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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Comedy > Romance > Record Industry > Religion > Soul > Pop > Gospel > Backstage Musical > Stage Musi > Sparkle (2012/Sony Blu-ray)/Stephen Sondheim’s Company (2011/Image Blu-ray)/Stray Cats – Live At Montreux 1981 (Eagle DVD)

Sparkle (2012/Sony Blu-ray)/Stephen Sondheim’s Company (2011/Image Blu-ray)/Stray Cats – Live At Montreux 1981 (Eagle DVD)


Picture: B/B-/C     Sound: B-/B/B-     Extras: B-/C/D     Main Programs: B-



Here are the latest music-related titles for your consideration, all worth seeing and enjoying.



I thought 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.


We get 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.


You could 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.


Extras 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.



Even more 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.


Originally 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.


Definitely recommended, it may be a little long, but it is never dull.  A booklet with liner notes by Lonny Price is the only extra.



Finally 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.


This show 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.



The 1080p 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 film.


The 1080p 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 throughout.


The 1.33 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.


The 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


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