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Blue Jasmine DVD Review

Blue Jasmine (2013) movie poster Blue Jasmine

Theatrical Release: July 26, 2013 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writer/Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Alec Baldwin (Hal Francis), Cate Blanchett (Jasmine Francis), Louis C.K. (Al Munsinger), Bobby Cannavale (Chili), Andrew Dice Clay (Augie), Sally Hawkins (Ginger), Peter Sarsgaard (Dwight), Michael Stuhlbarg (Dr. Flicker), Tammy Blanchard (Jasmine's Friend Jane), Max Casella (Eddie), Alden Ehrenreich (Danny Francis), Annie McNamara (Jasmine's Friend Nora), Kathy Tong (Raylene)

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What about the film business has not dramatically changed since the 1970s? Woody Allen. At age 78, Allen continues to operate as he has since establishing himself as a filmmaker. He continues to write and direct one original movie a year. They are still modestly produced, independent human tales that attract big name talent at a reasonable price.
Always opening with straightforward alphabetical cast lists of white Windsor typeface on black screens, these jazz-scored metropolitan films, most romantic comedies at heart, rarely put up numbers that could qualify them as blockbusters. Yet they always attract some interest from adult moviegoers, who have long come to expect something creative and funny from Mr. Allen. If he disappoints, it's never for long, because the next movie is, without fail, coming soon and so too is a chance to rebound.

Allen's 2011 film, Midnight in Paris, was widely hailed as a return to top form, earning him his first Best Original Screenplay Oscar win and Best Picture nomination since 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters while also putting up career-best numbers at the box office. That experience doesn't seem to have changed Allen's method of working in any way. And while his follow-up effort, 2012's To Rome with Love, disappointed creatively, it did better than average business for the filmmaker. And he's already rebounded since with last summer's well-attended, highly acclaimed dramedy Blue Jasmine, whose lead performance by Cate Blanchett has dominated the Best Actress race all award season. Earlier today, Allen's 70th and latest writing credit also picked up an Original Screenplay nomination, his 16th to date.

Of course, as his characteristic no-show at Sunday's Golden Globes reminded us, Woody Allen is not in the business for the awards. No other living writer-director has generated as many accolades for actresses, but Allen continues to distance himself from the entire process, never campaigning or even attending the ceremonies, save for the Oscar night following September 11th. As reliant on word of mouth and critical recognition as any, Allen's films benefit from the attention and do not seem to suffer from his well-known aversion, Hollywood accepting the image of the neurotic recluse he's cultivated over the years. The industry might not be as forgiving if Allen didn't have such a vast and distinctive body of work.

Jasmine Francis (Cate Blanchett) catches passersby's attention with an impassioned speech directed at nobody in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine."

Blue Jasmine certainly registers as one of the director's better efforts. The film centers on Jasmine Francis (Blanchett), formerly Jeanette, a woman who's not in the best of places mentally or emotionally. The narrative unfolds nonlinearly, gradually getting us to understand how this pretty and presentable New Yorker is seen at film's opening chatting up in great detail an unknown fellow traveler who is politely half-listening and sort of responding. Jasmine needs no captive audience to spill her heart. She is damaged, having been married to a Ponzi schemer whose history of fraud and infidelities long went unknown to her as she comfortably led an upper class existence.

Now single and broke, Jasmine turns to the only person she can for help: her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), at whose San Francisco apartment she'll crash until she can get back on her feet. The two siblings, unrelated biologically but adopted by the same parents, have a strained history, with Jasmine being perceived as the preferred child. A few of the film's many disjointed flashbacks show us the icy reception that Jasmine and her secretly crooked husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) gave Ginger and her working class first husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) when they visited New York for a week. Ginger and Augie's one stroke of good luck, a lottery ticket that pays out $200,000, evaporates when they are persuaded to let Hal invest their winnings in real estate. The money, of course, soon disappears and so too does Ginger's marriage.

Though others who learn of the facts discourage it, Ginger extends unconditional charity to her sister, who shows little gratitude in return. As self-centered and condescending as when she was privileged, Jasmine is disgusted by Ginger's new boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale), a mechanic who dresses and acts like a teenager, and really by anyone who offers advice or questions her judgment. That judgment seems easy to question when it involves Jasmine taking a class to learn to use a computer in order to get an interior decorator's license online. Jasmine takes a job as the receptionist to a dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg), whose advances she resists while mistreating his clientele.

Jasmine sees an opportunity to a fresh start when she meets at a party a widower (Peter Sarsgaard) with Congress ambitions. With a few substantial distortions of her story, Jasmine is suddenly looking at a better life.

Ginger (Sally Hawkins) gets troubling news over the phone that muddles her relationship status. Stand-up comedian Andrew Dice Clay surprises and impresses dramatically as Ginger's ex-husband Augie, his first film role in twelve years.

While there is ample charm to his sunny, unbudging, rarely varied aesthetic, Allen's chief strength and biggest appeal lies in his writing. Whereas most of today's top filmmakers take a few years to develop a project, which is often based on an existing property, Allen is able to come up with bold, original ideas on a yearly basis. Though drawn from real life, most of them are seemingly not autobiographical.
Though inhabited by flawed characters, many of whom may be quirky or neurotic, the stories themselves are not easily mistaken for one another. As mentioned in Diane Keaton's acceptance of the Cecil B. DeMille award on Allen's behalf, one of Allen's greatest gifts is to invent all these distinct, three-dimensional characters and give them something worthwhile to say.

The gift is on display in Blue Jasmine, a film that mostly forgoes the romance and sexual comedy Allen is known for in favor of something more compelling, profound, and psychological. As in most of his new films, Allen does not appear on screen. There isn't even a surrogate for him. Nor are there fourth wall breaks or direct camera addresses. Blue Jasmine is a mature film you might not even instantly recognize as Allen's. The memorable dialogue and creative storytelling is as sharp as that of the best of the director's films, plus the acting is more stellar than usual.

Given a little thought, the standout quality of performances in Allen's films makes perfect sense. Most movie characters exist in a very narrow, specific context, speaking only to advance or exposit plot within their universe. That's the reality in most blockbusters and really any movie that expects to make money these days. Characters with depth and nuance are generally limited to the fringes and the films that open at the end of the year, whose uncertain commercial prospects are generally aided by the buzz and passion that award season creates. The characters in Blue Jasmine have histories, styles, mannerisms, and a wide array of traits. They do things like empty groceries from the trunk of their car and watch boxing and work out at the gym, not merely to spice up their conversations for us but because those are things that real people do.

A five-time Oscar nominee and Supporting Actress winner for The Aviator, Blanchett would make a worthy winner of the Best Actress award, a category that generally gets things right, as the lack of substantial female film roles makes it tough to miss anything great. Her American accent is flawless and she relishes the rich madness that Allen gives her. In the less showy deuteragonist part, Supporting Actress nominee Hawkins isn't able to completely hide her own English dialect, but she makes her likable character easy to sympathize with. Other actors also hit the notes needed, from Clay, an inspired choice picking up his first film credit in twelve years, to the reliably entertaining Cannavale and Stuhlbarg to Louis C.K., displaying comfort acting for someone other than himself.

On the heels of its Golden Globe win and three Oscar nominations, Blue Jasmine finally hits Blu-ray and DVD next Tuesday. Sadly, our review covers the latter.

Blue Jasmine DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French
Not Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: January 21, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $30.99
Black Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray ($35.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

It's not just the fact that I've gotten so used to Blu-ray that explains how lackluster the 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of Blue Jasmine's DVD looks on an HDTV. The image is riddled with compression artifacts that seem tough to defend given the 98-minute runtime and the disc's half-hour of bonus features.

Woody Allen finally made the leap to 5.1 sound a few years back, and Blue Jasmine is thus presented. Not the most remarkable soundtrack, it balances the film-driving dialogue with jazz score and minimal ambient noise to create a satisfactory experience.

Cate Blanchett videobombs Peter Sarsgaard's red carpet interview at the "Blue Jasmine" premiere. Two "Blue Jasmine" posters overlook the Q & A panel of Andrew Dice Clay, Cate Blanchett, and Peter Sarsgaard.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Over the past several years, Woody Allen has apparently been easing from his no bonus features stance. His repeat North American distributor, Sony Pictures Classics,

has been gradually adding some premiere features to the standard trailer. Needless to say, though, they still haven't gotten him to sign off on deleted scenes or a commentary.

In addition to what its title promises, "Notes from the Red Carpet" (5:53) actually features sit-down, poster-accompanied interview remarks from Cate Blanchett, Peter Sarsgaard, and Andrew Dice Clay.

Those same three cast members participate in a Los Angeles "Blue Jasmine Press Conference Q & A" (24:58), moderated by Jenelle Riley. Fishing for potential stories, press members in attendance ask (audibly, in a welcome change for this type of feature) about their costumes, their characters, and the narrative.

Per Sony Pictures Classics standards, Blue Jasmine's theatrical trailer (1:51) is thankfully preserved.

Finally, a Previews listing plays a single trailer for Before Midnight, which per Woody Allen standards does not play automatically at disc insertion.

The DVD's static menus all simply offer a wide rendering of the poster/cover art, the main menu adding some jazz.

An insert supplies your unique code for redeeming the UltraViolet stream or download included with your purchase, while its back promotes Sony's recent Woody Allen films on Blu-ray.

Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) hears "Blue Moon", a song of personal significant to her, from a park bench in the film's haunting closing scene. Ginger's new boyfriend, a mechanic named Chili (Bobby Cannavale), has had it with Jasmine's judgments of him.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I'll always remember the circumstances of my theatrical viewing of Blue Jasmine, an afternoon showing in a classy old theater on a lightly snowy Friday shortly before Christmas. Though less enchanting, my second viewing on DVD confirmed that it wasn't just the seasonal cheer or nice timing and weather that made the outing so enjoyable. Woody Allen's latest is an appealing and substantial character study. Creatively structured and masterfully acted, it's one of 2013's better films and hails from a workaholic living legend who somehow continues to stave off the creative fatigue that should have long ago started to plague him.

Though its extras are suitable, the DVD's picture quality leaves some to be desired. A movie of this caliber deserves to be owned on Blu-ray. I intend to do that in the near future.

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Related Reviews:
Woody Allen: Midnight in Paris Annie Hall To Rome with Love You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger Whatever Works New York Stories
Cate Blanchett: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Sally Hawkins: Happy-Go-Lucky All Is Bright Made in Dagenham | Bobby Cannavale: Win Win The Station Agent
Peter Sarsgaard: Lovelace An Education Flightplan | Michael Stuhlbarg: A Serious Man Men in Black 3 Hugo
Louis C.K.: Louie: The Complete First Season | Max Casella: Newsies | Alden Ehrenreich: Beautiful Creatures
Oscar Nominees: Her American Hustle The Wolf of Wall Street Nebraska Before Midnight August: Osage County
Best Actress Winners: Silver Linings Playbook The Iron Lady Black Swan The Queen Misery
New: Key of Life Fruitvale Station Lee Daniels' The Butler Blind Date Thief

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Reviewed January 16, 2014.



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