all humans; even having never experienced something similar, and of course knowing this to be fiction, I can empathize with all those who have struggled to find themselves among the crowd of culture and the pressure of generations.  Change comes with difficulty, there are always those who fight back against it, and they are powerful, or at least perceived to be.  Nisha’s story stirs my heart in that way, forcing me to watch and understand and feel what countless people in her situation across the globe must feel, and how helpless they must imagine their situation to be.  Filmmakers like Iram Haq shine light on that plight every day, helping those without a voice say something loudly, and for that I stand up and applaud and do my small part, sharing and recommending the message as widely as I can.

Now, for the film, which I don’t mean to ignore; the content is simply so strong that it does dominate at times, pushing its way to the forefront and demanding notice.  But the movie itself has strength enough to grab our attention as well, and should be given its proper respect for being one of the strongest I’ve seen this year, regardless of category.  Haq directs the feature with fierce style and determination, never flinching from the difficult and never wasting a scene.  Some of the shots are gorgeous, especially in Pakistan; what a lovely countryside for such dark context.  And she had a way, throughout the film, of making it extremely and realistically clear where the power lies; sometimes the father and the brother would talk about the most mundane topics while life-altering events were going on around them, which came across to me as both natural, since people do talk about boring details, and unnatural, given the evil they were bent on perpetuating, showing the frequent callousness of their actions while harming other human beings.  The acting was so believable, Mozhdah was great for a first-timer, and by the end I was left with such a sweep of emotions that I hardly knew what to do with them.  An excellent second feature, a solid Foreign Language addition, and an overall unique drama, What Will People Say really should have people talking.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (16×9), the video quality of the DVD is comparable to others of its budget, which shouldn’t be held against it, but which can’t exactly be called an asset either.  The quality is just fine,  but the cinematography is more impressive, with stunning shots of Pakistan and a great eye for detail throughout.

Audio – The disc was done in Norwegian and Urdu 5.1 Surround, with an option of 2.0 Stereo.  Subtitles are available and automatically in English, to be turned on or off.  The sound quality is normal as well, about what you would expect, but the music is fairly thoughtful, with modern vs. traditional balanced in a clever manner.

Extras – The only special feature on the DVD is a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

Highly RecommendedWhat Will People Say is a heartfelt and personal look at culture clash turning into something much more violent and specific, not mistreatment of a group but rather mistreatment of a family member for not becoming and conforming to an image of a group.  Both are a problem, one large scale, the other more internal, but each harms its target, and here is a story that illuminates the dangers of forgetting about the smaller battles.  The video is average, the audio the same, there are almost no bonus features, so look elsewhere for strong technical aspects, but with this level of drama, with this great an eye for scene, other technical pieces fail to matter.  What is important is Nisha’s truth,  and how her character represents young women all over the world, not just in Pakistan or with strict, Muslim parents, who can’t escape what they are supposed to be to become who they truly are.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti

Category : DVD Review

Director: Edouard Deluc

Starring: Vincent Cassel, Tuhei Adams

Year: 2017

I feel like I found him early, at least for an American, and I’ve watched Vincent Cassel shine ever since.  He’s one of the best professionals working today, be it in France or in Hollywood, and I would hope that, by now, most audiences know his name, or at least know when they see his face that they’re about to see something very special.  The Messenger, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Irreversible, Sheitan, Eastern Promises, Black Swan, A Dangerous Method, Trance, Beauty and the Beast, Partisan, Child 44, Tale of Tales, My King, The Little Prince, It’s Only the End of the World, Jason Bourne; what can this actor not do.  Now he takes on an artist at a very unusual time of his life, and even if the film itself fails to capture our attention, Cassel absolutely never does the same.

The Movie

Paul Gauguin, one of the most famous French artists in the country’s history was once penniless, unappreciated, and a complete disaster.  His paintings weren’t selling, he and his friends revolted against the trend of religious artwork, and his estranged family suffered without the money he failed to bring in and the mundane jobs he was unwilling to find.  Gauguin was starving, in poor health, disrespected, and had no prospects; even his agent began to lose doubts in his talent as the sales of his works continued to plummet.  Being an anarchist/post-impressionist was neither lucrative nor beseeming, and Gauguin suffered for his inflexibility and his belief that art came from somewhere other than religious zealotry.

Leaving his family and his financial troubles behind, Gauguin fled to French Polynesia to study nature, beauty, and to find inspiration in the daily activity of painting without the restraints of a style, a deadline, an expectation.  There he would fall into even poorer health, having a heart attack and barely eating, instead spending every waking moment drinking and painting, until it consumed him.  He was saved from despair by a Tahitian girl named Tehura, who he married and took back to the village where he made his home.  She inspired him to create great works, and after his death, when fame would finally come, these years amid the jungle would prove to be what crafted his masterpieces.

In this case, and it’s not uncommon, the actor shines brighter than the film itself, which allows audiences to appreciate at least one aspect, but not, perhaps, that which was the original goal.  Cassel is simply brilliant, in whatever role you slide him into, with a darkness and the depth that must be almost impossible to reach, yet he makes it seem so simple and so natural.  His ability to at once stay within his own style and also embody another person is mesmerizing, and not very common.  Not every actor can lose themselves in a role while also keeping a part of their personality present while never breaking down the wall; it takes a true star to master this balance, and Cassel is one of the very brightest.

The film fails to illuminate on its own, however, falling dimly behind its lead until you almost forget that there’s a movie somewhere hiding in the background.  It’s like we’re simply following Gauguin around, which is fine, but that’s not going to leave audiences with any impression other than the same feeling we could get reading a Wikipedia article.  I do think that I learned a little about Gauguin, that’s good, but that’s also not enough.  In addition, Cassel improvised many lines and you can tell, which is a good thing and a bad thing at different times.  But that simply acts as an example to how little the filmmakers did, period, and how little impact this movie will have one day after having watched it.

Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and with no other details available, despite the Blu-ray medium, the video quality of the film is both good enough to avoid notice and not quite strong enough to deserve comment.  The sets and landscapes are gorgeous; that’s almost a given, given the locale.  The forests, the waters, the local people, and of course the artwork; there’s beauty here, but maybe not as much as there should have been given the content and the expectations it drums up.

Audio – The Blu-ray was done in French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with an option of 5.1 Dolby Digital.  Subtitles are automatically in English, but can be turned off.  That’s it for the audio, and while there was a nice backing score throughout, it left my ear immediately and will make about as much impression on me as the rest of the film did.

Extras – There are a few special features if you’re interested in going deeper.  Illustrations is a 15-minute behind-the-scenes look.  Vincent Cassel as Gauguin is a 4-minute interview segment.  Life and Painting of Gauguin is a 5-minute featurette on the inspiration of the movie.  Tahiti is a 2-minute peak at the local culture.  And there is a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

Rent It.  A painting by Gauguin came up on a daily calendar that my family was flipping over, and I was able to tell them what little I knew about the artist, his marriage, the island, a couple aspects about the art, all because I saw this film, so it was in no way a waste of time or energy; I learned something and I got to see Cassel do his job, so it wasn’t a compete bust.  But I was disappointed; the film itself was lost behind one grand performance, and that’s not acceptable.  I won’t remember what I saw for long because the story and its supports didn’t do enough to make me, and that’s a real shame.  The video is at times lovely, the audio fades away into the periphery, and there are a couple bonus features on the disc, so the technical aspects aren’t a complete loss.  Neither is the movie, but just barely, and basically because of the lead, so I’m not sure how much credit I can give to a film that only did the minimum.

☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Lizzie

Category : DVD Review

Director: Craig William Macneill

Starring: Chloe Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan

Year: 2018

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it …probably twice; Kristen Stewart is an incredible actress who is ill-treated partly because of the crappy vehicle she decided to hitch a ride in to jump start her career and party because of the demeanor she exhibits that comes across to us as flippant and/or annoyed.  She found a way to become a star, now that she is one she doesn’t feel like she owes us anything, and somehow we’re mad about that, but that just seems like pure lunacy to me.  Stewart is a talented actor, she picks the roles she wants to pick, she talks to the media when she chooses, and nothing else is our business, at least that’s the way I look at it.  Her role in Lizzie might not even be her best, neither is the film itself, but she’s better than she gets credit for, and by a fair amount.

The Movie

Kristen Stewart plays Brigitte, who also goes by Maggie, since of yore Americans liked to call all Irish people by the same name apparently, but that’s not who this movie is about, so let’s switch gears.  The main character here is Lizzie Borden, played by Chloe Sevigny, who lives in Massachusetts with her sister, stepmother, and overbearing father.  Lizzie is getting closer and closer to becoming a old maid in 1892, why she’s all of 32!, and has become a burden on her family.  She’s odd, bossy, goes out unaccompanied, and is prone to seizures; her father is even considering putting her in an institution since she can’t seem to get married and therefore must be a maniac of some kind.  Turns out, Lizzie simply isn’t interested in men, in a time when such thoughts are strictly demonic.

Lizzie first befriends and then falls for the Borden’s new maid Brigitte, who is eager to be taught to read, needs someone to comfort her, and makes a nice change to the mundane day to day of unwanted daughter living.  The pair find something within each other that they were missing, and soon become quite close.  But at the same time, Lizzie’s father is sneaking into Brigitte’s bedroom unwelcome, as well as threatening Lizzie with losing her inheritance and being sent away if she doesn’t keep clear of her new companion.  Well, that won’t do, and so the ladies hatch a devilish plan.  What happens next is mostly mystery, as the Borden Ax Murders have never been perfectly solved, and no one knows the killer’s exact intentions, though the gruesome deed itself would go down in sinister history.

The most intriguing part about Lizzie is the relationship between the title character and the maid, and I have no idea how much of that was conjecture or assumption or perhaps even pure fantasy.  This obviously isn’t a purely historical account, there are some liberties taken, and perhaps this relationship is one of them, but without it, really, the film would have fallen apart.  I guess that’s the Kristen Stewart fan in me coming out, although it would be overdramatic to call myself such, but I do think she’s talented, and I do think she basically made the movie.  In this story anyway, the action wouldn’t have taken place without the two women bolstering each other’s nerves, and so it was desperately necessary, if not exactly true, and I’ll forgive some extra style for the sake of entertainment since it was quite needed.

It was needed because the rest is pretty boring, and couldn’t be left on its own because it never had the meat we wanted to sink our teeth into.  Lizzie, her family, her situation, the killings; it was sleepy, to be honest, and I’m not sure I understand why the tale is compelling enough to warrant our knowing Lizzie’s name all these years later.  Chloe Sevigny was not great, she’s not strong enough to do this on her own, she needed Kristen Stewart, and like I said earlier, this wasn’t Kristen’s best offering either; her accent was OK but she basically said every line with the same inflection.  Jamey Sheridan will always terrify me thanks to The Stand, so he was a good villain, but I wonder at him dying so easily; I wonder if there’s even more to this story than we already don’t know. But it’s not like we’re desperate to find out; at least not from this team.  They didn’t put together a compelling film, which should have perhaps been easy given the violent content.  But perhaps not, maybe it was harder than they imagined, which is reflected in the final product we were given.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40 (16×9 1080p HD) and shot using an Arri Alexa SXT camera with Cooke S4, Speed Panchro, and Fujinon Alura lenses, the video quality of the Blu-ray is on par with its delivery; fine but not really enticing.  The color was muted, often dark, but the sets were pretty excellent, and I felt like they were really paying attention to detail when recreating the history.

Audio – The disc was done in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with an option of English SDH and Spanish subtitles.  That’s it as far as the audio options, no more are available, and the music throughout is about as forgettable as the video.

Extras – There are just a bare few special features on the Blu-ray; Understanding Lizzie is a 10-minute featurette, there is a group of other trailers from Lionsgate, and the menu can be bookmarked.

Final Thoughts

Recommended. Lizzie has an intriguing setup and some chemistry between its leads, but that’s as far as the positives go.  Either the story doesn’t support a dramatic retelling or this wasn’t the crew to tell it, because something was missing.  The movie was mostly boring with moments of quality, but those moments were too few and far between.  I wanted to enjoy the high drama, but the action was too muted and uneven.  Stewart was strong, Sheridan was scary, but Sevigny wasn’t up to snuff; I needed more from her as the lead actor and driving force of the plot.  The video is only OK, the audio is as vanilla, and the extras aren’t plentiful, so forget the technical aspects.  I can’t imagine who this movie was aimed toward; experts would probably find flaws, and the rest of us simply won’t be interested.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Colette

Category : DVD Review

Director: Wash Westmoreland

Starring: Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Year: 2018

Keira Knightley simply doesn’t age; she’s been the period piece It Girl for years now, since Pride & Prejudice perhaps, and that’s more than thirteen years ago.  Some other actresses have popped up as her replacement (Mia Wasikowska), but since she doesn’t seem to get any older, why try to fix what isn’t broken?  She’s now approaching her mid-30s, but can still steal these young debutant roles, and since there’s absolutely no one who’s quite on her level, I think we could see her continue this game for another thirteen years, why not, she’s lasted this young.  She’s talented, remarkable, beautiful, and has succeeded in whatever has been thrown her way; it’s about time we recognize Knightley as the special actress she is and the icon she will someday be.

The Movie

Gabrielle is a simple, single girl from the French countryside; her family is well-to-do enough, she loves her town, the nature that surrounds it, and her greatest hope is to marry the famed writer “Willy”, who is a friend of the family and who has already fallen head over heels for this darling young lady.  The pair marry, move to Willy’s Paris home/office, and begin their life together, though it’s nothing either of them thought it would be.  Willy is famous yet broke, always scheming for the next franc, always gambling away profits, sometimes writing something original, but usually relying on the clever words of others and passing them through under his name so that they can sell.  The Parisian literary world isn’t simple, that’s for sure.

Gabrielle finds this out quickly for herself when Willy asks her to write for his as well.  The two have by now had their fair share of troubles; Willy’s philandering, repossession of assets, broken promises.  But she, now going by her second name, Colette, has begun to push back against the assumptions that the husband will have all the fun while the wife will stay quietly at home.  As she begins to write, Colette begins to see the world from a different point of view, and her tastes come into focus more keenly as she begins to wonder what it is she truly desires, not what the world desires of her.  Unorthodox relationships, unusual dress, new hairstyles, provocative books; Colette begins experimenting and begins also to find what makes her uniquely happy.

The messages here are clear, and there are a lot of them.  Colette is a figure that represents the changing role of women, the freedom to love whomever you want, the difficulty in dressing and acting and being however you choose, the pushback that’s inevitable whenever change threatens.  Colette sleeps with women, she dresses like a man, she begins acting, she tells the world that she’s the actual author of these boundary-pushing stories; she won’t sit meekly by as others take the credit and have the fun.  I didn’t know anything about this historical figure going in, so it was fascinating to see the story played out, and to see these themes from the point of view of this era in a way I’m sure I never have before.

Knightley knows this role inside and out, and although I’m sure Colette gave her certain challenges, it was obvious that she slid into the character and the era and the style seamlessly because she knew exactly what to do.  I haven’t grown tired of her yet, I love that she has the ability to inhabit these characters, but I guess eventually we’ll need someone else to fill this void, when Keira has grown up and moved on, which will be a bittersweet day.  She’s so talented, Dominic West was a good backdrop for her to shine against, and wow the costumes and sets, they were something to remember.  But the rest, honestly, was a bit tedious and a bit boring.  We’ve seen these movies before, they are usually a bit sleepy even while being interesting, and it’s hard to get excited about the expected results.  That’s not a harsh criticism, but it is prevalent enough through the film to make it unable to soar; the ceiling was low, it met expectations, but won’t be something we ever recall with passion.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 (1080p HD Widescreen) and shot using an Arri Alexa camera, the video quality of the Blu-ray is on par with what we’ve seen from this media and this genre before, without any real surprises.  The sets and costumes are extravagant, the colors and lights are well-used, the picture is crisp; everything you’d expect from a Blu-ray of a period piece drama.

Audio – The disc was done in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with an option of English Descriptive Video Service Dolby Digital 2.0.  Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.  The audio quality is rather nice, with a pleasant backing score that suits the mood and an adequate balance between dialogue and music.  The sound may not wow, but it is definitely not a distraction.

Extras – There are a few special features on the Blu-ray, though nothing to get too excited about.  There are five Deleted Scenes, The Story Behind Colette is a 2-minute featurette giving some background, Notes On A Scene is an 8-minute featurette with the director, and there is a Costume Design Photo Gallery for those interested in that aspect.

Final Thoughts

Recommended.  Where Colette goes wrong is in thinking that every viewer will be as excited about this content as the director, because while the characters, themes, and messages are interesting, they also require a bit of energy to get fully behind, and the film doesn’t provide enough oomph to keep eyelids from drooping.  That’s the film’s main flaw, that it’s sleepy and slow, with fascinating pieces but not “exciting” enough of an entire product to keep attention focused as long as is necessary.  Knightley’s still got it, West was strong, there are many positives to point to, it’s just a matter of each audience member’s keen interest, and mine often wandered as the movie slowly dripped on.  The video was solid, the audio as well, and there are a few bonus features, so the technical aspects don’t fail the film.  It’s simply that the film itself will bore more often than it entices, resulting in a feature that will never break through the boundaries of its genre.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Basic Instinct 2

Category : DVD Review

Director: Michael Caton-Jones

Starring: David Morrissey, Sharon Stone, David Thewlis

Year: 2006

For boasting a star-studded cast and having been built upon a classic, albeit one of the cult variety, Basic Instinct 2 is shockingly bad.  I say that knowing that most will not be shocked by that news, because they saw the quality of this film coming a mile away, but I can’t let it slide upon its crappy sequel status and its lack of expectation.  Based on how well Basic Instinct works, and I should tell you that I think it works very well, its successor should have been better, simply better, regardless of how little we thought of its chances.  But this awful attempt at a steamy thriller is an embarrassment and nothing else, a gross byproduct of something much better that doesn’t deserve our time.

The Movie

Catherine Tramell might have left San Francisco, but she didn’t leave her murderous murderess ways behind her as she moved to London, she kept those close to her blackened heart.  Not surprisingly, one of her boyfriends has ended up dead again, and she’s almost too guilty to be the actual killer.  She’s also too confident in her own ability to get away with the crime to be believed; is she a genius, a psychopath, or both?  She’s got most fooled, she has some turned on, some enraged, but she walks around like an untouchable goddess who can throw lives away on a whim, and she’ll continue to do so until someone proves that they can stop her.

Successful analyst Michael Glass seems to be her latest target of seduction and deceit, and he becomes her therapist after she is accused of killing her football star boyfriend, the first of many bodies that seem to keep popping up everywhere she goes.  Michael is entrances by her, in love with her, scared of her, and doesn’t know whether to turn her over to the police or revel in the debauchery.  She’s a slippery fish, and he can’t quite catch her, and perhaps doesn’t want to, because what would he do with her then?  People in Michael’s own life start dying, setting him down a path toward murder himself, but he might not be up to pulling the trigger, especially when it’s aimed at such a lovely creature.

I knew that this movie was going to be terrible, we all did when it came out, there was no chance of anything else, and yet I’m still disappointed because something better should have been done with these characters and this back story; it had real potential once upon a time, but was apparently only strong enough for a one night stand.  Or else Michael Caton-Jones is no Paul Verhoeven, which is probably also true, exactly as 2006 David Morrissey is no 1992 Michael Douglas.  On every level, this sequel is a slap in the face to the original, a sad attempt at a cash grab that blows up in the faces of the filmmakers and the cast like a defective explosive, and an especially messy one at that.

That’s another part that makes me mad; the cast, because there are some gems here that deserved better.  David Thewlis is a treasure and was completely wasted, Charlotte Rampling is an icon and her name is sullied by this movie, and even Hugh Dancy deserves better than his stupid character and his minimal screen time.  Any positives were wasted as the negatives shoved their way to the foreground, and wow were they loud once they got to the front.  Sharon Stone lost whatever talent she might have possessed when she turned her body into plastic pieces, and she ought to be laughed off the stage from now on.  The writing was awful, the plot stupid, the sex silly, the thread nonsensical, and any inherent angst from the franchise was wasted on this complete failure, one that should never be references as a real film ever again.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (1080p) and shot using Panavision cameras and lenses, the video quality of the film is so much better than its actual quality that there should be a law passed that says such disparity is now illegal.  The picture is clear, if tending toward darkness, and the interiors are interesting, but the visuals could not possibly counteract the cinematic problems that make up 99% of the rest.

Audio – The Blu-ray was done in English 5.1 Surround Sound DTS-HD, with options of English 2.0 PCM and French 5.1 Surround Sound.  Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, and French.  The audio is fairly nice, with a good nod to the theme song that haunted the original, but don’t look for much new thought throughout.

Extras – There are a few special features on the disc, if you’re looking to torture yourself.  The theatrical version of the film is standard, but there is also an extended version available, although it’s only two minutes longer.  Audio Commentary for the movie can be turned on/off.  Between the Sheets is an 11-minute featurette/making of segment.  10 deleted scenes are available, with audio commentary options.  And there are 7 trailers as well.

Final Thoughts

Skip It.  I would watch this movie again if you paid me, but we’d have to negotiate the terms, because it would take a lot to subject myself to such torture a second time.  I guess I’ve seen worse thrillers randomly on Netflix or Cinemax or whathaveyou, but none with this pedigree, none that should have known better.  That’s what makes this film so bad; it should have known and been better, but it was so poorly handled that it didn’t come anywhere close.  That makes it intrinsically worse, and I hated basically every minute.  The video was fairly nice, the audio was OK, the extras were unnecessary, so don’t look to the technical aspects to save the day.  Just stay far, far away, I think that’s best, and let’s pretend the 90s didn’t spawn all these attempts to recapture what we once held so dear.

☆- Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Mid90s

Category : DVD Review

Director: Jonah Hill

Starring: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Katherine Waterston

Year: 2018

13-year-old Millennials have Eighth Grade, 17-year-old Xennials have Lady Bird, and now teenage Gen-Xers have Mid90s, a look at the skate life of young Los Angelinos as the 1900s ended without life becoming the dreamscape that was promised.  Angst and disappointment were hallmarks of growing up in this decade, as were drugs and lost opportunities, and it’s all captured here on the streets of LA, where every day is a struggle and all you’ve really got is your board.  I might have been in a nerd in the 90s, you might never have taken a sip of alcohol, we might not be these kids in this place, but that doesn’t stop this film from resonating anyway, from going straight to the heart of the matter in brutal and unapologetic fashion.

The Movie

Stevie needs an escape, and the kids at the skateboard shop look cool, so in he goes to discover a new life. His mom had a rough start, had kids young, works hard to support her sons, and loves Stevie very much, but it as far from cool as the Sun. His brother, Ian, is private and angry and violent, hiding behind his neatly organized room and his expensively collected wardrobe because he fears reality. Which leaves Stevie on his own, but he’s about to find his true family, the boys on the boards. These skaters take nothing seriously and take no one’s shit, smoking and drinking and trespassing because they want to, not because they have permission. It’s a life that Stevie didn’t know existed, but now that he’s had a taste he can’t get enough, and his next choices will be his most pivotal, as a boy becomes a man amid the decay of the city and the influence of its forgotten children.

But life with this new crowd isn’t all sunny days and hot girls, these kids have serious problems and serious roadblocks in their paths.  Ray is the leader, and he could become a professional skater, but sometimes he feels like his friends are holding him back.  Fuckshit just wants to party, but has some talent of his own, and resents Ray for moving ahead and potentially leaving the group.  Ruben is poor, Fourth Grade is dumb, but Stevie loves them all, loves the kinship of the crew more than anything else, and just wants to be a part of something bigger than himself.  His family won’t like what he’s doing when they find out, and they’ll stop him if they can, though this skater life finally makes him feel whole, giving him a purpose that he never knew he was looking for.

Jonah Hill is a first time director and many in this cast are first time actors, which only bolsters the feeling that we didn’t just watch a movie, we experienced a snapshot season in the lives of a bunch of local kids who have stopped giving a fuck and have started skating instead. This is the dirty secret, the harsh truth, the unblinking look, a map of mid-90s culture as followed by kids on the streets of LA, and here are the players to prove it. Hill grew up here, perhaps he was Stevie, perhaps he was a witness, but the nostalgia hits hard, even if this wasn’t you, because this team bring the story into your life as if it was. I didn’t grow up exactly like this, but a coming-of-age tale told this well and so starkly smacks everyone in the face with the same power, demanding that you turn your head to watch.

I liked Sunny Suljic in The Killing of a Sacred Deer and I loved him in Mid90s, a role he was perfect for, one part hard and one part pliable, a kid trying to do his best without a guide to show him how.  Lucas Hedges was a great evil older brother, with just a touch of sensitivity under the surface that was difficult to watch because it felt so fragile.  And the crew stole the show, this group of amateurs who were just here to skate, to help perfectly capture the mood of the time and the magic of the sport.  I saw it said that Mid90s is the first skate movie to actually be good, and I couldn’t agree more; it’s more than a message about the craft, it’s a kaleidoscope of tiny moments that together form something beautiful.  The grainy camerawork, the time capsule references, the freedom, the camaraderie, the off-the-wall humor; this film isn’t a masterpiece in oil, it’s a mosaic in graffiti, but no less stunning.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (16×9, 1080p HD), you’ll notice that the video is atypical right away.  It’s a boxed format, with black bars of the sides, and the entire film feels captured instead of staged, which is exactly what they were going for.  Some of the footage is supposed to be from the vantage point of a character’s handheld, Hill keeps that vibe flowing throughout, and the quality only lacks the clarity of modern blockbusters because he wanted it to.

Audio – The disc was done in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and here’s where the film really shines.  Not only is some of the conversation during the movie about the music of the times, but those tunes are woven well through every fiber of the feature, until you become immersed in this world.  This is one of the better soundtracks of the year, with a ton of attention to getting this aspect just right.  Also available is English Audio Descriptive service, as well as English SDH and Spanish subtitles.

Extras – The special features on the Blu-ray aren’t plentiful, but they’re still worth a watch.  Audio Commentary can be enjoyed along with the feature, 3 minutes of deleted scenes can be viewed, and there are five trailers for other films available.

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended. Mid90s is a stunning debut from Jonah Hill, as well as one of the best films of 2018.  It’s audacious and uncomfortable, but it is also powerfully made, with a talent to capture the moment and to bring it alive today.  The music, the scenery, the skaters, that world; it’s all brought to us on a platter, uncovered at just the right moment, and served fresh; I’m not sure what else we could ask for.  Hill has a real eye, he tells his story with comedy, and he couldn’t bore audiences if he tried, so look out for what he might do next, because it could be anything and it’s bound to be good.  The video is sketchy on purpose, the audio is gold, and there are a few bonus features, so the technical aspects won’t let the plot down, and give audiences something extra to enjoy.  One of my favorites of the year, Mid90s is a rare gem and a movie worth watching over and over again.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – The 12th Man

Category : DVD Review

Director: Harald Zwart

Starring: Thomas Gullestad, Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Year: 2017

You wouldn’t expect a potential contender for a Best Foreign Film nomination at the Academy Awards to be directed by the guy who brought us One Night at McCool’s, Agent Cody Banks, Pink Panther 2, The Karate Kid, and Mortal Instruments, but here we are.  Harald Zwart returns to his Norwegian roots with a movie to leave all his other crappy attempts at cinema in the dust, a true story to make us forget the sins he committed in Hollywood and assuredly vows never to repeat as long as we all shall live, amen.  I joke, but it’s shocking the drastic change between this director’s previous style and this current offering, a film that has ‘Oscar’ written all over it.  It’s real, it’s raw, it’s war without a filter and on a very personal level, and it’s also simply great.

The Movie

In the spring of 1943, during the long years of WWII, Norwegian soldiers under British command were tasked with covertly crossing the seas to Norway and aiding the resistance movement in their home country.  Their mission was to make contact with patriots in Nazi-occupied Norway, recruit for the resistance movement, and destroy key German targets, creating havoc and disorder.  This guerilla warfare was all that was left to them, with their country overrun by the Nazis and the Allies stretched thin across Europe.  Without much chance at success and in constant danger of being discovered, twelve brave men boarded a ship headed to a homeland that was now enemy territory.

This is the true story of Jan Baalsrud, one of the twelve men, and the only one to escape immediate capture.  Reaching the wrong contact in Norway, the soldiers scrambled to escape the alerted attention of the Nazis, only to have their boat fired upon and their mission compromised.  They destroyed their own ship, leapt overboard, and swam to shore, only to be captured by German soldiers.  But Jan ran, killed a Nazi officer, and blended into the freezing night.  He would become the only man to survive the mission, spending months in the wilderness both on his own and aided by Norwegian patriots, morphing from a hunted animal into a symbol of hope for an entire nation.

What an unbelievable true story, and one that was captured extremely accurately on screen, preserving the importance and the history of this moment in time for all of us to respect and remember.  This man survived conditions that can’t even be imagined; gangrenous toes that he had to amputate himself, weeks in the mountains living under a rock in fear of German patrols.  All the while the legend was growing; this brave man who would not give up and this heroic group of local people who helped him along the way, though their involvement meant that their own lives were in danger too.  Norway needed hope, and this dozen tried to give it to them, their last man standing continuing the fight against all odds.  Truly an inspiring tale, one that I hadn’t known but will never forget.

Harald Zwart leaves his frivolities behind him and commits to an extremely impacting story, doing justice to this historic figure and the daring months he spent as a frigid fugitive.  Not only did Zwart deliver the goods, but he did it in a way that reflected his true talent as well, his touch felt all over this film.  And the acting was great, much better than I had expected, from Gullestad, who I don’t know, to Meyers, who I have never liked.  He put on a performance to put all his others to shame, as an unstable member of Hitler’s elite.  I don’t know how much that character was based on reality, but that and other dramatic elements are to be expected.  But the meat of the movie was real, honest, brutal, stark, and frightening, painting war not romantically, but somehow still honorably.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (1080p Widescreen), the video quality of the Blu-ray is exceptional, with stunning detail and clarity that surprises given the bleak outlook of the film.  Yes it’s cold and dark much of the time, but still attention is paid to the cinematography in a way that deserves our praise.  The scenery is beautiful, the land and the snow and the sea; you can feel the cold and will experience the fear.

Audio – The disc is done in English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, English 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio, Norwegian/German 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, and Norwegian/German 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio.  The English versions are dubbed, and I wouldn’t recommend watching in that fashion.  It messes with the authentic feel, watch with the English Subtitles instead, that makes the experience far greater.

Extras – The only special feature is a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended. The 12th Man is a high-quality true story, a tiny slice of war instead of an epic, but no less important because of scope.  It brings to life a story that needs to be told, a memory of courage in the face of evil that we all need to learn from.  The harsh environment, the survival, the camaraderie; war is hell, but heroes can emerge to show us the way through, and here is one of their stories.  The video is excellent, the audio and music solid, but there aren’t many bonus features, so the technical aspects might be a mixed bag but one that trends toward strength.  For American WWII buffs, this is a foreign film that captures the spirit we love to watch, and it warrants our time.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Pin Cushion

Category : DVD Review

Director: Deborah Haywood

Starring: Lily Newman, Joanna Scanlan

Year: 2017

I have to be careful, because sometimes I simply enjoy a movie because I’m one of the few who has taken the opportunity to try it out, and sometimes that experience is worth more than the film itself.  An indie flick comes along, it goes entirely under the radar, it’s not a hidden gem by any means, but just watching gives those few in the audience a feeling of personal attention, and you find yourself rooting for a story and its character with a voracity that perhaps it doesn’t deserve.  This film is one that’s not strong enough to warrant the praise on its own, it needs its status to drum up support.  And although I am all for giving support to independent cinema, I also have to put back on my critic’s cap to judge it by its content as well, and when I do that, I find it rather lacking.

The Movie

Lyn and her daughter Iona are very close, about as close as mother and child can be, and they’ve developed a few idiosyncracies from their time together, little quirks that the outside world does not understand but that have only worked to bring them closer to one another.  Perhaps they are co-dependent, perhaps it isn’t healthy, perhaps they both need friends outside of their house, but at least they’re happy; a little weird, but happy.  Then comes a move to a new town and things of course change; new school, new schoolmates, new neighbors.  But neither was prepared for how much things would be different, or how far this once inseparable pair might grow apart.

Iona meets a new gang of girls who want to be her friends; well, kind of.  They want her to join their circle, but almost as a clown to poke fun of, not an equal to share a friendship with.  But Iona can’t see the difference, and so goes along with the wishes of these cool kids, getting herself in some trouble along the way.  They don’t treat her very nicely, make her do uncomfortable and sexual things that she’s not ready for, and push her to the limits of her patience, a boundary that she’s never really had to cross. Iona will have to learn fast how to deal with high school drama, before she’s run over, and Lyn will have to learn to be the mother of a teenage girl, before she’s left completely behind.

On one hand, this movie is the epitome of an indie flick and I am happy to help it succeed in reaching audiences, because a lot of work was put into making this idea a reality, and that’s worth very much.  Deborah Haywood took the coming-of-age idea and boiled it down to concentrated madness, which we can all attest is pretty close to reality.  Iona’s problems might be exaggerated for dramatics, but they aren’t too far from the truth, as drama and bullying and bad choices haunt teenagers in a way that they simply aren’t prepared for, and that’s something that’s sad but true.  This story speaks to that age, but also to parents who deal with their children growing up, leaving them alone, and making too many bad choices along the way, decisions that you wish you could make for them but you just can’t.

On the other hand, and despite its message and its A for effort, this movie isn’t as good as it needs to be to be placed in a category with contemporary drams and to be judged as working.  It’s too strange for its own good sometimes, going off into fantasies, going over the top too often, spinning in directions you didn’t see coming nor want to go down.  The plot needed reined in and held onto, not let loose to travel organically where it may; there wasn’t enough talent behind it to allow it that freedom.  Newman and Scanlan have been around, but they aren’t the stars needed to carry an odd story over the finish line, and asking them to do so would have been asking too much.  The indie mood worked, the morals held up, there are reasons to watch, but when weighed alongside others of its kind, I’m afraid this movie won’t balance out.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and shot using an Arri Alexa XT Plus camera, the video quality of the DVD is fine, with a solid amount of good color, but definitely not something to write home about.  The sets are nice, and the costumes stand out as well, but the cinematography does not, and the clarity of picture is only on par with other indie flicks that you might watch an allow a pass.

Audio – The language of the film is English, but there are no other details, languages, subtitles, technical statistics, or options.  The music of the movie is rather interesting and well-thought out, with an emphasis on mood that works.

Extras – The only special features are a slideshow, a trailer, and six Cleopatra previews for other films.

Final Thoughts

Recommended.  For a low-budget picture, and a feature debut, Pin Cushion does enough right to warrant attention, without being so spectacular that you need to go tell your friends about it.  On the level that it can succeed, it did, but its ceiling was rather low, and there was no breaking through with this cast or this story.  The message was clear and the point made, but other than that the action was far too weird to appeal to most audiences.  In the film’s favor, it was short, unique, and colorful, but that only got it so far; there wasn’t really power left to take it all the way.  The video is fine, the audio interesting at times, there aren’t a lot of extras, so look elsewhere for stunning technical aspects.  But a very specific group would find this film endearing, it’s just hard to know where that demographic lies.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – An Interview with God

Category : DVD Review

Director: Perry Lang

Starring: Brenton Thwaites, David Strathairn, Yael Grobglas

Year: 2018

Faith-based films are making their appearance known far too often, masquerading as real cinema, when all they really are is propaganda for a religion that is slowly dying and is desperate to reach new audiences before it blinks out completely.  Or at least, that’s a pessimistic (and potentially atheist) take on the genre; an optimist (or Christian/believer/hopeful soul) might see it in a completely different light.  That’s the inherent problem with this modern movement; you can talk about God in a movie, but making your story completely about one viewpoint is automatically polarizing, and those who haven’t fallen for the trick before aren’t very likely to fall to their knees in the theatre.

The Movie

Paul Asher has recently returned home to New York City from the war-hills of Afghanistan, where he was an imbedded reporter searching for the truth behind the firefights.  He came back a changed man, having seen things that would alter his life, and having met people whose lives he would change.  Many soldiers were having a hard time coming back, moving past the horrors that they saw, and Paul was there to help if he could, lending a listening ear or making a phone call to a professional; whatever he could do to make the return easier, since he knew firsthand how war destroys the soul.  His own homecoming wasn’t very joyous; he and his wife Sarah had drifted apart while he was away, and finding the love they once had might be impossible.

As Paul attempts to head back to work as an online journalist, amid the struggles he’s dealing with within his marriage, he meets with a man with a peculiar story to tell, a tale that might make a good article for Paul’s first since his reporting on the troops.  This story is very different; this man claims that he is God.  Not that he can talk to God, not that he hears voices, not that he’s one of the many gods; no, he’s convinced that’s he’s the actual, one, true G-O-D.  He and Paul will have three meetings together, three interviews with God, and rest assured they will not go as planned.  Paul is having a crisis of faith, here is someone who claims to have the answers, and yet it can’t be that easy; or can it?

This film is right on the edge of proclaiming itself faith-based, holding back slighting with a powerful restraint, casting stars we know to help soften the blow.  But there’s no doubt about it; this movie is aimed at a certain target from a very specific direction, and there’s no missing its point.  It even gives marriage advice straight from the pulpit, which might have been one the elements that bothered me the most, and it doesn’t shy away from saying, like the man claiming to be God, that it has all the answers.  That audacity alone is astounding, but that’s the mood of this genre; they don’t pretend to to be open-minded.  This is a very specific story for a very narrow audience, and that should be understood going in so that there isn’t any confusion.

Is that’s what you enjoy, I can’t say that there’s too much technical to scare you away; in fact, for a faith-based film, this might be one of the more talented casts you’ll come across.  Brenton Thwaites is a natural actor who has enough talent to reach a low ceiling, I’ll say that much for him.  His film choices have been poor, he’s never going to be a superstar, but he has talent, and doesn’t embarrass himself as Paul.  The same can be said about David Strathairn, who has made a career out of mediocrity, and I don’t say that will malice; I wish I was a paid actor who has been in the business for 40 years doing solid work.  Unfortunately, none of the smaller characters in the film were any good at all; in fact, they were terrible.  And the plot, if you don’t already believe, isn’t going to hit home, and isn’t going to make an impression.  This is a tale of two movies, in a way; choose your side.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (Anamorphic Widescreen) and shot using a Panasonic VariCam 35 camera, the video quality of the DVD is rather strong, for a low-budget, faith-based film that most audiences won’t expect much out of, technically speaking.  The picture is nice, the locations are interesting, the color is crisp; the cinematography isn’t anything spectacular, but the film looks good and watches well.

Audio – The disc was done in English Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.  That’s it for the audio, and there isn’t much else to report.  The movie does have a nice underscore that feels new and seems relevant, so hats off to the crew for making the music work.  But there aren’t any audio standouts otherwise, and the sound won’t be memorable to anyone watching.

Extras – The only bonus features on the DVD are a Special Discussion: Key Themes and Questions interview session (22 minutes total) and a series of interviews with the four main cast members.

Final Thoughts

Rent It.  Since I lean more toward the pessimistic contingent of audiences and less toward the optimistic group, this film didn’t land well personally, but that didn’t stop me from recognizing that, while it’s far from perfect, it does offer certain aspects that don’t entirely fail.  The acting by the two leading men is fairly strong, and they play well off one another.  The remaining cast is terrible though, and the story is so monochromatic that you’ll find yourself choosing sides rather than enjoying either way.  The video is solid, the audio too, there are a couple special features, so the technical areas aren’t completely ignored, and the movie is aided by that fact.  Still, I won’t be shouting this film’s praises, and I can’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t already prepared to love it; that might be the only group this movie was made for anyway.

☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Destination Wedding

Category : DVD Review

Director: Victor Levin

Starring: Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves

Year: 2018

There exists a group of fans and critics who remember the duo of Ryder and Reeves from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and have loved them ever since.  Reeves has had the better career, Ryder has had her moments, both are currently working hard (John Wick, Stranger Things), and here they are together again in a romantic comedy that relies almost expressly on their likeability factor and their chemistry.  Problem is, there also exists a contingent (of which I am a part) that never thought these two were capable actors in any way, that never wanted to watch them together once more, and that has been proven right by this incredibly awful attempt at cinema.

The Movie

Lindsay and Frank have both been invited to a destination wedding in central California, and they both would rather die than go.  But they each have their reasons for attending, reasons for showing their faces in a place they’d much rather avoid, and will go in spite of their disgust.  Lindsay dated the groom and wants some closure after he broke her heart only weeks before their own engagement.  She can’t stand him, but also loves him, and can’t stay away from the wedding that she know will destroy her.  Frank is the groom’s brother, but that doesn’t mean they’re close.  He hates his sibling, never wants to see him again, but feels obligated by the duty inherent to his birth to at least show up.

Despite their shared reluctance to travel to celebrate the wedding of a couple they’d rather never hear from again, both Lindsay and Frank make the flight, and, as chance would have it, they meet.  They sit next to one another, they share a shuttle, their hotel rooms are connected; it seems like fate has brought them together, and what an unhappy duo they make.  Lindsay can’t get over her ex, makes terrible decisions, and is sure she’ll never be content.  Frank is a career pessimist, breaks life down into unbearable moments, and hates other humans.  That these people, connected by other people, would be the specific people for each other is unbelievably hard to believe, but love is most definitely strange.

I relish saying “I told you so” and will say it as loud as is needed; I just don’t have anyone specific to direct it to.  Neither Ryder nor Reeves is talented enough to be anything other than a footnote, and it’s shocking that they’ve made careers off of that fact.  Ryder has had a resurgence with Stranger Things, but she’s the absolute worst part of that show, which is obvious to anyone who is really watching.  Reeves worked well in both John Wick movies, but that’s an exception to the rule; he most often is simply silly.  Both come together here and neither has the talent to carry the story through to the end, failing to make even a short run time bearable in the least.

Destination Wedding was attempting to be a Woody Allen movie, one in which the main characters simply converse and expound and sound witty, which is the problem with this casting, since neither lead actor has the ability to do any of that.  Woody Allen 30 years ago could have been in this film, and his costar could have been any number of great actresses, but this casting simply didn’t work, and so neither did the movie.  It was short, sweet, funny at times, never hard to watch, but it required audiences to come in loving the leads and forgiving them their inabilities; if that’s not you there’s no way to enjoy this film.  Clever writing can’t save actual execution, and the result isn’t pretty.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (Anamorphic Widescreen), the video quality of the DVD is much better than the movie itself.  The locale is beautiful, the picture is nice, and the cinematography is simple; this film is enjoyable to see, just not to watch.

Audio – The disc is done in English Dolby Digital 5.1, with an option of Descriptive Video Service.  Subtitles are available in English SDH.  Even the music sounded like a Woody Allen film, with a constant background track that kept the mood casual.

Extras – There are no special features available.

Final Thoughts

Rent It.  I could get behind this idea, this script, this comedy, but not these actors; that’s where the filmmakers messed up.  Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti just performed magic in Private Life, a very heavy drama with beautiful moments of humor; imagine what they could have done with this film and these parts.  They could have been hilarious and perfect, they could have called it Sideways 2: On Location, and all my dreams could have come true.  Instead, Destination Wedding is what it is, a movie that’s deceptively appealing but desperately awful.  The video is nice, the audio is quaint, there aren’t any special features, so the technical side is a mixed bag.  I just wish different choices had been made, because this movie had potential; the result was simply poor.

☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ – Replay