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Country Strong (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

March 27, 2011 by  



“Country Strong” is a film with solid music performances from Gwyneth Paltrow, Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester and a storyline that can remain true for a lot of troubled entertainers who don’t receive professional.   Despite some weaknesses in the screenplay, I did enjoy “Country Strong” and it’s a Blu-ray release worth giving a try.

Images courtesy of © 2010 Screen Gems, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Country Strong

FILM RELEASE DATE: 2010

DURATION: 117 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:40:1), English, French, Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese

COMPANY: Screen Gems/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: PG-13 (For Thematic Elements Involving Alcohol Abuse and Some Sexual Content)

RELEASE DATE: April 12, 2011

Written and Directed by Shana Feste

Produced by Tobey Maguire, Jenno Topping

Executive Producer: Meredith Zamsky

Associate Producer: George Flynn

Line Producer: Valerie Bleth Sharp

Music by Michael Brook

Cinematography by John Bailey

Edited by Carol Littleton, Conor O’Neill

Casting by Liz Dean, Laura Rosenthall

Production Design by David J Bomba

Art Direction by John R. Jensen

Set Decoration by Ruby Guidara

Costume Design by Stacey Battat

Starring:

Gwyneth Paltrow as Kelly Canter

Tim McGraw as James Canter

Garrett Hedlund as Beau Hutton

Leighton Meester as Chiles Stanton

Marshall Chapman as Winnie

Soon after a rising young singer-songwriter (Garrett Hedlund) gets involved with a fallen, emotionally unstable country star (Gwyneth Paltrow), the pair embark on a career resurrection tour helmed by her husband/manager (Tim McGraw) and featuring a beauty queen-turned-singer (Leighton Meester). Between concerts, romantic entanglements and old demons threaten to derail them all.


For many people in the music and entertainment industry, unfortunately there are a few who fall down so hard and are unable to get back up.  One can only hope that these individuals get professional help before it’s too late.

From the writer of “The Greatest” and “Jonah” comes “Country Strong”, a film both written and directed by Shana Feste.  The film stars Gwyneth Paltrow (“Iron Man”, “Seven”, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”), country singer Tim McGraw (“The Blind Side”, “Flicka”), Garrett Hedlund (“Tron”, “Four Brothers”, “Troy”) and Leighton Meester (“Gossip Girl”, “The Roommate”).

The storyline was inspired by Britney Spears but also other music artists who found themselves spiraling downwards due to alcohol or substance abuse and were mentally not able to handle fame.

The film begins with Beau Hutton, a budding country singer who also works at a rehabilitation facility where country singer Kelly Canter (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) is recovering.  We learn that both she and Beau have been having an affair and one day as the two are talking, her husband and manager James Canter (played by Tim McGraw) is checking Kelly out of rehab a month early.

Beau feels its wrong for her to skip out on her treatment but Kelly feels that she is OK and her husband has planned on rebuilding her image by planning a three-city tour.  But Kelly will only do this tour if James has Beau perform as her opening act, even though her husband has found another performing act, a beauty queen named Chiles Stanton (played by Leighton Meester), who has idolized Kelly growing up.

Beau happens to know Chiles quite well and we learn that she has a bad case of stage fright and doesn’t see her as a country artist but more as a “Country Barbie”.  But while she was freaking out during a live performance, Beau was right there to save it and eventually get Chiles warmed up.

But as the three prepare to go on tour, their first show is a disaster as Kelly receives an anonymous package with a dolly with fake blood on it and a letter that says “baby killer”.  We then learn that she was pregnant during her performance in Dallas, she fell off stage after being drunk and lost the baby.  This is what led to Kelly being in rehab.

But the site of the doll was too much for Kelly and she falls apart, gets drunk and refuses to go on.  But she is pushed by her husband to perform and when she does, she performs her song “Country Strong” and loves the support she is getting from the fans but unfortunately, she breaks down.  She tries to sing “A Fighter” but breaks down again and her husband has to end the show and make up a fake story that she had food poisoning.

Meanwhile, Beau knows that being around her and her husband is not good for her and knows she should be in rehab, so he shifts his attention towards Chiles.  Meanwhile, Kelly is learning quickly that producers are becoming more in tuned with Chiles and even giving songs that were intended for Kelly, to her.  She is also noticing the attention both her husband and even Beau is giving to the young music artist.

And when they arrive to the next city, Austin, Texas… As the group prepare for another show, Kelly ends up going to a bar and getting drunk.  And now this may be another concert that goes down the tubes.

Can Kelly rebound and get back to her feet and perform live?  Would she and her husband be willing to get her back into rehab ASAP?  Or will she continue to spiral further down and literally lose her life in the process?

VIDEO:

“Country Strong” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1).  Picture quality for the film is good as skin tones are natural, blacks are nice and deep and I didn’t notice any artifacts or banding.

If anything, the film is showcases a good amount of colors during the concert performances and you can see the detail within the messed up makeup of Kelly Canter or how red her face is after a night of drinking and barfing, there is a good amount of detail of a crying Kelly Canter that you see throughout this film.    You can see the hair stubble of Garrett Hedlund and Tim McGraw and you can also see the beautiful outfits and material worn by Gwyneth Paltrow and Leighton Meester.

Overall, solid PQ for “Country Strong”.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Country Strong” is presented in English, French, Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.  The lossless soundtrack is primarily front-channel driven and it’s the music that stands out the most for this soundtrack.  Sure, you get moments where the talent are performing at small dance halls or concert venues and you can hear the crowd ambiance through the surround channels but for this type of film, the soundtrack was good. Dialogue is clear, music is crystal clear and if you love the music for this film, you’ll love hearing it via lossless on Blu-ray!

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Country Strong” comes with the following special features presented in standard and high definition, in English with subtitles in English, Spanish and Portuguese:

  • Deleted Scenes – (4:30) Featuring a total of four deleted scenes: Beau’s Mother, Kelly & Beau talking, Chile’s Dressing Room and Beau Says Goodbye to Parents
  • “Shake That Thing” – Extended Performance – (4:01) An extended performance of Kelly performing “Shake That Thing”.
  • Original Ending – (2:52) The original ending to “Country Strong” which I’m glad they didn’t use for the final cut of the film.
  • Friends In High Places: The Cast of Country Strong – (14:00) Writer and director Shana Feste and producers talk about the cast and the cast talk about taking part in the film.  A Blu-ray exclusive.
  • Putting the Words in Their Mouths: The Songwriters – (8:31) How each of the performing talent were given three different producers to work with and prepare them for their role on “Country Strong”.  A Blu-ray exclusive.
  • A Little Bit Country: The Costumes– (8:48) A featurette on the costume design for both Kelly and Chiles.  A Blu-ray exclusive.
  • “Country Strong” by Gwyneth Paltrow – Music Video – (3:57)
  • “A Little Bit Stronger” by Sara Evans – Music Video – (4:48)
  • Country Strong Soundtrack – A still screen with who is on the soundtrack.


“Country Strong” is one of those melodramatic storylines of a star’s fall from grace and moving forward in getting back to the limelight.  And for this film, it has its share of positives and negatives.

Possibly the biggest positive of the film is the training that each of the three talents: Gwyneth Paltrow, Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester had to go through in order for them to perform country music.  Garrett Hedlund, who we are familiar with his work on “Tron: Legacy” is the biggest surprise as he comes off the best singer of the film.  Gwyneth can sing, as many of are familiar with her singing chops on “Glee” and Leighton Meester has released several pop singles and an album already.  But it’s trying to make us feel that these people are passionate about country music is what works and for the most part, I credit writer/director Shana Feste for sticking to her guns and making sure these three work with a variety of different producers from Nashville.

What I also enjoyed about this storyline is even if it was inspired by Britney Spears, there are countless other talent and entertainers that the character of Kelly could be based on.  Sure, this is nothing new as entertainers who have over-indulged on alcohol or narcotics has been going on for many decades but while media tends to cover these stars, there is this side of media that expects these entertainers to fail and worse yet, die.

How many times have you read news or articles on will Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Charlie Sheen, Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston or whoever is the name of the day for entertainers who found themselves in a mess, wondering how much longer they have to live?  Many forget that behind the glamor and glitz are people who may seem strong, independent, sexy and captivating on screen but deep down, they are at a fragile point of their lives and unfortunately, they meet the same fates as Janis Joplin, River Phoenix, etc.

But part of the problem of “Country Strong” is that we know Kelly is messed up and that she needs to be in rehab much longer, but yet Beau knows she’s messed up and yet plays with her heart and then pushes her off the side when she’s at her most desperate and he starts going after Chiles.    In fact, there is a point where Kelly is so messed up that she’s even getting it on with her agent, when he threatens to pull the plug on the tour.  And her husband, he’s just living in his own facade and not knowing what to do.

You wonder if Kelly had even a good support system of family and friends to help her battle her sickness or her own personal demons in order to come back stronger, maybe not as an artist but as a person getting a second chance in life and live life differently.

There are so many things that could have happened…to see Kelly really be ticked that Beau has gone after the younger Chiles or even Kelly’s husband getting upset with Chiles spending too much time with Beau.  No one is truly upset with this film, they just continue on their way , worrying if Kelly can complete the tour and no one really worries about Kelly.  Sure, Beau wants her to get rehab but at the same time, it seems that part of him is more interested in getting together with her and getting laid.

As for the Blu-ray release, it would have been nice to see a commentary by Shana Feste but the Blu-ray release does have exclusives that are actually quite enjoyable to watch and goes into details of what the primary talent had to do in order to prepare for their character role.  A lot of training, voice lessons, guitar lessons, etc.

If anything, I felt that the film should have explored the pain that Kelly was suffering.  I wish there was a scene that would show the fall of Kelly Canter and establish the hell that she has been through and how badly she is within her personal life. But we are left to imagine how much suffering she has been keeping inside her…but the truth is, like the viewer and those around her, no one truly knows the pain that she feels inside and what magnitude that pain truly is.

But the film does some things quite well. Despite how strong Kelly appears to be, you can only sense that her soul is shattering and there are signs that she needs help and no one is doing a thing.  That really bugs me and to see her manager/husband more interested in getting her back to the limelight is also bothersome.  And unfortunately with today’s troubled stars, we see some of that in the news.  So much focus on the career and not trying to get that person some help and its unfortunate.

Overall, “Country Strong” is sad melodrama that shows us the rise and fall and the hope for a rise of an aging, once popular country music star.  And despite all the people around her, this woman who is in need of help doesn’t really have anyone who truly cares to make her and get the help that she needs.  And I think that Shana Feste who wrote and directed the film has a timely message because we can easily see people in today’s entertainment magazines who are like Kelly and are in dire need of help.  But in the end, despite some weaknesses in the screenplay, I did enjoy “Country Strong” and it’s a Blu-ray release worth giving a try.

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