DVD Review HTF Review: Love Actually - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! MUST SEE!

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Apr 13, 2004.

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  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

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    [​IMG]


    Love Actually







    Studio: Universal
    Year: 2003
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 135 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
    Captions: English
    Subtitles: French, and Spanish
    Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1; French & Spanish – Stereo Surround






    Release Date:
    April 27th, 2004





    “Love actually is all around.”

    Richard Curtis’ directorial debut, Love Actually, which features an insanely massive and talented ensemble cast, is an ambitious blend of humor and romance, with a few tear-inducing moments thrown in for good measure. More specifically, Curtis’ tale tells the stories of the trials and tribulations that love causes an array of different people over a five-week period preceding Christmas. Indeed, Curtis juggles no less than nine storylines, so he cannot escape from some of the genre’s clichés, like characters running to the airport before the object of their affections flies off, but even most of these conventions are infused with enough charm that they feel fresh.
    Now I should probably point out that I really appreciate movies that contain a lot of storylines and characters, provided they are done right, of course. In my opinion, such movies not only take a lot of effort, but can just as easily collapse under its own weight as be good, so I admire the bravado of filmmakers that take on the challenge.

    Fortunately, Love Actually is in the capable hands of Mr. Curtis, who wrote the screenplays for Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, two rather charming British romantic comedies. Quite simply, the man is good with this type of material, and knows how to push his audience’s buttons more often than not. He also proved adept at casting these roles, as the film’s ensemble is not made up not of nobodies, but experienced, well known actors like Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, and Alan Rickman, all of who possess the ability to pull the material off with panache.

    Better still, the many storylines, which I will get to shortly, are generally very interesting, so even though I wished some characters were on screen more, I found it easy to become enamored with more than a few of Love Actually’s protagonists. Basically, the film chronicles the relationships between eight sets of couples over the aforementioned five-week period, and takes on all aspects of love, from a young boy’s first love to the anguish and indifference of two people that are probably in the latter stages of a failing marriage. To be sure, for a “romantic comedy”, some of this material is uncharacteristic (as is the “R” rating), and that Curtis makes it work as well as it does is surprising. Indeed, Curtis displays a knack for creating memorable characters, even though none of the characters in Love Actually are developed beyond a superficial level.

    Now I don’t want to get into too much detail, but the following is a brief rundown of the roster of characters in Love Actually, and a general description of their storylines. Hugh Grant plays the newly elected Prime Minister of England, probably the nation’s most eligible bachelor, who finds himself drawn to his “tea girl” Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). In another story, we meet Daniel (Liam Neeson), a recently widowed man trying to guide his stepson Sam (Thomas Sangster), who he must now raise alone, through his first experience with love.

    Moving on, the just-married Juliet (Keira Knightley) discovers her husband's (Chiwetel Ejiofor) best friend Mark (Andrew Lincoln) is secretly in love with her, although he outwardly treats her like crap. In the fourth storyline, a business executive named Harry (Alan Rickman) encourages an employee named Sarah (Laura Linney) to act on her feelings for her coworker Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), while simultaneously being lured away from his wife Karen (Emma Thompson) by his young siren of a secretary.

    Yet another storyline, and probably the most charming one, finds writer Jaime Bennett (Colin Firth) fleeing to France after he catches his brother messing around with his beloved. Once in France, he falls head over heels for his housekeeper Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), despite the language barrier between them. In relationship number six, a couple meets while filming an erotic film. Oddly enough, they both appear to be rather shy and nervous, despite being completely nude as they make small talk.

    Probably the funniest story, however, involves a sarcastic, washed up rock star named Billy Mack (Bill Nighy), who is attempting to revive his career by pushing a god-awful Christmas remake of one of his hits, entitled “Love Is All Around”. What is so funny about Billy is his marketing strategy (brutal honesty), which includes begging for fans to buy his single, even though he acknowledges that “it is total crap”.

    Tucked neatly in-between these many, many storylines are even more smaller tangential stories, all connected to each other in vague or co-incidental ways. I will mention only one – Colin Frissell (Kris Marshall), a caterer, is having a difficult time with the ladies of London, so he heads to Wisconsin, the Mecca of romance (?), where his English accent wows the unbelievably hot women (January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert) who are just lounging in the local pub. It all leads to a ridiculous, but pretty funny conclusion for Colin. If only we were all so lucky!!! [​IMG]

    All kidding aside, Love Actually is a romantic comedy that is just bursting with humorous characters, charm, and great acting from all around. Not everything works, but I applaud Richard Curtis for being bold enough to tackle more storylines and characters than any most romantic comedies would even dream of, not to mention his handling of some of the more somber elements of the story (e.g. Harry and Karen’s failing marriage or Mark’s secret love for Juliet). As an aside, look out for a hilarious cameo by Rowan Atkinson as a department store clerk!

    Though it may not be the “ultimate romantic comedy”, I think Love Actually has a little something in it for everyone, so it is hard to resist.






    SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
    Presented by Universal in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), Love Actually really looks nice, but should this be a surprise considering that it was a recent, large-scale production? To be more specific, the image has many pleasing qualities, such as a crisp and blemish-free print, splendidly rendered details, and is free from digital intrusions like artifacting and edge enhancement halos.

    Further, although colors appear to be slightly muted at times, they are accurately drawn for the most part, with only a slight amount of dot crawl visible around deep red objects. The pigmentation, or lack thereof, of the characters’ skin also appears very true, and whites are extremely clean and bright. Finally, the rock solid black level translates into exceptional shadow detail, as well as creates a remarkable sense of texture and three-dimensionality. Overall, despite a couple of minor quibbles, this is a lovely, very film-like transfer by the folks at Universal!




    WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
    As you no doubt are aware of by now, Love Actually is a good, old-fashioned British rom-com, so it should not be a shock that the source material won’t place a very heavy demand on your amplification/speaker system. Nevertheless, the source material is reproduced in fine fashion.

    As is the case with almost any other romantic comedy, the rear speakers do not get to break much of a sweat, as they are largely confined to rendering background noise or embellishing the film’s music. The front of the sound field, however, exhibits an ample sense of depth, tangible instrument separation, and natural-sounding timbres. Frequency response is also very good, with the females’ voices exhibiting to crystalline highs and a silky upper midrange. Speaking of dialogue, of which there is a lot of, it pleases me to report that all the characters’ speech is reproduced in a clear and natural manner throughout the film.

    As mentioned earlier, the surrounds are not really active, except for a brief period during the school talent show at the end of the film, but happily, the LFE channel provides some welcome punch to the variety of music used in the film, especially the R&B or pop tunes. This is also true of Sam’s drumming practice sessions – and if any of you have kids that play musical instruments, you will recognize the expression on his father’s face! I played drums in elementary school, so I know it well! [​IMG]

    To wrap it up, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, since Love Actually is a romantic comedy filled with dialogue and music, the soundtrack performs about as one might expect it to. That is not necessarily a bad thing though, and unless there is some reason you are expecting an aggressive, hyper-dynamic mix, you should be more than satisfied with the way this film sounds.




    EXTRAS, EXTRAS!!!


    Feature Length Commentary
    The yack track for Love Actually, which features Director Richard Curtis and actors Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy and Thomas Sangster (also Hugh Grant’s cousin), is both entertaining and informative. Impressively, although all three-and-a-half fellows were chatting over the film, they do a good job of keeping things going without rambling or talking over the top of each other. Highlights (for me) included:

    --- Richard Curtis revealing that the airport terminal shots were taken with a hidden camera over the period of a week. Whenever a good shot “happened” the crew on hand would ask people to allow the footage to appear in the film.

    --- Mr. Curtis talking about the inspiration for some of the scenes in the film, including one inspired by his attendance of Jim Henson’s (of Muppet fame) funeral.

    --- A brief, but funny comment on how Junior Simpson, who plays a DJ in the film, was cast.

    These are just a few of the things I personally found interesting, and this track is filled with plenty more insight into the film, especially the music used. Even though there are a few spots where commentary becomes sparse, this track is ultimately insightful (and funny) enough to be well worth a listen if you enjoyed the film.


    Deleted Scenes
    There are a substantial amount of deleted scenes included (over 30 minutes worth), with introductions by Richard Curtis, who informs viewers that the initial cut of Love Actually was approximately three-and-a-half hours! Obviously, there are still more scenes that are not included here, but there is still a plethora of interesting footage available, some of which reveals completely new storylines cut from the film.

    As you might expect, since Curtis introduces the deleted scenes, a bigger picture of his original vision for the film, and an understanding of why these sequences were not in the final cut out, can be derived. There is some good stuff here…be sure to check it out!!!


    The Music of Love Actually
    In “The Music of Love Actually”, which appears to run for about 9 minutes, Director Richard Curtis discusses his use of songs by The Beach Boys and Joni Mitchell, among others. Since music plays such a big part in films, it is interesting to hear why particular pieces of music or songs were used at certain points in Love Actually, and why they were important to him. He even mentions some of the songs he originally intended to use that did not make it into a particular scene, and reveals the reasons why. After each segment, the scene in the film that features that particular song is played (I presume – see note below).

    NOTE: Although my Love Actually disc has no scratches on it, this featurette gave the three different DVD players I tried it on fits. Specifically, after the first two segments on Joni Mitchell and Olivia Olson, the featurette started returning to Olivia Olson’s big scene, even though Richard Curtis was talking about the Beach Boys or Eva Cassidy. Hopefully this is a problem isolated to my disc, and since the scenes featuring songs by Joni Mitchell and Olivia Olson play immediately after Mr. Curtis discusses them, I hope I am safe in assuming that you should be able to see the scenes featuring songs from the other artists he talks about.


    Music Video
    The music video for Kelly Clarkson’s “The Trouble With Love Is” is included.



    SCORE CARD

    (on a five-point scale)
    Movie: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Video: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Audio: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Extras: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Overall: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]



    THE LAST WORD
    Though I am not inclined to agree with its billing as “the ultimate” romantic comedy, I really enjoyed Love Actually’s fast pace, good humor, and wonderful use of music. Of course, I realize that some people may not like having so many storylines to follow, and would prefer to develop an emotional attachment to a couple of characters. To be honest, I usually prefer that approach as well, but I am really glad to see someone take such a bold, fresh approach to the romantic comedy.

    To be sure, there are a couple of ideas that don’t quite work, and some characters’ storylines are left unresolved, but in a film this ambitious it is remarkable that so much of it does work. Indeed, there is always something going on in this film, and Curtis delivers enough unforced laughs and good cheer to make me sure that I will revisit this film in the near future. It doesn’t hurt that the acting is top-notch either. Seriously, with a cast like this, Richard Curtis could have probably just slept in his director’s chair and the film would not have turned out much worse.

    As it turns out, Universal’s DVD treatment of Love Actually is also quite respectable. Specifically, this disc’s image/sound quality gets it done, and the extras include a wealth of genuinely interesting material cut from the film and an enjoyable commentary track. Given that, and the charming nature of the film, I can recommend it without any reservation. Unless you absolutely despise romantic comedies, give this one a spin. Recommended!!!


    Stay tuned…
     
  2. Marc Colella

    Marc Colella Cinematographer

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    Great review Jason.

    Although I'm not generally a fan of romantic comedies, and this film tends to be brimming with sentimentality and sacharin - it actually works in it's favor.

    The characters and the dialog is quite funny, and the ensemble cast is as large as many Robert Altman films.

    What I found refreshing is that not everyone winds up with happy ending, nor is everything wrapped up into a nice little tidy bow.

    Worthy of a rental - especially for those who need something to make the wife happy.
     
  3. Mike.B

    Mike.B Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks for the review, Jason. I saw this in the theater with my wife and we both enjoyed it. I am looking forward to picking this up.
     
  4. Anthony Neilson

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    It's very fashionable to knock Richard Curtis over here - in fact it's very fashionable to knock pretty much everyone and everything over here - so I really wanted to like this movie.

    I have to say, though, that I found it absolutely horrible. I don't expect realism in a film like this but I do expect at least some credibility ; there's none here, and the whole film seems like a deeply cynical exercise because of it. The most ludicrous moment, of course, is when the British Prime Minister tells the US President where to stick it. That'll be the day !

    Saccharine sentimentality I expected but what I didn't expect was for the film to be so badly made. Structurally, the script is a mess - the aforementioned moment occurs very early on, way before it's been justified dramatically and is never referred to again . Every single one of the characters speaks in exactly the same way (i.e like Hugh Grant) and that includes the loathsomely precocious child
    whose story segment is probably the most vomit-inducing of all. With one exception - the Rickman segment - nobody in this film does anything remotely questionable or, as we call it in the trade, interesting.
    The design is also absolutely terrible throughout (and no, it's not something I'd normally notice). None of these houses look like they've been lived in, none of the costumes look like they've been worn. It all adds up to an overwhelming feeling of phoneyness which, for me, meant that nothing in the film was moving or funny, because none of it was in any way truthful or convincing.

    I'm sorry to be negative but I don't want anyone to lose two hours of their lives like I did. Unless you have a HUGE tolerance for vacuous, empty sentiment, I'd advise you to give it a miss.
     
  5. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    I'm in! Thanks for the review. Me and my SO loved this in the theaters (we both had feelings that certain storylines were weaker than others, but we felt that way about different storylines!). But overall we liked the film.
     
  6. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

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    Hey Carlo,

    How's it going? Glad you liked the film! We (the wife and I) couldn't round up a babysitter for quite a while during the time this was in theaters, so we missed it. It's a solid DVD, and as Marc (post #2) said, a good movie for "making the wife happy". Mine loves just about anything written by Richard Curtis...I'm already saving $20 to take her to the theater for whatever he does next. Make that $50...I forgot about the popcorn and drinks!!! [​IMG]

    Anthony,

    Now that you mention it, the clothes worn by the characters generally did not look worn. Funny how I did not notice that when I was watching. It could have been worse for you though...the original cut was 3 1/2 hours!

    Happy movie watching to all!

    Regards,

    Jason
     
  7. Anthony Neilson

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    I always feel a bit bad for ranting in a negative way about someone's work. I guess you can tell I really hated this one - mainly because it just didn't feel sincere to me. A good romantic comedy is a great joy when it's written from the heart ; NOT when it's written from the wallet.

    But don't imply any insult from my criticism. We like what we like and we have our own reasons for doing so. All I'd say is that if you have ANY doubts about this film going in, don't even bother. Write a nice letter to someone you love instead. [​IMG]
     
  8. Christian Preischl

    Christian Preischl Screenwriter

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    So, instead of the hilarious full length "Christmas is all around" video (partially seen in the film) that is on the R2, the R1 version gets a Kelly Clarkson video?? Thanks Universal. [​IMG]
    In addition to all the other features, the R2 also has a making-of featurette called "The Storytellers".

    Chris
     
  9. Bill Thomann

    Bill Thomann Supporting Actor

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    Great review of a great movie. I'm really looking forward to the 27th to pick it up.
     
  10. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Mr. Neilson...

    It must be that people of different nations look upon their own statespeople in different ways. Over here, your recent PMs have seemed a delightful lot, and always supportive of our national efforts.

    This has, of course, changed a bit since the burning of the White House.

    I must admit that I gave in totally to the necessary suspension of disbelief and adored this film as a light weight wonderful team effort with an oblitatory "feel good" ending...

    But then, I also like and, hence, recommend Mona Lisa Smile.

    RAH
     
  11. Nate Anderson

    Nate Anderson Screenwriter

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    I also have to agree that this is a wonderful film, brimming with romance and sentimantality. But it works and is quite entertaining with all around great performances from the cast.
     
  12. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    Great review Jason. Can't wait to pick this up!

    dave [​IMG]
     
  13. PhilipG

    PhilipG Cinematographer

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    As a Brit I agree with this. Call me an over-emotional sap if you will (actually don't or I'll punch your bloody lights out [​IMG] ) but this is one Curtis movie that worked for me. [​IMG]
     
  14. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

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    Robert Harris,

    You make some good points! Now a rhetorical question: Doesn't it seem like romantic comedies usually require more suspension of disbelief than films from other genres?

    By the way, please accept my sincere thanks for the many contributions you make around here (not that other people don't). I have learned a lot from you...

    David Boulet,

    Thanks for the kind words! Coming from you, that is high praise, for in my mind you are the Babe Ruth of DVD reviewing! Keep up the fantastic work! [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  15. Martin Jeeves

    Martin Jeeves Supporting Actor

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    I thought "LOVE ACTUALLY" was O.K., but nothing special. I much MUCH preferred "UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN". Now, that is what you call a good rom-com IMHO.
     
  16. Anthony Neilson

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    It's true, Robert, that being British has some bearing on my opinion. In fact, I'm Scottish, and I get much the same feeling from the stalls with the kilts and the shortbread as I do from watching LOVE ACTUALLY. As I said, it seems very cynical to me and presents a homogenised version of Britain that is calculated to appeal to America. This makes sense commercially but robs the film of its soul. That's not intended as an Anti-American statement, believe me ; it's just the economic realities of the British film industry. It's just pretty sad to see the likes of Curtis pander to it so obviously.

    I'd still contend that when you compare a movie like this to movies like BRINGING UP BABY or THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, it's clear how debased the romantic comedy genre has become.
     
  17. Tino

    Tino Lead Actor
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    I loved ([​IMG]) Love Actally and my wife and I thought it was one of last years best films. A wonderful feel good romantic comedy that works beautifully.

    I'll defnitely be picking this one up.
     
  18. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    I should make an additional point re: Love, Actually, which is that while viewing it (a couple of times -- doing a veritable disection to its pieces) reminded me in many ways of Magnolia, with its meandering interrelationships, and George Haas' Friends and Lovers, with its cyclical nature.

    For the quintessential romantic film, one need go no further than England's own Brief Encounter -- a Criterion release in glorious black and white.
     
  19. ChrisMatson

    ChrisMatson Cinematographer

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    My wife and I loved the movie and we'll be adding it to our collection. I like the way the different aspects of love are shown--romantic love, brotherly (familial) love and the love between friends.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  20. Allan^L

    Allan^L Stunt Coordinator

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    I loved this movie and will be getting it on the 27th but I'm worried about a future SE. This is Universal after all. How many versions of The Mummy are there?
     

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