DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Calendar Girls (Recommended)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by DaViD Boulet, May 3, 2004.

  1. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

    Feb 24, 1999
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    Studio:TOUCHSTONE Year:2003RunTime:108 minutes Aspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 2.35:1 OAR Audio:5.1 DD English, 5.1 DD FrenchSubtitles:English, SpanishSpecialFeatures:Two featurettes (The Naked Truth & Creating the Calendar), Deleted Scenes ReleaseDate:May 4, 2004

    The Movie...

    Charming. Fun. Touching.

    The biggest fault of Calendar Girls is that it will trick many potential viewers into thinking that it’s just a camp-comedy along the lines of a female-version of the Full Monty. While Calendar Girls is woven with nice fabric of comedic fun, at its heart it’s a film about self, life, love, and friendship. These “serious” themes are comfortably disguised by the light-hearted and thoroughly entertaining demeanor of the film. And if that’s all you want don’t worry, Calendar Girls will let you laugh out-loud without forcing you to look any farther. But for those of you who like your film-fun tempered with a bit of depth and character dimension, Calendar Girls brings a nice balance of both.

    While I usually shy away from “plot exposition” in my movie reviews, I don’t think I’ll ruin the surprise to let you know that the premise of this film is about a bunch of middle+ aged women getting naked for a calendar. The story centers around two women in particular, best-friends Chris Harper (Helen Mirren) and Annie Clarke (Julie Walters), who are members of a women’s club in North Yorkshire. Tired of the usual boring “women’s club” repertoire of activities, the duo get inspired (along with others from their club’s chapter) to produce a calendar with a “twist” on the usual baking and gardening theme try to raise money for a charitable donation to the local hospital. The struggle to produce the calendar and the surprising success that follows test the women’s endurance and their relationships with each other and their families.

    Helen Mirren does a marvelous job playing the role of Chris Harper. She brings a strong-willed/saucy attitude that really propels the character of Chris strongly in this film. Helen also commands a striking physique for a woman of any age, and she serves to help coax the potentially nervous viewer (anxious about the nudity of “older” women) into a more comfortable place with the whole idea. I suspect that many viewers will actually find themselves looking forward to sneaking-a-peak of Helen unveiled in this movie even if they are embarrassed to admit it openly.

    Julie Walters also does a fine job with the character of Annie Clarke, though I found myself wanting for a deeper character development with her role. This was no fault of her acting, but rather with the screen-play and direction. For instance, when her husband suddenly dies of Leukemia, it almost feels like we have no time to stop and really grasp her loss before the next scene when the ladies are plotting how to get their nude calendar idea accepted among the women’s group’s members. Also, a bit of background getting to know Annie’s husband and their relationship would have helped communicate the sense of loss more keenly. Instead, our first introduction to John (Annie’s husband) is when he’s about to report the news of his illness, which doesn’t really offer an opportunity for the viewer to “bond” with him and share in Annie’s surprise and sadness.

    Not a perfect film, but Calendar Girls is a charming film, filled with fun, that is sure to entertain and touch you all at the same time. If you missed it in the theater here’s your chance to enjoy it in your home-theater.

    note: something that caught my attention was that the 16x9 movie-clip introduction to the main menu appeared distorted…looking “tall and thin” the way an unmodified 16x9 DVD image would appear on a 4x3 display. Apparently, the DVD producers took the 2.35:1 film sequence and stretched it to fill the full vertical height of the 16x9 menu area. In any case, no big deal but don’t be alarmed and think that your display or DVD player is improperly configured…that was my first thought until the feature started playing.


    In what seems to be a trend from Disney Studios these days, the picture of Calendar Girls offers great color, contrast, and compression with the tradeoff of an overly soft-picture lacking in fine detail with minimal edge-halos. When I play discs from other studios (such as FOX) I’m constantly reminded of just how much picture information a DVD can store, and how astonishingly film-like DVDs can look when properly mastered with minimal HF filtering. I really wish the compression labs where Disney sends their films to be mastered for DVD would figure this out too.

    These criticisms will mostly affect viewers on large-screen systems where the viewing angle starts to approach “movie” proportions. Sitting more than 2 screen widths away, as most folks do with traditional direct-view sets or smaller-scale rear-projection and plasma TVs, will probably produce an image that’s quite satisfying to the eye. Colors are accurate, the scenery is often spectacular (kept reminding me of Under the Tuscan Sun in many ways with the rolling landscapes), and contrast/black level is solid. The only real disappointment is that when viewing on a larger scale (I view from about 1.75 screen widths from my front-projected image) image detail is lacking which becomes bothersome on any mid-to-farground shots of actors’ faces where they lose definition. Occasional minor edge-halos are visible which aren’t too distracting, but more or less irritating when you think that rather than “fake” sharpness of edge-halos you might have had real image detail instead. To all compressionists: I would (as would most videophiles) rather suffer through a few isolated moments of increased MPEG artifacting and preserve real image detail throughout the feature film than constantly think to myself that my image looks out-of-focus. Other studios can do it, so it’s possible. Please learn!

    So as not to end on a downer let me assure you that in overall balance the image of Calendar Girls is extremely pleasing and most viewers will find nothing objectionable at all. My score depicts my impression of the picture in the most demanding of display scenarios, which I feel should be the measure by which any modern DVD is properly judged.

    Picture: 3.5/ 5


    Sound is really fantastic in terms of "fidelity". The 5.1 DD score is open, robust, natural, and non-fatiguing. Vocals sound smooth and non-irritating but what really impressed me was the fidelity of the musical portions of the soundtrack which had a very “live” presence to them. The timbre of the piano in the opening scenes was impressively “real”. Also a bit of (unexpected) surround activity for a film of this genre…I found myself surprised from time to time (a good surprise, not a distracting one). When the women are exercising on the hilltop the 5.1 mix does a wonderful job of surrounding you with environmental cues such as wind and birds etc. to mimic a 360 degree acoustic soundscape. Very effective and very unusual for a “comedy/drama” film of this type. Bravo.

    Sound: 4.5/ 5

    Special Features...

    The bonus material is not excessive, but is more than adequate and I think that even ardent fans of this film will be pleased with what Disney has seen fit to provide.

    [*]Deleted Scenes: Several Deleted Scenes that are really worth watching. Most of them left me feeling a bit saddened that they weren’t included in the final film. The two that I would have enjoyed most seeing back in the actual film were: 1. The “father and son chat” which really would have fleshed out our understanding of the anxiety that Chris’ son was feeling, adding weight to his rebellion and a greater sense of consequence to her avoidance of dealing with “at home” issues, and 2. the one with the girls “jamming” with the rock group in their Hollywood Hotel room (which would added a nice sense of fun!). All deleted scenes are presented 4x3 lbxed with 2.0 DD audio.
    [*]The Naked Truth: In what I think may be a Disney first (please correct me if I’m in error), this documentary is presented in glorious 16x9 WS. BRAVO. I hope this is the beginning of a trend. This is a great 15-minute featurette where we meet the “real” Calendar Girls (did I fail to mention that this film is based on a true story???). Not only are the interviews interesting, but I found it fascinating that I was able to “identify” several of the real Calendar Girls based on their characterization in the movie. That’s says something good about the casting/acting for the feature film—that it really captured the “essence” of the real women behind the story. I notice no PAL-NTSC conversion artifacts so I suspect that the video was shot on native 60Hz video (was a question in my mind given that this film was shot in Europe and presented in 16x9 which is a common aspect ratio for PAL television).

    [*]Creating the Calendar: Another 16x9 WS featurette? Someone pinch me. This one chronicles the production of the calendar featured in the film. This covers the gamete of the actors’ issues with “getting nude”, challenges to the concept of filming the scenes etc. All this hullabaloo about getting nude makes me wonder what all the fuss is about. Really people, each and every one of us gets to see ourselves nude every day. Is it really that big a deal? [​IMG] In any case, this featurette has plenty of interesting trivia and anyone who enjoys the feature film and misses the lack of feature-commentary will enjoy the brief “behind the scenes” tour that this documentary provides.

    In Closing...

    Calendar Girls is a charming film and worth a watch for those of you who missed its theatrical debut. Disney has done a nice job with the DVD presentation with a generally nice picture, decent 5.1 audio, reasonable extras. My only gripe is that the picture appears to be lacking fine-image detail for wide-angle viewing systems. Calendar Girls is the perfect “party movie” to share with a group of folks who want to have a good time and can handle a moment or two of “tasteful” partial nudity. If you’re looking for an upbeat film to make you laugh, or if you want a light-hearted story with a little more going on under the surface than your usual comedy fare, give Calendar Girls a try. I think you’ll enjoy it.

  2. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie

    Jul 30, 2003
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    North of the 49th
    Real Name:
    Stephen J. Hill
    David, this was a very soft-looking movie in theatres, no doubt because super sharpness would have needlessly accentuated every wrinkle and crow's foot on these fairly attractive middle-aged ladies. I'd love to see some screen shots to see how it stacks up to what I was running @ my theatre.
  3. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

    Feb 24, 1999
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    Thanks for your informative comments.

    It quite possibly may be (in part or whole) due to soft-looking picture elements. However, even when I see "soft" looking films in the theater at 1.5 screen widths I never see the lack of image detail that I'm seeing here. On second thought that's not true...when I saw "Gosford Park" in the theater I was shocked at the lack of facial-detail in the image (a truely horrible looking film in terms of picture quality, IMO).

    I'd really appreciate some feedback on this issue...if any of you who saw the film projected theatrically can manage a critical viewing of the DVD on a wide-angle system (take the DVD to your local HT shop and screen a few minutes on one of their projector rigs if you need to) to let me know if this lack of detail is really the way the image looked theatrically or not.

    After discovering the shocking amount of image detail that had been needlessly filtered out of the Kill Bill print for that DVD I'm a bit skeptical, but I'm open to input. However I don't think viewing the film in close-range on a PC monitor will tell the full story (though if I was able I would indeed provide some screen-shots), I think to really gauge how this movie "feels" in terms of detail one needs to see it "big" from a wide-angle perspective.

    The challenge is on!

    -dave [​IMG]
  4. Keith M.

    Keith M. Second Unit

    Apr 1, 1999
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    Thanks for the review,

    I think Ill pass...

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