(2012/Sony Blu-ray)/Stephen Sondheim’s
Company (2011/Image Blu-ray)/Stray
Cats – Live At Montreux 1981 (Eagle DVD)
B/B-/C Sound: B-/B/B- Extras: B-/C/D Main Programs: B-
the latest music-related titles for your consideration, all worth seeing and
that when Salim Akil’s remake of Sparkle
(2012) hit theaters, it would be a big hit, but the death of co-star Whitney
Houston was apparently too much for fans and business was moderate. With more time having passed, the story of a
trio of sisters who might make it in the music business during the later 1950s
to later 1960s when the business is a very happening thing is one of the year’s
more underrated films and I hope this new Sony Blu-ray release (along with
other versions) will allow people to catch up with it.
A sort of
non-musical Dreamgirls, this drama
with some music less reflects the story of Diana Ross & The Supremes than
of many of their family competitors as the gals live with their mom (Houston)
in a nice house in Detroit, but they cannot stay young or stay there
forever. Plus, potential stardom awaits
them if they succeed. Sparkle (Jordan
Sparks) can write songs, but needs to keep practicing, her sister who everyone
calls Sister (Carmen Ejogo) is the bad girl of the family, though the
screenplay does not succumb to any kind of virgin/whore complex despite the
title character being explicitly the former; a point the film proudly iterates
throughout in a pleasant development for reasons of dignity.
religious moments, good men, bad men, a celebration of music, an inadvertent
celebration of the music industry and a film that manages to be something new
and fresh instead of a repeat of the 1976 Irene Cara/Lonette McKee film which
was a high class RSO Records/Warner Bros. music film having some of the feel of
the Blaxploitation films but more interested in being a formidable drama in the
face of all that. The new Sparkle is the latter and is as music
driven as it is character driven. Sparks is a potential new
star, Derek Luke should already be one, Mike Epps is excellent in a thankless
role, Ceelo Green has a good turn here and Whitney Houston actually gives a fun
acting performance not knowing it would be her last.
call this a backstage musical, but it is more a drama/comedy and I hope it is
remembered around awards time for what does work because the good music films
this year have been few and far between.
Sparkle manages to be fresh
all over again and makes for a tribute to all involved, especially Houston.
include Ultraviolet Copy, Director’s Commentary track, A Tribute To Whitney Houston (nice 20 minutes featurette) and A Dream Come True: Bringing The Story To The
Big Screen, plus we get Blu-ray exclusives like two Music Videos, Sparkle & Shine – Meet The Cast
featurette and A Sparkling Moment –
Music, Choreography and Costumes featurette.
explicitly a musical and stage music at that, Stephen Sondheim’s Company (2011) is an HD shot presentation
straight off of the Broadway stage with Neil Patrick Harris leading off a great
cast including Craig Bierko, Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer, Patti LuPone, Martha
Plympton, Anika Noni Rose and many others with The New York Philharmonic in a
nice new Blu-ray release from Image.
debuting in 1970, the actual written work about a man (Harris) and his
sometimes amusingly complicated social life done in layers of music and layers
of singing was groundbreaking in its time and endures very well today. The cast (including some who are unknown to
myself, but likely not Broadway fans) is as effective as it is well wired
together delivering the show without a missed step; as a result, this taping
captures the excitement of being their for a live stage performance and that is
not easy to do.
recommended, it may be a little long, but it is never dull. A booklet with liner notes by Lonny Price is
the only extra.
we have Stray Cats – Live At Montreux
1981 (featuring the great New Wave/Pop/Rockabilly band who seemed destined
to be the next big band. They had some
hits people really liked and still like in Stray
Cat Strut and Rock This Town,
both performed here, but in-fighting (not apparent here) soon tore the band
apart and killed the big commercial potential of all involved. Why?
We don’t; know, because they are really good here performing a 15-song
set that also includes some Rock classics (Be
Bop A Lula) and sure have the talent and energy to carry it all off.
ruins a solid 80 minutes and reminds us of what a great band they were, will
make fans of them and music of the time happy and is a show that is more than
deserving of the DVD release Eagle is giving it. Unfortunately, there are no extras.
2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Sparkle looks good, but the
darker scenes loose definition and depth, though that was not a problem when I
saw it digitally projected in the theater, so it must be the difference between
the Blu-ray format and the 2.8K definition the Arri Alexa Plus delivers from
the actual shoot. Daylight and brighter
shots are fine, color quality is good and the image is clean. Director of Photography Anastas N. Michos (Cadillac Records) shows once again that
he can handle the combination of a scope widescreen frame and without
compromising or styling down color range.
That really pays off in the long run and makes for a visually cinematic
1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Company
is also colorful and stage bound, but is fine for what it is and only at times
do we have minor picture issues (lack of detail, motion blur) for what is
otherwise a nice, smooth, live taping.
It may not have the definition of Sparkle overall, but still looks fine
X 1 image on Cats was shot on NTSC
analog video and we get picture banding, anomalies and flaws throughout, plus
some softness that is hard to ignore, but that is the way it was made and Eagle
has done what it could to make this look as good as it ever will.
DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes on the two Blu-rays and regular DTS
on the Cats DVD also all sound as
good as they ever will. Sparkle is sometimes a mix that is more
towards the front speakers than I would have liked, but the music always sounds
great and some sound was not fixable with Miss Houston’s passing. The result is some scenes where the audio is
not as good as others. Company has the best soundfield of all
three releases with a rich, consistent soundfield throughout and great sonic
capturing of the live performance form start to finish. The Lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 version is not
bad, but no match for the DTS-MA. Cats (no, not the musical of course)
was not conceived as a multi-channel presentation and is also here in lossy
Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Stereo options, but the DTS 5.1 is best in
capturing the details of the audio that was recorded and survives.
- Nicholas Sheffo