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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Kids Are All Right
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Posted November 24 2010 - 10:11 AM
THE KIDS ARE
Length: 1 hr 47 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: AVC (@ an average 30 mbps)
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.5 mbps)(varies between noisy and quiet scenes)
Spanish DTS 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: R (Strong Sexual Content, Nudity, Language, Drug and Alcohol Use)
Release Date: November 16, 2010
Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson
Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Film Rating: 2 ½/5
The Kids Are All Right has all the ingredients of a great independent movie. It has a solid cast, led by Annette Bening’s performance (which is almost certain to get an Oscar nomination), and it has a strong-minded director known for her willingness to tackle difficult subjects and make difficult choices. So why doesn’t this film really work? The answers will require me to get a bit deeper into the story and subject matter than I normally would. For the purposes of those readers who are simply looking for the nuts and bolts, I’ll just say that the movie deals with a family where there are two mothers – a female couple who have each had a baby from the same sperm donor, who the kids decide they would like to meet. The father’s interaction with the kids, and with both of the mothers, drives the film through to its. It’s the way in which the story is handled that the film’s problems develop.
(WARNING - SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH ABOUT THE MOVIE’S PLOT) What we’re looking at here is essentially an autobiographical flashforward by Lisa Cholodenko. The film’s core idea stems from a few years ago, when Cholodenko and her life partner were looking to have a baby by using a sperm donor. At some point, Cholodenko imagined what the meeting of her child and the father might be like, and how this might play out 18 years in the future. So far, so good. Cholodenko starts her film with some basic vignettes of how this family functions, with Annette Bening playing Nic, the breadwinner, who is essentially an onscreen version of Cholodenko herself. Julianne Moore plays Jules, the stay-at-home mom, and their son and daughter are your typical teenagers, with the usual issues that go with them. Cholodenko includes a bit more information than is necessary about the mothers’ bedroom issues, but this is mostly your usual family drama material. And then we are introduced to the kids’ father/donor, Paul, amiably played by Mark Ruffalo as a bit of a hound. Our first introduction to him includes a fairly graphic sexual encounter between him and one of his employees. But Paul’s a likeable enough guy, and when he’s offered the chance to meet the kids, he goes with it. Soon enough, he winds up at a backyard meal with the kids and the mothers, and things seem to be okay, if a little tense. We begin to see the impact he is having on the kids. Part of this is positive – he is the one that gets the son to drop a no-good “friend” before he gets in any further trouble. But then Paul gets the daughter to start standing up to Nic’s rules, which triggers a confrontation and causes Nic to think she’s starting to lose her grip on her family. And while this is still playing out, we watch as Jules, who feels a bit neglected, initiates an affair with Paul and potentially upends everything. Up to this point, we’re still at a point where the film can develop the situation without losing any of its complexity. But once Nic realizes what’s going on, the film completely goes off the rails. Paul switches from being a sympathetic rogue to an outright villain, as he tells Jules to grab the kids and abandon Nic. Jules, of course, hangs up on Paul and tearfully apologizes to the family. Nic’s concerns are validated, and the family gathers around her, as Paul makes one more appearance to practically leer through the window at his son. My point is that this is too easy of a conclusion, and as much as Lisa Cholodenko says she isn’t trying to turn Paul into a villain, she is in fact doing that. And for a film that is trying to be a mature examination of long term family and marriage issues, that reduction is a critical error. It’s a shame, because all the elements are here for something far more rewarding.
The Kids Are All Right has been released on standard definition DVD and Blu-ray as of last Tuesday. The Blu-ray contains a high-definition transfer of the film along with a few extras, including some deleted scenes, three very short featurettes and a commentary by Lisa Cholodenko. Further Blu-ray functionality is also part of the Blu-ray disc, including pocket BLU, My Scenes, an online ticker and trailers, as well as uHear and a menu activator.
VIDEO QUALITY 3 ½/5
The Kids are All Right is presented in a 1080p AVC 1.85:1 transfer that is a bit limited by the low budget conditions under which the film was shot. Keep in mind the film was made within a single month for around 4 million dollars. To their credit, Lisa Cholodenko and her Director of Photography insisted on working with 35mm film rather than a high-def camera, but the movie has an undeniably rough look to it. There’s a fair amount of grain visible, particularly in the exterior daylight scenes in Paul’s backyard, and some of the interior daylight scenes look a bit washed out. If anything, the grungy look fits the overall mood of the film. I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.
AUDIO QUALITY 3 ½/5
The Kids Are All Right is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, along with standard DTS 5.1 mixes in French and Spanish. For the most part, this is a pretty quiet movie, with the primary audio ingredients being the dialogue in the front channels. Things get noisier here and there, and a bit of atmosphere in restaurant and party scenes, but this is not designed or intended to be a showcase for a home theater sound system.
SPECIAL FEATURES 2/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of The Kids Are All Right comes with a few extras, the most important of which being the director’s commentary. The featurettes are just as short as the ones that accompanied Greenberg earlier this year. I have to wonder why they have not simply been edited into a single piece.
Feature Commentary with Lisa Cholodenko – This scene-specific commentary with Lisa Cholodenko is the most rewarding part of the special features on this disc. Cholodenko introduces the commentary as a “Guided Meditation”, and proceeds to walk the viewer through her thoughts about the genesis and production of the film. She’s pretty specific in her notes, including the various ideas brought to the film by the actors on a scene by scene and even a shot by shot basis.
The Journey to Forming a Family (4:35, 1080p) – This quick featurette has Lisa Cholodenko discussing her initial inspiration for writing and directing the movie.
The Making of The Kids Are All Right – (3:09, 1080p) This featurette has a bit of on-set video, and discussion of the work of the actors during the shoot. There’s not much depth to be found here, which is a shame, since the actors’ work is the primary asset of this film.
The Writer’s Process – (2:27, 1080p) This featurette discusses the collaboration between Cholodenko and her co-writer Stuart Blumberg. As before, the featurette is too short to get into any detail.
BD-Live - The more general BD-Live screen is accessible via the menu, which makes various online materials available, including tickers, trailers and special events.
My Scenes - The usual bookmarking feature is included here.
pocket BLU– The latest Blu-ray features of phone apps and social networking are included here for viewers with the right iPhones, Blackberries and other current hardware.
The film and special features are subtitled in English, French and Spanish. The usual pop-up menu is present, along with a complete chapter menu. Further, when you first put the Blu-ray in the player, you’ll get a reminder about the BD-Live movies now available to you via streaming. Various trailers from BD-Live will appear when you activate the disc, including Get Him to the Greek, Robin Hood, Psycho, Back to the Future, and the usual Universal Blu-ray trailer.
IN THE END...
The Kids Are All Right is a movie that regrettably doesn’t live up to the hype and expectations it has generated. Still, the film does boast some great performances, particularly Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, and the Blu-ray provides the best possible picture quality one could hope for under the conditions involved here. And there’s an insightful commentary by the director. Fans of Lisa Cholodenko will most certainly have already purchased this. I recommend this as a rental to more casual viewers.
November 24, 2010.