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Violet & Daisy: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack Review

Violet & Daisy (2013) movie poster Violet & Daisy

Theatrical Release: June 7, 2013 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Geoffrey Fletcher

Cast: Saoirse Ronan (Daisy), Alexis Bledel (Violet), James Gandolfini (The Guy), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Number 1), Danny Trejo (Russ), Lynda Gravatt (Delores), Tatiana Maslany (April), Cody Horn (Barbie Sunday), John Ventimiglia (Donnie's Crew Man #1), Stu "Large" Riley (Donnie's Crew Man #2), Neville Archambault (Donnie's Crew Man #3), Danny Hoch (Donnie's Crew Man #4), Tuffy Questell (Kidnapped Man), Nick Choski (Desk Officer), Gary Hope (Hardware Store Cashier), Chris Columbo (Hardware Store Perp), Bettye Fletcher (Doll Hospital Matron)

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Violet & Daisy opens feeling like a cross between a Quentin Tarantino movie, an adaptation of an edgy contemporary graphic novel,
and a 1970s Saturday morning cartoon. The titular flower-named antiheroines are assassins who find it easy to escape suspicion on account of the fact that they are girls. The younger, Daisy (Saoirse Ronan), has just turned eighteen. Violet (Alexis Bledel) is more experienced but doesn't seem much older.

Disguising themselves as nuns and painters, the two friends carry out hits with relative precision against the hardened hoods that share their profession. Violet and Daisy don't seem like bad people or even disaffected ones. They just need money for dresses and rent. A lot of rent, in fact, for they share a spacious studio apartment in New York City.

Violet (Alexis Bledel) and Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) are teenaged assassins and best friends in the dark crime comedy "Violet & Daisy."

Running low on funds and wanting the new dresses in the line of their favorite pop star Barbie Sunday, the girls reluctantly accept a job on what is supposed to be their time off. This one proves to be different from what they're used to. Their target (James Gandolfini) comes home to find the girls asleep on his couch, so he gently covers them with a blanket. They awake to find him friendly and hospitable, offering them fresh-baked oatmeal cookies and, upon request, tall glasses of milk.

This unlikely scenario gives Violet and Daisy pause. They've been hired to kill this middle-aged man, whose name is never revealed (though IMDb calls him Michael), and that's exactly what he anticipates and wants them to do. But this isn't how their jobs usually go and when they try to carry it out like ripping off a Band-Aid, they wind up emptying their guns and missing the mark completely. He's expecting other company to collect on other deliberately unpaid loans. When they arrive without the same heavy consciences as Violet and Daisy, bodies begin piling up and a neighbor inquires about the noise.

While Violet is out acquiring additional bullets, Daisy gets to better know their fatherly target and understand his fatalism. She even accepts a dress intended for his estranged daughter and confides in him a major secret of her trade.

With bullet holes around but not in him, The Guy (James Gandolfini) awaits the fate he's accepted.

The directing and producing debut of Geoffrey Fletcher, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, Violet & Daisy widely defies the expectations set by its opening. With plenty of flair, Fletcher establishes this offbeat, subversive original world with a bombardment of violence, loud gunfire, and vulgar language.
Then, within twenty minutes, the film settles down, becoming something of a character study that unfolds almost entirely in this one location.

The unexpected death of James Gandolfini just twelve days after this film opened in limited release casts a pall over the proceedings. Passing away in the midst of the most productive phase in his over twenty-year acting career, Gandolfini gives a terrific performance as the generous target doing what he can to mask his depression. That his character spends the entire movie waiting to die adds sadness and a touch of eeriness to this dark comedy. If you didn't know this was completed prior to the actor's June death (and well before, having first screened at September 2011's Toronto International Film Festival), you might have suspected it of exploitation, for it gets touching in a way you couldn't have imagined at its start. In that way, it's somewhat reminiscent of Leon: The Professional, Luc Besson's masterful story of a younger girl dipping her toes in the business of killing. Though Violet & Daisy isn't anywhere near as moving or exciting as that 1994 action film, that the two could even be compared is a surprise given this indie's unpromising start.

That start is quirky and fetishy, dripping with irony and Tarantino-level homage to something not clearly identifiable. The soundtrack favors unfamiliar old songs from the '60s and '70s and the title card, which in small print asserts the film is in "hi-fi, color & spectacular 2-D", matches as a throwback. There are also chapter title cards (which in number cleverly align with the chapter stops of the Blu-ray and DVD). For some reason, games of pattycake and the occasional slang also run through this film.

Unlike Tarantino, who famously rose from well-versed video store clerk to generation-defining filmmaker, Fletcher's story isn't well-known. An alumnus of Harvard and NYU, he was an adjunct film professor at the latter and Columbia University when an old student short of his caught the eye of director Lee Daniels. Precious became Fletcher's first film credit and made him the far only African American to date to win a writing Oscar. Violet & Daisy isn't at all what you'd expect for a follow-up effort.

Although it's Gandolfini who commands your attention his every moment onscreen, he is nicely complimented by Ronan, the only teenaged actor for whom such material isn't at all a stretch, and Bledel, who in her thirties can still convincingly portray a teen.

After grossing just over $17 thousand in a 17-theater, one-week engagement last summer (which did not extend, as is increasingly the case, to a simultaneous On Demand debut), Violet & Daisy hits retail on Tuesday from distributor Cinedigm in a DVD and the Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack reviewed here.

Danny Trejo fans expecting him to feature prominently here given his cover placement will be disappointed to learn that the Machete star appears in a single scene, amounting to little more than a cameo, which perhaps explains why the same picture of him is used on the front and back of the case.

Violet & Daisy: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English)
Blu-ray Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: November 12, 2013
Two single-sided discs (BD-25 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $34.95
Blue Keepcase
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.95 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Violet & Daisy is an independent film and as my experiences this week have shown, Blu-ray presentations of indies can vary wildly. Fortunately, this one looks as good as any low-budget film. The 2.40:1 picture is sharp, clean, colorful, and detailed. The visuals are strikingly vibrant, as frequently evidenced by the piercing blue eyes of the young leading ladies.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack packs a punch and too much of one for some viewers. The loud gunshots may have you reaching to lower the volume, which will then make the dialogue that drives most of the film tough to hear. As such, you may choose to make use of the English SDH subtitles, which are provided, albeit at a typeface much smaller than standard. (The DVD sadly opts for closed captioning over subtitles.)

This stylish poster design, used in Russia, is one of four preserved in a gallery. Violet blows a bubble in a habit while paper hearts fall in between Violet and Daisy's lollipop-wielding poster photos on the Blu-ray's briefly animated main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Violet & Daisy is joined by two minor bonus features on each disc: a "Poster Slideshow", which is actually a simple viewer-navigated gallery
of four full-screen designs, and the film's original theatrical trailer (2:00, HD on Blu-ray), the only preview included.

The static, silent menu adapts one of those poster designs, playing clips over part of it while paper hearts rain down for one brief stretch. Though the Blu-ray doesn't let you place bookmarks, it does resume unfinished playback like a DVD.

Joining the two plainly-labeled pink and navy blue discs inside the unslipcovered keepcase is a note from director Geoffrey Fletcher written on the day that James Gandolfini died, acknowledging the film's contributors and supportive critics (four of whom are excerpted at length on back) while taking solace in the fact that Gandolfini will live on through this performance. To get an insert these days is rare enough, but to get such a personal one is a nice bonus that somewhat compensates for the disc's lack of traditional making-of content.

Despite the badge and the clothes, Violet (Alexis Bledel) is neither a cop nor a house painter. 1990s Academy Award nominee Marianne Jean-Baptiste appears briefly as the lollipop-twirling, advice-dispatching top-ranked assassin in Violet and Daisy's outfit.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Violet & Daisy overcomes an abrasive start to consistently engage with a surprisingly substantial story and characters. The touching drama it ends up as is far preferable to the violent crime action comedy it begins, though the two are distant enough to discourage and disappoint some viewers. For others, this will serve as a painful reminder of the great acting talent of James Gandolfini we lost earlier this year.

Though very light on extras, Cinedigm's Blu-ray combo pack delivers a strong feature presentation.

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Related Reviews:
James Gandolfini: Killing Them Softly Zero Dark Thirty Down the Shore Not Fade Away Welcome to the Rileys
Gandolfini (continued): The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Surviving Christmas | Saoirse Ronan: The Way Back City of Ember
Alexis Bledel: Sin City Tuck Everlasting The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 The Conspirator Bride & Prejudice
Kick-Ass Vamps Seven Psychopaths Grosse Pointe Blank The Paperboy Taxi Driver
New: Girl Most Likely Paradise Ambushed And While We Were Here My Name Is Nobody All Is Bright I Give It a Year

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Reviewed November 15, 2013.



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