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A Ghost Story Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

A Ghost Story (2017) movie poster A Ghost Story

Theatrical Release: July 7, 2017 / Running Time: 92 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: David Lowery

Cast: Casey Affleck (C), Rooney Mara (M), McColm Cephas Jr. (Little Boy), Kenneisha Thompson (Doctor), Grover Coulson (Man in Wheelchair), Liz Cardenas Franke (Linda), Barlow Jacobs (Gentleman Caller), Sonia Acevedo (Maria), Carlos Fabian Bermudez (Carlos), Kesha Sebert (Spirit Girl), Will Oldham (Prognosticator)

Buy A Ghost Story from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

It looked as if writer-director David Lowery was changing the course of his career by remaking the Disney family film Pete's Dragon and then signing up to helm a live-action version of the studio's animated classic Peter Pan.
Lowery's third feature as director, though, A Ghost Story, is closer in tone to his debut, 2013's critically acclaimed and commercially insignificant Ain't Them Bodies Saints.

As in that crime drama, Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck take the lead roles here, playing a couple. We open with the two of them comfortable and close at night in their little old rural home. We don't even get their names before the man is killed in a car crash just down the road. His wife or girlfriend takes a look at the dead body at the hospital morgue and walks off. Shortly thereafter, the deceased sits up, covered by a white bedsheet. The sheet remains on and two eye holes somehow form, giving the dead man the classic, easy Halloween ghost costume look.

But it's not Halloween and this isn't a costume. The man, a musician in life, is dead and no one can see him as he walks and stands about. He heads back to his home, where his lover is distraught. In the film's most indulgent and patience-testing sequence, he watches, motionlessly from a distance, as she devours most of a homemade pie her realtor has dropped off for her.

As a grieving woman (Rooney Mara) goes through her record collection, the ghost that used to be her lover (Casey Affleck) looks on in "A Ghost Story."

In this stretch, A Ghost Story strikes you as a frank, understated portrait of grief. But the film takes on many different forms, all of them creative and thought-provoking in their own way. Our sheeted ghost exchanges "words" with a ghost in another house, subtitles translating their gestures. He disrupts a Spanish-speaking family that occupies the home after his widow vacates it in a sequence that kind of plays like a Paranormal Activity movie from the other perspective. Initially, the ghost can't do much more than make lightbulbs flicker and burn brighter, but he discovers he's capable of more.

But if you think this is going to turn into a horror movie from another point of view, you're mistaken. There's really no guessing where Lowery will take you on this strange, challenging journey. Nonetheless, cineastes should find it a delightful ride, with the beautiful, rounded Academy Ratio 1.37:1 visuals and compelling score engaging the senses as the unconventional story provokes your mind.

At some point, the ghost unlocks the power to travel through time, watching as a pioneer family plans to settle in the spot where he lived. This also enables us to see more of our leads' relationship when both were alive, as they get their first look at the house and he shares music with her that moves her and us alike (Dark Rooms' recurring, tone-setting "I Get Overwhelmed"). There are also signs of strain, suggesting the two were destined to split, even had death not done them part.

The principal ghost (Casey Affleck) looks out the window of his house and sees another ghost in another house.

If you thought that Lowery's Pete's Dragon was to usher in a new age of accessible, uninspired, commercial, mainstream filmmaking, A Ghost Story defiantly proves you were mistaken. This is the kind of art film that will either not attract casual moviegoers or leave them baffled and frustrated. But there are plenty of movies made for those who don't wish to think or feel. A Ghost Story is something different and that's part of its appeal, but far from all of it.

This film is haunting and original and brave. A central sequence finds a character we never see before or again dissecting the fleeting nature of immortality, using everything from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony to the Sun's expansion into an Earth-swallowing red giant to prove his point.
That scene feels like a brush with Terrence Malick's universal ponderings. In other ways, Ghost recalls an alternate version of Affleck's recent Oscar winner Manchester by the Sea or Mara's Her. It doesn't borrow from such triumphs, as much as hit upon some of the deep emotions that they did so well.

Since it opened theatrically in July across from Spider-Man: Homecoming and other popcorn movies, A Ghost Story seems to have little shot at sustaining its critical buzz until awards season. Then again, the distributor's similarly weird and original The Lobster opened in May and managed to score an Oscar nomination for Original Screenplay last year. After premiering at Sundance this past January, Ghost would probably be lucky to score an Independent Spirit Award nomination or two, the way that A24's similarly timed Swiss Army Man did a year earlier.

Well in time for Halloween (not that it matters), A Ghost Story is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

A Ghost Story: Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

Rounded 1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as DVD ($19.98 SRP) and on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Striking both visually and aurally, A Ghost Story's deliberate look and sound is agreeably reproduced in the Blu-ray's stylized, satisfying rounded 1.33:1 presentation, which is pillarboxed within the 16:9 frame (the case's 1.78:1 claim is not accurate), and 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack. Both leave little to be desired, although unsurprisingly no 4K Ultra HD edition has been released.

Writer-director David Lowery and Casey Affleck are among those gathered around to discuss the film in the Nightvision featurette "'A Ghost Story' and the Inevitable Passing of Time." Composer and Dark Room frontman Daniel Hart explains how "I Get Overwhelmed" was incorporated as both a song and score.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Extras begin with an audio commentary by writer-director David Lowery, cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo, production designer Jade Healy, and composer Daniel Hart. As you can imagine from that lineup, the technical aspects of the film are typically placed in focus.
But it's a thoughtful and engaging track that gives insight into this original, offbeat film and how it evolved, with consideration to edits made along the way, that divisive pie scene, and having to digitally remove Casey Affleck's back tattoos.

On the video side, we start with "A Ghost Story and the Inevitable Passing of Time" (20:19), which gathers Lowery, Casey Affleck, and other creative figures to talk more about the story, designing the ghost, and the cinematography. It's curiously presented in eerie nightvision for some reason.

"A Composer's Story" (4:37) lets Daniel Hart discuss his latest collaboration with Lowery, including the incorporation of his band Dark Room's "I Get Overwhelmed", both as part of the narrative and slowed down to make score.

C (Casey Affleck) awaits tea in the lone A Ghost Story deleted scene. The ghost acts against black on the A Ghost Story Blu-ray menu.

A single deleted scene (5:55) finds C, alive, standing around and waiting for tea to be made.
Comparable to the infamous pie-eating scene, it is not color corrected but leads into a pivotal scene that is in the movie.

"Trailers" repeats the disc-opening trailers for It Comes at Night, Woodshock, The Lovers, The Big Sick, and The Hero. A Ghost Story's own trailer is frustratingly absent here.

The ethereal menu alternates clips of the ghost in blackness with clips from the movie while humming of "I Get Overwhelmed" and score plays.

The plain blue disc is joined by a Digital HD UltraViolet insert in a slipcovered eco-friendly keepcase.

The relationship at the heart of "A Ghost Story" between M (Rooney Mara) and C (Casey Affleck) gradually takes shape over the course of the film.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A Ghost Story will divide viewers with its unique and original presentation. Some will find it unbearably slow and hard to make sense of, while others should value the film for telling its own story in its own way. I side mostly with the latter, enjoying this as one of the year's both strangest and most beautiful films. Lionsgate's Blu-ray earns a recommendation on the basis of its strong commentary and okay half-hour of video extras. While you probably missed this in theaters, you should check it out here.

Buy A Ghost Story from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: Beatriz at Dinner Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Chuck All Eyez on Me
Written and Directed by David Lowery: Pete's Dragon (2016)
Casey Affleck: Manchester by the Sea Gone Baby Gone Interstellar The Finest Hours | Rooney Mara: Her Carol Lion Song to Song Pan
Swiss Army Man Ghost The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

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Reviewed October 6, 2017.



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