Presented in AVC1 VBR @ 25.8
DTS-HD 5.1 Audio
The Movie 1/5
I am a fan of almost all music. From Country to Folk to Bluegrass to Rap. Good music is just good music. I sat and watched Country Strong with my wife, who is not a country music fan, but knows that I can appreciate a good tune. At about the 20 minute mark, my wife turned to me and said "Dixie Chicks" at the hour and a half point, she turned to me and said "David Allen Coe". For us, it was short hand. The kind of dialog that after being married long enough I instantly understood exactly what she meant. And maybe it's that we have the same wavelength but it's not just that I understood what she meant, it's that her base point was dead on target.
Country Strong is the story of a country music singer (Paltrow) who comes upon hard times after a concert incident the year prior. Her alcoholism caused her to repeatedly hit benders, fall off the wagon, and suffer the consequences. In one night, she finds herself too drunk to be on stage, five months pregnant and hammered, she tumbles off the stage causing her to miscarry.
These details trickle out through the film, but once it's very clear, my wife turned to me and said "Dixie Chicks". What did she mean? She was referring to the moment where the Dixie Chicks had been caught making a critique of the Iraqi War and found themselves going from the top country music act in the country to struggling to sell concerts (see "Shut Up and Sing" if you want a good documentary on that). The reason why my wife brought it up was simple - there are some sins that may be forgiven, but in the country music world, one of the most conservative politically leaning communities, it struck my wife (and myself) odd that Paltrow's character would go through that event and be welcomed back with such huge open arms by the country music world, seen throughout the film as piled up outside of concerts on her return tour, waiting for her to perform. While there are some signs of protests, my wife's point was simple: the event would have made her a social pariah in that community, it's very unlikely that she would be welcomed back at all. Ask Mindy McCready how a sin against the values of the community goes over and how well you can come back from it.
In some ways, I struggled to think of any film that involves country music stars and should be better written that so terribly misses the realities of the subject matter. Fact is, the film realy misses it's moment when there are tons of this:
People praising her, rooting for her.. and very little of the realities of her outcome, more like this:
The film seems to get close to something, and then it never manages to get there. Kelly Canter (Paltrow) suffers failures but her audience seems always willing to pack a stadium for her - big stadiums. This struck my wife and I as ridiculous.. and thats what brought up memories of the Dixie Chicks. Canter's husband - who is the only one who really comes across as not laughable, played effectively my Tim McGraw (a country music star) seems to be aware that his wife's career is closing, and he seeks out a new ingenue, in the form of Leighton Meister. Her character is a scared little girl with a far better singing voice then Paltrow, but she brought us to where my wife brings up "David Allen Coe"
For those that doesn't know country music, David Allen Coe is a thing of occassional boneheaded stupid statements and occasionally some music that works. (Take This Job and Shove It is one of his). But when my wife mentioned his name, I knew exactly what she was referring to: "You Don't Even Call Me Darlin' " A song which ends with a lyric lampooning all country music with the phrases:
"Well, I was drunk the day my Mom got outta prison.
And I went to pick her up in the rain.
But, before I could get to the station in my pickup truck
She got runned over by a damned old train. "
The joke was that country music would always be thought of as these stereotypes and it was cute and funny. And yet, one after another Country Strong went out of their way to accomplish it. Leighton Meister's mom? Just got out of prison (following a scene they had picked up a drunk Paltrow from a bar in the rain), immediately following that, these celebrities who were out at major arenas pack themselves into beat up, 1970s style rusted out pickup trucks.
The moment my wife mentioned it, I started to laugh. Really, hard laugh. I often wonder who read the script for this and if they had ever asked anyone in country music. For as great as some films have been that have dealt with the subject, that's how bad Country Strong was. Even the music fails as a near parody of country rather then a success.
The video quality is actually fairly effective. Colors and tons are great, there are no noticable artifacts, and the blacks are inky black. This film was given a great transfer and it some scenes really show off the clash of colors to great effect. Concert scenes are especially well done, giving us a dark backdrop against bright colors with no ringing or issues. If this film itself was any better, the video quality would be impressive.
The blacks in this film are very, very good and frankly, it is a nice looking film to watch. It's hard to explain how often they use the full black backdrops, the characters cut out of inky darkness without really showing you. In almost every concert settings, the actors appear next to a dimly lit or straight black backdrop, and to great effect their lighting remains solid, the characters seem to pop out of the screen and the picture quality in those moments is fantastic.
There are, however, flaws when it comes to some of the exterior scenes where the color quality doesn't seem to live up to the promise held in the concert footage, which is easily the best moments. While I joked about "Shut Up and Sing" earlier, this is a film where if they spent far more time singing or in a concert, it might have improved a lackluster story.
The audio is presented in DTS-MA 5.1. Sometimes we over rate audio based on how impressive the explosions are, the wild effects, which really hurts films which are dialog heavy. Country Strong is a dialog heavy film with several concerts mixed in. The dialog scenes are crisp, easy to understand and they are very well done. The concert scenes envelope the room and let you feel as though you are sitting in about the 10th row of a decent concert hall. The audience feels in front and behind you, giving a great effect that I wish more concert DVDs/BDs had. It's a really great, strong audio mix that brings out the film and works on almost every level.
The extras include:
Longform Video "Shake that Thing" 3:55, not a very good song, not well sung, presented in SD, AC3 Stereo. Reminds me of something Miley Cyrus might try to pull off.
Original Ending 2:45, presented in SD, AC3 Stereo.. this is better concept then the ending present in the film, but not by much. The Rusted Pickup makes a showing.
Friends in High Places: The Cast of Country Strong 1080P, MPEG2 Dolby AC3 Stereo. I laughed hard at this title, because it's an obvious play on the Garth Brooks song (Friends in Low Places). But it's not the pun that got me, it's that it kind of represents the complete lack of understanding this film had all the way through. At one point Paltrow jnotes she had modeled her entire thinking around Faith Hill and Dolly Parton. For the film and script present, there just seems to be a big miss over what they were really dealing with. Leighton Meister also says she models her acting after Faith Hill and Taylor Swift.
The Songwriters of Country Strong 8:51, MPEG2, a tale of the creation of songs for it, highlighting the work of Tom Douglas. The songs really weren't bad in this. They weren't great, but they weren't bad, and they had nothing to do with the basic problems of the film.
Costume Design of Country Strong, 6:45 MPEG2, AC3 Stereo. The costume design of the film.
Country Strong Music Video, MPEG2, AC3 Stereo, 1080P. Pretty much what it is.
A Music Video by Sara Evans "A Little Bit Stronger" 1080P, MPEG2, AC3 Stereo
Trailer for Sony 3D TVs (1080P), Trailer for Burlesque (1080P, MPEG, AC3 5.1), The Tourist (MPEG2, 1080P, 5.1), How Do You Know (1080P) Soul Surfer (1080P)
It's hard to take a film like Country Strong seriously. It comes across as a daytime soap opera, and the ending, while tragic also makes almost no sense and really sells all of the characters short. It makes her performance almost a complete mockery of why you ever watched the thing. I can't really figure out how this script got to the point it got in front of a camera. There are some good moments, but it never makes a strong enough story to be watchable. The concert scenes are good, but too few, and they don't advance the story at all.
I was eerily reminded of another film along with the two jibes I made above: "Oh God, You Devil, Part 3". Where the singer sells his soul to the devil for success, and as a result.. well, you'd have to see that film. Bringing it up makes me realize if I were to compare the two films, I'd really chose to watch "Oh God, You Devil 3" over this because it was far more fun.
Should you buy this film? I picked this up for less then 10 dollars. It might be worth it for the concert scenes which are quite good, or for potential drinking games. Is it worth a rent? Yeah, give it a rent. If the concert scenes are enough to keep your interest, then decide to pick it up.