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Café Society: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Café Society (2016) movie poster Café Society

Theatrical Release: July 15, 2016 / Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writer/Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Jeannie Berlin (Rose Dorfman), Steve Carell (Phil Stern), Jesse Eisenberg (Robert Jacob "Bobby" Dorfman), Blake Lively (Veronica Hayes), Parker Posey (Rad), Kristen Stewart (Veronica "Vonnie" Sybel), Corey Stoll (Ben Dorfman), Ken Stott (Marty Dorfman), Anna Camp (Shirley "Candy" Garfein), Stephen Kunken (Leonard), Sari Lennick (Evelyn), Paul Schneider (Steve), Sheryl Lee (Karen Stern), Richard Portnow (Walt), Don Stark (Sol), Brendan Burke (Joe Wojehowitz), Tony Sirico (Vito Pugioni), Woody Allen (Narrator - uncredited)

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It wouldn't be a year of cinema without a Woody Allen movie. After seven years in a row of working with Sony Pictures Classics
during a period that produced two of the most popular, acclaimed, and decorated works of his career (Midnight Paris and Blue Jasmine), Allen went to work for Amazon Studios. He gave the giant e-tailer's fledgling content production arm "Crisis in Six Scenes", a recently released short-run series marking his TV debut. But that side project did nothing to slow his clockwork-like one-a-year film schedule, which gave us Café Society, a well-reviewed and relatively well-attended mid-sized summer release.

Café Society is right up Woody's alley. It is set primarily in 1930s Hollywood, enabling the writer-director, who narrates the film but does not appear in it, to trot out the jazz standards and old movie references that have always colored his tastes.

Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) and Vonnie Sybel (Kristen Stewart) share a sweet Manhattan sunset in Woody Allen's "Café Society."

This time around, the filmmaker's surrogate is Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), a young, neurotic, Jewish New Yorker who moves out to Hollywood and becomes an assistant to his uncle Phil Stern (Steve Carell), a busy, important agent who is well-connected to all the big movie studios and stars. Bobby quickly becomes smitten with Phil's secretary, Nebraska-born Veronica "Vonnie" Sybel (Kristen Stewart). But she is seeing someone else and not all that enamored with the sweet, naive, and still starstruck Bobby.

What makes this love triangle particularly unusual is that the guy Vonnie is seeing is none other than Uncle Phil, who is seriously flirting with the idea of leaving his wife of 25 years to be with this secretary who wasn't even alive 25 years ago. Neither suitor knows the competition...until they do. Vonnie's choice has repercussions for both, prompting Bobby to head back to New York, where he marries a different Veronica (Blake Lively) and helps his gangster brother Ben (Corey Stoll) run a successful nightclub.

Café Society provides what you expect of a Woody Allen movie, a form the world has had about fifty years to familiarize themselves with. There is romance. There is comedy. There is religious humor. All of it is sharper and more entertaining than you would expect it to be from someone who has been doing this for more than half a century and who turned 80 last December. All of it is also in the unmistakable voice of its maker, who fully established himself as a distinctive comic artist in the 1970s and has remained mostly relevant ever since.

Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) and his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell) share a conversation about their love lives without realizing they both love the same woman.

Allen's aforementioned two Oscar-winning hits earlier this decade may have introduced him to a new generation of fans, but he still speaks most directly to those who were old enough to be seeing his movies four decades ago. Still, Allen never fails to attract in-demand, big-name actors (many of whom here are reuniting with him) who more often than not prove to be comfortable with his unique rhythms and cadences. As always, dialogue drives Café Society and it's almost musical in its blend of off-the-cuff chatter infused with very apparent wit. There are a bunch of memorable lines here, from a minor character's retort to Socrates' famous "unexamined life" philosophy to humorous exchanges on
Judaism and Christianity's differing views. It all flows well with the energy and pacing of Allen's better films and with the joy of an artist who continues to do what he loves in disregard and defiance of what passes for modern cinema these days.

Boasting sumptuous period production design, cinematography in the irregular 2.0:1 aspect ratio by accomplished Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor, and a number of Warren Beatty films), and costumes, Café Society could get recognized in some technical award categories, even if it doesn't add to the long list of original screenplay nominations (and wins) Allen has earned with apparent apathy.

Having grossed $11 million and change in domestic theaters, Café Society hit home video this week from Lionsgate in a DVD + Digital release and the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

Café Society: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.00:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: October 18, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided discs (BD-50 & DVD-5)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as DVD + Digital ($29.95 SRP) and on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Café Society is a feast visually. Positively delighting on Blu-ray, Storaro's sun-kissed 2.00:1 compositions are like the filmic equivalent of champagne. Those pleasing period images are complemented by a spry and crisp soundtrack. Though it is encoded in full 5.1 DTS-HD master audio (Allen was still using mono and 2.0 mixes just a few years ago), it remains largely limited to the front channels, which is befitting of the film era being celebrated here.

The "rad" Parker Posey comments from the red carpet premiere on her second consecutive Woody Allen movie. A hatted Woody Allen directs Steve Carell in this photo gallery still.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

For a long time, the only extra you'd find on a Woody Allen movie disc was the trailer.
You don't get that nor any other trailers here, instead finding two minor bonuses on both discs.

"On the Red Carpet" (2:13) collects enthusiastic sound bites from the cast attending the film's mid-July premiere at the Paris Theatre in New York. Allen, predictably, says nothing here.

Beyond that there is a Photo Gallery consisting of 33 images, a mix of color and black & white publicity and making-of stills.

The menu plays a scored montage of silent clips alongside the poster/cover's art deco principal design.

An insert supplying your Digital HD UltraViolet code is the only thing joining the two discs, given similar full-color labels, in the slipcovered eco-friendly keepcase.

"Café Society" concludes with a melancholy New Year for Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

After fifty years of annual output, you know what you're getting from a Woody Allen movie. But Café Society is one of his sharper efforts, a great-looking and consistently entertaining jaunt more akin to Midnight in Paris and Magic in the Moonlight than Irrational Man and To Rome with Love. Lionsgate's Blu-ray combo pack is an utter delight technically, and, though underwhelming, its minimal extras are to be expected from a Woody Allen film.

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Related Reviews:
Written and Directed by Woody Allen:
Irrational ManMagic in the MoonlightBlue JasmineTo Rome with LoveMidnight in ParisYou Will Meet a Tall Dark StrangerWhatever Works
Crimes and MisdemeanorsNew York StoriesRadio DaysThe Purple Rose of CairoBroadway Danny RoseAnnie Hall

New to Disc: The MeddlerMaggie's PlanSwiss Army ManGenius
Hail, Caesar!The RocketeerThe PlayerFading Gigolo
Jesse Eisenberg: Louder Than BombsNow You See Me 2 | Steve Carell: The Big ShortFoxcatcher
Kristen Stewart: EqualsStill AliceClouds of Sils MariaWelcome to the Rileys | Corey Stoll: Black MassAnt-Man

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Reviewed October 21, 2016.



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