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The Last Song (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 6, 2010 by  



Emotional, dramatic and heartwrenching…  Everything you come to expect from a Nicholas Sparks’ story.  While the Blu-ray is solid when it comes to picture quality, although “The Last Song” is a good film, unfortunately its potential is hindered by pacing and timeline issues, and even moreso for its lackadaisical acting.

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TITLE: The Last Song

FILM RELEASE DATE: 2010

DURATION: 107 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:40:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA (48 kHz/24-bit), French language track.  Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish, French

COMPANY: Touchstone Home Entertainment

RATED: PG (For Thematic Material, Some Violence, Sensuality and Mild Language)

RELEASE DATE: August 17, 2010

Directed by Julie Anne Robinson

Written by Nicholas Sparks and Jeff Van Wie

Executive Producer: Tish Cyrus

Producer: Jennifer Gibgot, Adam Shankman

Co-Producer: Dara Weintraub

Music by Aaron Zigman

Cinematography by John Lindley

Edited by Nancy Richardson

Casting by Jackie Burch, Amanda Mackey Johnson, Cathy Sandrich

Production Design by Nelson Coates

Art Direction by Scott Meehan

Set Decoration by James Edward Ferrell Jr.

Costume Design by Louise Frogley

Starring:

Miley Cyrus as Ronnie Miller

Greg Kinnear as Steve Miller

Bobby Coleman as Jonah Miller

Liam Hemsworth as Will Blakelee

Hallock Beals as Scott

Kelly Preston as Kim

Nick Lashaway as Marcus

Carly Chaikin as Blaze

Kate Vernon as Susan Blakelee

Melissa Ordway as Ashley

Nick Searcy as Tom Blakelee

At its heart, The Last Song is a poignant journey for a father (Greg Kinnear ) and daughter (Miley Cyrus) who have lost touch with each other and are struggling to find a way back. At the same time, it explores the uncharted territory of young love, as the emotionally closed off Ronnie begins to let down her guard with a boy (Liam Hemsworth) she meets during summer vacation.

When it comes to Nicholas Sparks films, many can expect a romantic film that will literally have the audience laughing, crying and for the most part content with what they have seen.

From films such as “A Walk to Remember”, “The Notebook”, “Nights in Rodanthe” and earlier this year with “Dear John”, Sparks returns with “The Last Song” but interestingly enough, instead of a novel adaptation, Sparks wrote the screenplay for the film in which a novel was created right after the film was done.

“The Last Song” is directed by well-known TV director Julie Anne Robinson (“Grey’s Anatomy”, “Weeds”, “Samantha Who?”) in her first theatrical directorial debut and the film would be known for bringing Miley Cyrus and current beau Liam Hemsworth together.  The film became a major box office success with a budget at $20 million and bringing in over $88 million.

The film revolves around 17-year-old Veronica “Ronnie” Miller (played by Miley Cyrus) who along with her brother Jonah (played by Bobby Hemsworth) are staying with their estranged father Steve (played by Greg Kinnear) for the Summer in Georgia as her mother is planning things for her wedding.  Due to an ugly divorce between Steve and their mother Kim (played by Kelly Preston), the children most importantly Ronnie has resentment towards her father, thinking that he left them and didn’t care about them, nor wanted to contact them.

Ronnie, is a gifted pianist who has been accepted to Juilliard, could care less about her talent and most of all, doesn’t want to be around her father at all.  She hates having to spend the summer in Georgia and as a New Yorker, being around the beach is not her thing.  Meanwhile, her younger brother Jonah looks to build his relationship with his father and looks forward to spending time with him.

As for Steve, Ronnie’s father is a former Juilliard School Professor and a concert pianist who settled on the beachside in Georgia and has been part of the close knit community.  He has been working on a musical piece for a church which burned down not long ago and many in town believe he is responsible for it.  So, now he has been doing all he can to assist in the rebuilding of the church, including the creation of the windows.

As Ronnie, does her best to avoid her father during the summer, she has no choice but to see how things are at the beach and while waking with her shake one day, a boy named Will Blakelee (played by Liam Hemsworth) accidentally runs into her while playing volleyball and spilling the milkshake all over her.  Needless to say, Ronnie is not too happy even when Will offers to buy her a new shirt.  She eventually starts to meet a new friend in another rebellious girl named Blaze (played by Carly Chaikin) who is dating a hustler named Marcus (played by Nick Lashaway).

But her experience in Georgia doesn’t start out as well as her new friend becomes jealous and believes Ronnie is trying to take her boyfriend away from her and gets Ronnie busted for shoplifting.  With things going wrong so quickly during her first days of summer in Georgia, Ronnie wants to go back to Georgia.

But one day as she starts to protect turtle eggs buried on the beach from raccoons, when she calls the aquarium for help, Will ends up being the staff who is sent to help the turtle eggs.  Will is fascinated by Ronnie and wants to get to know her, but with Ronnie so rebellious and “closed up” inside, will she be able to get to her heart?  And for Will, who everyone thinks he’s a lucky, privileged guy, he may seem like Mr. Perfect but he has several secrets that may end up pushing Ronnie away.

And as for secrets, Ronnie’s father has one major secret that his daughter doesn’t know about and will change her life forever.

VIDEO:

“The Last Song” is featured in 1080p High Definition Widescren (2:35:1).  Picture quality is good as their is a fine grain that can be seen on the overall print.  There are a lot of daytime scenes showcasing the colors of the blue beach and brown sand as well as the details of the foliage around the beach house and certain scenes in which colors such as reds and ambers really pop.  Night scenes feature dark blacks and for the most part, I didn’t notice any edge enhancement, artifacting or DNR.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Last Song” is featured in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA (48 kHz/24-bit) and a French language track.  The film is primarily dialogue driven and comes clear through the center channel while music and other sound effects can be heard through the front channels.  I didn’t notice too much use of the surround channels during the film.  Possibly with crowd ambiance but really, this film is dialogue driven.  You do hear music once in awhile as Ronnie and Will are singing Maroon 5 or hearing Miley Cyrus’ “When I Look At You” song.  But for the most part, this film is dialogue-driven.

Subtitles are presented in English SDH, Spanish and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Last Song” comes with the following special features in high definition, English 2.0 and subtitles in English SDH, Spanish and French:

  • Alternate Opening Sequence: The Church Fire (With optional commentary by  director) – (2:55) A Blu-ray exclusive and the sequences is a more lengthy scene of the actual church fire which was trimmed down from three minutes to a few seconds.
  • Deleted Scenes (With optional commentary by director) – (7:09) A Blu-ray exclusive featuring five deleted scenes which include: Ronnie At The Piano, Steve & Ronnie At The Beach, Hospital Montage, Vegan Cookies, Juggling On The Pier.  There are certain key scenes which I felt that the director didn’t trim out of the film.  Especially the first deleted scene.
  • Audio Commentary– A Blu-ray exclusive audio commentary with Director Julie Anne Robinson and Co-Producer Jennifer Gibgot.  Director Julie Ann Robinson sets up the scene of the film and the decisions that were made for the film.  Especially how hot and unfavorable the conditions were in shooting during the high heat.
  • Set Tour with Bobby Coleman – (5:08) Audiences will have an all access pass to see how a film is made through the eyes of the new up-and comer and star of The Last Song, Bobby Coleman. This rambunctious eight-year old will bring his fans along as he does everything from interview Adam Shankman and Miley’s security team, to going on a seashell scavenger hunt.
  • Making of the Music Video, “When I Look At You” with Miley Cyrus – (4:20) Go behind-the-scenes of the music video, “When I Look At You”. It will feature recording studio footage, b-roll from the set, interviews with Miley and crew, clips from the film and music video. Audiences will learn how the film’s motif, southern summer romance, is incorporated into feel and theme of the music video.
  • Miley Cyrus Music Video: “When I Look At You” – (4:16)  A music video featuring Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth.

EASTER EGG:

Scroll down on special features selection and you will see a black turtle light up. Click on it and you will access an Easter Egg with commentary by director Julie Anne Robinson. (:21)

EXTRAS:

“The Last Song” comes with a slip over case and a bonus DVD.  The DVD is featured in English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and a French language track, Widescreen (2:40:1) – Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions and is subtitled in English SDH, French and Spanish.

“The Last Song” is definitely a Nicholas Sparks film that captures the drama, the happiness of a relationship and the heartwrenching emotions that one can come to expect.  But one thing that “The Last Song” unfortunately doesn’t have compared to his previous films is a strong dramatic actress.

Before I get into Miley Cyrus, let me say that there talent who do make this film quite worthwhile. Greg Kinnear does a fantastic job playing the father, Steve and does a great job of not just the caring father but once the viewer learns about his secret and see how it changes him.  Just the overall transformation of Kinnear’s character is impressive and for the most part, one of the his best performances that I have seen from the actor.

I also have to say that the young actor Bobby Coleman who plays the young brother Jonah, also did a great job.  Some children are unable to capture the emotion of happiness and sadness and Coleman’s performance as a happy and adventurous child is very good but when the story calls for him to be in the lowest of lows and most vulnerable, Coleman does a fantastic job!

Although Kelly Preston is in the film, her role as Miley’s mother is quite short but at least she is able to provide the stability for Ronnie toward the end of the film (and to think that the director originally cut that scene out from until Preston intervened).

But what many people are wondering about this film is Miley Cyrus. Can she pull of a dramatic role?

We’ve seen her play the sad Hannah Montana last year in “Hannah Montana: The Movie” and for those who have children or are familiar with her popular teen TV show, we know that she has been playing primarily comedic roles that don’t require too much emotion.  The good is that her character Ronnie is a girl who seems displaced in Georgia, a young woman who has so much resentment towards her father and for the most part, Cyrus is able to capture Ronnie’s emotions at that beginning first half of the film quite well.  To play a teenage girl who is stand-offish, rebellious and distant, she was able to pull it off.

But then, during the second half, this is where the problems begin to happen.  Like many Sparks’ films, his films are demanding on the actress.  And for the most part, the actresses on those films literally take command and their heartfelt scenes are dramatic and believable.

As Mandy Moore did with “A Walk to Remember”, Rachel McAdams did with “The Notebook” and Amanda Seyfried with “Dear John”, Cyrus is not at that level as an actress.  What may work on her “Hannah Montana” TV shows or her film (which she did have an emotional scene) seems good for “Hannah Montana”, but for “The Last Song”, the emotions during those heartwrenching scenes don’t seem as natural and free-flowing and comes off more like a staged execution of emotional display when the director yelled “action”.

As for Australian actor Liam Hemsworth, he did an OK job with the character of Will Blakelee but similar to Cyrus, where his experience is primarily TV-based, the more emotional scenes tend to escape him but at the same time, scenes of where he primarily plays the hunky guy around Ronnie and the flirtatious dialogue worked well.  And I will give both Cyrus and Hemsworth credit in that their onscreen chemistry worked well and it’s good to hear that their chemistry extended to offscreen as well.

“The Last Song” is a good film but it’s a film that is marred by its pacing.  The execution of Nicholas Sparks’ “Dear John”, another film that deals with a short summer between a couple shows how a timeline plays a crucial part in the film.  How we learn how a relationship blossoms within days, weeks, months but with “The Last Song”, we see Will telling Ronnie “I Love You” and the first thing you ask yourself, was this within a day or two of meeting each other, a week?  How can he fall in love that quickly?  Or did a month pass?   So, while you are watching, everything seems like its going too quickly.

And last, the biggest criticism, not by me but by the true Sparks’ fans who have read the book.  As mentioned earlier, this is the first film by Sparks that came from a written screenplay and then the book was created afterward.  Obviously, having read about the key differences between the book and the film, Sparks found out how to make the story for “The Last Long” much more satisfying and essentially much better… after the fact.  Thus the majority of the readers have been overwhelmingly supportive towards the book and less so towards the film.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is good and what you expect from dialogue-driven film is what I expected in terms of lossless audio.  More center and front channel usage and for the most part, PQ and AQ are good.  There is also a good amount of special features included on the Blu-ray release and you also get a bonus DVD version of the film as well.

“The Last Song” had a story with so much potential but the fact is that Miley Cyrus is trained for television and her emotional acting is at the level of where Hayden Christensen’s acting was during “Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones”, the most emotional scenes seem as if they are rehearsed and not natural.  And the problem is that Cyrus will be compared to other previous actresses from other Sparks’ films and unfortunately, compared to them and how they help carry a Sparks’ film, Cyrus just doesn’t fit into that mold as a dramatic actress.

As for Julie Anne Robinson’s directorial debut for a feature length film, there is no doubt that Robinson has done a great job as a TV director for major series.  And listening to the commentary of the film, the filmmaker had her share of problems due to the hot weather conditions but I also felt by her comments of times of second guessing with scenes.  The film has this sense of feel as if it was rushed and I don’t know how much time she had to work on the film but given on what he she had to work with, Robinson did a good job with her film debut but I felt there were timeline issues with the storyline, second guessing with various scenes (which she ended up trimming and ending up on the deleted scenes, some scenes being put back into the film as mentioned during the audio commentary) and probably aside from the lackadaisical acting, the film also had problems with its screenplay.

Sparks is a talented writer but I wonder… What if the film received an adaptation of the actual book that came after the screenplay?  Would it have made for a better film?  I would imagine that is why the book is loved by its readers, Sparks managed to create a coherent, more dramatic story with much better character development.   The way that characters Marcus and Blaze were utilized in the film just seemed a bit off to me and I’ve read messages from those who read the book that these characters are further explored and make an impact on the storyline.  Thus “The Last Song” the book is the true version of how Sparks wanted the story to go and how the characters are utilized.  Reading this, one can easily feel that what we see onscreen is just a distilled version of what Sparks’ truly intended.

Overall, “The Last Song” is truly formulaic and banal film.  Sparks knows how to emotionally capture a crowd, make them laugh and make them cry and is able to pull this off with “The Last Story”.  Whether or not you came to watch Miley or you want to watch a Sparks’ film, “The Last Song” is still worthy of a try.  If you are looking for a romantic tearjerker for the end of the summer, definitely give “The Last Song” a try.






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