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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » By the Sea
By the Sea
Ventura // Unrated // May 25, 2004
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted November 5, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

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) buildup.

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 Sea.

I 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 clich├ęd 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.  

The DVD

Video:

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.

Audio:

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.

Extras:

There 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.

Final Thoughts

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.

 

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