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Discussion in 'Archived Reviews' started by Matt Hough, Feb 13, 2011.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director

    Apr 24, 2006
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    Charlotte, NC
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    Matt Hough
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    Fish Tank (Blu-ray)
    Directed by  Andrea Arnold

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 2009
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1   1080p   AVC codec  
    Running Time: 122 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
    Subtitles:  SDH

    Region:  A
    MSRP:  $ 39.95

    Release Date: February 22, 2011

    Review Date:   February 13, 2011

    The Film


    There is no denying that Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank is a raw, realistic picture of a lower middle class family in Essex, England. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that it’s especially engrossing or even moderately entertaining. Trapped with a group of unlikable people with crushed lives and rumpled dreams, a viewer of Fish Tank isn’t presented with anything remotely fresh that would make him want to hang around for the film’s more than two hour running time. Unlike the kitchen sink dramas of the 1960s that featured compelling characters enduring squalid surroundings, the characters here don’t tweak one’s interest, and the dramatic scenario they’re participating in is as predictable as tomorrow’s sunrise.

    Fifteen year old Mia Williams (Katie Jarvis) has a combative relationship with her unwed mother Joanne (Kierston Wareing) and younger sister Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths), their only way of showing affection is to shout profane epithets at one another. When mom starts dating an attractive security guard (Michael Fassbender), the first rays of normalcy begin to enter the household. He takes the girls on lakeside outings and encourages Mia with her hip-hop dancing skills. But Joanne has had it with Mia’s horrific attitude and ignoring rules and makes arrangements with a social worker to take Mia out of the home and send her to a school for rebellious teenagers. Only an upcoming dancing audition for a club gives Mia hope that the future can hold something bright for her.

    Director-writer Andrea Arnold returns to the working class social strata that distinguished her Oscar-winning short Wasp and its earlier prototype Dog (she’s combined her teen protagonists from Dog with the unwed adult mother from Wasp to get the genesis of her story here), but with a plot that is so rudimentary and predictable that almost every twist and turn can be seen long before it’s shown on screen. The younger characters are all understandably flaky and erratic in their emotions veering from blissfully cooperative to defiantly disrespectful in the blink of an eye. The too-good-to-be-true insertion of Fassbender’s Connor into the story again holds no surprises though Arnold does stage that lakeside visit with some pastoral lyricism, quite a jolt from all the vulgarity that has preceded and which follows it. Too much time is spent with Mia in a vacant apartment trying out new dance moves (she has a modest talent at best so the dancing is of little interest) and other scenes like Mia’s watching from the shadows while her mother and Connor have sex or the younger sister and her chum sharing a cigarette aren’t shocking or titillating but merely blandly routine.

    The character of Mia is atomically reactive enough to give actress Katie Jarvis a real workout playing her. It’s a repetitive performance without much subtlety or finesse, but it gets the job done. Kierston Wareing as the unwed mother with two increasingly uncontrollable kids on her hands gets across to the audience that she’d much rather be single and child-free again. As he has done in all of his most recent films (Inglorious Basterds, Hunger), Michael Fassbender draws the eye to his performance using shades of charm and cunning to make even his sketchily written character someone of interest. Harry Treadaway also sparks moments of attention as Mia’s one teenaged pal who accepts her for who she is without censure.

    Video Quality


    Unusually for a 21st century film, the picture is framed at 1.33:1 giving the movie a claustrophobic texture that’s unmistakable. It’s a 1080p transfer produced with the AVC codec. Completely speck free and boasting very strong color with flesh tones that are most realistic and beautifully deliniated, the image’s only real problem is a patterned blouse that Mia wears early on that has the slightest degree of shimmer present. Black levels are very strong, and the detail is quite impressive throughout. The film has been divided into 17 chapters.

    Audio Quality


    Though the disc has a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, you won’t find much surround activity at all during the course of the movie. There is some slight spread across the fronts on occasion, but the amount of music that is played during the movie would have offered quite a few opportunities for some separations into the fronts and rears, but we only get that over the closing credits. Dialogue is well recorded (and with the strong provincial accents, you may need to turn on the SDH subtitles to understand everything being said) and appears firmly rooted to the center channel.

    Special Features


    Actress Kierston Wareing speaks about working on the movie in a 14 ¼-minute interview presented in 1080p.

    Actor Michael Fassbender is interviewed by David Schwartz at a film festival in Queens, NY, in 2010 in this 26 ¼-minute audio conversation in which he discusses working without a finished script and in sequence. He also takes questions from the festival audience.

    There is 9 ¾ minutes of audition dance footage for girls playing teens in the film who are street rivals of Mia’s. It’s presented in 1080i.

    Three short films by director Andrea Arnold are presented on the disc.

    • Milk concerns a mother working through her grief when her child is born dead. It’s in 1080i and runs 10 ½ minutes.
    • Dog is a 10 ¼-minute warm up for Fish Tank as two rebellious teens buy drugs and go to a dump yard to smoke and have sex. It’s in 1080i.
    • Wasp is the Oscar-winning short film concerning an unwed mother of four who takes her kids on her first date in months to a pool hall and leaves them outside while she plays pool inside with her male acquaintance. The 1080p feature runs 25 ¾ minutes.

    A stills gallery offers forty-seven color shots of actors and locations from the movie.

    The film’s theatrical trailer, oddly presented in 1.78:1, runs 2 minutes in 1080p.

    The enclosed 19-page booklet contains the chapter listing, cast and crew lists, some color stills, and an appreciative essay on the movie by film professor Ian Christie.

    The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.

    In Conclusion

    3.5/5 (not an average)

    Fish Tank takes social realism to the point of banality, but there are some striking performances to be found in the film which students of the genre or the director may find interesting. A nice selection of bonus material, including the three shorts which brought the director into prominence in film circles, add much value to the package.

    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC 


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