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The Sapphires: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack Review

The Sapphires (2013) movie poster The Sapphires

US Theatrical Release: March 22, 2013 / Running Time: 99 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Wayne Blair / Writers: Tony Briggs (stage play & screenplay), Keith Thompson (screenplay)

Cast: Chris O'Dowd (Dave Lovelace), Deborah Mailman (Gail McCrae), Jessica Mauboy (Julie McCrae), Shari Sebbens (Kay McCrae), Miranda Tapsell (Cynthia McCrae), Tory Kittles (Robby), Eka Darville (Hendo), Don Batte (Myron Ritchie), Kylie Belling (Geraldine), Meyne Wyatt (Jimmy Middleton), Hunter Page-Lochard (Stevie Kayne), Gregory J. Fryer (Selwyn), Annette Hodgson (Noelene), Georgina Haig (Glynis)

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Since appearing in the hit 2011 comedy Bridesmaids, Irish actor Chris O'Dowd has seen his film and television career take off around the globe. He reteamed with the Bridesmaids gang in Friends with Kids and reinforced his position on Team Apatow in This Is 40. O'Dowd, who got his start on the UK sitcom "The IT Crowd", is currently starring in shows for HBO ("Family Tree") and Hulu ("Moone Boy").
He's also held a recurring role on "Girls" and lends his voice to Dr. Cockroach Ph.D. in Nickelodeon's "Monsters vs. Aliens" TV series.

One of the more notable credits in O'Dowd's quickly expanding filmography, the Australian independent comedy The Sapphires gives him top billing. Adapted from Tony Briggs' award-winning 2004 play, The Sapphires tells the true story of a group of Aboriginal Australian women who find work singing to U.S. troops during the Vietnam War.

Hailing from Cummeragunjac, sisters Gail (Deborah Mailman), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), and Julie (Jessica Mauboy) catch Dave Lovelace's (O'Dowd) ear at a 1968 Australian pub's singing competition he's nonchalantly hosting. The girls have obvious vocal talent, which Dave feels is wasted on the Country Western tune they performed. With prejudice toward their kind still prevalent in the area, the sisters lose the contest, but win Dave's reluctant support to be their manager as they respond to a classified ad looking for musicians to perform for the U.S. soldiers stationed in Vietnam.

Manager Dave Lovelace (Chris O'Dowd) helps Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), and Kay (Shari Sebbens) find their sound in "The Sapphires."

The film does a great job of fleshing out these characters. Irish Dave is a functioning alcoholic living out of his car. He encourages the girls to adopt the soul sound he admires. Eldest sister Gail, the group's de facto spokesperson, is reluctant to accept Dave's direction to make Julie, the youngest and an unwed mother of a toddler, the lead singer. The girls get a fourth member in their estranged fair-skinned cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens), who as part of the "Stolen Generation", has assimilated into the white culture she was thrust into as a child. Kay gives the group their name, one far easier to pronounce than the one honoring their tribe.

With their manager by their side looking out for them, the girls fly to Saigon and find success there. The film unfolds in the manner you think it will. Employing needle drops, stock footage, montages, and vivacious covers of the era'smost famous R & B tunes, The Sapphires offers joys that feel familiar. Every comedy that has ventured into the Vietnam War, from Good Morning, Vietnam to Forrest Gump, has used a similar light, accessible touch to downplay the still controversial politics of the conflict in favor of general Baby Boom-friendly nostalgia. It doesn't seem hard to get a response from such elements, but handled sensibly as they are, the intended feel-good vibe emerges.

The Sapphires doesn't offer anything fundamentally different from other period girl group rise and fall dramas like Sparkle and Dreamgirls. But it has a true and more historic tale which doesn't have to get so bogged down in in-fighting and personal problems. The prejudice angle is largely downplayed and gratefully so, as this movie is too thin to carry the burdens of civil rights and social justice. Alas, there isn't anything too imaginative or exciting taking their place. Three of the girls get suitors. The most focal of those slightly forced romances are Kay with a black GI to whom she identifies herself as black and Dave and Gail, whose head-butting can only be headed in one clear direction.

Not having anything else to fall back on, Dave Lovelace (Chris O'Dowd) vows to be a protective manager to his Aboriginal Australian girl group. Youngest McCrae sister Julie (Jessica Mauboy) becomes The Sapphires' lead vocalist and the only one with a chance for solo success.

A random attack scene rings false and feels like too quick and easy way to produce conflict and move towards a resolution. Nonetheless, you're not likely to strongly object to such tropes, which are presented in a most benign fashion. The movie, which in fact celebrates Briggs' mother and family, displays admirable restraint in its depictions of the girls, not turning them into martyrs or overstating their achievement.

Meanwhile, O'Dowd is an invaluable presence. It's possible for a film like this to purely lob broad period jokes at the generations who still clearly remember the '60s. The Sapphires isn't entirely innocent on that front, but O'Dowd manages to find genuine humor in situations and interactions that could have been too cute to work off the page.
While it's preposterous for the cover art to make it look like the film is all about O'Dowd's character (who is not the singer suggested) and reduce the women to pale blue background images (a design that's won the film some bad press -- but press, nonetheless -- this week), O'Dowd is an apt marketing tool for viewers who might not otherwise be drawn and a fitting entry point for those who might struggle to relate to an indigenous culture that makes up a small portion of the world's by far least populated continent (excluding Antarctica, of course).

Few will dislike The Sapphires. Even critics, the demographic most resistent to formulaic pleasures, overwhelmingly approved of the film; Rotten Tomatoes scores ranged from 90% top critics to 92% all critics. But don't misread their approval as adoration; their average ratings ran from 6.8 to 6.9, suggesting a good, but not great motion picture. (IMDb's votership agrees, with a 6.8 and falling average.) That's to be expected by The Weinstein Company releasing the film to North American theaters in March, giving it no shot at the award season (not that it deserved one). Following a modest performance in limited release here, which grossed just one-sixth of what the movie earned in Australia, The Sapphires hits DVD and a Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack today from Weinstein partner Anchor Bay Entertainment.

The Sapphires: Blu-ray Disc + 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 Master Audio (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Two single-sided discs (BD-25 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $30.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available as standalone DVD ($26.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray's 2.40:1 presentation is terrific. The element is clean, sharp, and vibrant, just like it should be for a new film in 2013. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix is good, grabbing your attention mostly with lively song performances. The dialogue is crisp and intelligible throughout also, but English SDH and Spanish subtitles plus a French dub are there to offer help if you need it.

"The Making of 'The Sapphires'" documents the film's production in Vietnam and Australia. Sporting fairer features than you might expect, the real original Sapphires speak with screenwriter Tony Briggs.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Three featurettes accompany the film on both Blu-ray and DVD.
The former presents them in low grade HD.

"The Making of The Sapphires" (9:42) gathers remarks from the cast, crew, director Wayne Blair, and writer Tony Briggs. All voice their attraction to the project and interest in teling this story. The general piece proceeds to touch on technical aspects, like costumes, hair, the film's intended look, production design, and settings.

Next, playwright/screenwriter Tony Briggs interviews the four original Sapphires (5:46), including his mother Beverley. They reflect on their experiences and weigh in on their story becoming a movie, while the screen lingers on comparing them to their old photographs.

Actress and Australian Idol runner-up Jessica Mauboy shares a few words on many of the songs she covers in the film. The girls and their family send some skepticism in Dave's direction on the DVD's main menu montage.

Finally, "The Music of The Sapphires with Jessica Mauboy" (6:16) lets the actress and Season 4 "Australian Idol" runner-up talk up the soundtrack and the chance to covering these famous songs.
Her thoughts on individual tunes are complemented by lots of clips of the performances.

The discs open with trailers (HD on the Blu-ray) for The Artist, Quartet, and 20 Feet from Stardom. None of these are accessible by menu and The Sapphire's own trailer is disappointingly but characteristically absent.

The menu plays clips in a light blue border with sparkle star cursors on BD. Frustratingly, Weinstein still has not figured out how to equip a Blu-ray with either bookmarking or resume capabilities, which makes it a pain to need more than one sitting for the film or its bonus features.

There are no inserts within the standard blue keepcase, which holds the silver DVD and full-color Blu-ray on opposite sides.

The Sapphires (Deborah Mailman, Shari Sebbens, Jessica Mauboy, and Miranda Tapsell) showcase their stuff in sparkly blue dresses.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Sapphires is a very easy film to like, but a bit too routine to produce a stronger appreciation. Competently told, this true tale will hold your attention and make you laugh in spite of relying on some well-worn devices. It's a movie to see and Anchor Bay's Blu-ray + DVD combo pack offers the ideal way to do that, with its knockout feature presentation and solid 22 minutes of bonus features.

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Reviewed August 6, 2013.



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