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Song to Song Blu-ray Review

Song to Song (2017) movie poster Song to Song

Theatrical Release: March 17, 2017 / Running Time: 129 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Terrence Malick

Cast: Michael Fassbender (Cook), Ryan Gosling (BV), Rooney Mara (Faye), Natalie Portman (Rhonda), Holly Hunter (Miranda), Val Kilmer (Duane), Patti Smith (Herself), Lykke Li (Lykke), Linda Edmond (BV's Mother Judy), Tom Sturridge (BV's Brother), Cate Blanchett (Miranda), Berenice Marlohe (Zoey), Olivia Applegate (Emma), Dana Falconberry (Faye's Sister), Louanne Stephens (Mrs. Gansmer), Christin Sawyer Davis (Angry Woman) / As Themselves: Iggy Pop, John Lydon, Florence Welch, Alan Palomo, Tegan Quin, Sara Quin, Anthony Keidis, Michael Peter Balzary, Chad Smith, Josh Klinghoffer, Freddie Ross aka Big Freedia, Naeem Juwan aka Spank Rock, Black Lips

Buy Song to Song from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray Instant Video

In the 1970s, Terrence Malick made Badlands and Days of Heaven, two dramas that cemented his status as a talented and original filmmaker. Then, he disappeared for twenty years. His return, 1998's The Thin Red Line, was for cineastes the equivalent of Willy Wonka opening his chocolate factory to those who found the golden tickets.
After a shorter hiatus came The New World (2005), which wasn't widely hailed. Then, 2011 brought The Tree of Life, which was held up as an absolute masterpiece from a strange, brilliant, reclusive genius.

It is after that film that many were willing to hail the crowning achievement of an unusual career that things get a bit murky for Malick. After making audiences wait and wait for his every film, his follow-up, To the Wonder, was playing in theaters less than two years later. It was not especially well-received by critics or moviegoers. Instead of retreating for another long absence, Malick kept working. His newfound productivity resulted in three different releases of two different films in 2016, the narrative Knight of Cups, and the documentary Voyage of Time (which came in distinct IMAX and feature-length edits). Voyage was celebrated by critics, particularly in its Brad Pitt-narrated IMAX form. Knight drew mixed reviews. Neither was an even remotely popular attraction in theaters.

Inexplicably, Malick has kept at it. He has a World War II drama titled Radegund that is supposedly to release by the end of the year. That would be his second film of 2017: his first was Song to Song, which did nothing to restore the luster that has been fading for the past five years. Song earned Malick the worst reviews of his career and despite some serious star power, including Ryan Gosling and Natalie Portman fresh off Oscar nominations, it grossed a measly $443 thousand from a max theater count of just 95.

BV (Ryan Gosling) places a caterpillar on the shoulder of Faye (Rooney Mara) in Terrence Malick's "Song to Song."

Song feels almost like a direct sequel to Knight of Cups, which opened exactly a year earlier. Malick's 21st century output has found him growing increasingly disinterested in conventional narratives, preferring to tell his stories with striking images and voiceover narration than dialogue and a clear plot. We do establish early on, via a crowd dancing to the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord, that this film is set against the music scene in Austin, Texas, which feels like a hop, skip, and a jump away from the world occupied by Christian Bale's hedonistic LA screenwriter protagonist in Knight.

Our attention is turned to a couple of musicians whose names we don't ever really know until the end credits: there is blonde songwriter BV (Gosling) and often-refashioned band member Faye (Rooney Mara). Both are connected to Cook (Michael Fassbender), an Irish-accented producer of apparent renown. And Faye is romantically linked to both of them. Later, Cook becomes smitten with Rhonda (Natalie Portman), a blonde waitress he lures into his world and marries.

BV and Cook are great pals, their moments together feeling like Terrence Malick's equivalent of one of Adam Sandler and friends' hangout movies. Then, the two have a falling out over Cook taking songwriting credit for BV's compositions. That is the bulk of synopsizable plot. There are exchanges with various family members, who are either struggling financially or physically. But none of this merits detailing.

Among the romances Terrence Malick explores in "Song to Song" is the relationship between Rhonda (Natalie Portman) and Cook (Michael Fassbender), a music producer who brings her into the business from diner waitressing.

Song to Song is completely a Terrence Malick movie, although that label suddenly does not demand the respect it recently did. The film is beautifully photographed and told in an interesting fashion. It's quite unconventional...if Malick's conventions hadn't become familiar over the past decade.
Repeat exposure to the techniques that made The Tree of Life stand out has sucked some of the magic out of Malick's output. When he's releasing a film every year, they're no longer events but a fringe fixture of the industry. Malick's newfound productivity is making him more akin to Woody Allen. Imagine if Woody Allen only put out a new movie every five or ten years. They would seem pretty special and exciting. Instead, Woody's clockwork-like schedule makes his wit easy to take for granted and his efforts interchangeable and rarely better than satisfactory.

Malick has a long way to go to matching Woody's output, but a similar effect is rapidly befalling his work. Song to Song doesn't seem bold or original. It seems redundant, an unnecessary extension of Knight of Cups with significantly diminished returns. Once again, Malick has no trouble getting talented, in-demand actors to embrace his unusual, secrecy-shrouded production methods. The cast also includes Val Kilmer, who is barely identifiable in very limited screentime, and Cate Blanchett who gets just a couple of scenes. Gosling was in two of last year's best films, but he can't sell us on this hazy, undefined material. We don't buy any of the romances or recognize chemistries.

Narratively, Song feels hollow, having little to add on the same themes explored in Knight. I'd argue that Knight and To the Wonder were both more substantial and rewarding than many critics gave them credit for. But it's tough to appreciate Song on any more than a visual level. Appearances by the likes of Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers as themselves do nothing to enforce atmosphere or make this feel like a movie about making music. It's a movie full of navel-gazing and there are literally a number of shots of actual navels, as if Malick is on the joke. The same things that have caught his attention before are again on display: sex, opulent houses, pretty women, handsome men, and nature. But it doesn't add up to anything other than some compelling cinematography, from multiple fisheye lens views to what looks like cell phone video.

So much more goes into a Terrence Malick film than the average movie, so something is clearly wrong with the fact that Song to Song often feels subpar. You can imagine elaborate set-ups that ultimately yield a single two-second shot and entire performances that are nearly left on the cutting room floor. The film has the feel of a documentary, the sound of an entirely improvised production, the look of high art, the cast of a prestige picture, and the narrative fulfillment of a direct-to-video nonstarter.

Following a reception that was comparable to Knight of Cups but slightly lesser, Song to Song recently came to DVD, Blu-ray, and, in a first for the studio, 4K Ultra HD from Broad Green Pictures.

Song to Song Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.39:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Video Extra Subtitled
Release Date: July 4, 2017
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Retail Price: $29.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($26.99 SRP), 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray ($38.99 SRP), and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Even those completely turned off by the film should still find the visuals easy to admire. That is especially true in the Blu-ray's fine 2.39:1 presentation, which keeps the images sharp and detailed, with no concerns that arent't inherent in the footage. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack also impresses thoroughly, enveloping you with ambient noises and some licensed music, while keeping the voiceover-driven soundtrack crisp and full-bodied. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered.

Cole Alexander discusses having his band Black Lips play the band of Rooney Mara's character in "The Music Behind the Movie." With a bottle of beer in his hand, Cook (Michael Fassbender) turns up the charm around Faye (Rooney Mara) on the "Song to Song" Blu-ray menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The film is joined by just a single bonus feature entitled "The Music Behind the Movie." This 2-minute short is a glorified trailer, which hypes up the involvement of the famous musicians who make appearances,
as if that was a selling point or of much relevance to the film at large.

The disc opens with trailers for Knight of Cups, New Life, The Infiltrator, and Wish Upon. That's just the tip of the iceberg, though. "Also from Broad Green Pictures" holds additional full trailers for Bad Santa 2, The Lost City of Z, The Dressmaker, The Neon Demon, 99 Homes, Last Days in the Desert, The Dark Horse, Song of Lahore, Break Point, Eden, I Smile Back, Learning to Drive, and A Walk in the Woods in addition to the four-disc opening previews. Individual access and a "Play All" option makes the epic section missing just one thing: Song to Song's own trailer.

The menu samples the appealing visuals, with guitar twang laid over it.

No inserts accompany the plain blue disc inside the unslipcovered keepcase. That's right, Broad Green has yet to embrace the digital copy the way that other studios have.

BV (Ryan Gosling) tries on the jacket and sunglasses of producer Cook (Michael Fassbender) in Terrence Malick's "Song to Song."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

It's disheartening to see that Terrence Malick has struggled to maintain his high standard
of art cinema in his present phase of increased productivity. Song to Song looks nice and features talented actors, but the now-characteristic presentation lacks a compelling narrative, rendering it a picturesque yet hollow experience that is several notches down from most of the director's past work.

If you're a big enough Malick fan, then I don't need to convince you to see this movie. If you're not sold on the director's signature style, this meandering journey won't convert you. There's still enough artistry on display to recommend a viewing with measured expectations.

Buy Song to Song from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Terrence Malick: Knight of Cups Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience The Tree of Life The Thin Red Line Badlands
Ryan Gosling: La La Land The Nice Guys Blue Valentine Drive The Big Short | Michael Fassbender: The Counselor Steve Jobs
Rooney Mara: Lion Carol A Ghost Story Her Pan | Natalie Portman: Jackie Black Swan Jane Got a Gun
New to Disc: The Zookeeper's Wife Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer Logan

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Reviewed July 16, 2017.



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