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

August 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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“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.

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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!

No (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

It was great to see a film that focused on strategy, employment of tactics and a film that was intellectual and fascinating. Pablo Larrain’s “No” is smart, creative and a film that I recommend!

Images courtesy of © 2012, 2013 Participant Media No Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: No

FILM RELEASE: 2012

DURATION: 118 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD MA,  Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (For Language)

Release Date: June 25, 2013

Directed by Pablo Larrain

Screenplay by Pedro Peirano

Play written by Antonio Skarmeta

Produced by Daniel Marc Dreifuss, Juan de Dios Larrain, Pablo Larrain

Music by Carlos Cabezas

Cinematography by Sergio Armstrong

Edited by Andrea Chignoli

Art Direction by Estefania Larrain

Set Decoration by Maria Eugenia Hederra

Starring:

Gael Garcia Bernal as Rene Saavedra

Alfredo Castro as Lucho Guzman

Luis Gnecco as Jose Tomas Urrutia

Nestor Cantillana as Fernando

Antonia Zegers as Veronica Carvajal

Marcial Tagle as Alberto Arancibia

Pascal Montero as Simon Saavedra

Jaime Vadell as Minister Fernandez

Elsa Poblete as Carmen

Diego Munoz as Carlos

Roberto Farias as Marcelo

Based on a true story, when Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet, facing international pressure, calls for a referendum on his presidency in 1988, opposition leaders persuade a brash young advertising executive, Rene Saavedra, to spearhead their campaign. With scant resources and constant scrutiny by the despot’s watchmen, Saavedra and his team devise an audacious plan to win the election and free their country from oppression.

Back in 2006, Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain received critical acclaim for his film “Fuga”, followed my success with two more films, “Tony Manero” and “Post Mortem”.

But having grown up in a political family tied to the right wing, Larrain had nothing in common with the right and considered himself anti-Pinochet (August Pinoche was an army general and dictator of Chile from 1973 to 1981).

Larrain felt that with Augusto Pinochet in power, the Pinochet government was responsible for destroying culture and writers and artists were persecuted under his dictatorship.

But in 1988, a Chilean national plebiscite (a referendum on whether President Augusto Pinochet should remain in office for another eight years) was held and during that time, for 27 nights, those who supported or were against Pinochet would have 15 minutes per night to present their point of view and get people to vote.

For this unprecedented election in Chile, it would become the source for Pablo Larrain’s fourth film titled “No” starring Mexican film actor and director Gael Garcia Bernal (“Y tu mama tambien”, “The Motorcycle Diaries”, “Babel”).  The film would be nominated for a “Best Foreign Language Film” at the 85th Academy Awards.

The 2012 film takes place in 1988 and a Chilean national plebiscite is to be held.  Rene Saavedra (portrayed by Gael Garcia Bernal) is a successful advertisement director approached by the “No” side for consultation of their 15-minute advertising spots that would air on television for 27 nights, meanwhile his boss who is conservative wants him to be in charge of the “Yes” campaign and in return he would get a major account and make a lot of money.

Raising a son named Simone by himself, while his ex is with another man and often getting in trouble with the law as an activist, after seeing her beaten by law officials, he is more determined to consult the “No” advertising committee.

And in the beginning, the committee is more interested in showing how many people were tortured, how many people were incarcerated and the tyranny in the Pinochet dictatorship but Rene feels this is not the way to get people to vote.  He proposes a more upbeat promotional approach in order to entice people to vote.

But all is not well as the opposition tries to intimidate Rene and let them know they are watching his family.  But even with acts of trying to intimidate Rene, he is more determined in creating an advertising campaign that will lead people to vote against Pinochet.  But what kind of marketing campaign will he come up with?

VIDEO:

“No” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:40:1).  It’s important to note that for this film, cinematographer Sergio Armstrong used a 1983 U-Matic video camera because it was instrumental to blend the archival footage to the film and make it feel realistic.

In an interview with “Bring the Noise UK”, Pablo Larrain said, “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.”

So, the way the film was shot made it look like it was shot in the ’80s.  The film was not made to look fantastic in HD but to make sure the film and its archived footage blend well together and because of that, I do feel that Pablo Larrain and Sergio Armstrong managed to capture the era and blend both archived footage and modern footage shot with the U-Matic with efficacy.

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:

“No” is presented in Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  While the film is primarily dialogue-driven, there are scenes with crowds and a scene with a riot that can be heard through the surround channels.  But for the most part, the film is center and front-channel driven.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“No” come with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary - Featuring audio commentary with director Pablo Larrain and actor Gael Garcia Bernal.
  • Q&A with Gael Garcia Bernal  – (12:47) A Q&A with Gael Garcia Bernal at TIFF.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:43) Theatrical trailer for “No”

Typically when you watch political cinema in regards to an election, it tends to focus on strategies employed by both opposition parties.

From D.A Pennebaker’s documentary “The War Room” to films such as “The Contender”, “Election”, “Wag the Dog”, it’s primarily party-driven.

So, for Pablo Larrain to create a film that revolves around the marketing campaign during the 1988 Chilean national plebiscite, I found it quite intriguing because while these elections were featured on the news, I had no idea what kind of marketing campaign was used by the opposition against Army General Augusto Pinochet.

While we see the “Rock the Vote” campaigns in the U.S. bringing together celebrities and music artists to target the younger demographic, in Chile, they knew that those who weren’t sure they were going to vote were 60-year-old women and the younger voters.

Through research, they knew that older voters have been through the worst.  They have seen the worst and possibly knew of people who have experienced the worse from Pinochet’s government.  But at the same time, they are reluctant to vote, thinking that the election may be a scam, that the government would find a way to tamper with the voting system or even get them into trouble.

So, for the character of Rene Saavedra, a savvy advertising creator, he knew that he needed to reach out to these voters, not with the depressing or hard hitting facts of Pinochet’s government but to use celebrities, music and excitement that would get people to vote and make voting seem “cool”, especially as opposition to Pinochet’s government.

Despite  the intimidation tactics used by those in support of Pinochet’s government, the film focuses on Rene Saavedra’s  team employing tactics to shift public sympathy for the no-campaign.  And what they come up with is fascinating and well-executed.

While the film received international acclaim, in Chile, the film did receive criticism for focusing too much on the marketing campaign.  Genaro Arriagada who directed the “No” campaign felt there was too much focus on the advertising campaign and not the grassroot voter registration.  But for filmmaker Pablo Larrain, he defended the film as art not a documentary.

While I felt the film was smart, I felt the use of the U-Matic video camera was creative and added to the believability and enjoyability of the film.  I agree with Pablo Larrain that when you watch a documentary or a film that takes place in an era and the archived footage during these years of HD makes it seem unnatural, by going this direction for the film, I felt that Pablo Larrain was doing a great service to show that by using an older camera and achieving the look of the ’80s to go with the archived footage, worked to the film’s favor.

So, for this Blu-ray release, one should not approach the film expecting clear-cut detailed HD but expect a film that was capturing a look and feel of the ’80s where its archived footage would matchup to what you see in the film.  Lossless audio was good but primarily dialogue driven as is expected with this film.  And you get an audio commentary and Q&A segment for special features.

Overall, it was great to see a film that focused on strategy, employment of tactics and a film that was intellectual and fascinating. Pablo Larrain’s “No” is smart, creative and a film that I recommend!

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

June 19, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Gatekeepers” is a riveting and an explosive documentary.   From beginning to end, the shocking personal accounts, its presentation of material to the careful pacing of each topic presented, Dror Moreh’s documentary “The Gatekeepers” is powerful, thought-provoking and highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2012 Dror Moreh Productions Ltd., Les Films du Poisson SARL and Cinephil – Philippa Kowarsky Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Gatekeepers

FILM RELEASE: 2012

DURATION: 101 Minutes

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

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG-13

Release Date: July 9, 2013

Directed by Dror Moreh

Produced by Estelle Fialon, Philippa Kowarsky, Dror Moreh

Cinematography by Avner Shahaf

Edited by Oron Adar

Production Design by Doron Koren

Starring:

Ami Ayalon

Avi Dichter

Yuval Diskin

Carmi Gillon

Yaakov Peri

Avraham Shalon

Charged with overseeing Israel’s war on terror-both Palestinian and Jewish- the head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s Secret Service is present at the crossroads of every decision made. For the first time ever six former heads of the agency agreed to share their insights and reflect publicly on their actions and decisions. The Gatekeepers offers an exclusive account of the sum of their successes and failures. It validates the reasons that each man individually and the six as a group came to reconsider their hard-line positions and advocate a conciliatory approach toward their enemies based on a two-state solution.

The Shin Bet, better known internationally as the Israel Security Agency (ISA) is responsible for protecting Israel from terrorism and taking part in counter-terrorism activities in both Israel and Palestinian territories.

But with the escalating violence between the Israeli and Arab, where a cycle of violence has been rampant as the Shin Bet try to stop terrorism, their methods have also led to the deaths of innocents in surrounding areas and in response, retaliation which would lead to deaths of innocent people in Israel.

While the circle of violence seems to be unending with no sign of peaceful resolve for the Jewish or Palestinian people, the truth is that a lot of the major events in the history of Israel can be tied to the Shin Bet.

In order to give people not just in Israel but all over the world a chance to see how the Shin Bet has operated and their success and failures to Israel’s situations and response to terrorism, director Dror Moreh has created a documentary titled “The Gatekeepers” which interviews six former heads of the Shin Bet, who discuss some of the most troubling situations from their job during their involvement with the Israel Security Agency and how each man feels about their involvement in some of the success and failures in counter-terrorism in the last 40 years.

Taking three years to produce, “The Gatekeepers” was screened at various cinema locations in Israel but also has been screened at various film festivals, earning itself an Academy Award nomination for “Best Documentary”.

A stunning and thought-provoking film, “The Gatekeepers” will give you insight to what happened behind-the-scenes through accounts made by six former heads of the Shin Bet.

VIDEO:

“The Gatekeepers” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1).  Picture quality of the modern interviews look great but as one can expect from a documentary that utilizes archived footage, classic archived footage varies in quality.  But for the most part, the presentation of the film and how it looks overall, is done very well.  I’m not sure if certain bombing raids or targeted attacks from long distance missiles are actual footage or created by the French visual effects company Mac Guff, but for the most part, I was quite impressed with the amount of archived video and how it was presented for the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Gatekeepers” is presented in Hebrew 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  For this documentary, while most of it is front-channel dialogue with the interviews, the film employs special effects that utilize the surround channels, but for the most part, the film is dialogue-driven.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Gatekeepers” come with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary - Commentary by director Droh Moreh.
  • Q&A with Director Droh Moreh - (42:23) Droh Moreh talks about the making of the film, his feeling towards the growing conflict and answering questions from the audience.

As Americans, our knowledge of what is happening in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine have been limited to what we read or see from media coverage.

But fortunately, there is cinema that have shown us perspectives of why Israeli and Palestinians are fighting each other.  This is not something that has been going on for just decades, this conflict has been ongoing since the late 19th century.

People who are fighting for land (which either side recognizes as their own), their borders, security, water rights and many other reasons.  But whenever we see something on the news, it always goes to extremism.  One side does this, the other side takes action as retaliation and it repeats itself over and over again.

And as news reports can only give you a certain perspective, not very complete, report on what has happened since the ’60s, filmmaker Dror Moreh explored a perspective that many are not familiar with or knew about and that is the perspective through the Shin Bet, Israel’s Secret Service, through the mouths of six former heads of the agency.

We learn about the “Bus 300 Affair”, a 1984 incident where four Arab guerillas from the Gaza Strip hijacked the No. 300 bus from Tel Aviv to Ashkelon with 41 passengers.  The Israel military pursued the bus and shot the tires in which the bus stopped and in the stand off, two of them died and two Palestinian bus hijackers were captured.  The two hijackers were seen with the Israeli military, alive and well.  But Shin Bet Chief Avraham Shalom authorized the execution of the two terrorists.

The problem was that the Israeli military censor blacked out the coverage of the hijacking, but Hadashot photojournalst Alex Levac was able to take a photo of the hijacker fully alive and conscious.  But it caused an uproar by the Israeli public of how the hijackers were killed.

In “The Gatekeeers”, Dror Moreh questions the morality of the decision made by Avraham Shalom to execute them.  Why he gave the command but also inside knowledge of what took place is revealed through this interview.  What I found very disturbing in someways, was how Shalom reacted.  It was rather nonchalant and almost amoral, but in his mind, he saw it as executing terrorists that would have caused even more problems for the Israeli people and the shin Bet was about protecting their country.

With that being said, we see Shalom’s mindset, but also the mindset of other former Shin Bet heads who worked for him and how they felt about him.  That was rather interesting to see.  But despite Shalom not wanting to answer the questions at first, fortunately for this film, Dror Moreh was able to get much out of him.

We know that Shalom resigned for the incident and the cover-up but learn the political connection with the Shin Bet.  How political officials made many questionable calls that led to the deaths of innocents.

Back in 1993, one hoped for peace with the Oslo Accords in which  Israeli officials led by Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leaders from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) led by Yasser Arafat strived for peace.  But because of this, violence was still taking place and within Israel, the Shin Bet now had to worry about the growing discontent and extremism with the Jewish Underground, who carried out terror attacks on Palestinian officials.  And how their plan was to destroy the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

But it was interesting for me to see the discontent of these individuals towards Prime Minister/Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and then the assassination of Rabin by religious Zionist Yigal Amir, who opposed Rabin’s peace initiative.  Another failure within the Shin Bet who couldn’t protect him from being killed, but through “The Gatekeepers”, how it failed but also how they tried to get Rabin to wear a bulletproof vest.  But the truth was that the Shin Bet had the killer Amir under surveillance but stopped because they felt he was no threat to the PM’s life.

The film also goes into the Second Intifada which began in late Sept. 2000 and ended in 2005, the assassination of Yahya Ayyash and other prominent Hamas militants and the film goes into the mindset of each Shin Bet head about their thoughts on collateral damage (for example, getting faulty intel which leads to the bombing of a wrong building), the use of torture (how one man died when his head was shaken to hard) and the morality of targeted assassination (there is interesting discussion of how one man was assassinated through the use of a cel phone).

The information provided by each of the former heads of the Shin Bet are shocking, thought provoking but it’s their feelings of what is to happen in their area and how they feel about their former job and politicians.  When you watch “The Gatekeepers”, the use of tactics by the Shin Bet and their reasoning, will no doubt surprise you.

And I often wonder what kind of implications will come out of this film.  Positive or negative, the fact is that Dror Moreh was able to create a film and get out information from each of these former head of the Shin Bet.  These men gave intelligence information that I wonder how the Israeli government felt that certain incidents and thoughts behind them, now the public will know why.

As Moreh said in an interview with the LA Times, “I knew I had dynamite in my hands” after his interviews with the men.

While, the interviews are what set the tone in the film, Moreh was able to use archive footage and computer-generated imagery to make photography of that era come alive.  The video and photo footage is able to give people the visual means to process what these men are talking about and how destructive these incidents were.

You actually get to see live footage of people being targeted and assassinated using long range missiles or 1-ton bombs.

As for the Blu-ray, picture quality of the film is very good.  Like most documentaries, archived video will have different levels of quality but for the interviews and most of the presentation throughout the film, picture quality is good.  Use of sound effects is also well-employed through the 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack.  The special features including the audio commentary, especially the 42-minute Q&A with Dror Moreh is fascinating to watch, as the filmmaker gives his feelings towards the conflict and is much bleaker than how the former heads of Shin Bet felt in the interview.

Overall, “The Gatekeepers” is a riveting and an explosive documentary.   From beginning to end, the shocking personal accounts, its presentation of material to the careful pacing of each topic presented, Dror Moreh’s documentary “The Gatekeepers” is powerful, thought-provoking and highly recommended!

 

Smashed (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

February 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

“Smashed” benefits from its wonderful performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead but also for its gutsy ending.  There are too many people who choose not to solve their problems and are too comfortable with the way things were despite how much pain or trouble they get into.  May it be domestic abuse, gang affiliation, drug addiction and alcohol abuse, “Smashed” is a film that shows us that staying sober is not easy and it also means making tough choices for one’s survival.  A film worth watching!

Images courtesy of © 2012 Smashed, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Smashed

YEAR OF FILM: 2012

DURATION: 81 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: 1:85:1 – Anamorphic Widescreen, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese (Mandarin Traditional), Korean, Thai

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (For Alcohol Abuse, Language, Some Sensual Content and Brief Drug Use)

RELEASE DATE: February 26, 2013

Directed by James Ponsoldt

Written by Susan Burke, James Ponsoldt

Produced by Jennifer Cochis, Jonathan Schwartz, Andre Sperling, Zygi Wilf

Co-Produced: Stephanie Meurer, Stephen A. Ricci, Elise Salomon

Associate Producer: Alishe Beardeaux

Music by Andy Cabic, Eric D. Johnson

Cinematography by Tobias Datum

Edited by Suzanne Spangler

Casting by Avy Kaufman

Production Design by Linda Sena

Art Direction by Sarah M. Pott

Costume Design by Diaz

Starring:

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate Hannah

Aaron Paul as Charlie Hannah

Octavia Spencer as Jenny

Nick Offerman as Dave Davies

Mega Mullally as Principal Barnes

Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul, TV’s “Breaking Bad” ) are a young married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of music, laughter and drinking…especially the drinking. When Kate’s drinking leads her to dangerous places and her job as a school teacher is put into jeopardy, she decides to join AA and get sober. With the help of her new friend and sponsor Jenny (Octavia Spencer, The Help), and the vice principal at her school, the awkward, but well intentioned, Mr. Davies, Kate takes steps toward improving her health and life. Sobriety isn’t as easy as Kate had anticipated. Her new lifestyle brings to the surface a troubling relationship with her mother, facing the lies she’s told her employer (Megan Mullaly TV’s “Parks and Recreation” ) and calls into question whether or not her relationship with Charlie is built on love or just a boozy diversion from adulthood.

From filmmaker James Ponsoldt (“Off the Black”, “Junebug and Hurricane”) and writer Susan Burke comes the drama comedy “Smashed” which made its debut at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was the winner of the U.S. dramatic Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Independent Film Producing.

The film stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Final Destination 3″, “The Thing”, “Live Free or Die Hard”), Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”, “Mission: Impossible III”, “The Last House on the Left”), Octavia Spencer (“The Help”, “Being John Malkovich”, “Spider-Man”, “Seven Pounds”), Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”, “21 Jump Street”, “Sin City”) and Megan Mullally (“Will & Grace”, “Stealing Harvard”).

And the film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics in March 2013.

“Smashed” revolves around Kate Hannah (portrayed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who loves having a fun time with her husband Charlie (portrayed by Aaron Paul).  Unfortunately, she drinks too much to the point that its affecting her life, but her husband who also likes to drink accepts her no matter what.

She wets the bed quite often, as a school teacher, it begins to affect her teaching at school because she often has a hangover.  And it got to the point where she told children in class that she’s pregnant and thus why she had morning sickness.

The children told their parents, who end up calling Principal Barnes (portrayed by Megan Mullally) and now Principal Barnes is excited for Kate as an expecting mother.

But only her friend, teacher Dave Davies (portrayed by Nick Offerman) knows the truth that she has an alcohol problem.  And that was because he is also a former addict and alcoholic.

But after one night of drinking so much at a local bar, she ends up giving a drug addict a ride home and experiments with crack.   The next morning, she wakes up with her car gone and sleeping in the middle of nowhere.

She decides to take Dave’s advice and comes with him to an AA meeting and tries to be sober with the help of other former alcoholics such as Dave and Jenny (portrayed by Octavia Spencer).

While her husband Charlie tells her that he will try to help and support her, she realizes how difficult it is for her to stay sober when her mother is an alcoholic, her husband keeps wanting her to drink, so she can have fun and her classroom starts to become suspicious that her stomach has not grown in months and the lying starts to eat up at her.

Will Kate be able to stay sober?

VIDEO, AUDIO AND SUBTITLES:

“Smashed” is presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen and English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital.  It’s important to note that if you want  better picture and audio quality, you want to go for the Blu-ray release of this film.

As for the DVD, picture quality is good.  You can still see a fine layer of grain, some scenes are a bit dark at times and the handheld camera can be dizzying for some.  But for the most part, the majority of the film looks good on DVD.

Subtitles are in  English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese (Mandarin Traditional), Korean and Thai.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Smashed” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director James Ponsoldt and actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
  • Making Smashed - (12:24) Behind-the-scenes on the making of “Smashed”.  James Ponsoldt and Susan Burke talk about how the film came to be.  Interviews with the cast members.
  • Toronto Film Festival Red Carpet Q&A – (14:45) Q&A with director James Ponsoldt, actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, actress Octavia Spencer and producer Jennifer Cochis.
  • Deleted Scenes – (10:32) Featuring six deleted scenes.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (1:23) The original theatrical trailer for “Smashed”.

In today’s society, it’s well-known that alcoholics and addicts face major challenges in their first steps of recovery.

And while there have been film and television shows on the subject of alcoholism, “Smashed” is a fascinating film of one’s journey through being sober and how sobriety is not easy.  But it’s a crucial step in order for one to take back their life, or else they will end up hurting or getting themselves killed.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a magnificent job of playing the recovering alcoholic, Kate.  Sometimes one has to fall down so low to realize that their addition is getting the best of them and in this case, the character of Kate constantly wets her bed, she is unfit to work as a teacher for young children and lies about her alcoholism that her sickness is due to pregnancy and it’s so bad that when she’s drunk, she’s out of hand.  Drunk driving, experimenting with drugs, peeing in a store and just not conscious about how bad alcohol has consumed her.

But one thing that the film shows is how loved ones can be enablers to alcoholism.  Kate’s mother is an alcoholic, her husband likes drinking and encourages her to drink because she would be a more “fun” person to be with.

And no matter if you have AA and close friends with you to help  you with your recovery, it’s also important to eliminate things that will cause you to fall  hard again.

It’s easy for one to say stay away from those who enable you to do these things, but for the character of Kate and  her husband Charlie, these two are in love and enjoy each other.  But if one is unwilling to be sober or enables it and the other really wants to badly be sober, there is really one way that person can go.

Both Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul have great chemistry of playing a happy young married couple but also seeing how this marriage starts to tear itself apart.  But also making the character of Kate thinking if her marriage is actually based on love or the convenience of getting smashed and not growing up.

Octavia Spencer does a great job in a supportive role (which she was cast for the film prior to her being cast on “The Help”) as Jenny, who tries to listen and give advice to Kate.  Megan Mullally plays a more serious role in “Smashed” than the comedic roles that she is best known for, so it was good to see her playing a different type of role.  And Nick Offerman as Kate’s friend and co-worker who has a crush on her and says the creepiest things.

As mentioned earlier, the Blu-ray release is available for “Smashed”, so if one wants the best picture quality, the Blu-ray is the way to go.  But the DVD release of “Smashed” is still good and I detected no major problems with picture quality or audio and there are a good number of special features included.

Overall, “Smashed” benefits from its wonderful performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead but also for its gutsy ending.  There are too many people who choose not to solve their problems and are too comfortable with the way things were despite how much pain or trouble they get into.  May it be domestic abuse, gang affiliation, drug addiction and alcohol abuse, “Smashed” is a film that shows us that staying sober is not easy and it also means making tough choices for one’s survival.

A film worth watching!

With


Chicken with Plums (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

February 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

“Chicken with Plums” is a beautiful love story about life’s regrets and a film with emotion and heartbreak.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2011, 2012 Celluloid Dreams Holdings, SAS, TheManipulators, uFilm, Studio 37, Le Pacte, Arte France Cinema, ZDF / Arte, Lorette Productions and Film(s) Sarl. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Chicken with Plums

DURATION: 91 Minutes

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

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG-13 (For Some Drug Content, Violent Images, Sensuality and Smoking)

RELEASE DATE: February 26, 2013

Written and Directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi

Produced by Hengameh Panahi

Co-Producer: Remi Burah, Christoph Fisser, Henning Molfenter, Adrian Politowski, Gilles Waterkeyn, Charlie Woebcken

Associate Producer: Francois-Xavier Decraene

Line Producer: Jasmin Torbati

Music by Olivier Bernet

Cinematography by Christophe Beaucarne

Edited by Stephane Roche

Casting by Anja Dihrberg

Production Design by Udo Kramer

Set Decoration by Bernhard Henrich

Costume Design by Madeline Fontaine

Starring:

Mathieu Amalric as Nasser-Ali Khan

Edouard Baer as Azrael

Maria de Medeiros as Faringuisse

Golshifteh Farahani as Irane

Eric Caravaca as Abdi

Chaira Mastroianni as Lili, adulte

Mathis Bour as Cyrus

Enna Balland as Lili

Isabella Rossellini as Parvine

Jarnel Deboouze as Houshang/Le mendiant

Christian Friedel as Cyrus, 22 ans

From the Oscar nominated filmmakers of Persepolis, Chicken With Plums is a “captivating live-action fairytale full of whimsy, humor, magic and despair” (Collider.com). Since his beloved violin was broken, Nasser Ali Khan, one of the most renowned musicians of his day, has lost all taste for life. Finding no instrument worthy of replacing it, he decides to confine himself to bed to await death. As he hopes for its arrival, he plunges into deep reveries, with dreams as melancholic as they are joyous, taking him back to his youth and even to a conversation with Azraël, the Angel of Death, who reveals the future of his children. As pieces of the puzzle gradually fit together, the poignant secret of his life comes to light: a wonderful story of love which inspired his genius and his music.

From the writers/directors Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi of “Persepolis” comes the French drama “Chicken with Plums”.

Based on the graphic novel “Poulet aux prunes” by Satrapi, the film premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival back in September 2011.  And now, the film will be released by Sony Pictures Classics in Feb. 2013.

“Chicken with Plums” is set in Tehran during the ’50s and revolves around a man named Nasser-Ali Khan (portrayed by Mathieu Amalric).  A renowned concert violinist, things have not been the same for Nasser since his beloved violin was broken, and now he has tried so many violins from a variety of stores, he’s not achieving the sound that he wants.

One day, after purchasing a violin, he encounters a woman named and excited, he asks her if she is Irane (portrayed by Golshifteh Farahani) and asks her if she remembers him, she answers that she doesn’t.

We see a bit about Nasser’s current life.  He is married to a woman named Frainguisse (portrayed by Maria de Medeiros) with two children and while his wife works, he is often criticized by her for being unemployed and not taking responsibility as a husband and father.

While trying to play a stradivarius violin that he just purchased, it’s just not the same.  So, he pulls out his beloved, broken violin which is way beyond repair.

His music is his life and because he is unable to produce the music that he wants, he decides that he will die.

Fast forward eight days later and his loved ones and his friends attend his funeral.

And the film then takes us day by day of how Nasser tries to die.  But most importantly how his beloved violin was broken, but most importantly, how Nasser the musician and the individual, became a broken man.

And it begins of how the young Nasser Ali, a student in Shiraz, began dating the beautiful Irane.  Two people who fell in love but a love that was not able to overcome a major obstacle.

“Chicken with Plums” is a beautiful love story about life’s regrets and a film with emotion and heartbreak.

VIDEO, AUDIO AND SUBTITLES:

“Chicken with Plums” is presented in 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen and French 5.1 Dolby Digital.  While the film was released on Blu-ray in France, in the U.S., only on DVD.  Picture quality for the most part is good, as one can expect on DVD.  While the audio is primarily dialogue-driven, until you get to the second half and when you hear the LFE kick during a splitting of a rock and hear Nasser-Ali playing his violin, dialogue and music sound crisp and clear.  Sure, I would have loved to watch this film in HD but for the most part, most should be pleased with the overall visual and audio presentation on DVD.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Chicken with Plums” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Co-Director/Co-writers Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud.  The commentary is in English and French but has optional commentary subtitles if needed.
  • Tribeca Q&A - (15:07) Featuring a Tribeca Film Festival Q&A with Co-Director/Co-writers Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (1:55) The original theatrical trailer for “Poulet aux prunes” (Chicken with Plums).

Sometimes you encounter a film that starts off one way in terms of tone and style but then takes a 180 and becomes a different film altogether.

Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s “Chicken with Plums” is a poetic film, a beautiful film that I found quite fascinating.  The first half of the film, the film feels like comedy and appears like a banal film about a man disenchanted with his life and not happy with his family.

For the first half of the film, you wonder to yourself of what is wrong with this guy.  Why does he seem so cold and bitter?  Why is he unable to play any other violin and how did his original beloved violin break?

As the film starts off showcasing Nasser-Ali embracing death and is greeted by death and the Angel of Death, Azrael (portrayed by Edouard Baer) in his dreams, part of me was trying to figure this film out and wondering if  “is this going to be a comedic version of Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Seventh Seal’?”.

So, while the first half of the film tries to show the viewer how Nasser-Ali is ready to die, while his kids hope he doesn’t, by the final half hour of the film,the tone of the film changes.

The film leaves its comedic roots to show us why Nasser-Ali is miserable and this is where the film becomes artistic, poetic and ultimately heartbreaking.

We find out that a younger Nasser-Ali was training to become a violinist, but while he was younger, he met the beautiful Irane.  The two enjoyed silent film, the two enjoyed each other’s company and the two fell in love.  It’s as if two individuals have discovered their soul mate and they felt they belonged together.

But I’m not going to spoil this film.  The relationship is the beginning of the magic but it’s the way the relationship is presented and what led to the breakup and the events that followed for the next 20-years is what is was amazing that you simply realize that writer and co-director Marjane Satrapi was preparing the viewer to go from dark comedy to a romantic drama  that will captivate you.

Because of its structure, some may feel that how the film is told for its first hour and its transition for the final half hour to be unbalanced,  looked at the two different style of storytelling to be rather interesting and unique when trying to do something different and not so banal as many other films tend to go that direction.  Try something different and that is what Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud are doing and I applaud the two for creating the shift in tonality and and overall style.

The acting by Mathieu Amalric and Golshifteh Farahani are fantastic.  Amalric does a wonderful job in portraying different sides of Nasser-Ali Khan and Farahani did a fantastic job in bringing the more emotional and sentimental component to the film.

As for the DVD, picture quality and audio quality is as good as one can expect from a DVD release.  You get an audio commentary and a Q&A from Tribeca that is included and for the most part, both were fascinating to listen to and watch.

Overall, “Chicken with Plums” is a fascinating film that is well-crafted but not entirely perfect, depending on the viewer in how they accept the two halves of the film which are presented in a different style. But I was absolutely captivated by this film by the ending credits and felt I experienced something quite delightfully entertaining and different.

“Chicken with Plums” is a beautiful love story about life’s regrets and a film with emotion and heartbreak.  Recommended!


Celeste and Jesse Forever (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

February 4, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

“Celeste and Jesse Forever” is an entertaining romantic comedy about love, marriage, divorce and regret.  But it’s a different type of romantic comedy that is fresh and different from what one will usually see in a film.  While most romantic comedies tend to focus on falling in love and finding that one true soulmate, “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is about a divorced couple who realized they were true soulmates but unfortunately, drifted apart and realized they actually had something special, a little too late.  “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2012 C&J Forever, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Celeste and Jesse Forever

FILM RELEASE: 2012

DURATION: 92 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:40:1,  English5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: R (Language, Sexual Content and Drug Use)

Release Date: February 5, 2013

Directed by Lee Toland Krieger

Screenplay by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack

Produced by Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Tod, Lee Nelson

Executive Producer: Kevin Scott Frakes

Co-Producer David Buelow, David Grace

Associate Producer: Sheri Davani, Noah Stahl

Music by Zach Cowie, Sunny Levine

Cinematography by David Lanzenberg

Edited by Yana Gorskaya

Casting by Angela Demo, Barbara McCarthy

Production Design by Ian Phillips

Art Direction by Joseph Oxford

Costume Design by Julia Caston

Starring:

Rashida Jones as Celeste

Andy Samberg as Jesse

Ari Graynor as Beth

Eric Christian Olsen as Tucker

Elijah Wood as Scott

Will McCormack as Skillz

Emma Roberts as Riley

Chris Messina as Paul

Rich Sommer as Max

Chris Pine as Mystery Buddy

Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) are high school sweethearts who married young and are now at a crossroads at the age of thirty. While Celeste is a success in business, Jesse is unemployed and adrift. Celeste thinks that if they divorce now they could still remain friends. Jesse passively accepts the decision even though he is still in love with her. As reality sets in, Celeste slowly and painfully realizes she has been cavalier about their relationship, but her timing with Jesse is less than fortuitous.

What happens when you marry your best friend, the only person that you have a lot in common with but then you separate with that person but yet remain very close, as if you were still a couple?  But that relationship starts to drift away as each find a new person to be with?

This is the basis for “Celeste and Jesse Forever”, a comedy/drama written by two friends, actress Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation”, “The Office”, “I Love You, Man”, “The Social Network”) and actor Will McCormack (“Boiler Room”, “Elf”, “American Outlaws”) and directed by Lee Toland Krieger (“The Vicious Kind”, “December Ends”).

The film would star both Jones and McCormack but also star Andy Samberg (“That’s My Boy”, “Hot Rod”, “Saturday Night Live”), Elijah Wood (“The Lord of the Rings” films, “Green Street Hooligans”, “Eternal Sunshin of the Spotless Mind”), Ari Graynor (“Mystic River”, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”), Eric Christian Olsen (“The Thing”, “The Hot Chick”, “Not Another Teen Movie”) and Emma Roberts (“Hotel for Dogs”, “Nancy Drew”, “Wild Child”).

The film would receive rave reviews from critics and also earning a nomination for Rashida Jones and Will McCormack for “Best First Screenplay” at the 2013 Independent Spirit Award.

And now the Blu-ray and DVD for “Celeste and Jesse Forever” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD in February 2013 courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“Celeste and Jesse Forever” is a film that revolves around two best friends, who have a lot in common with each other.  Celeste (portrayed by Rashida Jones) is a co-owner of a trendwatching company and Jesse (portrayed by Andy Samberg), an unemployed artist, were high school sweethearts and we see how much these two are very much alike and are in-sync with each other.

That is until they have dinner with their good friends Beth (portrayed by Ari Graynor) and her boyfriend Tucker (portrayed by Eric Christian Olsen) and find out that both Celeste and Jesse have been separated for over six months and are in the process of a divorce.

Both Beth and Tucker find it hard to see their friends still close to each other despite getting a divorce and it’s too weird for them.

As Celeste and Jesse think about why their friends are weirded out, we learn that they still live near each other.  Celeste still lives in the main house, while Jesse stays at the room that was once his art studio.

While Jesse still tries to make ends meet by doing odd jobs for Celeste’s company, Celeste is very driven by her success.  But when she brings up what happened with her dinner with her friends to her co-partner at the company, Scott (portrayed by Elijah Wood), Scott also recommends that maybe its time for her to start dating other guys.

Even Jesse’s friend Skillz (portrayed by Will McCormack) recommends he start dating again and even goes as far to set him up with the yogurt shop cashier.  Jess tells Celeste that he will be dating again but Celeste doesn’t act like she’s bothered by it, but when she hears the two having fun, she starts to get a bit bothered by it.

One night, she makes a call to Jesse and that she needs help putting together her Ikea dresser.  And when Jesse gets there, she is drunk and while the two are unable to put the dresser together, Jesse is able to build something artistic with the parts and next thing you know, the two start flirting with each other and they spend the night with each other.

The following morning, Celeste wakes up and while Jesse is clinging to her and kissing her, she tells him it was a mistake and the night only happened because she was drunk.  This hurts Jesse’s feelings and he leaves.

For the next two weeks, as Celeste is traveling around the country on business, she tries getting a hold of Jesse but to no avail.  The two eventually run into each other at the bookstore with their friends but Jesse also runs into Veronica (portrayed by Rebecca Dayan), a woman that he once dated three months earlier.  And he introduces Veronica to Celeste and their friends.

When both Jesse and Celeste finally get a chance to meet up and talk, as Celeste wanted to talk about their fight, Jesse actually wants to talk about something important. He tells her that he is going to be a father and that Veronica is pregnant.  So, he wants to make things work for the sake of their child.

Celeste doesn’t take the news that well but pretends that she supports his decision.  But Celeste is starting to realize that Jesse, her best friend and the one person that she has in common with, will probably no longer be in her life.

When she goes to talk to her friend Beth, Beth realizes that Celeste is probably having second thoughts about divorcing Jesse, which Celeste tries to deny.

She tries to go on dates with other men, but she starts to realize from her friends and the way she has handled herself professionally and realistically, that she has placed her status and herself as a priority and while she expected Jesse to be there for her always, the fact is that she never put so much into their marriage and their own happiness.

And she is starting to realize that she met her soulmate, but because he has another woman and is expecting a child, will she move on with her life or try to get Jesse back?

VIDEO:

“Celeste and Jesse Forever” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio).  Picture quality is fantastic for this film.  Closeups of characters, closeup of clothing, you can see the textures and the detail quite well.  The picture quality presents a natural quality to the overall film, black levels are nice and deep and for the most part, the film looks great on Blu-ray!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Celeste and Jesse Forever” benefits from the film’s English 5.1 DTS-HD MA lossless soundtrack in terms of music.  Quite often the characters are at a club or at a party and music is presented.  There are some ambiance during areas with crowds but for the most part, as one can expect from a romantic comedy, dialogue is crystal clear and in this case, an active soundtrack during the more music-driven scenes.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Celeste and Jesse Forever” come with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary 1 – Featuring a fun and crazy audio commentary between Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg.
  • Audio Commentary 2 – Featuring a commentary on the creative process of the film courtesy of co-writers and talent Rashida Jones, Will McCormack with director Lee Toland Krieger.
  • The Making of Celeste & Jesse Forever – (13:51) The cast and crew are interviewed about their characters.  Director Lee Toland Krieger discusses the film, while Rashida Jones and Will McCormack discuss the screenwriting process of the film.
  • On the Red Carpet: Premiere and Q&A – (14:08) Featuring the Q&A with director Lee Toland Krieger, co-writers Rashida Jones and Will McCormack and the main talent of “Celeste and Jesse Forever” at the LA Film Fes.
  • Chris Pine Outtakes – (1:13) Chris Pine has a cameo as bearded druggie in the film and these are the outtakes.
  • Deleted Scenes – (2:57) Featuring three deleted scenes “I Guess I’m Getting It”, “Can I Show You Something?” and “Do Any of You Have Any Jobs?”.
  • Trailer – (2:13) The theatrical trailer for “Celeste and Jesse Forever”.

Once in a while, you watch a romantic comedy that distinguishes itself from rom-com’s.  In the case of “Celeste and Jesse Forever”, co-writers Rashida Jones and Will McCormack take on the storyline of relationships that were meant to be, find your soul mate but yet due to circumstances, a (wrong) decision was made and now there is regret.

“Celeste and Jesse Forever” will be sure to tug on those who have experienced heartbreak and regret.  I don’t know how many times I have heard many couples breaking up or divorcing because of status or financial status.  you often hear about how some find it difficult to be in a relationship when the woman is the breadwinner and the man, is not.

In the case of this film, Celeste is the owner of a company, a driven woman who is great at what she does.  But the problem is that Jesse wanted a family, he wanted more from the relationship but unfortunately he was unemployed.

And while these two are best friends, they have the same mannerisms, they enjoy the same entertainment and jokes and literally are in sync with each other, for Celeste, she was so used to having Jesse around her, no matter what.  He lived behind her, if she calls him, he’s always there.

But because they are separated and are divorcing, he has now tried the dating circuit and met someone and also has gotten her pregnant.

And for this business woman who had lived her life quite well, is starting to realize while she gave so much to her business and professional status, she really never gave so much to her relationship and that one person that she did love and was her best friend, she is now losing her soulmate.

Actually for both Celeste and Jesse, they know that they are each other’s soulmate but because of their divorce and now that he wants to raise a family with his new girlfriend, despite being in love with each other, they know it’s too late to go back.

While I enjoyed the film, especially when it focused on Celeste and Jesse, there were some times through the film that other side characters didn’t make so much sense and I was actually turned off by it.

Jesse’s good friend Skillz is a druggie that somehow becomes Celeste’s good friend during her time of need.  Getting her high and seeing her go from this strong individual to this mess that starts getting drunk smoking weed or drinking alcohol, I just didn’t think she had to fall that far down, nor did the writers have to go there just to get a point out of how miserable she is.

While the scenes of Celeste and Jesse doing stroking jokes with lip balm or food, to show how both have an awkward style of humor, although I didn’t care much for it, I actually was expecting it, considering comedian Andy Samberg was in the film.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is fantastic and because the number of club tracks or party tracks featured in the film, music is also brings a lot of bass to the lossless soundtrack of “Celeste and Jesse Forever”.  As for special features, you get a good number of special features especially two different kind of audio commentaries which was cool.  And also a Q&A that was held at the LA Film Fes which was a great addition to this Blu-ray release and other special features included as well.

Overall, “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is an entertaining romantic comedy about love, marriage, divorce and regret.  But it’s a different type of romantic comedy that is fresh and different from what one will usually see in a film.  While most romantic comedies tend to focus on falling in love and finding that one true soulmate, “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is about a divorced couple who realized they were true soulmates but unfortunately, drifted apart and realized that they actually had something quite special, a little too late.

“Celeste and Jesse Forever” is recommended!

 

To Rome with Love (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

I absolutely enjoyed “To Rome with Love”.  The film is beautiful, the humor and stories of the vignette’s featured in this film is like an homage to classic Commedia all’Italiana.  An enjoyable Woody Allen film on Blu-ray.  “To Rome with Love” is recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2012 Gravier Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: To Rome with Love

FILM RELEASE: 2012

DURATION: 112 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:78:1, Mandarin, English and French 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Description Track, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Hindi, Spanish

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (For Some Sexual References)

Release Date: January 16, 2013

Written and Directed by Woody Allen

Produced by Faruk Alatan, Letty Aronson, Giampaolo Letta, Stephen Tenenbaum

Co-Producer: David Nichols, Helen Robin

Co-Executive Producer: Jack Rollins

Line Producer: Francesco Marras

Cinematography by Darius Khondji

Edited by Alisa Lepselter

Casting by Patricia Kerrigan DiCerto, Beatrice Kruger, Juliet Taylor

Production Design by Anne Seibel

Art Direction by Luca Tranchino

Set Decoration by Raffaella Giovannetti

Costume Design by Sonia Grande

Starring:

Judy Davis as Phyllis

Flavio Parenti as Michelangelo

Roberto Benigni as Leopoldo

Alison Pill as Hayley

Alessandro Tiberi as Antonio

Allesandra Mastronardi as Milly

Alec Baldwin as John

Carol Alt as Carol

David PAsquesi as Tim

Antonio Albanese as Luca Salta

Lynn Swanson as Ellen

Fabio Armilato as Giancarlo

Minica Nappo as Sofia

ORnella Muti as Pia Fusari

Woody Allen as Jerry

Jessei Eisenberg as Jack

Greta Gerwig as Sally

Penelope Cruz as Anna

Ellen Page as Monica

Romance! Adventure! Hilarity! Italy! Woody Allen leads this all-star cast on a rollicking ride through the streets of one of the worlds greatest cities. Lovers and Fiancées, Opera Singers and Architects, the talented and the famous, and the youthful and the wise are all players within this ensemble tour-de-force, as their stories and lives magically criss-cross and collide throughout this engaging film. Also starring Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penélope Cruz, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page in a movie as incredible as Rome itself.

Woody Allen has had the opportunity to create films in different countries in recent years.  “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” in 2008, “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” in 2010 filmed in London, “Midnight in Paris” in 2011 and in 2012, in Rome for his latest comedy “To Rome with Love”.

A film in which distributors of Rome gave Allen the chance to create a film in their country and being a fan of Italian cinema and would earn over $73 million in worldwide box office sales and the seventh highest grossing film for Sony Pictures Classics.

The film would feature the return of Woody Allen as director and actor (who has not appeared in a film since “Scoop” in 2006) and the romantic comedy would feature a total of four separate vignette.

The film would feature an all-star ensemble cast starring Woody Allen, Judy Davis (“Deconstructing Harry”, “A Passage to India”, “Barton Fink”), Flavio Parenti (“I Am Love”, “Tell Me About Love”), Roberto Benigni (“Life is Beautiful”, “Pinocchio”, “The Tiger and the Snow”), Alison Pill (“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”, “Midnight in Paris”, “Milk”), Alessandro Tiberi (“Boris”, “Generazione Mille Euro”), Alessandra Mastronardi (“I Cesaroni”, “Romanzo criminale”), Alec Baldwin  (“Beetle Juice”, “30 Rock”), Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”, “Zombieland”, “Adventureland”), Greta Gerwig (“Damsels in Distress”, “No Strings Attached”, “Arthur”), Penelope Cruz (“Blow”, “Vanilla Sky”, “Volver”), Ellen Page (“Juno”, “Inception”, “Hard Candy”, “X-Men: The Last Stand”), Fabio Armiliato (“Tosca”, “Madame Butterfly”) and Carol Alt (“Private Parts”, “Beyond Justice”).

The first vignette would feature a young woman named Hayley (portrayed by Alison Pill), who has come to Rome on vacation but gets lost.  She asks a man named Michelangelo (portrayed by Flavio Parenti), a lawyer who speaks English for directions and Michelangelo decides to show her the location.  From this moment, the two would go on and date and eventually become a couple and are now prepared to get married.  But before she gets married, she wants her mother Phyllis (portrayed by Judy Davis) and her father, Jerry (portrayed by Woody Allen), a retired classical music exec to fly to Rome and meet Michelangelo and his parents.

The meeting between Michelangelo and Hayley’s father doesn’t go as well, as he is a lawyer who represents the people (and believes in unions), which Jerry is not so supportive of.  But problems begin when Jerry overhears Michelangelo’s father, Giancarlo sing in the shower.  His voice is of a gifted opera singer and having failed in creating opera success, Jerry wants to make Giancarlo an opera star and wants his fellow music execs to hear his voice.  But Giancarlo is against it because he doesn’t think he is a good singer and has never sung for public, but as Jerry tries and tries to get Giancarlo to do it, it upsets Michelangelo who wants Jerry to stop and leave his father alone.

But Jerry, believing in Giancarlo’s voice, wants to make him a star.  So, Giancarlo relents and decides to sing in front of music execs.  But Giancarlo doesn’t do as well.

Michelangelo is upset that Jerry put his father through the embarrassment and tells him that he can’t expect Jerry to make a person who sings in a shower to do well in public.  And immediately, Jerry has the idea…what if Giancarlo can singing in public, while showering.

Suffice to say, this leads to problems as Michelangelo is upset that Jerry keeps persisting, his wife wants him to stay retired, while Hayley tries to stick up for her father, causing friction between her and Michelangelo.

For the second vignette, Antonio (portrayed by Alessandro Tiberi) and his wife Milly (portrayed by Alessandra Mastronardi) come to Rome, as Antonio is being offered a significant job in the city.  But as Milly goes out for a short while, she gets confused of the Rome streets, despite the directions she has been given.  She loses her phone and ends up being lost.

Meanwhile, Antonio is worried because they must leave and go to the business meeting but Milly is not back.  When he hears a knock on the door, thinking it’s Milly, it’s actually a prostitute named Anna (portrayed by Penelope Cruz) who tells him that she was paid for the whole day to satisfy him.  Antonio tells him that she may have gotten the right room, but the wrong person.  Unfortunately, family from Rome arrives thinking they will meet Milly but instead they see Anna.  Not knowing where Milly is, Antonio has Anna pretend to be Milly.

As for Milly, she becomes starstruck when she sees a movie being filmed in the area and one of the lead actors asks her to join him for lunch.

For the third vignette, well-known American architect John (portrayed by Alec Baldwin), has come with his wife Carol (portrayed by Carol Alt) to Rome, to the area where he once lived.  As John goes to his former hang-out spot and tries to remember the past, he meets a young American architect student studying in Rome, named Jack (portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg).

Jack is a fan of John’s work, so he invites John to meet his girlfriend Sally (portrayed by Greta Gerwig).  Each time Jesse interacts with Sally, John seems to know everything that Jack is thinking and tries to offer him advice, almost like he is Jack’s conscience.  Sally tells Jack that her friend and actress named Monica (portrayed by Ellen Page) is going to stay with them temporarily, as she had broken up with a gay man because their relationship wouldn’t work.

When Monica arrives, Jack finds himself being drawn by Monica’s free spirit and when Sally asks Jack to introduce him to a guy, so Monica can be happy, at first, everything seems fine.  But Jack starts to feel jealousy and finds himself falling for Monica.  Meanwhile, John is there in interesting moments and giving Jack some ideas.  Will Jack pursue Monica and dump his girlfriend Sally?

The fourth vignette revolves around Leopoldo (portrayed by Roberto Benigni).  A regular office worker who pretty much eats, sleeps, works and whatever free time there is, watching television with his wife and kids and living the same usual life.  But life changes for Leopoldo immediately when media start featuring him on television and follow him wherever he goes.

Leopoldo becomes the most famous man in Rome, but yet doesn’t understand why everyone cares about him.  His boss gives him his own office and a personal, sexy secretary and whatever he seems to do in public, the media cares.  But what happens when Leopoldo’s life changes drastically from boring to exciting, will he be able to handle the fame?

VIDEO:

“To Rome with Love” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 aspect ratio).  One thing that worked to the film’s efficacy is choosing the right areas to film Rome.  No stock video footage, pretty much capturing the structure, the crowded areas and having the talent in those areas as cinematographer Darius Khondji (“Alien: Resurrection”, “Midnight in Paris”, “Se7en”) can capture the beautiful backdrops.    Rome has its fair share of graffiti laden areas but what Woody Allen features in film is the beautiful areas that Rome is known for and making it feel romantic.

Picture quality is vibrant during those key scenes.  Wonderful detail in the various structures, great detail when it comes to closeups.  Skin tones look natural, blacks look good and deep and I saw no problems with artifacts or any softness.  The film looked gorgeous in HD!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“To Rome with Love” is presented in English and French 5.1 DTS-HD MA with an English – Audio Descriptive Track.  The film is a romantic comedy that is primarily dialogue and music driven.  Dialogue is crystal clear through the center and front channels while the music sounds incredible in lossless.

The music for the soundtrack definitely has the Italian feel of utilizing opera, popular 50′s Italian music and also a bit of modern music as well.

The soundtrack kicks off with the popular Domenico Modugno 1958 hit song “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)” which sets up the romantic mood for the film.

But the next song was an interesting transition as it goes to a remake of Paolo Zavallone (aka El Pasador) and a remake of his 1978 hit “Amada Mia, Amore Mio” redone by The Starlite Orchestra.  While the song incorporates the disco style of music that I grew up listening to as a child (which brought back memories of listening to disco versions of Beethoven and Mozart), the song is quite fun with the deep male vocal singing “Amada Mia, Amore Mio”.

The soundtrack then transitions back to two romantic Italian instrumentals.  “Arrivederci Roma” by Alredo Messina and “Ciribiribin” by Angelo DiPippo.  And you also get a few more instrumentals including DiPippo’s jazz version of “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)” and “Libiamo ne’lieti Calici (from “La Traviata”).  Also, a bossna nova instrumental by Mop Mop titled “Three Times Bossa” and ending with Steven Bernstein’s Neapolitan Orchestra’s version of ”Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)”.  And also the inclusion of the the somewhat out of place, synth pop instrumental “Studio 99″ by Adam Hamilton.

As as the film is romantic to its core with instrumentals as part of one half of the soundtrack, you also get the gifted funeral director in the shower, played by  ”the best Chénier of our time”, Fabio Armiliato.  A good number of opera tracks such as “E Lucevan Le Stelle [From "Tosca"]“, “Nessun Dorma [From "Turandot"]” and opera tracks from “Fedora” and “Pagliacci” to round out the soundtrack.

You do get a little of the Woody Allen style of music that fans are familiar with the inclusion of “When Your Lover Has Gone” by American Eddie Condon & His Orchestra and the track “When Your Lover Has Gone”.  You also get the ’40s “Non Dimenticar Le Mie Parole” by Emilio Livi and the Trio Lescano.

A beautiful balance of Italian classic romantic tracks to operatic tracks by Fabio Armiliato, Woody Allen’s “To Rome with Love: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” is complimentary to his latest film but also to hopeless romantics who are passionate for Italian music. And the music really sets the pace for “To Rome with Love” in capturing the feeling of love.

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

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“To Rome with Love” come with the following special features:

  • Con Amore: A Passion for Rome – (9:05) Producer Letty Aronson (also younger sister of Woody Allen) discusses how “To Rome with Love” came to be, the hiring of the cast.  Plus interviews with the cast members.
  • Trailer – (The theatrical trailer for “To Rome with Love”.

Having read books on Woody Allen and his passion for foreign films especially Italian films, we get to see Woody Allen being a bit Fellini-esque with his latest film “To Rome with Love”.

Sexy, fun and daring… “To Rome with Love” is quite reminiscent of Commedia all’Italiana (comedy Italian style) and almost like it’s paying homage to Federico Fellini, Mario Monicelli and Vittorio De Sica but in modernized setting and also appeasing both Western and Italian sentimentality.

The first vignette featuring Woody Allen as a father who is a retired music exec trying to create the next big opera hit when he discovers his future son-in-law’s father singing while taking a shower.  Woody Allen’s humor is so hilarious that I could not stop laughing whenever he showed up on screen.  Allen knows how to use his character roles in the most unexpected moments and the spontaneity is wonderful but yet audacious as the character of Jerry (portrayed by Woody Allen) will go so far as to stage an opera with Giancarlo (portrayed by wonderful opera singer Fabio Armiliato) in a shower. It’s very odd, but yet so satisfying that I enjoyed it.

The second vignette, Antonio (portrayed by Alessandro Tiberi) and his wife Milly (portrayed by Alessandra Mastronardi) reminds me of Mario Monicelli’s “Boccaccio ’70″ anthology segment but yet different predicaments.  For this segment, we have two people who are married and in love and have come to accept things as they are.  But when the are thrust into the city of Rome and are separated, they have their own sexual adventure but with other people.  But can this little one day of adventure, spice things up between Antonio and Milly?  Penelope Cruz has a sexy, sultry character portrayl of Anna that reminds you of older Sophia Loren Italian films.

The third vignette is what I call the Fellini-esque films. Best not to think hard about of how things happen or why things happen, they just do.

For this vignette, Sally loves Jack, Jack loves Sally but finds out he also loves her friend Monica.  While it sounds quite simplistic, what makes the film a bit odd is the character of John, portrayed by Alec Baldwin.  In the beginning, we see John with his friends and going to find his old hang-out area in Rome, which he runs into a young architect, named Jack (portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg), who happens to follow John’s work.  But the strange thing is that during the conversations that Jack has with the women on certain days, somehow out of nowhere, John shows up giving Jack advice.

So, we start to think, is John part of Jack’s conscience.  It may seem like it until, you see the female characters acknowledging John’s presence.  So, does that mean that John has been staying over at Jack’s place for several days and accompanying him everywhere, even when he’s with Sally or Monica?  It’s hard to say but it’s one of those things you see in classic Italian cinema.  Things happen, but don’t bother with an explanation, just enjoy!

And the final vignette is about Leopoldo (portrayed by Roberto Benigni).  A man who has a ho-hum life of being an office worker and can only dream how life would be if he was popular or became “the man”.  Well, one day, it comes true and he becomes the most famous man in Rome as paparazzi and media are always at his front door and wanting to know what he’s eating, doing that part of the day.  And Leopoldo has no idea why media would follow him.  But he’s become popular and he and his family are invited to Rome’s celebrity events, fashion events and even top actresses and models want to sleep with him.

But what happens when Leopoldo wants it all to go away?  Even his chauffeur tells him that it’s best to be a celebrity than not.

I suppose one can equate this to the amount of paparazzi experiences that a popular celebrity experiences during their most popular time in their lives.  They don’t like the media following them, they want their privacy.  But when the media stops giving you the attention, now what?  Celebrities try to find ways to get the media interested in them once again and its an interesting conundrum. And Leopold is that perfect example.

As for the Blu-ray release, “To Rome with Love” looks fantastic on Blu-ray.  While the first vignette is music driven, the second and third tend to emphasize the beauty of Rome of its longstanding structures and architecture, while the four vignette focuses on the glitz and glamor Rome has to offer.  The cinematography is beautiful, the picture quality is full of detail, sharp and colorful, while the lossless audio features a wonderful music soundtrack.  And as for special features, while Woody Allen is best known for not liking special features with his video releases, his last three releases have come with a featurette.  “To Rome with Love” comes with an interview with producer and Allen’s younger sister Letty Aronson, who goes into detail of how the film came to be and the casting of the people in the film and how Woody Allen managed to do it, without even speaking a word of Italian and just knew which shot would work for the film.  The featurette also includes interviews with the cast members and you get a trailer.

As for the film itself, I absolutely enjoyed “To Rome with Love”.  The film is beautiful, the humor and stories of the vignette’s featured in this film is like an homage to classic Commedia all’Italiana.

An enjoyable Woody Allen film on Blu-ray.  “To Rome with Love” is recommended!

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