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Austenland (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

February 8, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Austenland” is a solid directorial debut for Jerusha Hess and a romantic comedy that is a lot of fun and features a solid cast, but for story, it’s average at best.

Images courtesy of © 2013 Fickle Fish Films, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Austenland

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 2013

DURATION: 94 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: 2:40:1, Anamorphic Widescreen, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: Engish, English, SDH, Chinese, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai

COMPANY: Sony Picture Classics

RATED: PG-13 (Some Suggestive Content and Innuendo)

RELEASE DATE: February 11, 2014

Directed by Jerusha Hess

Based on the novel by Shannon Hale

Written by Jerusha Hess, Shannon Hale

Producer: Stephanie Meyer, Gina Mingacci

Executive Producer: Robert Fernandez, Dan Levinson

Associate Producer: Jared Hess, Meghan Hibbett

Co-Producer: Jane Hooks

Cinematography by Larry Smith

Music by Ilan Eshkeri

Edited by Nick Fenton

Casting by Nicole Daniels, Michelle Guish, Courtney Sheinin

Production Design by James Merifield

Art Direction by Patrick Rolfe

Set Decoration by Jacqueline Abrahams

Costume Design by Annie Hardinge

Starring:

Keri Russell  as Jane Hayes

JJ Feild as Mr. Henry Nobley

Bret McKenzie as Martin

Jennifer Coolidge Miss Elizabeth Charming

James Callis as Colonel Andrews

Georgia King as Lady Amelia Heartwright

Rupert Vansittart as Mr. Wattlesbrook

Ricky Whittle as Captain East

Jane Seymour as Mrs. Wattlesbrook

Ayda Field as Molly

Ruben Crow as Chad

Demetri Goritsas as Jimmy

Jane Hayes’s (Keri Russell) adoration of all things Jane Austen is complicating her love life. Determined to be the heroine of her own story, Jane spends her life savings on a trip to Austenland, an eccentric resort where guests experience complete immersion in the Regency era. Armed with her bonnet, corset and needlepoint, Jane strives to avoid spinsterhood … but has a difficult time determining where fantasy ends and real life—and maybe even love—begins. Jennifer Coolidge (Legally Blonde) and Jane Seymour (Wedding Crashers) also star in this charming romantic comedy.

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From Jerusha Hess, the writer and producer of the comedies “Napoleon Dynamite”, “Gentlemen Broncos” and “Nacho Libre”, comes her directorial debut, “Austenland”.

The film based on Shannon Hale’s novel of the same title, is a British-American romantic comedy produced by “Twilight” writer Stephanie Meyer and stars Keri Russell (“Felicity”, “Mission: Impossible III”), JJ Feild (“Captain America”, “Centurion”), Bret McKenzie (“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”, “The Muppets”), Jennifer Coolidge (“American Pie”, “Legally Blonde”), James Callis (“Battlestar Galactica”), “Bridget Jones” films), Jane Seymour (“Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”, “Wedding Crashers”, “Live and Let Die”), Georgia King (“The Duchess”, “One Day”), Ricky Whittle (“Single Ladies”, “Hollyoaks”) and Rupert Vansittart (“Braveheart”, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”).

The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and had a limited screening around the United States.  And now, “Austenland” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“Austenland” is a film that revolves around Jane Hayes (portrayed by Keri Russell), a 30-year-old woman who has been obsessed with “Pride & Prejudice” and Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy.  Wanting an English man, in hopes of finding her Mr. Darcy, she decides to spend her entire savings on a trip to the Jane Austen-themed resort in England known as “Austenland”.

Ran by Mrs. Wattlesbrook (portrayed by Jane Seymour), Jane meets others who are fans such as the man-hunting Elizabeth Charming (portrayed by Jennifer Coolidge), the suave Mr.Henry Nobley (portrayed by JJ Feild), the servant and bad singing Martin (portrayed by Bret McKenzie), the cold Englishwoman Lady Amelia Heartwright (portrayed by Georgia King) and the often shirtless Captain George East (portrayed by Ricky Whittle).

And as everyone at Austenland tries to live their life as it was back in the early 1800’s, as depicted in Jane Austen’s 1813 novel “Pride and Prejudice”, will life for Jane Hayes be as she imagined and will she meet her Mr. Darcy at Austenland?

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VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Austenland” is presented in 2:40:1 aspect ratio (Anamorphic Widescreen) and English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital.  It’s important to note that if you want the best picture and audio quality, you will want to go for the Blu-ray version of the film.

Picture quality is good as one can expect on DVD, the film is pretty much dialogue driven but there is a lot of ’80s music that is played throughout the movie, but for the most part, dialogue and music is clear through the front and center channel.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, Chinese, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Austenland” features the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Jerusha Hess and Stephanie Meyer.
  • Q&A – (32:44) Q&A with Keri Russell, Jennifer coolidge, Janey Seymour, Bret McKenzie, Georgia King, JJ Feild, Ricky Whittle and James Callis.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:07) Theatrical trailer for “Austenland”.

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I have to admit that I am a fan of Jerusha Hess films.

The films that she has written are quirky, humorous and just a lot of fun!

So, as a person familiar with Jane Austen novels, let alone knowing people who are fans of her novels and finding out that Jerusha Hess was directing the film adaptation of Sarah Hale’s “Austenland”, suffice to say, I have been looking forward to this film.

First, let’s start off with the positives and what I enjoyed about this film.

It’s great to see Kerri Russell again and to see her playing the role of a Jane Austen fan girl in search of her Mr. Darcy, at first, it may seem too farfetched, but once you see actress Jennifer Coolidge in her role as the typical ditzy, sexy bombshell of a woman that she has played in other films, you know that you are in for a treat!

The idea of a Jane Austen resort is quite fascinating and to see people who want to take part in that world by given the chance to dress like one would in the early 1800’s is rather fascinating.  And I suppose, there was a part of me that wanted to see the quirkiness and the humor that Hess put into her films such as “Nacho Libre” or “Napoleon Dynamite” to also be in “Austenland” but as it turns out, we have a film about three women and four men interacting in the resort.

Jennifer Coolidge’s Elizabeth Charming resembles the style and humor of her character of “Legally Blonde” and if anything, you feel you want to see more of Elizabeth, as Jane is often trying to find her Mr. Darcy with a bad singing Martin (portrayed by Bret McKenzie), the very English Mr. Henry Nobley (portrayed by JJ Feild) and as for the sexually ambiguous Colonel Andrews (portrayed by James Callis), he appears to be more eye candy for Elizabeth Charming’s character.

Meanwhile, Georgia King’s character of Lady Amelia Heartwright seems to be an awkward role that is seen going crazy for the often shirtless Captain George East (portrayed by Ricky Whittle).

While I did enjoy the characters, I was taken aback by the whole romance plot.  It was less of a love triangle and more of a hodgepodge of men that Jane may seem interested in.

And while most of us who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s will be familiar with the music featured in the film, they often seem out of place because the characters are trying to live in a faux early-1800’s setting.

So, I found the storyline to have a few problems with Jane’s association with various men, I did like the premise of the story because it is unique, crazy and something that is somewhat way out there.  Maybe not as a fun as “Nacho Libre” of socially awkward as “Napoleon Dynamite” but fun in its own way.  Jane Austen die-hards may find the film too over-the-top but I felt this romantic comedy does have it’s share of hilarious moments from beginning to end, especially the Nelly “Hot in Herre” music video by the cast during the ending credits.

As for the DVD, picture quality and audio quality is good on DVD but one may want to look towards the Blu-ray release for even better picture quality and lossless audio.  The special features are very fascinating as the audio commentary features both Jerusha Hess and producer Stephanie Meyer, while the Q&A with the cast is one of the most hilarious Q&A’s post-screening panels I have seen.  Once again, Jennifer Coolidge wins the audience with her humor!

Overall, “Austenland” is a solid directorial debut for Jerusha Hess and a romantic comedy that is a lot of fun and features a solid cast, but for story, it’s average at best.

 

Wadjda (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

February 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Wadjda” is a groundbreaking film for Saudi Arabia but also for Saudi women who want more opportunities of freedom and open a dialogue within society.  An inspiring film from filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour, “Wadjda” is recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2012 Razor Film Produktion GmbH and High Look Communications Group. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Wadjda

FILM RELEASE: 2013

DURATION: 97 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:78:1 aspect ratio, Arabic, French 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG-13 (For Thematic Elements, Brief Mild Language and Smoking)

Release Date: February 11, 2014

Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour

Written by Haifaa Al-Mansour

Produced by Gerhard Meixner, Roman Paul

Executive Producer: Bettina Ricklefs, Rena Ronson, Hala Sarhan, Chrstian Granderath, Louise Nemschoff

Music by Max Richter

Cinematography by Lutz Reitemeier

Edited by Andreas Wodraschke

Production Design by Thomas Molt

Art Design by Tarik Saeed

Set Decoration by Maram Algohani

Costume Design by Peter Pohl

Starring:

Reem Abdullah as Mother

Waad Mohammed as Wadjda

Abdullrahman Al Gohani as Abdullah

Ahd as Ms. Hussa

Sultan Al Assaf as Father

Alanoud Sajini as Fatin

Rafa Al Sanea as Fatima

Dana Abdullilah as Salma

A story set in Saudi Arabia and focused on the experiences of a young girl who challenges her country’s traditions.

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For some, filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour may be known for her documentary “Women Without Shadows”, while for others, they may recall her appearance on “The Daily Show with John Stewart”, “HARDtalk” and “Real Time with Bill Maher”.

But if there is one accolade in the oeuvre of Al-Mansour, is her Saudi Arabian-German film titled “Wadjda”.

The film has the distinction to be the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, the first feature-length film to be made by a female Saudi filmmaker and the film would become the first Saudi Arabian film submitted for consideration for “Best Foreign Language Oscar”.

But the reason why many find Haifaa Al-Mansour’s work important but also controversial is that it showcases how women’s life is in Saudi Arabia and the custom of women wearing an abaya (a dressing that women cloak their heads and shoulders).

So controversial that she has received hate mail and criticism and taking on topics which are typically considered taboo for discussion.

Taking five years to make (getting financial backing in Saudi Arabia is difficult due to the fact that there is no film industry and no movie theaters, the reality is that films are looked as lower than television), with the help of the Sundance Institute and German production company Razor Film, Haifaa Al-Mansour’s goal was to create a film with a message about freedom.

But once receiving the funding, the challenge of filmmaking is the fact that women’s place in society is lower than a man,  and since the film was shot in the capital city of Riyadh, the film was often shot behind a van and in accordance to cultural rules, she was not able to mingle with the men in crew and can only communicate via walkie-talkie and observing the actors via a monitor during a shot.

And now Haifaa Al-Mansour’s award winning film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics in Feb. 2014.

“Wadjda” introduces us to a 10-year-0ld girl named Wadjda (portrayed by Waad Mohammed).  A free-spirited girl who lives with her mother (portrayed by Reem Abdullah) and her father (portrayed by Sultan Al Assaf).

Quite often, when she travels to school, she races with her friend Abdullah (portrayed by Abdullrahman Algohani), which she often wins but he usually comes back with a bike in which she can’t compete with. So, she vowed that she would ride a bike and beat Abdullah.

Unfortunately, for Saudi girls, it’s not appropriate for girls to ride bikes.  It’s considered a practice that is more for boys.

But Wadjda is different.  She is into rock music, she doesn’t like to wear her abaya and because of her somewhat rebellious nature, she is often watched by the school head mistress Ms. Hussa (portrayed by Ahd Kamel).

She also doesn’t have a normal homelife.  Her mother as a bit of the spunk like her daughter but she is often seen trying to get her husband to stay home and only look towards her, but the truth is that her true distraction is because her husband is intending to take a second wife.

But as her mother won’t buy her a bike and Ms. Hussa wondering if Wadjda will change for the best, Wadjda sets off to find a new way to purchase her bike, by participating in a Qur’an recital competition which the winner can take home around SR1,000 ($270 US).

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VIDEO:

“Wadjda” is presented in 1:78:1 aspect ratio and features beautiful picture quality.  Skin tones are natural, scenes are well-lit and for the most part, the cinematography by Lutz Reitemeier was able to capture the emotions of the characters but also the traditional location and the various environments.

I did not notice any artifacts or banding during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Wadjda” is presented in Arabic and French 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  The film is primarily a dialogue driven soundtrack but there are moments where scenes do show a classroom or building room full of children, so there are some use of crowd ambiance for the surround channels.  Dialogue is crystal clear.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Wadjda” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary from director Haifaa Al-Mansour.
  • Making of Wadjda – (33:25) A behind-the-scenes look at the making of “Wadjda”, from interviews with the the director, the cast and members of the German production team and the challenges of shooting a film in Riyadh.
  • Directors Guild of America Q&A – (38:20) Featuring a Q&A with Haifaa Al-Mansour at a post-screening of “Wadjda” at the Directors Guild of America.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:04) Theatrical trailer for “Wadjda”.

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While I’m not an erudite when it comes to Arabic culture and society, I am aware that women are not seen as equal to men and that women must cover themselves up, nor should they be seen walking or talking with men.  And it’s a part of the culture that extends to children as well.

So, watching Haifaa Al-Mansour’s “Wadjda” is fascinating in the fact that we watch a 10-year-old who tries to live a life to the beat of her own drum, being told about the strict rules of the land and how a girl must behave.

For those of us living in America, the idea of boys and girls not being able to play together, hanging out with each other or riding bikes together is hard to fathom but in other countries, this is how their culture is and these are traditions passed down for many generations and possibly centuries.

But as the world begins to change and as women’s rights become a hot topic in countries where women are seen in a lower level as their male counterparts, there are women who are standing up and daring these older society traditions.

For director Haifaa Al-Mansour, her film “Wadjda” may be seen as overly audacious but she was given the opportunity to be Saudi Arabia’s first filmmaker, let alone creating the country’s first feature film.  While for cinema, it’s an important distinction, in the country that has no theater’s let alone a country that places television entertainment at the highest point and cinema much lower, sometimes one must create something and possibly try to open dialogue among society, even if it means approaching cultural tradition, even if it is seen as a cultural taboo to discuss these traditions, even if it means taking on the inequality of women compared to men.

From respecting cultural tradition when approaching the film, “Wadjda” is fascinating because it is film in the capital city of Riyadh and this young child named Wadjda (portrayed by Waad Mohammed), is a girl that listens to rock music, doesn’t like to wear her abaya and all she wants is to play with her friend Abdullah and ride a bike with him.

But unfortunately, society forbids her to be seen with a boy in public, her behavior of coming to school without her abaya is seen as troublesome and in her school, she is seen as a rebel and what she does is going against’a  girl’s virtue.

Meanwhile, her mother is a mother who also has a bit of spunk in her as well.  But mainly when it comes to her husband, a man who wants to have a son and wants to have a second wife in order to make it happen.  Wadjda’s mother wants to be sexy and do all she can to convince her father to not find another woman but she knows that it’s a difficult situation.

But as mother tries her best to save her marriage and keep her husband at home, she also must deal with her daughter that has more of a rebellious side and it’s tough.

For first time actress, Waad Mohammed, she embodies that rebellious side and watching the special features included in the “Wadjda” Blu-ray, we start to see part of Wadjda in the character of Waad. Meanwhile, learning that the film features television actresses Reem Abdullah and Ahd who give a solid performance, but it’s the performance that the young Waad Mohammed that makes this film much more entertaining and satisfying.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is fantastic.  Skintones are natural, lighting is well-done and cinematography by Lutz Reitemeier was well-done.  Lossless audio is primarily dialogue-driven but is crystal clear with surround sound usage primarily ambiance.  Special features include a fascinating “making of” featurette and Directors Guild of America Q&A plus an audio commentary with filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour.

Overall, “Wadjda” is a groundbreaking film for Saudi Arabia but also for Saudi women who want more opportunities of freedom and open a dialogue within society.  An inspiring film from filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour, “Wadjda” is recommended!

Blue Jasmine (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

January 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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An intelligent film that is possibly the most tragic of Woody Allen movies and featuring a Oscar-winning performance by Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine” is unlike any Woody Allen film that you will ever see and one that is also thought-provoking at the same time.   And for a filmmaker and writer who has continued to direct a new  original film nearly every year, for over fifty years, “Blue Jasmine” is another film that makes us feel happy due to its unpredictable nature and ending but also showing is that Woody Allen still has that magic that has captivated generations for many decades.  “Blue Jasmine” is recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2013 Gravier Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Blue Jasmine

MOVIE RELEASE DATE: 2013

DURATION: 98 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: 2:40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English and French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English SDH, French

RATED: PG-13 (For Mature Thematica Material Language and Sexual Content)

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Released Dated: January 21, 2014

Directed by Woody Allen

Written by Woody Allen

Executive Producer: Leroy Schecter, Adam B. Stern

Co-Executive Producer: Jack Rollins

Producer: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson

Co-Producer: Helen Robin

Cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe

Edited by Alisa Lepselter

Casting by Patricia Kerrigan DiCerto, Juliet Taylor

Production Design by Santo Loquasto

Art Direction: Michael E. Goldman, Doug Huszti

Set Decoration by Kris Boxell, Regina Graves

Costume Design by Suzy Benzinger

Starring:

Cate Blanchett as Jasmine

Alec Baldwin as Hal

Sally Hawkins as Ginger

Andrew Dice Clay as Augie

Bobby Cannavale as Chili

Max Casella as Eddie

Ali Fedotowsky as Melanie

Louis C.K. as Al

Peter Sarsgaard as Dwight

Poignant, romantic, and mesmerizing, writer/director Woody Allen’s latest masterpiece centers around Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), a former New York socialite teetering on an emotional tightrope, balancing between her troubled east coast past and a fresh start in San Francisco. Having moved into her sister’s humble apartment, Jasmine ricochets between the tumultuous acceptance of her new limitations, and the dreams of reclaiming her past life’s glamour. Join a powerful cast for an intimate portrayal of the battle between fantasy and reality which rages within us all.

Each year, we can always expect a Woody Allen film.

And with each film, many often wonder if Woody Allen (“Annie Hall”, “Manhattan”, “Midnight in Paris”)  can retain the brilliance that he has brought to the big screen since the late ’60s.

One of the few living directors in America who has been able to released marketable films but also one of the few filmmakers to be able to release a film nearly every year  (since 1971, the only years he did not release a film was in 1971, 1974 and 1981), in 2013, Woody Allen released his 45th film “Blue Jasmine”, a film which he wrote and directed.

Starring Cate Blanchett (“Lord of the Rings” films, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, “Elizabeth”), Alec Baldwin (“Beetlejuice”, “The Departed”, “30 Rock”), Sally Hawkins (“Made in Dagenham”, “Happy Go-Lucky”, “Layer Cake”), Bobby Cannavale (“Win Win”, “The Bone Collector”, “Parker”, “The Station Agent”), Louis C.K. (“Louie”, “Down to Earth”), Andrew Dice Clay (“Pretty in Pink”, “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane”), Max Cassella (“Doogie Howser, M.D.”, “Ed Wood”, “Inside Llewyn Davis”) and Peter Sarsgaard (“Flightplan”, “Green Lantern”, “Jarhead”), the film would receive critical praise from critics worldwide.

And now “Blue Jasmine” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD in Jan. 2014.

“Blue Jasmine” revolves around a woman named Jasmine (portrayed by Cate Blanchett) who was once a wealthy woman married to Hal (portrayed by Alec Baldwin) who embezzled, spent and lost a lot of the money of investors.

Divorced, poor and suffering anxiety issues, Jasmine is unable to continue her lifestyle and moves to San Francisco and live with her step-sister Ginger (portrayed by Sally Hawkins), a single of mother of two who is now engaged to a mechanic named Chili (portrayed by Bobby Cannavale).

While we are given flashbacks of Jasmine and Ginger’s life in the past.

Jasmine who lived a life of luxury and being vain, but yet believed in her husband Hal, who is messing around with other women behind her back.

Meanwhile, Ginger was married to Augie (portrayed by Andrew Dice Clay) and we learn how Ginger and Augie went to New York City after winning the lottery, Ginger’s first time visiting her step-sister in many years and trying to get financial advice of what to do with the money.  Augie wants to invest it into a construction business but Jasmine tells her sister and Augie to invest their money with her husband Hal.

As Jasmine doesn’t want Ginger and Augie to be around them (as they are not the type to be around the upperclass), she still tries to help them enjoy their trip to New York City and books a limousine tour around the city and that is where Ginger spots Hal making out with another woman, a woman who is good friends with Jasmine.

But we are also given a glimpse of how Hal was looked at a successful financial businessman, philanthropist and popular businessman, especially by their son Danny (portrayed by Aiden Ehrenreich), who is treated with respect at Harvard.  But then after the arrest of Hal, we see the disintegration of the family and how their son was so embarrassed by his father’s crime that he had to quit Harvard.

Jasmine tries to learn how to get a job and learn how to use a computer via an online class and become an interior designer.  But to afford the class, she takes a job as a secretary for Dr. Flicker (portrayed by Michael Stuhlbarg), a man who is smitten with Jasmine.

But life for Jasmine has been challenging and as we see her past life and the present, we see how Jasmine was during her best times married to Hal, the worst times after he was arrested but also during the time he confronts him about his affairs and how Hal was arrested for his crime.

But to see if Jasmine will be able to move on with her life after Hal.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Blue Jasmine” is presented in 2:40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen and audio is presented in English and French 5.1 Dolby Digital with Subtitles in English, English SDH and French.

It’s important to note that if you want the best picture and audio quality of this film, the Blu-ray release of “Blue Jasmine” is the way to go!  But as for the DVD itself, picture quality is good on DVD, I didn’t notice any major artifacts or any issues with overall PQ.

As for audio, “Blue Jasmine” features clear dialogue and an enjoyable musical soundtrack.  The film is primarily dialogue-driven and if anything, it’s an appropriate center and front-channel driven soundtrack.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Blue Jasmine” comes with the following special features:

  • Notes from the Red Carpet(5:53) Interviews with the cast of “Blue Jasmine” about their character and working with Woody Allen.
  • Blue Jasmine Cast Press Conference – (24:58) Los Angeles Press Conference with Andrew Dice Clay, Cate Blanchett and Peter Sarsgaard.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (1:51) Theatrical trailer for “Blue Jasmine”.

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Many people criticize Woody Allen’s film each and every year, some who say he is a man who has lost his brilliance, others who say that a certain film harkens to his most wonderful work.

Suffice to say, everyone has an opinion on a Woody Allen film but many people still want to see each year of what kind of film he is going to make.  Typically romantic comedies with intelligent writing, witty humor and wonderful jazz music, his films have been for the most part, delightful and upbeat despite troubled relationships here and there.

But with “Blue Jasmine”, Allen’s film maintains the intelligent writing, the witty humor and a wonderful performance from actress Cate Blanchett, but is more of tragic film than a hopeful, upbeat film which will once again, bring out many critics who will praise Woody Allen for stepping outside of the box and doing something different, while others who feel the storyline is too real and dramatic and not as accessible.

The fact is that this film takes a story from front page news ala Bernie Madoff or similar type of storyline of investors who bilked their clients money and lost it all.

We know from various news reports about the families of those responsible have been destroyed, not knowing of how far of a destructive and callous lifestyle their loved one was living.  Thinking that the wealth and lifestyle they lived on was on hard work, but instead finding out that these financial frauds who orchestrated these schemes were downright rotten to the core.

For the protagonist Jasmine, Cate Blanchett plays the character with such efficacy that I do believe is deserving of an Oscar nomination.  Portraying an anxiety-ridden, broken woman that needs stability and a support system, which unfortunately she is not going to get with her current attitude.  But there is no doubt that losing her husband, losing her wealth and losing all things important to her has left her a broken woman.

Jasmine is a character that part of you feels bad for her but also part of you despises her.  She is a person who is vain, who lived a life of privilege with wealth and aside from her social circle, she looked down upon her sister Ginger and her first husband Augie.

And then you see her with nothing.  No longer part of that social circle, broke and in need of desperate help but she pushes her sister away because she wants to feel better than her.  Her belief that she is better than not so wealthy people because of where she lived previously but to everyone else, including her sister and new fiance.  The wealthy environment that she is from is built upon the money that her husband had scammed from others.

Also, another fascinating part of this film is how Woody Allen took these characters and put them in different situations.  Bobby Cannavale’s role as Chili, is very abrasive.  While Andrew Dice Clay’s character is serious and for the most part, a character unlike anything he has played before.  We see a surprising performance from the comedian and we also see a different side of Louis C.K. in this film, more reserved and not at all like his comedic side nor any character he had played before.

Alec Baldwin also does a good job playing as the deceitful husband, Sally Hawkins as the step-sister Ginger, who had always wanted to be like Jasmine but in an interesting role reversal, which sister is actually happy?  Which sister came out doing well for herself as an adult?

As for the DVD, it’s important to note that if you want the best picture quality of this film, then you will want to purchase the Blu-ray release of “Blue Jasmine”.  Otherwise, the film looks good on DVD and surprisingly, another Woody Allen film to be released on Blu-ray and DVD that has several special features.

But overall, “Blue Jasmine” is a Woody Allen film from aesthetics to music and wit, but there is no doubt that Allen wanted to try something different this time around.  No shooting in Europe, no young love and instead of focusing on love, we get the opposite with “Blue Jasmine”.

An intelligent film that is possibly the most tragic of Woody Allen movies and featuring a Oscar-winning performance by Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine” is unlike any Woody Allen film that you will ever see and one that is also thought-provoking at the same time.   And for a filmmaker and writer who has continued to direct a new  original film nearly every year, for over fifty years, “Blue Jasmine” is another film that makes us feel happy due to its unpredictable nature and ending but also showing is that Woody Allen still has that magic that has captivated generations for many decades.

“Blue Jasmine” is recommended!

Before Midnight (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

October 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Before Midnight” is another delightful film in the series that has done well in capturing the growth of these characters and their relationship as friends and now lovers within the last three decades.  For those who enjoy conversational-driven cinema, “Before Midnight” is recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2013 Talagane LLC. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Before Midnight

YEAR OF FILM: 2013

DURATION: 109 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: 1:85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG (For Mild Thematic Elements and Brief Smoking)

RELEASE DATE: October 22, 2013

Directed by Richard Linklater

Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke

Characters by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan

Producer as Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Richard Linklater, Sara Woodhatch

Executive Producer: Liz Glotzer, Jacob Pechenik, Martin Shafer, John Sloss

Co-Producer: Vincent Palmo, Jr. and Athina Rachel Tsangari

Associate Producer: Lelia Andronikou

Line Producer: Kostas Kefalas

Music by Graham Reynolds

Director of Photography: Christos Voudouris

Edited by Sandra Adair

Casting by Christina Akzoti, Alex Kelly

Art Direction by Anna Georgiadou

Costume Design by Vasileia Rozana

Starring:

Ethan Hawke as Jesse Wallace

Julie Delpy as Celine Wallace

Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Hank Wallace

Jennifer Prior as Ella Wallace

Charlotte Prior as Nina Wallace

Xenia Kalogeropoulou as Natalia

Walter Lassally as Patrick

Ariane Labed as Anna

Yiannis Papadoupoulos as Achilleas

Athina Rachel Tsangari as Ariadni

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) first met in their twenties in BEFORE SUNRISE; reunited in their thirties in BEFORE SUNSET; and, now, in director Richard Linklater’s amazing BEFORE MIDNIGHT, they face the past, present and future; family, romance and love. Now on a writer’s retreat in Greece, the couple looks for a night of passion, but instead their idyllic night turns into a test of their relationship and a discussion of what the future holds for them.

In 1995, filmmaker Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused”, “Before Sunrise”, “Before Sunset”, “Waking Life”) released his film “Before Sunrise” which he co-wrote with Kim Krizan.

The film which was about Jesse (portrayed by Ethan Hawke) and Celine (portrayed by Julie Delpy) meeting on a train from Budapest and the two having a conversation with each other.  As the two share time in Vienna, and eventually showing they have mutual attraction with each other and make a promise to meet up with each other six months later.

The film earned Richard Linklater a Silver Bear for “Best Director” at the 45th Berlin International Film Festival and was well-received by film critics for its realism and not being banal like other 20-something romantic films.

In 2004, for the sequel “Before Sunset”, nine years have passed and Jesse had written the novel “This Time” about his time with Celine and becomes an American bestseller.

The film received positive reviews for its use of dialogue and how it goes against traditional American cinema due to its focus on communication.

As Jesse is doing a book tour, his final stop is in Paris and he sees Celine.  And the two discuss why they never met six months after they promised.  The two discuss their lives as Jesse is married with a son, while Celine has a boyfriend, but both are unhappy with the person they are with.  And sure enough, their attraction towards each other is rekindled.

And here we are with the third film in the trilogy, “Before Midnight”.  A film written by Linklater and co-written with his two stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

After the events from the second film, we learn that both Jesse and Celine are a couple and have two twin daughters.  For Jesse, he says goodbye to his teenage son, Hank, who came to visit him in Greece.

For Jesse, the time away from his son hurts him and unfortunately, it doesn’t help that his relationship with his ex-wife is not good.    As the two drive away from the airport, both discuss their lives at work.  Jesse as a novelist, Celine working for the French government.  But he does worry for his son’s childhood, Celine’s career but Celine sees his worries as a harbinger of the downfall of their relationship.

As the two have lunch with their Greek friends, the group discuss their feelings about love and life and now, they need to spice their relationship up.  The people staying at Patrick’s place buy Jesse and Celine a hotel room for the night and as the two are together, the two reminisce about their lives, how they met.

But as they stay at the hotel, the two start to question their relationship and wonder if they will ever have a happy future together.

VIDEO, AUDIO AND SUBTITLES:

“Before Midnight” is presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen and English 5.1 Dolby Digital.

It’s important to remind people that if you want the best video and audio for the film, a Blu-ray release of “Before Midnight” will be released on the same day.

As for the film, the film definitely showcases beauty as it is filmed in Greece and many scenes are shot outdoors.  If there is one thing constant with each film in the trilogy thus far, it’s the use of location and setting that makes “Before Midnight” so endearing.

As for audio, this film is primarily dialogue-driven with occasional music, but the English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is clear and understandable.

Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Before Midnight” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary with Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater.
  • Revisiting Jesse & Celine – (7:20) A featurette featuring Richard Linklater on the final four days of shooting “Before Midnight” and discussing the making of the third film and reuniting the cast.
  • Q&A with Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater – (37:03) A post-screening Q&A moderated by Elvis Mitchell.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (1:53) Theatrical trailer for “Before Midnight”.
  • Before Midnight Soundtrack – Text promo for the soundtrack

 

I have been vocal for my appreciation of dialogue-driven films about intelligent conversations.  From Eric Rohmer to even Woody Allen films.

Of course, films about long conversations are not for everyone.  And for westerners, the idea of a film going against traditional Hollywood practice and following the convention off many cut scenes may not be their cup of tea.

And when it comes to American cinema, there are the Richard Linklater films in the “Before trilogy”, with “Before Sunset” and “Before Sunrise” and now the latest film, “Before Midnight”.  A film that did well in the box office, has its following and also a story that was co-written by Linklater and the film’s main talents Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.

The film follows the characters of Jesse (portrayed by Ethan Hawke) and Celine (portrayed by Julie Delpy) who have gone past the physical and sexual attraction to now becoming a couple who have twin children.

Jesse chose to stay in Europe and leave his wife and son and the film begins with Jesse saying goodbye to his son who had a great time staying with his father.  It’s quite obvious that his son wants his father in his life and Jesse wanting to be part of his son’s life but since he doesn’t get along with the mother, it’s a bit tough and also because of distance.

And it becomes a discussion that he has with Celine after he sees his son off to the airport to go back to Chicago. And as the films focused on Jesse and Celine in their 20’s, then their 30’s and now in their 40’s, life has changed as Celine wants to have a career and is not wanting to live in Chicago, so Jesse can be closer to his son.  Of course, Jesse doesn’t want to be away from Celine and his children but it starts a discussion about where they are as a couple today and where they are as a couple in the future.

By hanging out with friends and seeing various sides of relationship growth, from an older couple, to a couple of the same age and to a couple younger than them, it’s the thought of what one wants to accomplish as a couple, but what one wants to achieve as they get older.

And although the two take part in long conversations and communicate with each other, there are things left unsaid and when they do come out…  Let’s just say that I wouldn’t be surprise if there was a fourth film.

I talked to a friend and his thoughts on the film were not to positive as he felt the thought of nostalgia and past romance in a relationship is over-rated.

And it’s OK to feel that way.

I think with these films, especially with “Before Midnight”, the discussion is more about nostalgia about a relationship and how a couple can keep their relationship fulfilling in the future as they try hard to keep things great in the present. But should a couple be in sync, can mindsets be different.  Especially how Jesse feels about his son and his wife, being a more independent woman, not wanting to be controlled by a man and focusing on her career.  But as they see other couples in sync, they know that their relationship is not in sync.

I know there are some who will say that the Rohmer formula of conversation cinema works when their is focus on intelligent topics.  Romance typically not one of them.

I think, and it’s my opinion, while other dialogue films discuss things about art, culture and other highbrow discussions, for Linklater’s films, this one…it goes into the worry of keeping romance alive in your older age.  I suppose we all hear it as we get older from friends about how things were great in their 20’s, how sex was better before children or before they got older and other topics I suppose older couples discuss in their 30’s, 40’s or whichever age they me in their later lives.

It’s truthful conversation and the way it is presented in “Before Midnight” is real and I absolutely find it delightful.   Of course, it comes down to one if they find it entertaining to watch it on screen.   While some will find it great to be part of the nostalgia of growing up with these characters, there are those who may find the topic of enhancing love as a couple when you’re older to be tiring because perhaps in their relationship, the spark has long burned out or it’s getting there.

As for the DVD, as mentioned, if you want beautiful picture quality, the Blu-ray release is the way to go.  Especially for this film which was shot in Greece and has many outdoor scenes.  But DVD picture quality and audio is good.  There are a good amount of special features included, such as audio commentary and a post-screening Q&A and more.

Overall, “Before Midnight” is another delightful film in the series that has done well in capturing the growth of these characters and their relationship as friends and now lovers within the last three decades.  For those who enjoy conversational-driven cinema, “Before Midnight” is recommended!

 

With


Fill the Void (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

September 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

loveisallyouneed

Rama Burshtein’s “Fill the Void” is a rare and groundbreaking film that captures the complexity of love, emotion and sacrifice.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2012, 2013 Norma Productions Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Fill the Void

YEAR OF FILM: 2012

DURATION: 90 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: 2:35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Hebrew 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG (For Mild Thematic Elements and Brief Smoking)

RELEASE DATE: September 10, 2013

Directed by Rama Burshtein

Written by Rama Burshtein

Produced by Assaf Amir

Music by Yitzhak Azulay

Cinematography by Asaf Sudri

Edited by Sharon Elovic

Casting by Michal Koren

Art Direction by Uri Aminov

Costume Design by Hani Gurevitch

Starring:

Hadas Yaron as Shira

Yiftach Klein as Yochay

Irit Sheleg as Rivka

Chayim Sharir as Aharon

Razia Israeli as Aunt Hanna

Hila Feldman as Frieda

Renana Raz as Esther

Yael Tai as Shifi

Michael David Weigi as Shtreicher

Ido Samuel as Yossi

Neta Moran as Bilha

Melech Thal as Rabbi

Fill the Void tells the story of an eighteen-year-old Shira who is the youngest daughter of her family. Her dreams are about to come true as she is set to be married off to a promising young man. Unexpectedly, her sister, Esther, dies while giving birth to her first child. The pain that overwhelm the family postpone Shira’s promised match. Everything changes when an offer is proposed to match Yochay, the late Esther’s husband, to a widow from Belgium. When the girls’ mother finds out that Yochay may leave the country with her only grandchild, she proposes a match between Shira and the widower. Shira will have to choose between her heart’s wish and her family duty.

When it comes to media and Hasidic Judaism, not much is really known about the individuals and the community is often seen as private and mysterious.

For filmmaker Rama Burshtein, a woman who is part of the Haredi Jewish community in Tel Aviv, Israel, her goal was to show the artistic side of the community and thus the film “Fill the Void” was born.

The winner of seven Ophir Awards including best director and best film, Burshtein’s award-winning film will be released on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics in Sept. 2013.

The film would star Hadas Yaron (“Out of Sight”), Yiftach Klein (“Policeman”), Irit Sheleg, Chayim Sharir and Razia Israeli..

“Fill the Void” begins with 18-year-old Shira Mendelman (portrayed by Hadas Yaron) with her mother as they go to meet potential suitors and is to be married to a young man that she likes.  On the day of Purim (a Jewish holiday), while her pregnant older sister Esther (portrayed by Renana Raz) arrives with her husband Yochay (portrayed by Yiftach Klein), Esther seems that she is having pain and when she goes into the bathroom, people noticed she has not come out.

We find out that Esther has died but the baby was saved.  As for Shira’s engagement, the father delays it due to Esther’s death and Shira and her mother Rivka (portrayed by Irit Sheleg) help Yochay raise the baby, Mordechai.

One day, Yochay’s mother asks Rivka if Shira would be willing to marry Yochay as it would be best for Mordechai and so far, the plan is to have Yochay marry a widow in Belgium.  The thought that her grandson would be taken away to another country and their only link to Esther would be gone, Rivka decides to not have Shira marry the man that she liked but for her to marry Yochay.

For Shira, she is torn by her heart to marry someone she likes and love and her obligation to family.  What will she do?

VIDEO, AUDIO AND SUBTITLES:

“Fill the Void” is presented in 2:35:1 and picture quality is good as one can expect from DVD.  The soundtrack which is presented in Hebrew 5.1 Dolby Digital is clear and understandable while English and French subtitles are easy to read.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Fill the Void” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary with filmmaker Rama Burshtein and Hadas Yaron.
  • Writer’s Bloc Q&A – (16:59) A Q&A with director Rama Burshtein and Hadas Yaron.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:07) Theatrical trailer for “Fill the Void”

While I know there are some who are Jewish would say this film would appeal and be more understood by those who practice Judaism, my approach to “Fill the Void” was with curiosity.

My feelings toward the film was how real and genuine the story and the performance was.  Costume design looked authentic but the storyline of arranged marriages and a person torn by what she feels in her heart and family obligations is not so far from what I have seen within other families who practice arranged marriages for their  adult children.

The film is about genuine feelings, an insight to the Hassidic community but exploring characters with genuine emotions.  Shira is an 18-year-old who looks forward to her marriage to another man that she will like.  But after her oldest sister’s death and because her mother does not want her grandchild far from the family, the family wants Shira to marry Yochay, the love of her eldest sister Esther, but it’s not her love.

There is no emphasis on the beauty of surroundings, but the focus on the capturing of emotion.  To capture realism, even though it’s cinema.  Long takes and what better than to capture human turmoil through a person’s thought and chance of love, being taken away for one to make a decision solely based on family.

While some people can’t fathom one thinking such a thing too choose family over love in a modern society, the fact is that many do.  May it be religious or cultural reasons, arranged marriages still happen today.  But unlike other marriages where a woman is not allowed to say no.  For “Fill the Void”, Shira is a woman who has a voice and this marriage, hinges on her answer. Will she accept it for family?  Or will she follow her heart?

Hadas Yaron is absolutely wonderful in her portrayal of Shira.  Realistic, natural, not overacted and a perfectly cast for the role.  It’s a role that calls for a subdued young woman, an older teenager who now has a chance of finding love according to her religion.  But it’s when her character is asked to make hard decisions, this is the moment where Hadas Yarron shines.

As for filmmaker Rama Burshtein, it’s great that she is the first Orthodox Jewish woman to direct a film about Haredi Jewish community but to also get the support to shoot in the community.  The fact is that the world sees the community as very private but within that community, there is so many positive aspects and talents that many people outside of the community don’t get to see.  So, this film is a groundbreaking film but also a film that I found as natural but also very real.

As for the DVD, picture and audio quality is good as one can expect on DVD but also featuring an insightful audio commentary by filmmaker Rama Burshtein and actress Hadas Yaron, including a media Q&A with the two.

Overall, Rama Burshtein’s “Fill the Void” is a rare and groundbreaking film that captures the complexity of love, emotion and sacrifice.  Recommended!

 

With


Love Is All You Need (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

September 3, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

loveisallyouneed

“Love Is All You Need” is delightful, entertaining and beautiful romantic comedy from director Susanne Bier.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2012 Zentropa Entertainments29 ApS, Zentropa International Sweden AB, Slot Machine Sarl, Lumiere & Co Srl, Zentropa International France Sarl, Zentropa Entertainments Berlin GmbH and Arte France Cinema. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Love is All You Need

YEAR OF FILM: 2012

DURATION: 116 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: 2:35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Danish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (For Brief Sexuality, Nudity and Some Language)

RELEASE DATE: September 10, 2013

Directed by Susanne Bier

Screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen

Story by Susan Bier, Anders Thomas Jensen

Produced by Vibeke Windelov, Sisse Graum Jorgenson

Co-Producer: Remi Burah, Lionello Cerri, Madeleine, Ekman, Maria Kopf, Peter Nadermann, Charlotte Pedersen, Martin Persson, Cesare Petrillo, Vieri Razzini, Marianne Slot, Sigrid Strohmann, Meinolf Zurhorst

Line Producer: Karen Bentzon, Riccardo Pintus

Music by Johan Soderqvist

Cinematography by Morten Soborg

Edited by Pernille Bech Christensen, Morten Egholm

Casting by Lene Seested

Production Design by Peter Grant

Art Direction by Tamara Marini

Costume Design by Signe Sejlund

Starring:

Trine Dyrholm as Ida

Pierce Brosnan as Philip

Sebastian Jessen as Patrick

Molly Blixt Egelind as Astrid

Kim Bodnia as Leif

Ciro Petrone as Alessandro

Marco D’Amore as Marco

Paprika Steen as Bendikte

From Susanne Bier, director of the Academy Award® and Golden Globe®-winning film In A Better World (2011, Best Foreign Language Film) comes a romantic comedy set in Sorrento, Italy. Philip (Brosnan), an Englishman living in Denmark, is a middle-aged widower and estranged single father. Ida (Dyrholm) is a Danish hairdresser who’s just been left by her husband for a younger woman. The fates of these two souls are about to intertwine as they embark for a trip to Italy to attend the wedding of Patrick and Astrid, Philip’s son and Ida’s daughter. It’s a story about seeking love and having the courage to change your life – even when you think it’s too late.

From Academy Award winning filmmaker Susanne Bier (“In a Better World”, “After the Wedding”, “Things We Lost in the Fire”) comes the Danish romantic comedy “Den skaldede frisor” (which translates to “The Bald Hairdresser”).

To be released in the U.S. as “Love Is All You Need” on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, the film will be released in Sept. on Blu-ray and DVD.

“Love Is All You Need” stars Trine Dyrholm (“The Celebration”, “A Royal Affair”, “In a Better World”), Pierce Brosnan (“Goldeneye”, “Die Another Day”, “The World is Not Enough”), Sebastian Jessen (“Nothing’s All Bad”, “2900 Happiness”), Molly Blixt Egelind (“Okay”, “Rebounce”, “Fighter”) and Kim Bodnia (“Pusher”, “Bleeder”).

“Love is All You Need” is a film that introduces us to a hairdresser named Ida (portrayed by Trine Dyrholm) who has had successful breast cancer treatment and her doctor asks if she wants to have reconstructive surgery, which Ida doesn’t feel is necessary.

The doctor tells her if she talked it over with her husband and that she should go on vacation.  Fortunately, she and her husband is planning to go to Italy for her daughter’s wedding.

And as Ida heads back home, she catches her husband Leif (portrayed by Kim Bodnia) having sex with his young accountant.  All her husband can say is that he had a hard time dealing with her cancer and as much as it has been difficult on her, it has been difficult on him.  He ends up leaving her and leaving Ida in distress.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to Philip (portrayed by Pierce Brosnan) who is the owner of a corporation that deals with fruit.  Philip is a person that is preoccupied by his work and he is not so talkative to his staff or employees and literally has closed himself off to others.

And we are introduced to Ida’s daughter Astrid (portrayed by Molly Blixt Egelind) and her fiance Patrick (portrayed by Sebastian Jessen), the son of Philip.

Both were dating for three months until agreeing on getting married and the two are planning to get married at the Italian lemon plantation in Italy.  But part of the problem that Astrid feels is that despite their relationship going well, he will not be intimate with her for some reason and she starts to have her doubts.

As a distressed Ida is trying to park at a parking garage at the airport, she ends up hitting Philip’s car when she tries to backup.  Upset with the woman, Philip wants to get the woman’s ID card and sees her crying and emotionally unstable.  She tells him that she’s never been to the airport alone and that she’s trying to go to her daughter’s wedding in Italy and Philip tells her that his son Patrick is getting married and both realize that their children are getting married to each other.

As Ida tries to be friendly and sit with Philip, he is not enjoying her being near him and she sees him as a cold person, always focused on work.

When the two arrive in Italy, to add to Ida’s misery, they lose her luggage and to make things worse, her soon-to-be ex-husband Leif has brought his fiance, the young accountant he was caught having sex with.

Meanwhile for Philip, he must deal with his sister-in-law who keeps trying to flirt with him.

As Ida tries to enjoy her time in Italy, she swims nude in the ocean and just loves the beauty of the area.  While Philip sees her clothes and her wig lying on the sand.  As she comes back to the beach nude, both end up trying to ease their boredom or sadness in Italy by talking to each other.

Philip takes her through the lemon plantation that were once orange trees.  And as both start to enjoy their time talking to each other, Philip can see the sadness of her having to see her ex-husband with his new fiance.  Meanwhile, Ida hopes that she can help get Philip to talk about life and he reveals that he met his wife in Italy and that she was killed in a senseless car accident and it not only hurt his child but it hurt him and made him hate the world.

And both find comfort in discussing life with each other.

As for their children, the weekend with their families, may help them wake up and discover if they are right for each other.

“Love Is All You Need” is a story about seeking love and having the courage to change your life, even when you think it’s too late.

VIDEO, AUDIO AND SUBTITLES:

“Love Is All You Need” is presented in 2:35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Danish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital and Subtitles in English and English SDH.

For a beautiful film that is exquisitely shot in Sorrento, Italy by Morten Soborg, this is a film that will probably look so much better in HD via Blu-ray and sound much better in lossless HD.  But for those who are interested in the DVD version, I can say that the picture quality is good, as one can expect on DVD.  The beauty of Sorrento with it’s colors and the contrasting blue colors of Brosnan’s shirts are quite evident.

The music is crystal clear on DVD but it’s more of a front and center-channel driven soundtrack.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Love Is All You Need” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary with director Susanne Bier and Pierce Brosnan.
  • Q&A with Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyrholm, Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen - (8:25) Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyrholm, Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen Q&A at Toronto International Film Festival.
  • Behind the Scenes with Trine Dyrholm: Venice Film Festival 2012 – (5:21) Photographer Joachim Adrian Mikkelsen talks about the 3-day photo access he had with Trine Dyrholm for the Venice Film Festival 2012.
  • Pierce Brosnan & Trine Dyrholm Interview – (9:58) Featuring an interview with Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm.
  • Pierce Brosnan Interview – (7:32) Pierce Brosnan interviewed at the Venice Film Festival 2012.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (1:52) The original theatrical trailer for “Love Is All You Need”.

As a cineaste who has enjoyed the films of Susanne Bier and her writing partner Anders Thomas Jensen.  One thing that is consistent of their films is tackling family dysfunction but also capturing a human element.

With “Love Is All You Need”, Susanne doesn’t go through a darker or traumatic path but goes to a romantic comedy that makes one see the beauty through the cinematography of Morton Soborg (“In a Better World”, “After the Wedding”, “Chernobyl Diaries”).  Capturing the beauty of Sorrento, Italy with beautiful environments and colors but also wonderful performances by actress Trine Dyrholm and Pierce Brosnan.

Trine playing the character of Ida, a woman who is dealing with cancer and fighting it, a hairdresser with no hair but wearing a wig but still not wanting to trouble her own family, but to find her own husband having an affair.

Pierce Brosnan, in reality, a man who has lost his wife and also a daughter to ovarian cancer was approached to play this role by Susanne Bier and having had the emotions of pain and loss of losing a love one or having a love one fight cancer, is tough but like the character of Philip in which he plays, possible therapeutic in taking on a story not about death or tragedy but of hope.

Both have wonderful chemistry and gentleness as we see how these two individuals open each other’s hearts up.  Ida, a mother and wife who had kept things inside because she doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone, while Philip is a widower who lost his wife to a car accident and has hated the world and has affected his relationship with his own son.

The storyline would also focus on both character’s children, Astrid, a young woman who wants to know what true love is in a marriage, while Patrick is a man who is not sure about himself and what love is.  Both who knew each other in three months and have not been intimate decide to get married and must learn a lesson about love, while Astrid’s mother and Patrick’s father, who have had love, have chance to change their lives and possibly discover love.

I found “Love Is All You Need” to be a delightful film.  Music that sets the tone of the romantic comedy with “Amore” to fascinating characters, even Kim Bodnia, known for playing action or dark roles, plays the philandering husband of Ida who tries to make people feel bad for him, that he had to have an affair with a younger woman.

As the film deals with a woman who has cancer, it’s not a film about cancer.  It’s about second chances and people discovering or rediscovering love.

While “Love Is All You Need” is an enjoyable romantic comedy, it does have a few shortcomings with the relationships progressing too fast for the characters.  Where some films would feature a romance over a period of weeks, months or years, this is possibly over a weekend or a few days and while plausible, I felt it would have been interesting to explore the main characters more.  As for the relationship between Astrid and Patrick, it does fit the banality of young love in turmoil but I did find Molly Blixt Egelind’s performance to be fantastic and I look forward to seeing her in cinema much more in the near future.

As for the DVD release, as one can expect for a DVD, the picture quality is good and the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very good but for those who want magnificent picture quality and a lossless soundtrack will want to opt for the Blu-ray release of the film.  Special features features an insightful commentary by director Susanne Bier and Pierce Brosnan plus interviews from the Toronto International Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival.

Overall, “Love Is All You Need” is delightful, entertaining and beautiful romantic comedy from director Susanne Bier.  Recommended!

 

With


Amour (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

amour-a

“Amour” is a devastating, intelligent and unsettling masterpiece from filmmaker Michael Haneke.  There are many films that confront fear but when you confront an inevitable fear that many people will experience one day, you will need masterful performances to pull it off and both legendary talents Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva deliver!  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2012 Les Films du Losange, X Filme Creative Pool, Wega Film, France 3 Cinema, ARD Degeto, Bayerischer Rundfunk and Westdeutscher Rundfunk. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Amour

FILM RELEASE: 2012

DURATION: 127 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:85:1 aspect ratio, French 5.0 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG-13 (Mature Thematic Material including a Disturbing Act and For Brief Language)

Release Date: August 20, 2013

Directed by Michael Haneke

Screenplay by Michael Haneke

Produced by Stefan Arndt, Margaret Menegoz

Co-Producer: Michael Andre, Alice Girard, Daniel Goudineau, Hans-Wolfgang Jurgan, Wolfgang Lorenz, Heinrich Mis, Bettina Reitz, Bettina Ricklefs

Executive Producer: Michael Katz, Margaret Menegoz, Uwe Schott

Cinematography by Darius Khondji

Edited by Nadine Muse, Monika Willi

Casting by Kris Portier de Bellair

Production Design by Jean-Vincent Puzos

Set Decoration by Susanne Haneke, Sophie Reynaud

Costume Design by Catherine Leterrier

Starring:

Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges

Emmanuel Riva as Anne

Isabelle Huppert as Eva

Alexandre Tharaud as Alexandre

William Shimell as Geoff

Insightful. Original. Exquisite. Georges and Anne have known a lifetime of love within their intimate marriage. Though their bond has survived time’s test, it’s about to meet its greatest challenge. Acclaimed director Michael Haneke brings a performance tour-de-force to the screen in a film that exalts the beautiful, compassionate and courageous within us all.

amour-b

Some regard filmmaker Michael Haneke as one of the bleakest directors in modern cinema.

From films such as “Benny’s Video”, “Funny Games”, “Code Unknown”, “The Piano Teacher”, “Hidden” to name a few, his films have been known for its unsettling content and sometimes its shock value.

But having won multiple awards for his film, his most well-regarded film came in 2009 with “The White Ribbon” which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and multiple awards for “Best Film” including the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

But it’s his 2012 film “Amour” that would make Haneke become one of the most well-revered filmmakers by winning consecutive Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the Cesar Award for Best Film, the FIPRESCI Award Grand Prix  and many more awards with positive reviews from film critics worldwide.

For Michael Haneke, “Amour” is somewhat a deviation when compared to his previous films.  It’s his most personal film and it’s a film that he tailored for legendary French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant (“Three Colors:Red”, “The Conformist”, “My Night at Maud’s”, “Z”).  One of the dream actors he had wanted to work with (the other being Marlon Brando) and felt that if he wanted to work with the actor, for this story, this film, it had to be now.

The film would also star one of the well-known names of French cinema, actress Emmanuel Riva (“Hiroshima, mon amour”, “Leon Morin, Priest”, “Three Colors: Blue”) and Isabelle Huppert, the lead actress seen in Haneke’s award-winning film “The Piano Teacher”.

And now the award-winning film “Amour” will be released on Blu-ray in August 2013 courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“Amour” is a film that begins with firemen breaking into a home in a Paris apartment and they find the corpse of an older woman with flowers all around her.

The film then goes back several months earlier as we are introduced to an elderly couple, Georges (portrayed by Jean-Louis Trintignant) and his wife Anne (portrayed by Emmanuelle Riva), both are retired piano teachers and have had a loving relationship for many decades

One morning during breakfast, while having a discussion, immediately Anne goes quiet in a catatonic state, her body staring at the distance.  Georges tries to talk to her, tries to damp her with a wet cloth but she is not responding.  As he gets dressed to take her to the hospital, he hears the faucet that he had turned on, being shut off.

He goes to check on her and it’s like nothing has happened.  He tells her to stop pulling pranks but she doesn’t know what he is talking about.  But when she goes to pour a cup of tea, she is unable to pour into her cup and immediately Georges knows that something is wrong.  It is revealed that Anne has suffered a stroke.

We find out through Georges conversation with daughter Eva (portrayed by Isabelle Huppert) that Anne had surgery for a blocked carotid artery but the surgery didn’t go well and now she is paralyzed on the right side of her body and must be confined to a wheelchair.

Anne asks Georges to make a promise and that is to never send her to the hospital ever again.  And as Georges becomes her caretaker, Anne knows that this is not the way she wants to live, let alone her husband having to be be there for her as a caretaker and tells him that she does not want to go on living.

But Anne suffers another stroke and now she suffers from dementia and is incapable of speaking clearly.  George continues to honor his promise to her but hiring a nurse for three days a week and having to take care of her becomes very difficult.

But when someone you love and their health is getting worse… For the love of that person, what would you do?

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VIDEO:

“Amour” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio).  The film was primarily shot on a set that resembled Michael Haneke’s parents and aunt’s room, with a green screen outside of the windows.  But because everything is shot indoors, lighting is somewhat dim.   You will not see the characters going outdoors in the sunlight but for the most part, as subdued the lighting is, the clarity of the picture is well-done.  Closeups of the characters faces show incredible detail and skin colors are natural.

I did not notice any artifacts or any banding but for the most part, picture quality for this film is very good.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Amour” is presented in French 5.0 DTS-HD MA.  For a film of this nature, one should not expect surround sound use but because the film does feature classical music, may it be listened at a live performance or played through a stereo, the dialogue and music are crystal clear.

Subtitles are in English and English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Amour” comes with the following special features:

  • Making of Amour – (24:42) Behind-the-scenes of “Amour”, interview with Michael Haneke and the cast.
  • Q&A with Michael Haneke – (38:55) Film Independent Q&A interview at LACMA with Michael Haneke.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (1:59) Theatrical trailer for “Amour”.

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As I finished watching Michael Haneke’s “Amour”, there is a part of me that scares me.  

It’s the inevitable of knowing that you and your spouse will grow old but also will face a health crisis or even death.  No one wants to think about such a thing but for any living human being, we know it’s inevitable.

May it be cancer, heart attack, stroke or Alzheimer’s, some of us may have experienced it through a family member or friend and wonder and hope that it’s something we don’t have to face.

But “Amour” is a film that makes you think about life and if you were with your spouse for decades until your old age, how much suffering can one tolerate or will you tolerate.

I think about my grandmother who died of a brain aneurism and seeing my grandfather, who loved my grandmother so much, slowly start to die because his wife was no longer there.  I see my grandfather now with Alzheimer’s and it’s hard for me because a few years ago, he was a man that was always discussing today’s news and his favorite sports teams but now, his memories are reduced to when he was younger but of all grandchildren, he remembers me.  But seeing how my grandmother has to take care of him and I know it’s hard for her.

This film reinforces emotions that a lot of us don’t want to think about, but we do.  And when we do, it’s a natural fear.  For those of us who are married, you want to live a long life with your loved one, but when one becomes sick, has cancer, has a stroke or some unfortunate health problem, we are defenseless.  Our love helps keep us strong for that person, to be for that person.  But yet, what if that person does not want you to see them suffering or slowly deteriorating?

For those who are familiar with Haneke’s films, there is always a pervasive, unsettling mood about each of his films. In fact, you can always expect his films to shock you in some sort of way. And with his award-winning film “Amour”, it is no exception.

A non-sentimental film about long-lasting love but how that love can be tested. What happens when an elderly couple face the greatest challenge in their lives. A film that is among Haneke’s most personal and one of his best, the film boasts magnificent performances from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.

Trintignant as Georges, the loving husband and caretaker who is torn by his love to take care of his wife Anne (Riva), while Anne before her second stroke knows that this is not the life that she wants to live. Paralyzed and having her husband having to now do everything for her.

But after her second stroke, its the performance that further makes us know that these two legendary talents have put on one of their most magnificent performances on screen.  Watching Riva play woman who is no longer able to talk, a woman who’s health can not get any better and just watching these two together is so heartbreaking, it was very hard to watch.  But both manage to take on the role of these characters with amazing efficacy.

But please do not be misguided by the title of the film and think this is a film about love or happy endings. The film is heartbreaking, bleak and even for me, quite difficult to watch. And even after watching it and typing this…it’s not a film that I don’t think I can forget. Unsettling… but definitely one of Haneke’s best.

As for the Blu-ray release, “Amour” features very good picture quality.  One should not expect vibrant colors as many shots are indoors and lighting is a bit subdued but the contrast and detail are very good on Blu-ray.  Lossless audio is restricted to dialogue and music but both are crystal clear.  You also get a few special features included as well.

Overall, “Amour” is a devastating, intelligent and unsettling masterpiece from filmmaker Michael Haneke.  There are many films that confront fear but when you confront an inevitable fear that many people will experience one day, you will need masterful performances to pull it off and both legendary talents Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva deliver!

A highly recommend film and Blu-ray release but I strongly caution viewers that it may be difficult for some to watch.

The Company You Keep (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 7, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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“The Company You Keep” is a riveting political action thriller featuring an all-star cast!  It’s an exciting, smart film that will no doubt entertain you from beginning to end.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2013 TCYK, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Company You Keep

FILM RELEASE: 2012

DURATION: 122 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:40:1 aspect ratio, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (For Language)

Release Date: August 13, 2013

Directed by Robert Redford

Screenplay by Lem Dobbs

Based on the novel by Neil Gordon

Produced by Nicolas Carter, Bill Holderman, Robert Redford

Executive Producer: Craig J. Flores, Shawn Williamson

Associate Producer: Jonathan Shore

Music by Cliff Martinez

Cinematography by Adriano Goldman

Edited by Mark Day

Casting by Avy Kaufman, Maureen Webb

Production Design by Laurence Bennett

Art Direction by Jeremy Stanbridge

Set Decoration by Carol Lavallee

Costume Design by Karen L. Matthews

Starring:

Robert Redford as Jim Grant/Nick Sloan

Shia LaBeouf as Ben Shepard

Julie Christie as Mimi Lurie

Susan Sarandon as Sharon Solarz

Nick Nolte as Donal Fitzgerald

Chris Cooper as Daniel Sloan

Terrence Howard as FBI Agent Cornelius

Stanley Tucci as Ray Fuller

Richard Jenkins as Jed Lewis

Anna Kendrick as Diana

Brendan Gleeson as Henry Osborne

Brit Marling as Rebecca Osborne

Sam Elliott as Mac Mcleod

Stephen Root as Billy Cusimano

Jackie Evancho as Isabel Grant

One of Hollywood’s most acclaimed filmmakers and actors, Robert Redford directs and stars as Jim Grant, a lawyer and single father revealed to be the fugitive leader of a 1970s radical antiwar protest group by intrepid reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBoeuf). Grant is forced to run and confront those he left behind decades ago to protect himself from the FBI. But as Shepard delves deeper into the story, he realizes that there is more to Grant than meets the eye. Featuring Julie Christie, Sam Elliot, Richard Jenkins, Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP is packed with powerful suspense and brilliant performances.

In 2003, author Neil Gordon’s novel “The Company You Keep” was released.  And for actor/director/producer Robert Redford (“The Horse Whisperer”, “The Sting”, “Spy Game”), he happened to enjoy the book so much, that he wanted to make a film adaptation of the novel.

Featuring a screenplay by Lem Dobbs (“Dark City”, “The Score”, “The Hard Way”), the film would win the “Giovani Giurati del Vittorio Veneto Film Festival Award” and “Open Prize” and the Venice Film Festival and the film would go on to receive positive reviews from film critics.

The film would feature an all-star cast which includes Redford in the lead role, Shia LaBeouf (“Transformers” films, “Lawless”), Julie Christie (“Doctor Zhivago”, “Fahrenheit 451″, “Finding Neverland”), Susan Sarandon (“Thelma & Louise”, “The Client”, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”), Nick Nolte (“48 Hours”, “The Thin Red Line”, “Cape Fear”), Chris Cooper (“American Beauty”, “The Bourne Identity”, “Adaptation”), Terrence Howard (“Iron Man”, “Hustle & Flow”, “Crash”), Stanley Tucci (“The Hunger Game”, “The Terminal”, “The Devil Wears Prada”), Richard Jenkins (“Jack Reacher”, “The Cabin in the Woods”, “Step Brothers”), Anna Kendrick (“Pitch Perfect”, “Up in the Air”, “50/50″), Brendan Gleeson (“Troy”, “Gangs of New York”, “Braveheart”), Brit Marling (“Another Earth”, “Arbitrage”, “The East”), Sam Elliott (“Hulk”, “Up in the Air”, “Tombstone”) and singer Jackie Evancho.

“The Company You Keep” begins with an introduction of extremism that grew in America in a fight against the Vietnam War.  One of the extremist groups was the Weather Underground.

The film would then feature Sharon Solarz (portrayed by Susan Sarandon) saying goodbye to her family.  She goes to the nearest gas station and immediately is arrested by federal authorities.

It is revealed that Sharon Solarz is a former member of the Weather Underground, a group that has been wanted by federal authorities for a 1980 Michigan bank robbery which left a bank security guard dead.    Wanting to write about the arrest is an ambitious reporter named Ben Shepard (portrayed by Shia LaBeouf) of the Albany Sun Times.  His editor Ray Fuller (portrayed by Stanley Tucci) assigns him to follow up on the story.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to Jim Grant (portrayed by Robert Redford), a single father who is raising his young 11-year-old daughter Isabel (portrayed by Jackie Evancho).  Jim’s wife and Isabel’s mother was killed in a car accident and the two have been trying to get back into live their lives but Jim knows that his daughter is still hurting and he has to be there for her.

A successful lawyer, he is asked by former client, Billy Cusimano (portrayed by Stephen Root) who is friends with Sharon Solarz if he can represent her in court.  But Jim doesn’t want to take any major cases because of his wife’s death and he wants to focus on raising his daughter, so he declines to represent Solarz but gives Billy a phone number of another lawyer.

As Ben goes to the FBI to get some information from FBI agent Diana (portrayed by Anna Kendrick), a woman he once dated back in college.  With Ben prodding for more info., she gives him the name of Billy Cusimano, a man that they have wiretapped and was in contact with Sharon Solarz before she was arrested.

When Ben goes to visit Cusimano, Ben finds out that he went to Jim Grant first, but he declined such a major case.  This leads to Ben trying to contact Jim and wondering why he would bypass such a major case.  He meets with Jim but he gets nothing from there meeting, so Ben begins to investigate Jim Grant and he finds out that before 1979 and finds a copy of Jim Grant’s California death certificate  The more he starts to investigate, he realizes that Jim Grant is actually Nick Sloan, a former member of the Weather Underground.

Jim realizes that he is about to be outted as a member of the Weather Underground and be implicated for murdering a security guard, which will take him away from his daughter. So, instead of taking Isabel to school in the morning, both leave on a father and daughter trip, which is actually a goodbye for Jim as he plans to have his brother Daniel (portrayed by Chris Cooper) watch over his daughter and makes him a temporary guardian.

When Ben’s article outing Jim Grant as Nick Sloan, the news receives media attention.  So much that Sharon Solarz will grant one media interview and that would be with Ben.  And through the interview, Ben learns that in the Weather Underground, they fought for what they believed in, against big corporations and the government.  When Ben tries to ask about Jim Grant/Nick Sloan, she reveals that Nick and another member named Mimi were a couple.

As the FBI led by FBI Agent Cornelius (portrayed by Terrence Howard) try to find Nick Sloan, Jim is meeting up with former Weather Underground members for some reason.  Meanwhile, Ben starts to wonder why Nick/Jim’s actions is not of a guilty man but appears that he’s trying to look for someone.  Could that someone be a person that may have information that Jim/Nick is innocent of his crime?

VIDEO:

“The Company You Keep” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1). There are many scenes that are shot outdoors and so, outdoor scenes are colorful and vibrant. Closeup of characters faces provide quite a bit of detail, colors are warm and black levels during darker scenes are nice and deep, didn’t notice any crush, artifacts or banding. If anything, picture quality for this film on Blu-ray is very good!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Company You Keep” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The film is primarily dialogue driven but there are moments where crowd ambiance or police vehicles or helicopters are heard through the surround channels.  For the most part, dialogue and music is crystal clear through the center and front channels and the lossless soundtrack is appropriate for this film.

Subtitles are in English and English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Company You Keep” comes with the following special features:

  • Behind the Scenes: The Movement – (12:14) Interviews with the cast and behind-the-scenes footage from the film.
  • Behind the Scenes: The Script, Preparation and the Cast - (17:52) The cast talks about the unfinished script that was being modified, preparation to adapt the novel to a film and casting.
  • On the Red Carpet – (2:20) A look at the cast and crew on the red carpet for “The Company You Keep”.
  • The Company You Keep Press Conference – (13:19) An press conference with Robert Redford, Jackie Evancho, Stanley Tucci and Brit Marling.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:12) Theatrical trailer for “The Company You Keep”.

A riveting political action thriller featuring an all-star cast!

Director, producer and actor Robert Redford does a wonderful job as the main character on the run from the FBI in order to prove his innocence.

“The Company You Keep” does draw comparisons to one of the biggest news stories of the early ’70s, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army.

A real life story that took place in the early ’70s which captured America, in which the Hearst newspaper heiress was kidnapped in 1974 by the SLA and two months later, was seen as a new member of the SLA and were seen robbing banks.  Hearst was described as a victim of Stockholm Syndrome (when hostages express sympathy or empathy for their captors), she was caught and arrested alongside Wendy Yoshimura, another SLA member who was involved a bank heist gone bad and a customer named Myrna Opsahl was shot and killed.  Various members have remained fugitives for years, one member Kathleen Ann Soliah lived as a housewife under the name Sara Jane Olson but was arrested in 2001 as being part of the crime (and was later released after seven years in prison).

In the case of “The Company You Keep”, the Weather Underground has similarities with the SLA but were created as a voice to retaliate against the Vietnam War and in this case, take action for what they believed in.

But for “The Company You Keep”, there is a twist.  The main character of Jim/Nick was a member of the Weather Underground and is wanted for his role in the murder of a security guard.

The film tries to build sympathy for Jim, the upstanding citizen/lawyer, widowed father raising his young 11-year-old daughter.  Until it was revealed that he is a wanted man for a bank robbery/murder that happened 30-years ago.  While the film plays out like a cat and mouse game as the FBI agents are on the move to capture him, because there are a number of Weather Underground members across America, Jim/Nick tries to meet up with each of them in order to find a woman named Mimi.

Meanwhile, the reporter Ben Shepard who was responsible for outting Jim Grant as Nick starts to wonder why Jim’s actions are not of a person who is guilty and trying to run away.  The pieces left behind appear as he is trying to prove his innocence.  And the more Ben starts to dig and learn about the secrets of the Weather Underground, the more he learns that many people’s live can be destroyed.

The film benefits from its riveting storyline and its all-star cast.

Robert Redford does a good job playing the stoic character but also showing that he has what it takes to quickly climb a gate at 76-years-old, playing the role of a man who is in his late 50’s or 60’s, so I give Redford credit that even now, he still has it within him to play these action roles, he even takes his shirt off onscreen.  I know many critics felt Redford was much too old to play this role, but if we didn’t know he was 76, would anyone ever question him playing the role?  Probably not.

Shia LaBeouf plays the job of an ambitious reporter very well, maybe a bit too well as he is always a step-ahead of the FBI and a guy who appears to have done quite well in sweet talking with the ladies, the role is probably the most mature role I have seen LaBeouf play since his 2005 golfing film “The Great Game Ever Played”.

While each of the star talents featured in the film have short roles, for me, it added to the enjoyment of the film (especially for the fact that he was able to get these talents on a smaller budget). Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins as a former WU members, Stanley Tucci as the editor, Anna Kendrick and Terrence Howard as the FBI agents and the “Britain Got Talent” music star, Brit Marling as an adopted daughter of a former police investigator that was investigating the bank heist case in the past, Jackie Evancho as the daughter of Jim Grant, and more!

But I did enjoy the film on how it takes on ’60s radicalism but also discussing the carelessness of modern journalism.  If the film came out 20-years ago, I would have felt this film would have an amazing impact.  For the American extremist groups that came out of the Vietnam War, there are those who were alive to remember how things were back in the ’70s.  People who remember the Patty Hearst case or even Jane Fonda voicing her opinion on Vietnam War, people who remember a time when people were passionate to fight about what they believed in, despite some engaging in tactics that were wrong.

But now, some groups around the world have gone beyond using words to debate what they believed in.  In today’s world, when we hear extremism, we worry about how far these people will go not to fight or hurt corporations and governments but hurting innocent lives as a revenge against American political behavior.

Sarandon’s role as Sharon Solarz tries to emphasize during an interview between her and the reporter Ben Shepard, that they fought in what they believed in. When she asks Ben the same question, part of me felt there was a message that young people were more vocal then than they are now.  Meanwhile, a juxtaposition of Jim/Nick’s character who seems to have grown up from his former group and realized that being vocal is good but taking part in dangerous, risky and criminal tactics was wrong.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality for the film is very good with wonderful detail upon closeups of the characters, I saw no artifacts or banding.  As for its lossless audio track, dialogue is crystal clear but this is not an action film.  Sure, you get moments of a helicopter flying above or police cars with sirens on, chasing another car.  But one should not expect any major action scenes from Redford, aside from the actor jumping a fence.  There are a few special features included with the Blu-ray release, especially a press conference with Redford and a few of the talents of the film.

Overall, “The Company You Keep” is a riveting political action thriller featuring an all-star cast!  It’s an exciting, smart film that will no doubt entertain you from beginning to end.

Recommended!

 

At Any Price (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 7, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ramin Bahrani’s “At Any Price” is an entertaining and fascinating film that provides insight to modern agriculture, its competitive nature but how far farmers will go to be the best in the business.    Featuring a wonderful performance from Dennis Quaid!  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2013 Farm Film LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: At Any Price

FILM RELEASE: 2012

DURATION: 104 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:35:1 aspect ratio, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (For Sexual Content, Including a Strong Graphic Image and for Language)

Release Date: August 27, 2013

Directed by Ramin Bahrani

Screenplay by Ramin Bahrani, Hallie Elizabeth Newton

Producer: Ramin Bahrani, Pamela Koffler, Justin Nappi, Teddy Schwarzman, Kevin Turen, Christine Vachon

Executive Producer: Mohammed Al Turki, Ron Curtis, Eric Nyari, Brian Young

Co-Producer: Declan Baldwin, Andrew Levitas

Line Producer: Gary Giudice

Associate Producer: Summer Shelton, Ben Stillman

Music by Dickon Hinchliffe

Cinematograpy by Michael Simmonds

Edited by Affonso Goncalves

Casting by Douglas Aibel

Production Design by Chad Keith

Art Direction by Jonathan Guggenheim

Set Decoration by Adam Willis

Costume Design by Tere Duncan

Starring:

Dennis Quaid as Henry Whipple

Kim Dickens as Irene Whipple

Aaron B. Oduber as Young Dean Whipple

Jacob R. Oduber as Young Grant Whipple

Zac Efron as Dean Whipple

Patrick W. Stevens as Grant Whipple

Guy Massey as Funeral Pastor

John Hoogenakker as Mr. Pritchard

Laura Atwood as Mrs. Pritchard

Dan Waller as Larry Brown

Maika Monroe as Cadence Farrow

In the competitive world of modern agriculture, ambitious HENRY WHIPPLE (Dennis Quaid) wants his rebellious son DEAN (Zac Efron) to help expand his family’s farming empire. However, Dean has his sights set on becoming a professional race car driver. When a high-stakes investigation into their business is exposed, father and son are pushed into an unexpected crisis that threatens the family’s entire livelihood.A farming family’s business is threatened by an unexpected crisis, further testing the relationship between a father and his rebellious son.

In America’s heartland, farmers are facing increasing competition and for many, the rule for survival is to expand.  But how far will farmers go to expand?

This is what filmmaker Ramin Bahrani (“Chop Shop”, “Plastic Bag”, “Goodbye Solo”) wanted to find out.

Going to Iowa and to stay and learn from farmers, talk about what is happening with today’s farms and learning that farmers are facing not only competition but facing pressure of selling their land because no siblings want to pursue the farming lifestyle but also the risks of not having enough to compete with the most powerful farmers.

And from this experience, Ramin came up with the idea to write and direct the film “At Any Price” which stars Dennis Quaid (“The Day After”, “Vantage Point”, “Frequency”), Zac Efron (“17 Again”, “High School Musical”, “The Lucky One”), Heather Graham (“Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”, “Boogie Nights”, “The Hangover”), Kim Dickens (“The Blindside”, Hollow Man”, “House of Sand and Fog”) and Maika Monroe (“The Bling Ring”).

“At Any Price” revolves around the dysfunctional Whipple family.

Henry Whipple is the patriarch who runs the Whipple family farm that was created by his great grandfather and is expected to continue the business by his father.  As an enterprising farmer, the Whipple’s are in the business of genetically modified corn seed and is the top seed salesman in seven southern Iowa counties for a major agribusiness corporation.  And always striving to be the best in the competitive farming business, Henry knows that expansion is the key of being on top and he often attends funerals of farmers in order to give deals to families of buying out their land.

Seen by grieving families as “sharks”, Henry knows that chances are that siblings are not wanting to run the farm and rather sell, so he tries to teach the business to his youngest son Dean (portrayed by Zac Efron), a young man who rather race cars than run a farm.

As Henry’s wife Irene (portrayed by Kim Dickens) tries to make sure everything goes well in the home and both husband and wife follow the adventures of their oldest son Grant (portrayed by Patrick W. Stevens), a college football standout and one traveling the world instead of wanting to come home and run the family farm.  Eventually, Henry worries about who will continue the family business if he passes and if his sons will take it over.  With Grant going off on travels and not coming home, Henry begins to think that maybe Dean is the son that can run the family farm.  Problem is, he knows that Dean is wanting to pursue racing.

For Dean, he’s not close to his father. He sees his father focused more on the “family farming business” than his own kids and puts a lot of pressure on them to take over the family farm.  So, Dean tends to get into trouble, vandalizing stores in town and hanging out with his girlfriend Cadence Farrow (portrayed by Maika Monroe) and his friends, getting drunk and having fun.

But his dreams is to race pro, having won the local stock racing tournaments.

But for the Whipple’s, their rivals are the Johnson family.  Jim Johnson has further broken into Henry’s farming territory and taking one of his counties and setting himself to be the #1 seed seller in the region, while his son Brad (portrayed by Ben Marten) is Dean’s rival on the race track.  The competition between both families of being #1 is tough.

And in trying to be #1, that may include doing things that you’re not proud of.  And for Henry, his life starts to change when he is investigated for illegal seeding practices (selling used seeds) and now wondering who may have ratted him out.

So, the stress is high for Henry as he cheats on his wife with the younger Meredith (portrayed by Heather Graham), who also has her eyes on his son, Dean.  He also has to deal with a father who puts pressure on him for not damaging the reputation of the farming business that the Whipple family had created long ago.  But Henry may have to deal with a son, the future of the Whipple farming business, in ways that he never thought would ever happen.

VIDEO:

“At Any Price” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1).  There are many scenes that are shot outdoors and so, outdoor scenes are colorful and vibrant.  Closeup of characters faces provide quite a bit of detail, colors are warm and black levels during darker scenes are nice and deep, didn’t notice any crush, artifacts or banding.  If anything, picture quality for this film on Blu-ray is very good!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“At Any Price” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  The film is primarily dialogue and music and is center/front channel-driven.  There are moments with surround use via ambiance with crowds or the sounds of overhead aircraft and stock car racing scenes.  But the lossless soundtrack is crystal clear and for a film such as “At Any Price”, is appropriate.

Subtitles are in English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“At Any Price” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Ramin Bahrani and Dennis Quaid.
  • Toronto International Film Festival Q&A – (13:36) An audience Q&A with Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Kim Dickens and Maika Monroe.
  • Rehearsal Footage – (5:35) Prior to the film being made, Ramin Bahrani shot rehearsal footage with other actors on his digital camera. Featuring four scenes.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:18) Theatrical trailer for “At Any Price”.

I have known many farmers in my lifetime.  Having been raised in an agricultural area, I learned a lot about the issues faces California farmers.  But “At Any Price” shown me a perspective of today’s modern agriculture that I was not familiar with.  The business of genetically modified seeds but also logical issues that pertain to farmers in relation to expansion but also an aging demographic of family farming businesses that are threatened primarily because no other family member wants to take on the farming business.

The story of “At Any Price” is rather interesting because filmmaker Ramin Bahrani had six months to stay and live with farmers and learn about the business.  While the film is not about any major corporation that specializes in seeds, Ramin presents an interesting storyline of how far farmers would go to continue to be on top.  May it be through expansion or by making sure the family stays dominant in their state through interesting farming practices.

In the case of the Whipple family, as featured in the film, the family patriarch is Henry Whipple, a man who thrives on being the #1 seed salesman in Iowa.  Having seven counties that he is responsible for, Henry is a man who puts on a forced smile in his face, attending funerals of deceased farmers and approaching to buy their farmland.

He is seen like a shark but the truth is that some of these deceased farmers have no one to watch or maintain the farm, children have moved out of the area to pursue other business and he knows that.  He does his research on the individuals and it’s a business that he may not be proud of but he knows that it ensures the Whipple family business to be the top in the state.

But like other farmers, he deals with children who are not so interested in the farming business.  For generation after generation, the family business has been pass down to the sons of the family but his oldest, a talented college football player, prefers to travel, while the youngest, prefers to race cars and go after his dream of becoming a professional race car driver.

While many films do have the banal tone of hardworking father never having time with the family and thus is seen like an outsider to the family, in today’s modern agriculture, its one of the sacrifices for business success and that is to focus on the business, take care of the land and do his father proud.  And depending on the wife to focus on the family.

“At Any Price” is a story with a juxtaposition, a father who would do anything for the business and then you have the youngest son, Dean, the future racer or the future owner of the Whipple family business.

Dean has a hot temper.  Not interested in the family business, all he cares about is winning races and being with his friends and girlfriend.   He hates his father interfering with his life and feels that his father put so much into business and now that they are older, he cares for them to take over the family business.  Suffice to say, there are significant father and son issues in this film but things head to a very dark path when all hell breaks loose.

But for the sake of the family business, how far would one go?

“At Any Price” at first resembles something that is a slice of life for Americans in the Plain States, Ramin Bahrani then knows how to take the film to a different place when something very bad takes place and the film’s tone changes drastically, in a good way.

Part of the film’s efficacy relies on the talented Dennis Quaid.  We have seen great work from Dennis Quaid in the past, but this is a role in which the actor is able to show that he still has it!  Playing a businessman who has been morally compromised and the typical American family not pure but flawed and suffice to say, things do get dark.

Zac Efron plays the hothead teenager, Dean, who gets himself in quite a bit of trouble but for the most part, the scenes with both father and son are the most explosive and emotional, and becomes the better performances of the film.

Actress Heather Graham also makes an appearance in the film but in this role of Meredith, she may as well be the town’s floozie, who has a sexual liaison with the married Henry and yet also wanting to hook up with his son Dean.

Possibly the most interesting supportive role goes to Maika Monroe who play’s Dean’s girlfriend Cadence.  Because Dean is not around, Henry decides to mentor Dean’s girlfriend, and she eventually is the important connection to the story of Henry’s illegal farming practice.  I don’t know too many girlfriends who would help their boyfriend’s father with farming but it was an interesting role, and how she is utilized by Bahrani.

A major plot that does happen in the film is surrounding the use of seeds.  This is where I was not too familiar with the practice of seeds, but in America, there are major corporations that specialize in production and selling these genetically modified seeds to farmers.  The reason why Henry is being investigated is because he allegedly purchases these seeds from a major seed company, washes them and replants them.  This is illegal because the seeds are patented intellectual property and farmers must pay for each time the seeds are used.   Because Henry buys the land from other farmers who are deceased and possibly buy them from a major company that they were contracted with, he takes the seeds, rewashes them and resells them.

But with the investigators now wanting to test his crop to see if his seeds are in fact his or came from the genetically modified seeds and if so, he can be fined as seeds are patented.

There are various court cases in regards to the farming industry and seeds but to see it in the film, it was an eye-opener to know that farmers have to pay for seeds every year and are not allowed to re-use the ones they have.  But also the issues that farmers face in America’s heartland.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is great.  Most of the scenes are outdoors, colors are vibrant and as for lossless audio, while a front-channel driven soundtrack, there are moments where you hear aircraft flying overhead or crowd ambiance.  And there is a good number of special features including an audio commentary and Q&A at a film festival.

Overall, Ramin Bahrani’s “At Any Price” is an entertaining and fascinating film that provides insight to modern agriculture, its competitive nature but how far farmers will go to be the best in the business.    Featuring a wonderful performance from Dennis Quaid!  Recommended!

West of Memphis (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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“West of Memphis” is a powerful, thought provoking documentary that will no doubt anger you but also inspire you to possibly spread the word in hopes that there will be justice for three young children and create awareness for the case to be re-opened and the real killer(s) to be caught.  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2012 Fearless Films, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: West of Memphis

FILM RELEASE: 2012

DURATION: 147 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (For Language)

Release Date: August 6, 2013

Directed by Amy Berg

Written by Amy Berg and Billy McMillin

Produced by Amy Berg, Lorri Davis, Damien Wayne Echols, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh

Co-Producer: Matthew Dravitzki

Line Producer: Tina Elmo, Dan Kaplow

Associate Producer: Katelyn Howes, Alejandra Riguero

Executive Producer: Ken Kamins

Music by Nick Cave, Warren Ellis

Cinematography by Maryse Alberti, Ronan Killeen

Edited by Billy McMillin

Starring:

Michael Baden

Jason Baldwin

Holly Ballard

Jamie Clark Ballard

Jennifer Bearden

Patrick Benca

Steve Braga

Karen Bruewer

David Burnett

Mark Byers

Michael Carson

Dennis Carter

Joyce Cureton

Lorri Davis

Vincent Di Maio

Julie Ann Doan

Stephanie Dollar

John Douglas

Jerry Driver

From Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker Amy Berg (2006, Best Documentary Feature, Deliver Us From Evil) in collaboration with the multiple Academy Award®-winning team of Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (2003, Best Picture & Best Adapted Screenplay, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), WEST OF MEMPHIS tells the untold story behind an extraordinary and desperate fight to stop the State of Arkansas from killing an innocent man. Told and produced by those who lived it, Damien Echols and Lorri Davis, the film uncovers new evidence surrounding the 1993 murders of three eight-year-old boys in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas, and exposes the wrongful conviction of three teenagers who lost 18 years of their lives imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.

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In 1993, three young boys were found murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas.  With “evidence” collected by law enforcement, the detectives assumed that the marks on the bodies of the children were due to satanic rituals and when it came to those practicing it, it led to three teenagers being arrested.

Damien Echols was sentenced to death, Jessie Misskelly, Jr. was sentenced to life imprisonment plus two 20-year sentences and Jason Baldwin was sentenced to life imprisonment.

It was supposed to be an open and shut case, until Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky created a documentary titled “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” in 1996.

As the film was shot primarily to document the arrests of the three teenagers, interview the parents of the victims, the parents of the accused and the West Memphis Police Department, the documentary would show how the community reacted to the murders.  But most importantly, how the star witness, Jessie Misskelly, Jr., a teenager who was mentally disabled was coerced by the police department.

Two more documentary sequels were made but the second film “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” would show that further evidence was missed and suppressed and that the teenagers were wrongfully convicted and the real murderer(s) are still out there.

Since the three documentaries, many people including celebrities have been blunt about the wrongful conviction of these three teenagers and have wanted to see justice by having the three freed from prison.

Due to new DNA evidence, the West Memphis Three reached a deal with prosecutors in 2011 in which they entered Alford pleas which allows them to assert their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict them.  Judge David Laser accepted each of the three individuals pleas and sentenced them to time served and each have served 18 years and 78 days in prison.

Wanting to pursue the case, Amy Berg (“Deliver Us from Evil”) and Billy McMillin worked on their own documentary following up with what Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky was able to document but with the financial support from filmmaker Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” films) and Fran Walsh (who wrote the screenplays to the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” films) to produce the film.

Featured in the film are Damien Echols and his wife Lorri Davis, both Damien and Lorri met while he began his prison sentence and Lorri would communicate with him via mail.  Knowing that Damien was innocent, she began doing her own research and trying to find a way to get him freed from prison.

The film begins with the introduction to the parents of the victims, discussing their last memory of their child.  With archived news footage and interviews with law enforcement, the discussion of how the bodies were found and the interrogation techniques of the West Memphis Police Department becomes scrutinized as they are seen to put words in the mouth of one of the alleged assailants, the mentally disabled, Jessie Misskelly, Jr.

But as the investigation hinged on one of the “experts” of satanic rituals who reportedly learned his techniques from one of the well-known forensic experts in the country, the expert is interviewed and tears apart the investigators believe that the mutilation of the victims were satanic but because the bodies were dumped in the river, where tortoises known to feast on anything living, especially loose flesh, the marks on the victims were animal not by satanic ritual.

Because of the evidence that three teens were wrongfully incarcerated, celebrities such as Henry Rollins, Eddie Vedder and others came to support the Memphis Three, especially towards Damien Echols (which the film focuses primarily on) and help raise money not for their release but for the three to have money to live on.

What is known that the children were beaten, bound by shoelaces and thrown in a ditch and one hair was found within the shoelace bindings.  The hair “not inconsistent with” Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Stevie Branch.

The storyline then starts to show what kind of man Terry Hobbs is.  From family who discuss how Stevie was abused by his stepfather and according to Stevie’s mother, hours before he died, he discussed wanting his mother to leave Terry Hobbs.

We start to learn about Hobbs past troubles and despite the mounting reports of troubles in regards to Hobbs behavior, Hobbs is a person who does not remember much of his past and insists he didn’t commit any crimes.  Meanwhile, filing a lawsuit he filed against Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines.

The third arc would feature the Memphis three and how the legal team worked hard to get the three released from prison.  The three were released from prison as part of an Alford plea deal but because of the Alford Deal, they are still listed as criminals and any misconduct can lead them back to prison.  The film focuses on the relationship between Damien Echols and Lorri Davis and together, fighting for his innocence.

“West of Memphis” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012 and the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2012.  On August 2012, “West of Memphis” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

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VIDEO:

“West of Memphis” is presented in 1080p High Definition  (1:78:1).  It’s important to note that this is a documentary that features various archive news sources from the last 18 years.  While the more modern footage looks great on Blu-ray, one should expect to see the archived sources to range in different quality.

Every time I see a movie that has archive footage in the middle mixed, you can immediately tell, and it kills my illusion. It’s like you’re watching something and it has a film star shot in super 35mm, or high end HD, and then you cut to this old video format or stock footage and it just looks so different. – See more at: http://www.bringthenoiseuk.com/201210/music/interviews/film-interview-pablo-larrain#sthash.c0tJDaQP.dpuf
Every time I see a movie that has archive footage in the middle mixed, you can immediately tell, and it kills my illusion. It’s like you’re watching something and it has a film star shot in super 35mm, or high end HD, and then you cut to this old video format or stock footage and it just looks so different. – See more at: http://www.bringthenoiseuk.com/201210/music/interviews/film-interview-pablo-larrain#sthash.c0tJDaQP.dpuf

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“West of Memphis” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  Dialogue is crystal clear, certain sound effects are employed for good dynamic range. But for the most part, dialogue from recent interviews and even the older archived footage is understandable and good.  This is not a documentary one should expect to hear their surround channels to be utilized but the dialogue and sound effects are clear and didn’t notice any problems with audio whatsoever.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“West of Memphis” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary - Featuring audio commentary with director Amy Berg, Damien Echols and Lorri Davisl.
  • Deleted Scenes – (1:27:43) Featuring seven deleted scenes.
  • Toronto International Film Festival Red Carpet & QA – (23:14) Director Amy Berg, producer Lorri Davis, producer Damien Echols,  Johnny Depp, Natalie Maines at TIFF and discussing the documentary.  Peter Jackson’s intro of how he got involved with the documentary and more.
  • Toronto Film Festival Press Conference – (38:49) The press conference for “West of Memphis” featuring Peter Jackson (on Skype), director Amy Berg, Producer Lorri Davis and Damien Echols and Johnny Depp.
  • Damien’s Past (Re-Creations) – (6:02) Archived footage from Damien’s past
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:04) Theatrical trailer for “West of Memphis”

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“West of Memphis” is a compelling documentary that will leave you speechless but also in anger knowing that the murderers of three innocent young boys has not been caught.

Amy Berg’s “West of Memphis” is not only well-researched but the amount of archived resources, interviews and how the film is paced, you can’t help but be shocked at one of America’s most f’d up wrongful convictions I have ever seen or heard of.

From the handling of evidence, the coercion of a mentally disabled young man in order to get a conviction against him and his two friends to terrible misinterpretation of a crime scene that not only was used to get a conviction.  And this is where the efficacy of Amy Berg’s research comes to play.

Whenever testimony of an “expert” was shown, we see notable experts come in and just tear apart the testimony of the prosecution.

And it was said many times that when you can spread fear, people are blinded by the fear and can be unaware of the facts.

This was the situation of the “Memphis Three”, teenagers who were seen as outsiders, dark and listened to music that most people the in the conservative town were not listening to.  If anyone was seen as an outsider by the way they look or their beliefs, does it make them guilty?

That is where a town turned against these teenagers because they were practicing “satanic rituals” and with corroboration with other students of what these outsiders told them, these words became truth and it would mount “evidence” that these teenagers were evil and murdered three teenagers.

What is sad is the film shows how small town authorities may not be trained sufficiently to handle homicides, specifically during that time. Contaminated evidence, suppression of evidence.  One of the most damning eyewitness accounts was a young woman who saw the young boys before they were killed and saw one of their fathers near them.

Yet, the authorities didn’t even bother interviewing these eyewitnesses.  There vision was narrowed on these outsiders, teens who practiced satanic rituals.  Especially, when there is possibly another murderer out there, as the documentary shows, may be closer to these children than one would realize.

The documentary is also notable for creating awareness for these men who were released in 2011 under the Alford plea deal.  And what is unfortunate is that these men are still branded as criminals who served time and were released.  And if they get in trouble again, back to prison they go.  Many want to see these three young men pardoned, many want the case to be reopened so the real killer(s) can be caught.

As of 2013, since this movie was released, a bombshell was revealed in an affidavit by one of the mothers of a boy killed in the “West Memphis Three” case.  And this latest affidavit will no doubt anger one who has watched this documentary and just wants to see justice finally take its place.

I understand there are people who feel the three young men are still guilty but with the new evidence and more and more coming out about certain individuals, who may be involved in the children’s murder, one can’t help but want to see justice for these children.

As I think about this film, how much I was angered by it but also glad to see the men freed and now be able to live their lives, you also can’t help but be grateful to Amy Berg and Billy McMillin on taking on this powerful documentary.  Also, to be grateful for Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh to help produce this film.  But also the other celebrities who have helped build awareness for the case and the current situation for Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelly, Jr.

The unfortunate situation about what we saw happen in “West of Memphis” and the topic of wrongful convictions, unfortunately even with new technology today, many cases of wrongful convictions still continue in our country and around the world.  Many people in law enforcement, especially in smaller towns who may not be trained to handle certain homicides, evidence or even interrogations.  People who are quick to judge and condemn individuals without the facts.  It’s an unfortunate part of society and “West of Memphis” is a small example of injustice in judicial history, but unlike the “Memphis Three” who have had celebrities and films to build their awareness to their case, there are many people who don’t have that luxury and betting their lives that their sentences can be appealed.

While I’m not an erudite to all that happened in this case, “West of Memphis” does build  upon interviews with well-known people in the field to know what went wrong in this case.  The research that went into this film and the people that Berg and McMillin were able to get for interviews was a strong point to this film, especially with the number of archived footage since 1993.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is good for the modern footage but as one can expect from a documentary with archived material, picture quality will differ.  Dialogue is clear and understandable and there are a good number of special features included.

Overall, “West of Memphis” is a powerful, thought provoking documentary that will no doubt anger you but also inspire you to possibly spread the word in hopes that there will be justice for three young children and create awareness for the case to be re-opened and the real killer(s) to be caught.

Highly recommended!

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