DVD Review HTF Review: Ray

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Feb 8, 2005.

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  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

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    [​IMG]

    Ray




    Studio: Universal
    Year: 2004
    Rated: PG-13
    Running Time: 153 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Captions: English
    Subtitles: French, and Spanish
    Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1; French – Dolby Digital 5.1





    Release Date:
    February 1st, 2005



    Ray Charles the musician had a great gift – to be able to reach people and touch their lives or entertain them through his music. His songs are soulful, melodic, and elegant, and have established such a legacy for Ray Charles the man that his flaws are often overlooked. Really, in his 73 years on Earth, Mr. Charles (a.k.a. Ray Charles Robinson) did an awful lot of bad things, which included plenty of drug use, and plenty of cheating on his wife while he was on the road.

    Taylor Hackford’s (Devil’s Advocate) tribute to this music legend, Ray, which chronicles Mr. Charles’ life from the days he left Florida onward, is one hell of an entertaining bio-pic! Yes, it is fairly formulaic – it shows Charles’ early struggles, opens our eyes to his character flaws, and then examines how he dealt with both of these things to establish the rich legacy that he left behind – but the story is told very well, and Jamie Foxx maintains such a level of excellence throughout that I found myself totally engaged by this film!

    In any event, if you are at all familiar with Ray Charles’ life, you will undoubtedly find little here that is surprising. Indeed, his blindness, the tragic death of his brother, the strain his affairs put on his marriage, and his battles with drugs are all brought to the forefront. Again, however, it is the passionate way in which the story is told, and the astounding performance from Jamie Foxx, that make this seem less like a re-telling of events from this man’s life than as if we are looking through a window into Ray Charles’ past. Perhaps this is as it should be though, for Ray is the result of a 15-year long labor of love on the part of Hackford, who even had the support of the man himself, until his passing in June of 2004.

    As I mentioned, this film does not shy away from the more unsavory and sordid aspects of Mr. Charles’ life. Some may find this disturbing, and indeed, a couple of people I know really disliked that the film focused on these things. I, on the other hand, appreciated that Ray’s story was not watered down too much by Hackford and company, and that we are given a more honest portrayal of a complex man. To be sure, the film is an adaptation of Ray’s story, but as Taylor Hackford says in the audio commentary, it is approximately 90 percent factual – what an amazing life!

    Hackford doesn’t focus completely on the negative though, as Charles’ business acumen and determination to control his own destiny receives ample coverage as well. For example, Ray Charles’ ability to change the music industry and steer his career is shown, such as the simple but clever ways he ensured promoters/record companies would not cheat him. Further, Ray was not afraid to put aside his loyalty and keep his eyes open for a better deal, even if it made him seem like an a*%$ole to some. The film documents this by showing us how quickly Ray was willing to split from Atlantic Records, which had helped make him a star, to accept a more lucrative package from a competing entity.

    Thematic issues aside, where Ray really fires on all cylinders is during its musical sequences, thanks to excellent execution and spot-on lip-syncing by Jamie Foxx, who went to college on a piano scholarship, as it turns out! On that note, I’ll leave all of the Oscar® talk up to you, but I thought that in addition to being the highlight of this movie, Jamie Foxx blurred the line between himself and Ray Charles more than I would have thought possible in this film!

    In particular, Foxx’s mannerisms and appearance are so much like those of the man being paid tribute to that it nothing short of astounding! Really, I can’t say enough about his performance, or his growth as an actor, and it is probably better that I don’t. Just sit back and marvel at Jamie Foxx’s tour-de-force performance, which is easily one of last year’s best, and see what everyone is talking about for yourself!

    While Jamie Foxx steals the spotlight, the supporting players are excellent as well, especially C.J. Sanders, who played the very young Ray Charles; Sharon Warren, who gave Ray’s mother Aretha an unbelievable tenacity; Kerry Washington, who played Ray’s lovely wife, Della Bea; Larenz Tate, as the young Quincy Jones; and Regina King, who is just great as Ray’s “road wife” Margie Hendricks.

    As good as these actors are, however, Ray Charles soulful tunes are the major supporting player here, and it goes without saying that the music is not only great, but a varied and interesting conglomeration of selections from Charles’ catalog, including “Georgia On My Mind”, “I Got A Woman”, “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, and “Hit the Road Jack”. With music this good, you really can’t go wrong, but the faithful presentation of these songs makes them even better!

    Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay to Taylor Hackford’s film is that while Ray is a fairly long film (especially in its “extended” incarnation), it really does seem to fly by! Of course, this is in large part due to the superb work of Jamie Foxx, and the fact that Taylor Hackford structured the story of this portion of Ray’s life so well. Like Ray Charles himself, this film sings! If you haven’t seen it yet, I cannot recommend it highly enough!!!

    NOTE: There are two versions of Ray on this disc, the theatrical cut and an “extended” cut, which has over 25 minutes of unseen footage linked backto certain points of the film. This footage is the very same block of “deleted scenes” found on the flip side of the disc. My Denon 2200 handled the pauses well, but there is no seamless LOTR: Extended Edition cut here. Just in case the pauses are not obvious enough though, a musical note icon will appear to let you know where the additional footage has been added.

    The majority of this footage was excised for pacing reasons, and it really wasn’t needed, but some of the 25 minutes of footage is interesting and fleshes out the story a little more. I don’t want to spoil the experience for you, but among other things, you can expect to see additional footage of Ray’s bus trip out of Florida, more of him in Oberon’s club, and more of Ray opening up to his sexuality.







    SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
    Since this is a top-shelf title, it should come as no surprise that Ray is presented by Universal Home Video in an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) format. On the whole, this is a pretty good transfer that probably benefits a bit from having the film being given its own side of the flipper disc (although a two-disc set would have been nicer), as no compression problems made themselves known.

    To begin with, color rendering is done accurately, with the intentional distinction between scenes where Ray could see (vibrant) and where he could not (slightly flat) being made readily apparent. Whites are also clean and bright, with very little noise in them. Further, print flaws were also extremely minimal, and the image retained an above-average level of sharpness and fine detail throughout most of the film.

    Things are not perfect though, as some minor haloing from the application of edge enhancement pops up from time to time. The film’s black level was also slightly disappointing, which made the image seem a little less three-dimensional than most and caused some of the detail in shadows to be swallowed up. Fortunately, although these two issues are noticeable, I do not believe they will prove to be anything more than a minor distraction for most viewers.

    Also, please note that the grainy, grimy appearance of some of the establishment shots (e.g. 1940’s Seattle) were due to the fact that Taylor Hackford’s budget forced him to use sourced footage, some of which was obviously not in the best of shape. Yeah, it doesn’t exactly look great, but this is not a product of the transfer process.





    WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
    Like the image, the Dolby Digital (5.1 channel) soundtrack for Ray is very good, but not quite the experience that is probably should have been given the source material. Don’t get me wrong, frequency response is smooth, imaging is rather precise, and Ray Charles’ legendary songs are spread across the front of the soundstage magnificently - but I think that the rear channels could have been used more effectively to place the listener inside of the many venues that were graced by Ray’s nimble fingers and magical voice!

    That being said, the surrounds (and the sub) do provide some support for the abundance of music in Ray, and display some activity during the flashbacks where Ray thinks of his mother. More importantly though, the quality and clarity of the soundtrack was wonderful, particularly as it relates to dialogue, which was warm, natural, and easy to understand at all times.

    As I mentioned, I though the rear channels could have been used a bit more effectively, but I was extremely satisfied with all other aspects of this fine Dolby Digital soundtrack. If you like Ray Charles’ music, I think you will too - as it has never sounded better!





    EXTRAS, EXTRAS!!!


    SIDE ONE:

    Audio Commentary
    The feature length audio commentary for Ray is provided by director Taylor Hackford, who spent 15 years attempting to bring the story of the legendary Ray Charles to the big screen, and has an absolutely immense knowledge about the man’s life. Hackford proves to be a great speaker, and talks at length about both Charles’ life, and the process of bringing this film to the big screen. Some of the highlights were:

    --- Hackford revealing that the film was made on a tight budget, and talking about some of the ways that he stayed within the budget’s confines.

    --- A variety of interesting stories about Ray Charles, as told to him by both Charles himself or those closest to him.

    --- Discussions about the scenes that were taken out of the “extended edition”, and the reasons for those cuts.

    --- Hackford talking about the professionalism and extreme dedication Jamie Foxx exhibited throughout the process of making the film.

    This is a fascinating commentary, and is well worth the time spent listening to it!!! By its end, you should have an even better understanding of what Mr. Hackford was trying to do with this film and of Ray Charles in general. [​IMG] [​IMG]

    NOTE: Although the disc does not warn you of this, there is NO audio commentary available for the “Extended Edition” of the film! [​IMG]


    Cast and Filmmakers
    Brief bios and filmographies are present for:

    --- Jamie Foxx (as Ray Charles)
    --- Kerry Washington (as Della Bea Robinson)
    --- Clifton Powell (as Jeff Brown)
    --- Harry Lennix (as Joe Adams)
    --- Terrence Dashon Howard (as Gossie McKee)
    --- Larenz Tate (as Quincy Jones)
    --- Richard Schiff (as Jerry Wexler)
    --- Aujanue Ellis (as Mary Ann Fisher)
    --- Bokeem Woodbine (as Fathead Newman)
    --- Sharon Warren (as Aretha Robinson)
    --- Curtis Armstrong (as Ahmet Ertegun)
    --- Regina King (as Margie Hendricks)
    --- Taylor Hackford (Director)
    --- James L. White (Screenplay)
    --- Stuart Benjamin (Producer)
    --- Howard Baldwin (Producer)
    --- Karen Baldwin (Producer)


    SIDE TWO:


    Extended Musical Performances
    Two uncut performances, of the songs “Hit the Road Jack” (1:18) and “What Kind of Man Are You?” (3:10), are included for our viewing pleasure.


    Deleted Scenes
    A total of 14 excised scenes, which run for a total of nearly 28 minutes, are available on the disc’s flip side. These sequences can be viewed with or without commentary by director Taylor Hackford. They are entitled as follows:

    --- “Ray Tames the Marines”
    --- “Dancin’ Al Warms ‘Em Up”
    --- “How ‘Bout A Little Charles Brown?”
    --- “Ray and Oberon Share A Joint”
    --- “Ray Takes Control”
    --- “Ray Holds Hands and Much More”
    --- “Ray’s Gonna Burn In Hell”
    --- “Ray Stops Show, Fires Trumpeter, and Lies to Ahmet and Jerry
    --- “You’re High, Aren’t You?”
    --- “Ray Adlibs About Jack Lauderdal”
    --- “Ray Breaks His Promise to Bea”
    --- “Ruth Brown Bows Out” *** No Subtitles For This Scene
    --- “Ray Has A Vision” *** No Subtitles For This Scene

    Although some of these scenes are fairly good standing alone, I think that the information contained therein (such as Ray opening himself up to his sexuality) are covered adequately in the theatrical cut of the film.


    Stepping Into The Part
    This featurette, which runs for a shade under 11-minutes, consists of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage of both Ray Charles and Jamie Foxx, as they worked together to get Foxx ready to take on the immense physical and mental challenges of portraying Ray onscreen. The highlights are a few brief statements by Taylor Hackford about what a terrific job Jamie Foxx did, and how he really knew that Jamie was the right man for the part, as well as some footage of Ray challenging Jamie to nail a piano part.


    Ray Remembered
    This brief featurette (4 Minutes) is a tribute to the late Ray Charles, who is fondly remembered here by friends and his colleagues, including Jamie Foxx, Taylor Hackford, and Reba McEntire.


    A Look Inside Ray
    This is another brief (3 ½-minute) featurette, mainly consisting of Taylor Hackford talking about how special a man Ray Charles was, the 15-year odyssey of getting the film made, how glad he was Mr. Charles actually got to participate, and how great Jamie Foxx was. This is quite light on detail, entirely promotional, and everything therein is already given ample coverage in either the “Stepping Into The Part” featurette or the audio commentary.


    Trailer
    The theatrical trailer for Ray is included.


    Promotional Materials
    Trailers for Cinderella Man, Friday Night Lights, The Motorcycle Diaries, and ,I>Vanity Fair[/i] are available.



    SCORE CARD

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



    THE LAST WORD
    Though it takes a somewhat formulaic approach, Taylor Hackford’s Ray is a passionately put together, magnificently acted look at the complex life of a music legend who entertained millions, from heads of state to everyday folk! This film stands head and shoulders above most “bio-pics”, largely due to Jamie Foxx’s near transformation into Ray Charles, which is worth the price of admission all by itself, and to Hackford’s fairly complete portrait of the man, including his faults! The fact that Ray just happens to have a lot of great music in it is just the icing on the cake!!!

    As far as its release on DVD is concerned, Ray was not quite given the deluxe treatment I was expecting for such an acclaimed film, but it does include a fair amount of extras, two “cuts” of the film, and solid audio/visual quality. I am a little perturbed by the decision to make this disc a flipper, but that quibble aside, the overall presentation left me with little to complain about. Given that, and how much I enjoyed this film, it is an easy recommendation!!!


    Stay tuned…
     
  2. Jonny_L

    Jonny_L Stunt Coordinator

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    Great review Jason!

    I think Jamie Foxx is destined to win an Oscar for this. Like you said, he literally becomes the man. I was disapointed with the so-called "extended" version of the movie though. It's just the regular version with the rough footage accessible through a follow the white rabit-type feature. I was expecting a polished seamless branching director's cut by how it was marketed. Very disapointing that it wasnt.

    It's interesting that you got a flip disc too. My way its a 2-disc set. Hmmmm.
     
  3. TedD

    TedD Supporting Actor

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    It's also significant that the extended scenes are not 16x9 enhanced, while the rest of the movie is. It's also a fact that, despite suffering from being non-anamorphic, the extended scenes seem to have more detail.

    If you have a standalone DVD player, you may not notice this, but it's not a pretty sight if you have custom AR's built for you HTPC.

    Ted
     
  4. Jesse Skeen

    Jesse Skeen Producer

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    I ended up with a two-disc set, it's NOT nicer! If I'd known it came out both ways, I would have checked more carefully! (Funny how the people who did get the 2-sider don't like it!) But no, I'm not gonna trade it.
     
  5. Jason Bennion

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    Could someone please clarify for me the difference between the ordinary garden variety edition of Ray that I'm seeing around and the Limited Edition I've seen at Costco? Is it just the fancy packaging? Or are there content differences as well?
     
  6. Jonny_L

    Jonny_L Stunt Coordinator

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    The limited version has some more musical performances on the second disc, and comes with a booklet. I think the first disc of both sets are identical.

    Someone may be able to provide more details if I missed anything.
     
  7. Jason Bennion

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    Thanks for replying, Jonathan.

    The thing that is confusing me is that the Ltd Ed lists a feature in which the director talks about the long process of bringing Ray's story to film but does not list a commentary. The standard edition, meanwhile, shows a commentary but not that feature. I'm wondering if these two things are in fact the same thing, and some genius in the marketing department messed up the labelling or something?
     
  8. todbnla

    todbnla Screenwriter

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    We watched this movie thru netflix for free then went out and bought the one disc version, great job IMHO. I also went out and bought the soundtrack cd as well, that dont make music like this anymore folks. Classic. Foxx was superb. [​IMG]
     
  9. ChuckSolo

    ChuckSolo Screenwriter

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    Excellent film and review.[​IMG] I watched this last night and have only one gripe. When viewing the extended edition I didn't like how the note icons appear on screen and then enter the deleted scenes. I would have enjoyed it more if the movie was just extended with the scenes added and not cut into the film like they are. Despite this perceived flaw though, this is one of the best bio pics I have ever seen and Jaimie Fox is a definate strong contender for the Best Actor oscar.[​IMG]
     
  10. Jordan_E

    Jordan_E Cinematographer

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    It was amazing that the only time I saw Jamie Foxx as Jamie Foxx and not Ray Charles was when his eyes were open during that final fantasy/flashback at the end! Extraordinary performance. While I thought the DVD was a great presentation, the annoying extended cuts made me stop it and start over with the regular version, as the changes took me right out of the story.
     
  11. Mike Williams

    Mike Williams Screenwriter

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    i was very surprised that no mention was made in the review of the fact that the "extended edition" scenes were neither anamorphic nor color-timed to match the rest of the film. To me, the extended edition feature is a complete travesty, but it was treated like it was no big deal. Very disappointing.
     
  12. Jonny_L

    Jonny_L Stunt Coordinator

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    Hmmm, I'm starting to wonder the same thing. I only have first hand experience with the regular version, but I looked up the specs to the limited edition on DVD Empire and no commentary is listed there either. All the announcements read like it was included on both. I guess the only way to be sure is to have someone with it post the details, or to go to a store and compare them directly.
     
  13. MatthewLouwrens

    MatthewLouwrens Producer

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  14. Jason Bennion

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    I have done the direct comparison in the store, which is what produced my confusion. The Ltd Ed shows a feature but no commentary; the regular ed shows a commentary but no feature. And yet the copy describing both this mystery feature and the commentary is very similar.

    Is there anyone out there who has the Limited Edition set and can verify what we're dealing with? Anyone? I'd be eternally grateful... [​IMG]
     
  15. Justin L

    Justin L Auditioning

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    this is my first post here, just to let you know...I have the limited edition and the first disc is the flipper disc and does include the commentary and all of the features from the regular edition, the second disc thats exclusive to the set includes 3 featurettes that total about an hour together and 7 extended music scenes..hope this helps [​IMG]
     
  16. Jason Bennion

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    Hi Justin - I'm very late responding to your post, but I wanted to thank you for the info...
     
  17. David_Jr

    David_Jr Supporting Actor

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    I guess I got the wrong one. I got the single and was craving more featurettes. Really enjoyed the movie though. Foxx was scary good. I thought the movie was simply stunning in its portrayal of Charles' life. His music in 5.1 was bringing goosebumps. It's been a while since I watched a movie that was so satisfying.

    As far as the "Extended Cut" of the film goes, we started with it, but soon went back and started over with the theatrical version. Too bumpy. I need seemless or I don't watch. It takes away from the enjoyment of the film the way they did it.
     
  18. Rex.G

    Rex.G Stunt Coordinator

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    I did not catch this in the theaters however I really enjoyed this dvd. With one exception.


    [rant]Whoever gave the "okay" on releasing this as a "director's cut" ought to be banned from working on DVD FOREVER. The branching method is not ideal but it should have been done better than this. I can understand that they might have wanted to save $$ and not polish the extra footage. I can forgive that part. But there is no reason for the extras to be non-anamorphic. Furthermore several scenes had duplicates or appeared to be in the wrong place. Even my fiancé was irritated by this sorry excuse for a directors cut. Let this be an example of what not to do with a dvd. They could have left this feature out and problem solved. BAD DVD [email protected]!#$% [/rant]

    Thanks for wasting your time with me, I just had to get that off my chest.
     

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