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The Last Song Blu-ray & DVD Review

The Last Song (2010) movie poster The Last Song

Theatrical Release: March 31, 2010 / Running Time: 107 Minutes / Rating: PG / Songs List

Director: Julie Anne Robinson / Writers: Nicholas Sparks (novel & screenplay), Jeff Van Wie (screenplay)

Cast: Miley Cyrus (Veronica "Ronnie" Miller), Greg Kinnear (Steve Miller), Liam Hemsworth (Will Blakelee), Bobby Coleman (Jonah Miller), Kelly Preston (Kim), Carly Chaikin (Blaze), Nick Lashaway (Marcus), Hallock Beals (Scott), Kate Vernon (Susan Blakelee), Nick Searcy (Tom Blakelee), Melissa Ordway (Ashley), Adam Barnett (Teddy), Michael Jamorski (Lance), Carrie Malabre (Cassie)

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and Kelvin Cedeno

Few major acting careers can be traced back to Disney child stars. Kurt Russell and Jodie Foster are the two big ones. Perhaps honorable mention could go to Annette Funicello, who had a pretty good run of 1960s beach comedies, and "Hawaii Five-O" second fiddle James MacArthur, who was in his early twenties when he did his few Disney films. From more recent crops, the multi-platform promise of Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff has hit a few personal and commercial roadblocks. The jury's still out on whether Zac Efron is leading man material. Shia LaBeouf seems more secure in movie stardom, but we've yet to really see how much of his impressive box office prowess will stick with him outside of familiar franchises. And now, for your consideration, comes Miley Cyrus.

For over four years now, Cyrus has been synonymous with Hannah Montana, the average teen/secret pop star part that blossomed from a hit Disney Channel series into a multi-billion dollar tween empire. In reach, earnings and fame, Cyrus has not only handily eclipsed her father, one-hit country crooner Billy Ray,
but also any young person in recent memory. Miley will turn 18 this November and she's already taken steps to ensure that her popularity doesn't fade along with her minor status. The sitcom that started it all for Cyrus is in its last season, with its series finale taped in May. So what's next for the teenager who has everything? Why, a movie career, of course.

Cyrus had already ventured to theaters via a pre-fame bit part in Tim Burton's Big Fish, two Hannah Montana movies, and as the voice of Penny in Disney's Bolt. Her fifth cinematic credit would be different, though. For the first time, Cyrus could be seen in a leading role that wasn't Hannah Montana. Eager to help their adolescent moneymaker launch a sustainable career (for them, of course), Disney and Cyrus' agency contacted another national treasure, bestselling romance author Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook), who agreed to pen both a screenplay (his first) and a novel (his fourteenth) for the starlet.

Meet Ronnie Miller (Miley Cyrus), tough teenaged girl. Father (Greg Kinnear) and son (Bobby Coleman) check out Ronnie's beach activities.

Like other Sparks stories (including the five earlier put on film), The Last Song gives us love, death, and southern beach scenery. Cyrus plays Ronnie (short for Veronica) Miller, a recent high school graduate with a tiny nose stud and a giant chip on her shoulder. Along with younger brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman), Ronnie is sent to spend the summer with her divorced father in an idyllic Georgia beach town. Rather than rekindle her strained relationship with Dad (Greg Kinnear) and return to the piano-playing that got her accepted at Julliard without even applying, greasy-haired Ronnie hangs out with fellow tough girl Blaze (Carly Chaikin) under bridges with bonfires, alcohol, and a skeevy boyfriend.

Of course, that isn't the path to Sparksian romance. Instead, Ronnie catches the eye of beach volleyball hunk Will (Liam Hemsworth) in a milkshake-spilling meet-cute. Will is also an aquarium volunteer and he responds to Ronnie's call to help protect a nest of sea turtle eggs from beach raccoons. The sea turtle subplot is one of several that don't really go anywhere, but serve to distract cynical viewers aware of Sparks' premature death fixation and willing to guess who will kick the bucket and how. I've got to admit that while the author doesn't disappoint in the casualty column, he does seem particularly unimaginative in The Last Song's mandatory offing.

The teen romance of Ronnie and Will is even less inspired. For starters, there is no chemistry. That is a subjective criteria and one that probably isn't helped by my having watched Before Sunrise 24 hours earlier. You can be an open-minded teenager or, as part of Cyrus' primary fanbase, a few years younger than that, and even you should find little to latch onto in the bland personalities and interactions. But it's the inane conflict that drops the relationship to dangerously terrible levels. She is icy to him, then warms for some tender kissing, then gets upset by another girl's comments, then finds the forgiveness to allow more kissing, and then there's a major reveal which requires longer term but no more understandable dissatisfaction.

Save those sea turtle eggs, Ronnie (Miley Cyrus)! Good thing that Ronnie (Miley Cyrus) remembered to wear a black bra on wet white T-shirt kissing day with Will (Liam Hemsworth).

A major part of the problem is Cyrus herself. She is a fairly talented performer musically, if not especially deserving of her degree of fame. But as an actor, the best she's done is not standing out as weaker than her "Hannah Montana" co-stars. After that corny sitcom made a surprisingly tactful transition to feature film, one gained confidence in Cyrus' ability to grow as an actor. The Last Song gives us reason to rethink her future in movies. It's an unusually weak turn in a lead role that calls for range and subtlety she doesn't come close to providing.
The whole time that Ronnie is sullen, we suspect it's a front, perhaps some kind of elaborate act that Miley/Hannah and Lilly/Lola have cooked up. Sadly, it's not. And when you consider that we're getting the best renditions of however many takes were shot, the uneven and unconvincing performance is hard to excuse, even from a 17-year-old.

No one else in the cast soars much higher, with the exception of Kinnear, who sells the father-daughter stuff better than the film deserves. The only other potentially familiar face is Kelly Preston, who appears so briefly as Ronnie and Jonah's mom that you wonder why she was cast and why she couldn't say no to screen-mothering Miley.

Though Nicholas Sparks films have always played better with the sap-seeking public than critics, the author's first screenplay was savaged a little more harshly than those adapting his books. Despite the low critical marks and the potential gap between Sparks and Cyrus fans, this PG-rated movie was an undeniable hit for Disney, grossing more than three times its slight budget ($63 million on $20 M production costs) in the domestic market alone. The film may not have taken in as much as Dear John, the recent prior Sparks adaptation it welcomed comparisons to, but it is guaranteed to stand as the highest-grossing Touchstone Pictures release in the mixed bag that's been Disney's first year of franchise-minded output.

Despite its Touchstone branding, The Last Song gets the Disneyish treatment of a Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack release next week. While it's the studio's first non-Disney title to receive such a package, it is almost certainly not the last, with the entire industry finding that customers are more likely to buy Blu-rays when they also include DVDs.

Buy The Last Song: Blu-ray + DVD Combo from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

BD: 2.35:1 Widescreen, DTS-HD 5.1 (English), Dolby 5.1 (French)
DVD: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Most Extras Subtitled and Captioned
Release Date: August 17, 2010
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue keepcase in Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in Standalone DVD ($29.99)
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VIDEO and AUDIO

While not eye-popping, The Last Song's 2.35:1 Blu-ray transfer is still quite good. The image remains reasonably crisp and detailed and shows signs of fine film grain.
Print and digital defects are completely absent, and colors take on a warm yet natural tone. It's satisfying and seems accurate to the source.

The 5.1 DTS-HD offers a similar experience. It's not a soundtrack meant to demonstrate surround capabilities. Mostly quiet and laid back, the strength of the mix comes from its clear and concise dialogue. Ambience is also pleasing, ranging from carnival crowds to natural ocean sounds. Music, while mixed a bit oddly at times with the dialogue, is broad and rich enough.

Likewise, the DVD's presentation does not disappoint. The nice coastal scenery reaches us with no distractions (besides underwhelming teen acting and tired storytelling) in the clean, warm transfer. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is loaded to the brim with generally undistinguished pre-recorded tunes (full list at the bottom of the review), but they don't challenge or overbear the dialogue. There isn't much depth to the track, but it is entirely serviceable.

Warren doesn't use that stick to protect Miley Cyrus, it's just his way of expressing himself artistically, or so he tells Bobby Coleman. Adam Shankman (in lavender) walks with the light and camera crew circling Miley Cyrus for her music video.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

"Set Tour with Bobby Coleman" (5:05) sends the young actor around to interview crew members about their work. He learns about Miley's wood-whittling security guard, a craft services lady, and producer Adam Shankman, among others.

Next comes the "Making of the Music Video 'When I Look at You' with Miley Cyrus (4:20)"; would you ever have guessed that she would have been asked to perform the end credits song? Director Shankman, Cyrus, co-star Liam Hemsworth, and production designer Nelson Coates each say a few words about the video's design and filming.

As in the film, Miley Cyrus pouts and fakes piano playing in the "When I Look at You" music video. On Blu-ray only, the dark alternate opening shows the full destruction of the church as Steve looks on from the ground in horror.

Then we get the actual "When I Look at You" music video (4:10) sans interruption and behind-the-scenes footage. Nicely shot but as shallow as the movie to which it's attached, the video features Cyrus mugging, playing piano, and having flower petals dropped on her by Hemsworth.

The obligatory audio commentary is provided by director Julie Anne Robinson and co-producer Jennifer Gibgot. Robinson, a TV-seasoned British expatriate making her feature debut, and Gibgot, Adam Shankman's sister/producing partner, reveal changes, concerns, and CGI flourishes encountered in the process. But they are way too enamored by the film and everyone associated with it. That makes this a fairly boring track strictly for the tiny overlap of fans who are interested in trivial filmmaking details and stories.

The final extra that is common to both discs is an easily found Easter egg. Robinson comments on this, a 20-second clip of a Greg Kinnear set prank accessible from the bonus features menu.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray disc are two supplements. First is an alternate opening (2:55) that depicts the church burning in much greater detail than the few brief shots of the final film. This is accompanied by a commentary by director Robinson, who explains how the scene's darkness led to its excision. While it's well shot, it does admittedly clash in tone with the rest of the film.

Bad boy Marcus (Nick Lashaway) properly introduces himself to Ronnie in this extended scene, but his tricks hit uncomfortably close to home for her. Liam Hemsworth is a V-necked superstud in the sky montage of the DVD's sea turtle-cursored main menu.

Five other deleted scenes (7:08) are also Blu-ray exclusives. Most of these just extend existing moments while a couple merely reiterate things elsewhere expressed in the final cut.
Robinson once again provides comments as to why these were cut, confirming the repeated beats and suspected time constraints.

Par for Sparks, the DVD's menu offers a sentimental montage in the clouds above a windy, wavy, weedy beach view. Cyrus' song plays in full and blue sea turtle silhouettes serve as cursors. On the Blu-ray's comparable menus, selections are placed on wooden signs that cascade left to right. There, an additional sign atop the screen offers runtimes and descriptions for each bonus, while loading screens animate a swimming sea turtle.

The DVD opens with trailers for Secretariat, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and "Lost": The Final Season. Menu-free, the "Sneak Peeks" listing precedes those with promos for ABC shows on DVD (not so much Blu-ray), "Ugly Betty": The Complete Fourth and Final Season, Oceans & The Crimson Wing, "Castle": The Complete Second Season, A Christmas Carol, and Blu-ray Disc. The Blu-ray opens with previews for Secretariat, When in Rome, and "Lost", with menu-triggered sneak peeks for Oceans and Crimson Wing, Prince of Persia, and A Christmas Carol.

The slim Blu-ray case slips into a holographic cardboard slipcover. Inside, one finds inserts for Blu-ray and for saving $10 on this and next month's ABC ten DVDs and one Blu-ray. The downside of Miley's maturation? No Disney Movie Rewards points.

Will (Liam Hemsworth) and Ronnie (Miley Cyrus) carve initials in a tree as teenaged boys and girls do in the summer lovin' of Nicholas Sparks' mind.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Making us long for the depth and craftsmanship of the moderately enjoyable Dear John, The Last Song is a pretty lousy romance that only the most inexperienced of viewers will allow to goad into the intended teary response.
This sets back Miley Cyrus' movie career every way but commercially, the most important element of her entertainment reign. As for Nicholas Sparks, I'm not sure how much longer he can keep writing the exact same maudlin story with mild changes. He's got at least two more movies in the cards (one a romance Zac Efron is circling, the other supposedly a thriller with romantic elements). Readers and viewers have to eventually tire of his single-minded storytelling.

The Blu-ray combo's presentation and bonuses are both unremarkable yet adequate. Cyrus fans looking to see a different side of Miley and suckers for Sparks' sentimentality are the only ones who should bother with this.

More on the Blu-ray Combo / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy the DVD / Buy the Book

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Related Reviews:
Starring Miley Cyrus: Hannah Montana: The Movie • Hannah Montana: Miley Says Goodbye? • Hannah Montana: The Complete First Season
Adapted from Nicholas Sparks: Dear John
New: Diary of a Wimpy Kid • James and the Giant Peach • Kick-Ass • Death at a Funeral • Multiple Sarcasms
10 Things I Hate About You • Say Anything... • Kyle XY: The Complete Final Season • Ice Princess • The Princess Diaries
The Lizzie McGuire Movie • Starstruck • Holes • When in Rome • The Proposal • Confessions of a Shopaholic • Swing Vote
Produced by Adam Shankman and Jennifer Gibgot: 17 Again • Step Up • Step Up 2 The Streets • Bedtime Stories • The Pacifier
Directed by Julie Anne Robinson: Samantha Who?: The Complete First Season • Grey's Anatomy: The Complete Third Season
Featuring Greg Kinnear: Invincible • Ghost Town | Featuring Kelly Preston: Old Dogs • Sky High

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The Last Song Songs List (in order of use): OneRepublic - "Tyrant", M83 - "Graveyard Girl", Tracey James Marino and Vince Marino - "Carnival Lights", Niklas Aman - "Dirt Road", Frederick Grant III - "This Is Now", Steven Cairn and Richard Johnson - "At the Fairground", Allstar Weekend - "A Different Side of Me", The Faint - "I Disappear", "Night Racer", The Raveonettes - "Heart of Stone", The Paper Raincoat - "Brooklyn Blurs", Edwin McCain - "Broke Down Hearted Wonderland", Valora - "No Matter What", Alpha Rev - "New Morning", Snow Patrol - "Shut Your Eyes", Eskimo Joe - "Setting Sun", VHS or Beta - "Bring on the Comets", Maroon 5 - "She Will Be Loved", Ra Ra Riot - "Can You Tell", Miley Cyrus - "When I Look at You", Josι Gonzαlez - "Down the Line", Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - "Berlin", Feist - "I Feel It All", Harold Lester - "Canteen Swing", Iron & Wine - "Each Coming Night", Miley Cyrus - "I Hope You Find It", "Steve's Theme"

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Reviewed August 9, 2010.



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