By The Sea
is such a sweet little
movie that tries so earnestly and so breezily to please and entertain that I
almost feel like the world's biggest jackoff for dissing it here. And you have
to give some credit to a film that so splendidly interweaves the supernatural
with salsa dancing. You won't see M. Knight Shyamalan trying to do that, and if
he did he'd probably end up spooking everybody by suddenly revealing that what
you thought was Salsa was actually The Hokey-Pokey, but only after two
hours of tenuous and inexorably methodical (read: boring)
But let's get back to
By The Sea... and why it just didn't work for
me. The film centers on Lena (Elena Aaron), a
Cuban-American chef whose precarious position as the movie begins sets the stage
for her personal and emotional enlightenment. Her boyfriend has just left her,
and after a frustrating encounter at work she quits her job at a city
restaurant. Arriving back at her apartment, she finds that the locks have been
changed and, even worse, a letter has arrived from Cuba announcing
the death of her father from cancer. In an absurdly laughable encounter, she
attempts to hang herself at a public park with what looks like a jump-rope, when
a meeting with a goofy stranger gives her something of an epiphany... as well as
an encounter with a strange, ghostly figure who seems to be an early-20th
Century baseball player.
Lena ends up working at an inn in Rhode Island, where
she meets the handsome young handyman (Robert Pemberton) who catches her eye, as
well as a cast of cardboard cutouts including the slutty, sexy, sassy but
good-natured blonde babe, the gruff, hard-talking, Tarot
card-reading chef, and a gaggle of other guys who can't keep their roving
eyes off of Lena's curvaceous bod. Meanwhile, Lena continues to have visions of the baseball
player, who speaks Spanish and seems to be of Cuban blood as well. Who is he,
what he represents, and how he relates to Lena's spiritual journey, of both her lost heritage and
her own heart, make up the crux of By The
wanted to like this movie, and I admit that its breezy energy, light charm,
and engaging use of the lovely Elena Aaron went a long way... but unfortunately,
not long enough. The film is clichéd and broadly acted, lacking nuance and
subtlety. It doesn't so much tell its story so much as it pounds it into you.
The characters don't seem remotely real; this is more of a problem of the
simplistic script and lackluster direction. In the end, I found myself caring
very little about what was happening to any of them. The pulsating
soundtrack and quick pace gives the movie life and energy, but it zips right
through its running time without leaving anything substantial or
compelling in its path.
By The Sea is presented in a full-frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The
movie was shot using HD 24p digital video, and unfortunately contains many of
the flaws that such productions inherit when transferred to DVD. On the plus
side, colors look rich, deep, and vibrant. Contrast levels vary but are
generally agreeable, lending the picture some added depth. On the negative
side... well, there's everything else. The image is extremely soft, with fine
image detail nowhere to be found and a general fuzzy quality apparent throughout
the transfer. Compression noise is dreadfully apparent, and edge-enhancement is
noticeable on several occasions.
The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, and sounds quite
good. Dialog is crisp, clear, and bright, with no discernable hiss, distortion,
or hollowness. The bulk of the soundtrack rests squarely in the front
soundstage; while there isn't much in terms of directionality and discrete audio
pinpointing, there is a certain amount of expansiveness and fine dynamic range.
LFE is used often and effectively to lend more of a bottom end to the mix, while
surrounds lie mostly fallow throughout the presentation.
are some nifty extra features on this disc. There is an audio
commentary with director Dean Barnes, who talks animatedly and at
length about the history of the project, the cast, and provides ample anecdotal
material, as well as a behind-the-scenes video entitled Cha-Cha
lessons, featuring Elena Aaron and Robert Pemberton dancing together.
Any video of Ms. Aaron wearing that slinky white number is definitely worth your
while. There are also cast interviews with Elena Aaron, Robert
Pemberton, Christopher Rivaro, and Tori Davis. Finally, the biographies
section has biographical information on
director Dean Barnes and stars Elena Aaron and Robert Pemberton.
Elena Aaron is a
knockout, no question. Heck, after watching By The
Sea even I want to paint her toes. The
salsa soundtrack makes it irresistible to stay sitting down while watching the
movie. Everything else about this movie, unfortunately, is pretty weak.
Despite some nice cinematography and some fairly effective CGI work, By The Sea screams its low-budget, Z-movie
nature from every frame. Still, fans of the film will enjoy the DVD; while the
transfer is spotty, the disc sports some nice extras. Overall, By The Sea is worth a rental if you're
interested in the subject matter.