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The English Teacher: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack Review

The English Teacher (2013) movie poster The English Teacher

Theatrical Release: May 17, 2013 / Running Time: 92 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Craig Zisk / Writers: Dan Chariton, Stacy Chariton

Cast: Julianne Moore (Linda Sinclair), Michael Angarano (Jason P. Sherwood), Greg Kinnear (Dr. Tom Sherwood), Lily Collins (Halle Anderson), Nathan Lane (Carl Kapinas), Norbert Leo Butz (Vice Principal Phil Pelaski), Jessica Hecht (Principal Trudie Slocum), Charlie Saxton (Will Trainer), Nikki Blonsky (Sheila Nussbaum), Fiona Shaw (Narrator), Sophie Curtis (Fallon Hughes), Katie Meinholt (Young Linda Sinclair), Anthony Ippolito (Blowdried Jock), John Hodgman (Unmotivated Man), Remy Auberjonois (Arrogant Man), Jim Breuer (Narcissist Man)

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Julianne Moore has been acting in films for over twenty years, an eternity for an actress in Hollywood, where leading lady duties are usually surrendered by age 40. Not only is Moore continuing to enjoy lead roles in high-profile movies, but she's still turning over new leaves. The English Teacher gives Moore (who is 52, shhh!) her very first titular film role.

Indeed, Moore is the English teacher (one of them, anyway) at Pennsylvania's Kingston High School. The perfection of literary romances has left Linda Sinclair a 45-year-old spinster who grades dates in her mind, quickly finding insurmountable faults.
At school, Ms. Sinclair is continuing to teach -- and defend -- classics like Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. One night, while withdrawing money from an ATM, Linda runs into former student Jason Sherwood (Michael Angarano). Actually, he runs into her and she sprays him with mase, a rash reaction she immediately regrets. A recent graduate of NYU's dramatic writing program, Jason is back home. His Broadway hopes dashed over an unproduced thesis play, he's considering going to law school.

Linda is quite impressed by Jason's play The Chrysalis and she brings it to the attention of Kingston drama teacher Carl Kapinas (Nathan Lane), who asks the high school to stage it instead of the scheduled rendition of The Importance of Being Earnest. The administration agrees... conditionally. Carl has to change the suicide-laden ending that's deemed too mature for high school. That's the first of numerous content and budget-based compromises that Carl, Linda, and Jason must endure.

In "The English Teacher", Ms. Linda Sinclair (Julianne Moore) finds her classroom door vandalized after word of her sexual encounter with a former student leaks out.

The production takes a strange turn when Jason and Linda engage in some spontaneous classroom sex atop her desk. The alumnus half her age soon moves on to a current pupil (Lily Collins), a relationship Linda has to take to task as inappropriate. Instead of developing that into a full-fledged love triangle, The English Teacher just follows through on the play, while also addressing the tension that exists between Jason and his doctor father (Greg Kinnear).

Despite the title, the film is less about Ms. Sinclair than about the play she champions and agrees to work on and partially fund. "The play's the thing" is uttered no fewer than three times and the movie takes that to heart, except when it doesn't. This independent comedy has the feel of a first draft.
The dots don't all connect and it can't decide which is the most important angle to explore. Sinclair's character is established in some brief Jane Austen-esque antiquated voiceover narration by Fiona Shaw, a design that could very well have been invented in post-production.

The screenplay, the first legitimately produced one by husband-wife team Dan and Stacy Chariton, refuses to select a prevalent focus or a tone. The comedy is often startlingly tone-deaf. The jokes that die put a crimp in the agreeable atmosphere otherwise being built. You can tell that twenty years of directing television as diverse as "Brooklyn Bridge", "Scrubs", and "Weeds" has not adequately prepared Craig Zisk for this, his theatrical debut. The English Teacher doesn't want to do the dark and edgy thing of many indie comedies set in high school, but nor is it interested in appealing to teenagers. Yet, it doesn't have enough brains to continuously engage the intelligent adults it's ostensibly aimed at with its mild R rating.

Linda (Julianne Moore) encourages Jason (Michael Angarano) to keep at it, after a student questions a "trite" portion of his play. Dr. Tom Sherwood (Greg Kinnear) explains to Linda he's not the monster his son's play would have her believe.

One of the film's biggest shortcomings is that it spends its first hour building up this play as an ingenious and personal creative expression, only to treat us to extended climax excerpts that are unintentionally stupid. Forget the play's ending that troubles every character of importance; the film's entire final act is a letdown that doesn't at all relate to the opening that announced this as a Julianne Moore romantic comedy. When it comes around to tying up that loose end in a finale that revives Shaw's narration as a broken fourth wall in the obvious only way it can, it is an unsatisfying conclusion to a wildly uneven and unfulfilling movie.

After premiering on VOD and then screening at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, The English Teacher received a 7-theater North American release in May. Now, it hits stores on the week that many start school in a DVD and a Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack from Cinedigm Entertainment.

The English Teacher: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Blu-ray Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: September 3, 2013
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($24.95 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray's 2.40:1 widescreen picture looks terrific. It's not quite spotless, but for a low-budget film, it poses no significant problems even under close scrutiny. The DTS-HD master audio soundtrack (which is in 5.1 channels for everything but the opening Cinedigm logo) doesn't grab your attention for reasons good or bad. It serves the basic mix fine, making you unlikely to have to consult the lone stream of English SDH subtitles, which the DVD drops in favor of closed captioning I was unable to access.

The English Teacher's theatrical trailer establishes its premise, at least the one it sorted out in post-production. Greg Kinnear wears his sunglasses on set as he collaborates with Julianne Moore in "Making 'The English Teacher.'"

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

On both discs, The English Teacher is joined by three bonus features, which the Blu-ray kindly presents in high definition.

First up is the movie's theatrical trailer (2:22),
which ought to be a standard inclusion but for many other studios is not.

Then comes the centerpiece: "Making The English Teacher", a half-hour featurette primarily consisting of talking head interviews of director Craig Zisk, screenwriters the Charitons, producers, and the cast. The piece also includes some quiet B-roll of rehearsal and improv. At least twice as long as it needs to be, this routine featurette spends a lot of time letting participants pass praise around for one another, with Moore and the script getting the lion's share.

This deleted scene finds Dr. Sherwood (Greg Kinnear) and a woman bearing striking resemblance to Julianne Moore acting out parts of "The Chrysalis" in Linda's first reading of the play. The Blu-ray's briefly animated menu moves clips and key art imagery across the screen.

Finally, a deleted scene (2:18) finds Linda envisioning the play on her first reading with Dr. Sherwood (Greg Kinnear) and her own doppelganger in the roles. It's quirkier and more visually imaginative than anything in the film.

The animated main menu moves a scroll of clips and poster/cover imagery only once, then settling on a static representation of the same art. Though the Blu-ray is not authored to allow bookmarks, it does seamlessly resume playback just as a DVD does.

No inserts or slipcovers spice up the standard Blu-ray keepcase which places the two similarly fully-color-labeled discs on opposite sides.

Director Carl Kapinas (Nathan Lane) acknowledges the playwright at the conclusion of "The Chrysalis."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

You expect an independent film to accept its limited commercial prospects and devote its efforts to being smart, different, and poignant. But sometimes, you get something like The English Teacher, that's just not funny, clever, or consistent enough to deserve being seen by a wide audience. While this comedy has a likable cast and some bright moments, it can't decide the story it wants to tell and fails to come together in a satisfying way.

Cinedigm's Blu-ray combo pack is fine, but this isn't a movie you'll need to see more than once.

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Reviewed August 30, 2013.



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