DVD Review HTF DVD REVIEW: In the Land of Women

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ken_McAlinden, Oct 30, 2007.

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  1. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    In the Land of Women

    Directed By: Jon Kasdan

    Starring: Adam Brody, Meg Ryan, Olympia Dukakis, Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Vega, Sofia Buñuel


    Studio: Warner Brothers

    Year: 2007

    Rated: PG-13

    Film Length: 97 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

    Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, English SDH

    Release Date: October 30, 2007


    The Film

    As "In the Land of Woman" begins, Carter Webb (Brody), a writer of soft-core pornography, is being dumped by his actress/model girlfriend, Elena (Buñuel). Depressed in the wake of this, he decides to leave California and visit his grandmother, Phyllis (Dukakis), in Michigan. In addition to helping out his grandmother who lives on her own and obsessively insists she is dying whenever she speaks to her family, Carter hopes to finally get around to writing a screenplay he has been considering for over a decade. Shortly after moving in, Carter starts to meet the neighbors from across the street, the Hardwickes. He gradually develops a connection with both Sarah (Ryan), the matriarch of the family, as well as her teenage daughter, Lucy (Stewart). Sarah has discovered a lump in her breast and her family is anxious about the subsequent medical tests and treatment. Both Sarah and Lucy eventually find it easier to talk to Carter about their family issues than to each other, while Carter appreciates the chance to get a respite from his eccentric Grandmother and unload his relationship anxieties on Sarah while vicariously experiencing the "John Hughes" Midwestern high school moments he never enjoyed in Los Angeles through talking to Lucy.

    For his feature film debut as a writer/director, Jon Kasdan clearly heeded the traditional advice to "Write what you know." Like Kasdan himself, the main character is a young man who grew up in Los Angeles and has family connections in Suburban Southeast Michigan. As a resident of that area, I can confirm that he got a lot of the details right down to the area code of the Hospice number attached to Olympia Dukakis' death-obsessed character's phone. Kasdan is also a cancer survivor which greatly informs the experiences of Meg Ryan's Sarah as well as her family.

    As personal as the film is to its writer/director it does feel unreasonably contrived at times, and occasionally flirts with cliché. The fact that you meta-comment on the presence of a precocious child that reminds the protagonist of himself in your screenplay does not get you off the hook for relying on the age-old device in the first place. Similarly, mentioning John Hughes does not make the rehashing of his teen triangle formula from Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and Some Kind of Wonderful seem any fresher. Additionally, while there are a lot of cool songs on the film's soundtrack (I would probably buy the CD if it was released), they seem to pop up way too frequently, sometimes working against, rather then adding to, the narrative and thematic thrust.

    Fortunately, whenever the film approaches the precipice of becoming too precious, it is saved by some gentle humor and a cast that wisely errs on the side of underplaying things. The closest to an over the top performance is Olympia Dukakis as the death-obsessed grandmother, but even she manages to show enough restraint to make Phyllis seem eccentric without being completely ridiculous, which is not easy to do when you play a character who forgets to put pants on before answering the door.

    The basic structure of the plot involving a charismatic outsider who comes into a town and finds a lot of people willing to talk to him about their problems is reminiscent of the film "Mumford", which was written and directed by Jon Kasdan's father, Lawrence. To be fair, the outsider who shakes things up is also a common plot set-up for many other movies, especially westerns, throughout the years. "In the Land of Women" takes a much less broad approach to its premise than the quirkier "Mumford".

    The Video

    The film is presented in both a 2.35:1 16:9 enhanced widescreen presentation reflecting its original theatrical aspect ratio and a reformatted 4:3 version on either side of a double-sided, single-layered DVD-10 disc. I ignored the 4:3 presentation for the purpose of this review. The transfer had generally solid colors and contrast, subdued somewhat as the film progresses to represent a gradually graying Michigan autumn. Edge enhancement was minimal to non-existent, but there were some serious compression artifacts visible. The most obvious examples occur during almost any exterior scene with significant background detail (such as leafy trees) with a moving camera. Waves of digital grain pulse throughout the image in these instances.

    The Audio

    The English 5.1 track is generally very subdued as is typical for largely dialog-driven films, but it does spring to life a bit during some of the frequent music passages. A Spanish 5.1 dub is also available.

    The Extras

    There are no extras on this release whatsoever. When the disc initially spins up, there are a series of promotional trailers for the DVD releases of "License to Wed", "Gracie", and "No Reservations", a theatrical trailer for "August Rush", and a brief ad for the "Ellen" daytime television talk show. All are presented in 4:3 video, letterboxed when appropriate, with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

    Packaging

    The double-sided single-layered DVD-10 disc comes packaged in standard Amaray-style case with no inserts.

    Summary

    Jon Kasdan the debut director helps out Jon Kasdan the debut screenwriter by coaxing some decent performances from his cast which help the somewhat contrived and derivative plot go down easy. The film is given a lackluster presentation on disc with a transfer marred by some very noticeable compression artifacts and no extras of any kind.

    Regards,

    Edited by Ken_McAlinden - 7/6/2009 at 04:33 am GMT
     

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