"MYSTIC RIVER"
BLU-RAY Review
by Kevin Carr


    MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)

    Rated R
    Available on Blu-ray,
    On Demand and for Download February 2
     www.WarnerBlu.com
    Studio: Warner Bros.

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT
In a Boston neighborhood, three childhood friends who went through a trauma as kids find their lives entwined again. Jimmy (Sean Penn) is horrified to learn that his eldest daughter has been murdered. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is one of the lead investigators of the crime, and Dave (Tim Robbins) is one of the key suspects. Jimmy seeks revenge for his daughter’s death, but as more is revealed about Dave, things become even more complicated.

WHAT I LIKED
For some reason, I missed “Mystic River” when it first came out in theaters. And that’s odd, considering that it won two Oscars and was nominated for countless other awards. It turns out that revisiting it outside of the all the awards hype was probably a good thing.

I had heard a lot about the movie, everything from it being difficult to watch as a parent to how great the performances were. Both counts are absolutely correct. The entire cast did a phenomenal job, resisting the urge to overact too much, which is what you get for a film like this.

As a Clint Eastwood movie – particularly one in the later years of his career – “Mystic River” takes its time. We see this a lot with Eastwood’s films. And yet, with all the violence and dark subject matter in the backdrop of the story, there’s very little of it put on-screen. Rather than being a movie about crimes, it’s one about the psychological after-effects of them. Clint Eastwood has explored these themes for years, and he continues to explore them, most recently in 2008’s “Gran Torino.”

For the most part, the movie kept me guessing, and there’s a lot more to it than I expected. After all, you see the name Dennis Lehane’s name in the writing credits, and you can expect dead kids and smarmy Boston characters. However, there were more clever twists and turns that I’ve seen in Lehane’s other stories like “Gone Baby Gone” and even “Shutter Island.”

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
There’s a trend with Clint Eastwood movies to always grasp for the Oscar. More often than not, they are successful, even if it’s just for a handful of nominations (like 2009’s dreadful “Invictus,” which still got some nods). In this sense, “Mystic River” feels like Oscar-bait through and through.

The story is very dark and very murky. I told a friend that I’d like to say “Mystic River” is a light-hearted romp through pedophilia, murder and revenge... but it’s not. You have to be in the right mood to see this movie, and hopefully for your state of mind you’re not in that mood very often.

BLU-RAY FEATURES
The newly released Blu-ray includes feature commentary by Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon as well as the theatrical trailers.

For an in-depth look at the production, there are two featurettes. “Mystic River: Beneath the Surface” explores the Boston neighborhood setting of the film with Dennis Lehane, and “Mystic River: From Page to Screen” takes the viewer through the development of the film

The biggest special feature on the disc includes three episodes of “The Charlie Rose Show,” featuring extended interviews with Clint Eastwood, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon.

While few would immediately think of a Blu-ray release of “Mystic River” to be necessary, it does offer a pristine transfer and some beautiful cinematography which benefits from the hi-def format.

WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
People who don’t mind being depressed.



"THE MUSIC MAN"
Blu-ray Review
by Kevin Carr


    MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
    BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)

    Rated G
    On Demand and for Download February 2
     www.WarnerBlu.com
    Studio: Warner Bros.

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Professor Harold Hill (Robert Preston) is the biggest con man in the Midwest. Selling everything from perpetual motion machines to electric buggies, Hill has a new scam to sell musical instruments and band uniforms to gullible people all over the country. When he ends up in River City, Iowa, Hill uses his charisma and charm to convince the town to buy into a boy’s band... even though he doesn’t know a thing about music. However, Hill finds himself falling in love with the town – and the outspoken librarian – which make it hard to just take the money and run.

WHAT I LIKED
Like anyone remotely involved in the arts, I had many flashbacks while watching this, taking me back to my high school days when I was involved in various performances – from full-blown musical production of “The Music Man” to performing excepts in different venues. Anyone who has spent any time in the musical theater, even if it’s just in high school, knows these songs by heart. And in this sense, “The Music Man” is a great conduit of nostalgia.

Hollywood was known for its musicals of the 1940s and 1950s, though “The Music Man” came a bit later. Still, it has all the big production numbers and energy of the musicals of yesteryear.

There are two things that make “The Music Man” a treat to re-watch, almost 50 years from its original production date. That is the great list of songs, beginning with onomatopoeic “Rock Island” to the delightfully silly “Shipoopi.” There are so many musicals out there with forgettable songs that it’s quite staggering to rewatch “The Music Man” and realize how many tunes you’ll recognize.

But the glue that held this film together was Robert Preston’s performance as Professor Harold Hill. Preston was born to play this role, and he seemed to infuse part of the character in everything else he did. “The Music Man” would be nothing without Robert Preston, and the man shines in the role.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
It is almost impossible to watch a film from almost fifty years ago and not evaluate it against the modern-day filmmaking techniques. Movies were very different back in 1962, and some of those differences cease to be nostalgia for me and become a bit burdensome.

For “The Music Man,” the elements of the production that I didn’t like was the 150+ minute running time, which could have been shortened if some of the slower, less show-stopping numbers had been dropped for a theatrical edit. Likewise, there’s a love story that emerges out of nowhere between Harold Hill and Marian Paroo, but this is to be expected for a musical.

Finally, here’s a caution for anyone who doesn’t own the 48” or larger high-def TV... because of the 2.4:1 aspect ratio and the era-specific wide-angle scenes, you will lose a lot of detail in the scenes. In reality, “The Music Man” Blu-ray is best experienced with a very, very large television, or you’ll want to find it projected on a theatrical screen somewhere.

BLU-RAY FEATURES
There are pretty slim special features on this Blu-ray release. The only elements is a re-release trailer and a 20-minute featurette “Right Here in River City: The Making of Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man,” with a modern introduction by Shirley Jones.

WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Old-school musical fans and anyone who has ever been involved in a performance of “The Music Man.”



"AMELIA"
Blu-ray Review
by Kevin Carr


    MOVIE: *1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)

    Rated PG
    Studio: Fox Searchlight

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Acclaimed director Mira Nair assembles a biopic of the legendary aviatrix Amelia Earhart, starring Hilary Swank. The story follows Amelia’s fascination with aviation, starting from her early flights through her relationship with George Putnam, which brought her to a popular celebrity status, and eventually culminates in her tragic disappearance.

WHAT I LIKED
When I saw “Amelia” in the theaters this past fall, I was unimpressed. So were most critics. There are some serious problems with this film, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good elements as well.

The most impressive thing about “Amelia,” which ironically is part of the reason the film didn’t work, is the performance of Hilary Swank. The DVD and Blu-ray includes vintage newsreel clips of the real Amelia Earhart, and it is uncanny how well Swank captured her mannerisms, speech and personality in her performance.

Sadly, Amelia Earhart was a much more fascinating historical figure than popular personality. I, like most of the superficial American public, preferred to see the uber-adorable Amy Adams as a spunkier version of Amelia Earhart in “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.”

In addition to Swank’s spot-on performance, there is some brilliant cinematography in this film. Most notable is the aerial photography of Amelia Earhart’s flights over Africa and the ocean. No matter what your thoughts are on the rest of the film, these scenes are simply breathtaking on Blu-ray.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
As a rule, biopics are really hard to do, and that’s because it’s almost impossible to strike the perfect balance between truth and drama. It’s also hard to honor a historic figure without gushing over them. “Amelia” fails in both tasks.

Director Mira Nair paints Earhart as a woman oppressed by society and someone who can do no wrong. She’s too squeaky clean of a personality, and there’s not enough faults shown to make her seem genuinely human. That’s the problem when trying to portray an influential woman of the past... she has so many issues to address that she turns into a caricature of what she should be. While Earhart was a fascinating person, her life story comes off as clunky and flat.

Finally, we all know how things turn out for Amelia Earhart, and watching it play out is about as exciting as listening to a police scanner. She was a great woman, but “Amelia” is not a great movie.

BLU-RAY FEATURES
The Blu-ray comes with about fifteen minutes of deleted scenes and a pretty interesting (if not at times overly self-congratulatory) featurette “Making Amelia.” Additional featurettes include “the Power of Amelia Earhart,” “The Plane Behind the Legend” and “Re-Constructing the Planes of Amelia.”

Still, what I found most interesting was the slate of newsreel excerpts about Earhart. While bordering on archaic, these clips are neat glimpses in the past and give a snapshot of how the real Amelia Earhart came across in interviews.

In addition to the Blu-ray features, the package includes a digital copy of the film for use in portable players.

WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Amelia Earhart history buffs.




    

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