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All Is Bright: Blu-ray + Digital HD UltraViolet Review

All Is Bright (2013) movie poster All Is Bright

Theatrical Release: October 4, 2013 / Running Time: 107 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Phil Morrison / Writer: Melissa James Gibson

Cast: Paul Giamatti (Dennis Girard), Paul Rudd (Rene Upiter), Sally Hawkins (Olga), Amy Landecker (Therese), Peter Hermann (Monsieur Tremblay), Emory Cohen (Lou, who comes to buy a tree), Tatyana Richaud (Michi), Michael Drayer (Bobby, who comes to buy a tree), Colman Domingo (Nzomo), Halley Feiffer (Claire, from Last Year), Nikki M. James (Betsy), Gordon Joseph Weiss (Blind Guy), Curtiss L'Cook (Kevin), Darren Goldstein (Border Guard), Rob Munk (Friendly Vermonter), Morgan Spector (Vladimir)

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It's rare for a holiday film to open in theaters and hit home video in the same holiday season instead of two successive ones.
In fact, the only one that comes to mind is Surviving Christmas, the 2004 Ben Affleck flop that got an early start by opening shortly before Halloween, closing on Thanksgiving week, and reaching stores four days before Christmas.

All Is Bright takes a similar speedy trip, but it does so without the same shame, because it was acquired by Anchor Bay Films, a limited distributor whose theatrical windows are barely big enough to let in a draft. After premiering at last spring's Tribeca Film Festival, this independent drama came to On Demand in September, then played in just ten theaters for a single weekend at the beginning of October, and hits DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday in time for the holiday rush.

Rene (Paul Rudd) and Dennis (Paul Giamatti) discover their dinky Christmas tree business has some serious competition across the street in "All Is Bright."

The movie opens with Dennis Girard (Paul Giamatti) being released from a Quebec prison on parole after serving four years for theft. He makes a long, cold walk to his old house, where he discovers that his wife Therese (Amy Landecker) has moved on and, worse yet, has told their young daughter Michi (Tatyana Richaud) that he died of cancer.

Dennis' first meeting with his parole officer reveals there's no hope of finding work, adding a job to a home, a family, and money on the list of things he no longer has. Dennis reconnects with his old accomplice and Therese's new lover, Rene (Paul Rudd), a reformed safecracker who didn't show up for the heist that got him busted. His old friend's desperation and his own guilt are enough to push Rene to letting Dennis become his partner on his on-the-level seasonal job. With a loan, the two former partners in crime acquire $3,000 worth of Christmas trees at wholesale prices. They fill a truck with the evergreens and head for a junky lot in New York City where they intend to sell them at a steep mark-up.

Business is slow at first, in part due to competition that Dennis scares off and in part due to their own lack of showmanship and knowledge. Rene suggests the two might help business by posing as friendly Quebecois. While Rene keeps in regular contact with Therese and Michi counts down the days until his return with an advent calendar, Dennis struggles to get over his losses, even as he is shown generosity by Olga (Sally Hawkins), a Russian housekeeper for vacationing dentists.

British actress Sally Hawkins gets into the accent game as compassionate Russian housekeeper Olga. Dennis' daughter (Tatyana Richaud) and ex-wife (Amy Landecker) await the return of Rene with Advent calendar chocolates.

Though All Is Bright looks like a comedy and is marketed as one, it's as glum as holiday films get. Many of the genre's entries, including those inspired in any way by Charles Dickens,
embrace some darkness en route to redemption. But this one, despite Rudd's tastes and Giamatti's experience, is bleak at its beginning and sustains that tone all the way through. While the debut screenplay by Melissa James Gibson (now writing for FX's "The Americans") is not entirely without humor, it is a decidedly depressing affair, which stomps out a glimmer of hope in a soul-crushing late development.

It's easy to appreciate this as an alternative to conventional holiday cinema and its traditional servings of family-friendly comedy, fantasy, and romance. But overall, it's not so easy to appreciate All at all. Even if it wasn't coming off a measly $4,556 theatrical run, it seems a given that this movie lacks appeal and that most viewers will prefer the usual, be it heartwarming merriment or broad Griswolds/Kranks-type holiday hijinks. While it's in All's interest to be released at this time of year, it's not a movie you'd feel strange watching in spring or summer. Needless to say, this won't be landing a timeslot in ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas schedule anytime soon. There's not even a chance this gets some attention as an unconventional seasonal recommendation, like the kind sometimes given to the likes of Bad Santa or A Midnight Clear.

That's not to say that All Is Bright is a terrible film. It's dreary and problematic, slow and stage-like, but it's not without some worth. Still, it seems to exist more as an exercise in foreign accents than as a narrative feature film. All four adult leads attempt a bold dialect with the results being mixed at best. Rudd sounds like he could fit in on an episode of "Trailer Park Boys." Giamatti seems to slip in and out of a slight Canadian sound. The heavier French Canadian accent is a constant challenge for Landecker. Meanwhile, the British Hawkins, selecting an unusual project as her first American film (this was shot before Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, for which she has picked up some Supporting Actress award buzz), embraces her Slavic sound enthusiastically. That the voice work stands out more than the performances is troubling, but such is the price of director Phil Morrison (Junebug, "Upright Citizens Brigade") and his cast insisting on that specific regionality.

Ranking up with the accents in terms of prominence is Graham Reynolds' score, which consists perhaps entirely of somber jazz versions of familiar Christmas carol melodies. Every one of those conveys the film's relentlessly pained, melancholic mood.

All Is Bright Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: November 19, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $29.97
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($26.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Don't take the title literally, as All Is Bright's transfer matches its tone, often looking dark, drab and grainy. The 2.40:1 widescreen presentation is without any major problems and generally stays sharp and clean without quite impressing. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack needs to be cranked way up. Once it is, it's an adequate mix offering an even balance of music and dialogue. Still, the accents may have you consulting the English SDH subtitles thankfully provided. Only some of the occasional French dialogue is translated by burned-in subtitles.

The All Is Bright Blu-ray's creative menu, featuring Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd angels alongside a clip-playing ornament, almost makes up for the complete lack of bonus features.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

All Is Bright's only extra is a Digital HD UltraViolet stream
and download of the film. This is noteworthy for being one of first (and maybe the first) Anchor Bay-produced films to offer a digital copy in that format. If you're like me, though, you'd have rather gotten the film's trailer.

HD trailers for Jayne Mansfield's Car and Pawn Shop Chronicles play at the start of the disc and are not accessible by menu.

That menu creatively plays film clips on a tree from which angelic likenesses of the two Pauls hang. Though the BD doesn't resume playback, you are able to set bookmarks.

A single-sided insert supplying directions and your unique code for accessing the complimentary UltraViolet is the only thing other than the disc inside the eco-friendly keepcase.

Despite the title, all doesn't seem so bright for Dennis Girard (Paul Giamatti), a Canadian ex-con selling Christmas trees in New York City.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

All Is Bright is a much gloomier film than its title, cast, premise, and setting anticipate. This downer of an indie holds interest with its characters, but outlandish, inconsistent accents and other flaws keep us at bay and from enjoying this in whatever way intended. Not putting its stars' talents to the greatest use, this drama is likely to disappoint even if its under-the-radar status keeps expectations low.

It's unfortunate that Anchor Bay's Blu-ray doesn't think to include a single bonus feature other than UltraViolet. Fans of the cast and those open to a different kind of holiday film might want to give this a look, but this disc is clearly destined for bargain bins and not worthy of a purchase outside of one.

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Reviewed November 13, 2013.



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