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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Family > Relationships > Illness > Kidnapping > Terrorism > Pirating > Comedy > Holiday > Gay > Thrill > Cafe de Flore (2012/Kino DVD)/Captain Phillips (2013/Sony Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012/Magnolia Blu-ray)/Pit Stop (2013/Wolfe DVD)/A Single Shot (2013/Tribeca/Well Go USA Blu-r

Cafe de Flore (2012/Kino DVD)/Captain Phillips (2013/Sony Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012/Magnolia Blu-ray)/Pit Stop (2013/Wolfe DVD)/A Single Shot (2013/Tribeca/Well Go USA Blu-ray)/Terraferma (2011/RAI/Cohen Media Group Blu-ray)

Picture: C+/B- & C/B-/C/B/B Sound: C+/B & C+/B-/C+/B-/B Extras: D/C+/C-/C+/C+/C+ Films: B-/C+/C-/C/B-/B-

Here is a solid new group of dramas for awards season, most of which you have likely not heard of and most of which you should see...

Jean-Marc Vallee's Cafe de Flore (2012) tells the tale of two eras via personal stories, starting with a DJ (Kevin Parent in a fine debut performance) partying and trying to find a better life while a mother (Vanessa Paradis) in the 1960s has to deal with raising a mentally disabled son she loves. At first, there would seem to be no connection, but the former has several women and other couples to deal with and is a divorcee, while the brave mother who loves her Down Syndrome child unconditionally has been abandoned by her husband and is behind him 100% despite a lack of outside support.

Though not perfect, the film is trying to make mature statements about people, relationships and our humanity and for a change, it succeeds more than not with a fine supporting cast, smart screenplay and ambitions that are often met. This never becomes pretentious, formulaic or hits false notes, so the result is one of the better foreign film releases of late that is definitely worth a look.

There are sadly no extras.

Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips (2013) has Tom Hanks doing a pretty good job of playing Richard Phillips, a professional seaman who has his boat hijacked during a huge food delivery by Somali Pirates while he and his crew are just doing their job. Said pirates get delusional quickly about the money they could get from their rag tag operation, but they are ready to kill and the script gos into detail early on in Somalia in how they group assembles to pull off their crime.

Though there are some good moments here as there always are in Director Greengrass' work, the narrative and set-up cannot avoid an us and them dichotomy despite the realism of the plotting and solid work by the actors playing the pirates, plus Hanks has so much dialogue while at gunpoint that it I hard to suspend disbelief that he would not be assaulted or more in said situation. The U.S. Military and Navy SEALs are shown in a positive light to the point that it is almost too streamlined (we learn more about them and get more of a connection in Zero Dark Thirty) that the film is affected.

However, Greengrass has enough fine scenes where he pushes things to tell the story that all is not lost, but this is also haunted by biopic formula and at 134 minutes does not seem to say and do everything it should have. Still, not bad.

Extras include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and iTunes capable devices, while the Blu-ray adds the Capturing Captain Phillips making-of featurette and a feature length audio commentary track by director Greengrass.

Edward Burns' The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012) is somehow the actor's 10th feature as a director and he usually stars in his works, with this being no exception, a drama about friends getting together for the holidays and no snow to be found anywhere much like any new ideas about how to tell and show such a story. The result is just about all of his regular actors from all his past films get together and we have 97 minutes to hope something good will happen when it does not.

The disc has Theatrical and Unrated versions of the film, but it never comes to be. The cast has talent, but offers nothing much new and Burns never became a formidable director despite his best efforts. This is also one more holiday release too many and for fans only.

Extra include feature length audio commentary track by Burns on the Unrated Version of the film and BD Live interactive functions.

Yen Tan's Pit Stop (2013) is a short 80 minutes about an openly gay man (Marcus DeAna) having an affair with a man (Bill Heck) who is not out in yet another small Texas town. Of course, this sounds like Brokeback Mountain, but is far simpler and despite some potential, has far less character and story development. The actors, situations and critique of Texas as metaphor for homophobia, retro homophobia and obstacles in connecting and finding happiness no matter who you are are on track here.

I just felt the film, despite being one of the most professionally shot and edited gay cinema releases we've seen in a while, misses the mark too often and has nothing new to say. Tan should try again and go further in whatever his next film is about.

Extras include two feature length audio commentary tracks and the Original Theatrical Trailer.

David M. Rosenthal's A Single Shot (2013) has Sam Rockwell as a hunter named John living alone after being separated from his wife and baby, when hunting one day, he discovers a woman dead nearby with a note about leaving her abusive boyfriend. She could not take it anymore, but she did take a suitcase with a small fortune he decides to take for himself. Of course, people will come looking for the money including her rotten boyfriend (Jason Issacs in a great turn). John wants his family back.

Having secured the money, he turns to his local small town lawyer (the very welcome William H. Macy) but John is also starting to get phone threats against himself, his family and those turn into threatening vandalism. The result is a smart thriller and drama with a solid cast Tribeca rightly backed that deserves a much wider audience than it has gained so far and Rockwell handles the lead expertly as usual. Definitely see this one too! Jeffrey Wright and Ted Levine also star.

Extras include a Making Of featurette, Original Theatrical Trailer and Interviews featurette.

Emanuele Crialese's Terraferma (2011) is a tale about Sicilian boaters that will recall Visconti's classic La Terra Trema (1948, reviewed on Blu-ray and import DVD elsewhere on this site) and boldly has new points to make about people trapped in situations they may not always realize they are part of. A boating family is out working to make money at the only thing they can profit from, fishing with tourism, when a boat of people fleeing Africa is intercepted by Italian authorities.

However, four of the immigrants fleeing awful conditions land up on their boat and the family takes them home despite laws to the contrary. This includes a woman who is pregnant and about to have a baby. We learn that the guests are from Ethiopia (we find this out in a scene where all are looking at a globe and Sicily is not even there for being so small as the script drams parallels with the visuals between the two parties) and claim to have been traveling for 2 years just to get to the coast that would allow them to risk their lives to enter Sicily illegally.

A family member passes early on as we focus on the youngest fisherman in the family (Fllippo Pucillo) a still too naïve, trusting and kid-like, soon to be challenged by the situation that will grow worse when authorities seize their boat in retaliation for helping these vulnerable people. That drives the young man to try an avoid the situation, but new twists and turns force him to decide whether he needs to fight back or just let everything fall apart. This one too succeeds often and definitely worth your time. It was Italy's Academy Award entry that year too.

Extras include an illustrated booklet on the film with chapter stops and main cast, while the Blu-ray adds a Making Of featurette and Original Theatrical Trailer.

Of the four Blu-rays here, the 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers on Shot and Terraferma have the best transfers, even when they have minor flaws, but both are also shot in the Super 35mm film process and that pays off well in both cases with atmospheric, naturalistic and realistic shots throughout that put most HD shoots to shame. The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers on Phillips and Family each have their good shots, but do not look as consistently good and happen to be HD shoots. Phillips has much money in it for its CGI work, but it is also styled down to look a bit rough and dark at times, while its anamorphically enhanced DVD version is just too soft and hard to watch. Family is just a bit generic at times with color that is not always impressive.

That leaves the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image ion the two DVDs and Cafe looks the best of all three DVDs, while Stop is also softer than I would have liked and a little pale, tying the Phillips DVD for last place.

As for sound, all four Blu-rays offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes and the sonic champs are Phillips and Terraferma, both of which happen to be connected with the sea, but both are very well recorded, mixed, warm, consistent and Phillips has the most complex mix of anything on this list. Family and Shot are more dialogue-based and have moments of (practical) silence that holds them back from being more dynamic, but their mixed fit their scripts and make sense.

All three DVDs have lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes save Cafe with a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix with faint Pro Logic surrounds. They are all pretty equal as the Phillips DVD cannot handle the sonics the DTS-MA on the Blu-ray can and the rest are dialogue-based dramas with a quieter leaning.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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