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W./E. DVD + Blu-ray + Digital Copy Review

W./E. (2011) movie poster W./E.

Theatrical Release: December 9, 2011 / Running Time: 119 Minutes / Rating: R / Song List

Director: Madonna / Writers: Madonna, Alek Keshisian

Cast: Abbie Cornish (Wally Winthrop), Andrea Riseborough (Wallis Simpson), James D'Arcy (King Edward VIII), Oscar Isaac (Evgeni), Richard Coyle (William Winthrop), David Harbour (Ernest Aldrich Simpson), James Fox (King George V), Judy Parfitt (Queen Mary), Haluk Bilginer (Mohamed Al-Fayed), Geoffrey Palmer (Stanley Baldwin), Natalie Dormer (Elizabeth), Laurence Fox (Albert "Bertie"), Douglas Reith (Lord Brownlow), Katie McGrath (Lady Thelma), Christina Chong (Tenten), Nick Smithers (Major Fruity Metcalfe)

Buy W./E. from Amazon.com: DVD + Blu-ray + Digital Copy • DVD

Having conquered the world with her singing talents and to a lesser degree proven herself as an actress, Madonna recently sought to tackle another form of expression, as the director, producer, and co-writer of the drama W./E.. This is actually Madonna's second film behind the camera, although chances are you missed her first, the 2008 British comedy Filth and Wisdom.

Based on its timing, W./E. seems to pose itself as a kind of spin-off to 2010's Best Picture Oscar winner The King's Speech. Whereas that film dramatized King George VI overcoming his stammer, this one is preoccupied with the reason for the abdication by older brother Edward VIII that made it possible.
W./E. bounces around on two timelines, one charting the life of Edward's twice-divorced American wife Wallis Simpson and the other fixing upon a young, unhappily married modern New York woman who becomes somewhat infatuated with Simpson's legacy.

Wallis (Andrea Riseborough) is quickly established as a victim of domestic abuse and then as a content wife of a friendly mustachioed American (David Harbour). But it is her love affair with the English monarch (James D'Arcy) which makes her historically significant and something of a villain to the throne.

Meanwhile, in 1998 Manhattan, 28-year-old Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) longs to become pregnant and takes the dramatic step of in vitro fertilization treatment so that she can conceive a child with her wealthy, emotionally absent psychiatrist husband (Richard Coyle).

Wally finds an outlet and an interest in perusing the exhibition of personal items from the Windsor Estate that her employer Sotheby's is about to begin auctioning. Wally sees nothing wrong with getting lost in thought among Wallis' drinking glasses, napkins, and the like. In her daily visits through closing time, she catches the eye of Evgeni (Oscar Isaac), a widowed Russian immigrant pianist working as a security guard on the exhibit. They form an empowering friendship and a romance which evidently is meant to parallel Wallis' complicated love life.

When she's not perusing Sotheby's Windsor Estate collection, Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) is slowly, sadly, and thoughtfully walking around New York City. The monarchy-shaking love affair of Edward VIII (James D'Arcy) and Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) is of tremendous interest to both this film and its modern-day protagonist.

It is rare for an historical drama to elicit critical wrath. Typically, such fare arrives with prestige and invites accolades. As long as your production values are in place and you have suitable sets, props, and costumes, your subject, whether newly presented or simply reexamined, can captivate audiences with period recreation, historical significance, and convincingly polished dialects. Many entries to the genre are of moderate value artistically and less than wholly entertaining, but they still get their due from intellectuals, the media, and the Oscars' technical categories. Not W./E., though.

It did pick up a consolation Academy Award nomination for Arianne Phillips' costume design, but you can bet that Madonna and distributor The Weinstein Company had higher hopes for this film, which had qualifying theatrical engagements in New York and Los Angeles last December before receiving a limited release in February. W./E., however, was summarily dismissed by critics and audiences alike. To date, this $29 million production has grossed a pitiful $850 thousand in worldwide receipts.

The failings are easy to understand. W./E. is a movie sorely lacking in appeal and judgment. At its foundation is a cross-century connection it cannot convey or make salient. Imagine a Julie & Julia in which Julie just kept viewing Julia's personal belongings and thinking about her life. There just isn't much of a story in that design, which peaks with an overlong and outlandish scene in which Wally enters into a bidding war and ends up spending $10,000 on a pair of Wallis' gloves.

Russian security guard Evgeni (Oscar Isaac) takes special notice of Wally and not as a potential risk. Wally (Abbie Cornish) dresses up nice and bids the hell out of Wallis Simpson's old gloves.

Even setting aside its questionable choice to paint Edward and Wallis as star-crossed lovers the world didn't appreciate, the screenplay is in such dire need of guidance. But who is bold enough to tell that to a cultural icon like Madonna? Certainly not her co-writer Alek Keshisian, whose career curiously vanished after directing Bobby Brown and Madonna music videos, the hit 1991 documentary Madonna: Truth or Dare, and the likable 1994 Harvard drama With Honors. In the nearly twenty years since, Keshisian has added just one feature film to his resume, the 2006 Brittany Murphy vehicle Love and Other Disasters, which went straight to DVD in the US.

Madonna makes admirable efforts to infuse the proceedings with art, but this is clearly not her medium. The belabored staging and random camera movements are a distracting presence, having the effect of an ambitious student film that screams "Look at me, I'm a director!" It's not unreasonable to think that someone with thirty years of show business experience might be well-equipped to direct a passion project.
Heck, Tom Ford is a fashion designer and look at how smoothly he transitioned to directing and adapting A Single Man. But, despite her exhaustive IMDb filmography, Madonna has done very little on the creative side of cinema, having mostly given up on acting after the embarrassments of then-husband Guy Ritchie's Swept Away (2002) and having earned an executive producer credit on just two theatrical feature films, Agent Cody Banks and its sequel.

A shining example of Madonna's creative control being undeserved and ill-advised is in the regular appearance of unnecessary location and year identifiers. We don't doubt you've done your research, Madonna... you don't need to give us those facts on short, throwaway scenes. If there was any momentum and viewer investment being developed, dropping in the time and place would deter from it. Alas, W./E. never comes close to generating anything stronger than bewilderment and derision. From random anachronistic intoxicated dancing to Wally's bizarre stroll past bearded Jews and street musicians to a closing crane shot that attempts to create significance for Manhattan's skyline, this film is a slow, puzzling journey whose greatest revelation is that even in the 2010s, no one is going to say no to Madonna.

In time for Mother's Day, W./E. hits home video as the penultimate release in The Weinstein Company's distribution deal with Anchor Bay Entertainment, being made available on DVD and in the three-disc DVD + Blu-ray + Digital Copy combo pack we review here.

W./E.: DVD + Blu-ray + Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.35:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Featurette Subtitled in English
Release Date: May 1, 2012
Three single-sided discs (BD-25, DVD-9 & DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($29.98 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

For all its many faults, you'd think W./E. would be fine technically, but it is the rare modern movie to be plagued even on this basic level. The Blu-ray's 2.35:1 presentation is full of grainy, underlit and unfocused imagery. You might suspect I'm just looking to pick on Madonna, but in fact these glaring flaws command notice throughout. Some of it is shot on 16mm and is obviously intended to look authentic and aged. But a good amount of the film's less stylized scenes deal with these other issues, with some shots even resembling old-fashioned in-theater bootleg recordings. Perhaps the transfer may be partly to blame for an issue like blacks never getting darker than medium gray. But some of the woes definitely seem to be traceable back to the source. Madonna's cinematographer Hagen Bogdanski is no novice, having ten years of experience in his native Germany as well as some recent American film credits to his name. Maybe the film is just supposed to look kind of splotchy and raw on an intermittent basis? You would think opulence to be high on the production's priority list.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is less troublesome. It nicely disperses the prominent, Golden Globe-nominated score by Abel Korzeniowski (A Single Man). Volume levels fluctuate more than desirable, but dialogue remains crisp and stands above the music. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered, but no foreign language dubs.

Writer, director, producer Madonna shares some of her filmmaking wisdom in "The Making of 'W.E.' Featuring Madonna." The "W./E." DVD's main menu: If Standard put his arm around you, you'd probably want a picture in a fancy frame of it too!

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Despite its loftiness, W./E. is joined by just a single bonus feature, titled -- I kid you not -- "The Making of W.E. Featuring Madonna" (22:36).
This standard definition featurette lets the cast and crew -- including "M" herself with her faint adopted British accent -- pass praise at one another, turning our attentions from the story and characters to the costumes and technical demands.

Identical to the one sold on its own, the DVD here has the same featurette, limited language options, and menu scheme, adding a few static secondary menus where the Blu-ray simply pops up windows. The transferrable digital copy, meanwhile, is provided exclusively in iTunes format on a featherweight DVD-ROM all to itself.

Both the Blu-ray and DVD load with trailers for Coriolanus, My Week with Marilyn, and The Iron Lady. W./E.'s own trailer is not included.

The menu plays clips in a frame on a desk while music flares. Subtract some points from the Blu-ray for neither resuming playback nor supporting bookmarks, which is especially a pain since getting to the main menu requires much patience and button-pushing.

The three discs (of which only the BD is given a full-color label) fit into an unslipcovered, standard-sized Blu-ray case with an insert providing digital copy directions and authorization code, while advertising The Iron Lady on back.

Edward VIII (James D'Arcy), the future King of England, and Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), two-time American divorcιe, share a dance like the star-crossed lovers they are in Madonna's "W./E."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

How fitting that the world's collective response to Madonna's W./E. was precisely what the title translates to in Internet slang. You might have suspected that some of the film's scathing criticism was a kneejerk reaction to the overconfident award season positioning of a powerful pop singer's vanity project. But W./E. is not just bad enough to miss out on year-end best-of lists and award recognition. It is bad enough to question its existence, its relatively steep budget and its being made when so many worthwhile stories remain untold on film.

I'm sure you need little motivation to not see this, but it is absolutely worthy of being skipped by anyone who isn't: relentlessly fascinated by British royalty, enough of a Madonna fan to want to experience her every work, or curious to see what a bad movie posing as respectable period drama is like.

Buy W./E. from Amazon.com: DVD + Blu-ray + Digital Copy / DVD

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Related Reviews:
New: Love Is on the Air • Clueless • We Bought a Zoo • The Iron Lady • Albert Nobbs • The Witches of Oz
My Week with Marilyn • The Help • Hugo • J. Edgar • Julie & Julia • Burlesque • Nine • A Single Man • Eat Pray Love • An Education • Brideshead Revisited
The Monarchy: The King's Speech • The Other Boleyn Girl • The Tudors: The Complete First Season • The Royal Wedding: William & Catherine • The Queen
Abbie Cornish: Stop-Loss • Elizabeth: The Golden Age | Andrea Riseborough: Made in Dagenham • Happy-Go-Lucky | Madonna: Four Rooms • Glee: Encore
Oscar Isaac: Drive • Body of Lies | Richard Coyle: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time | David Harbour: Revolutionary Road • The Green Hornet

W./E. Songs List: Dizzie Gillespie - "Manteca", Henri Mancini and His Orchestra - "Lujon", Krister Linder - "Shatterings", Blind Blake - "Love, Love Alone (Edward VII + A21)", "Edward the Traitor King", Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra - "Night and Day", Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra - "Sweet and Low Down", Chilly Gonzales - "Gogol", Roberto Alagna - "Salad de Fruits", Sex Pistols - "Pretty Vacant", Chubby Checker - "The Twist", The Insects - "Creep Opening Titles", Mark Ayres - "The Nostromo", Madonna - "Masterpiece"

Buy W./E.: Music from the Motion Picture from Amazon.com: CD-R • MP3 Download

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Reviewed April 30, 2012.



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and 2012 The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment and Anchor Bay Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.