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Lost City, The (HD DVD)
Andy Garcia directs and stars in The Lost City, a love letter to pre-Castro Cuba that the actor claims he'd been trying to make for 16 years. Unfortunately, as we've learned from similar such passion projects mounted by stars in the past, not all actors are meant to direct. As much love, energy, and hard work as he may have put into the production, the end result is as flaccid and dull as most of Garcia's recent acting performances.
Staged as a Godfather-like epic about the last days of Havana prior to the Communist revolution, the film stars Garcia as Fico, a successful nightclub owner whose family is as divided as the country itself. Fico cares not for politics and just wants to make an honest living putting on a good show in the club, but his two brothers both have a revolutionary bent, albeit for differing political factions. One follows Castro mind, body, and soul, while the other belongs to a more moderate sect that wants a change of power but not to the Communists. To the movie's credit, although it drips with nostalgia for the country and the era, the story does not sugar coat the failings of the Batista regime, the President portrayed as a corrupt old fool who maintains his oppressive reign with an abusive police force. Clearly, some sort of revolution was needed, just not the one that wound up winning.
In the midst of this, attempting to make the movie into Casablanca or something, we're given an ineffectual and completely passionless love story between Fico and his sister-in-law. Bill Murray has a prominent supporting role as a nameless Writer who just stands around delivering some misguided and uncomfortable comic relief for no particular reason (it's not the actor's fault; he just isn't used well). Dustin Hoffman is also prominently billed on the poster for two brief cameo appearances as mobster Meyer Lansky, who pops into Cuba in hopes of setting up a gambling racket.
Garcia mounts the film with some handsome production values, nice photography, and an enthusiastic love for the Cuban music he showcases significantly. Sadly, he just doesn't know how to tell a damn story with any sense of excitement or interest. As an actor, he's become known in recent years for his stone-faced, morose performances. He can be used effectively in supporting roles (such as Ocean's 11 and its sequels), but as the lead in a sweeping epic you need a character with some charisma, which he steadfastly refuses to provide at all. Even at times when Fico is supposed to be happy in love, Garcia is so stiff that the smiles he forces look creepily mechanical and uncomfortable. That rigidity carries through the entire movie. The picture is long, slow, and extremely talky, most of its poor dialogue overflowing with clichés. It has a large cast of many talented actors, but as a director Garcia never quite gets a grasp on how to integrate conflicting acting styles. As a result, we have scene after scene allowed to run too long as the actors talk around one another, each trying to hone their characters in their own ways because the director hasn't given them enough guidance or a coherent overall vision. The film tries to tell an interesting story and certainly means very well, but winds up mildly embarrassing for everyone involved.
The HD DVD:
The Lost City has been released on the HD DVD format by Magnolia Home Entertainment. A comparable Blu-ray edition is also available. The disc automatically opens with a lengthy HDNet promo that can fortunately be skipped but is a nuisance.
HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player (unless the disc is a Combo release that specifically includes a secondary DVD version) or in a Blu-Ray player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Lost City HD DVD is encoded on disc in High Definition 1080p format using VC-1 compression. The movie's theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio has been slightly opened up to fill a 16:9 frame with negligible impact to the composition.
The HD DVD looks great, or it would if it didn't have so much damned edge enhancement. The picture is sharp, colorful, bright, and vibrant, with little to no visible grain or noise of any kind. Sadly, glowing halos are present around just about any sharp edge throughout the movie, and it really takes away from the film-like appearance.
Also very strange, at around the 128-minute mark a couple shots of Dustin Hoffman very visibly jump to Standard Definition quality and back, as if the original footage were lost and they had to substitute the best backup available.
The Lost City HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 or lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 formats. This is a film filled with Latin music, and those blaring trumpets and piercing flutes sound pretty darn nice. The subwoofer also gets a fair workout from the thumping mambo rhythms. Dialogue is mixed a little too low, unfortunately, and isn't always recorded with the best clarity. The revolution scenes do have a nice crackle of gunfire, however. Surround usage is sparse but effective. Overall, the soundtrack rates pretty good, if not quite great.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles - Spanish, English captions for the hearing impaired, or English music-only subtitles.
Alternate language tracks - N/A.
Surprisingly for Magnolia, the HD DVD actually has more bonus features than the standard DVD edition.
- Introduction with Andy Garcia (1 min., SD) - The actor/director explains with his peculiar lack of enthusiasm why he made the movie.
- Audio Commentary - Garcia is joined by co-star Nestor Carbonell and production designer Waldemar Kalinowski for this unexpectedly engaging and informative commentary track. Even so, your interest in listening to the whole thing will be directly proportional to your interest in the movie itself.
- The Making of The Lost City - Extended Version (143 min., SD) - The DVD edition contains only a short excerpt of what turns out to be a feature-length documentary about the making of the movie. Unfortunately, it's unlikely that anyone who didn't actually work on the movie in the first place will ever want to sit through the whole thing. I know I didn't.
- Deleted Scenes (23 min., SD) - 16 short scenes or scene extensions (the DVD had only 10) are presented with optional commentary. None of them would have added much to the film.
- Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery - Nothing much exciting here, but at least the stills are encoded in High Definition.
- Bill Murray - The Last Day (9 min., SD) - Some EPK behind-the-scenes footage of the actor goofing around on set, plus one rather incoherent interview (blame the interviewer, not the star).
- Notes From the Cast and Crew - Text essays from 22 people who worked on the film about what an amazing experience they all had. Yawn.
- Original Lost City Poster Art - Apparently, Garcia's daughter (now an adult) drew this crude sketch as a cover for the script back when she was 6 years-old.
- Fellove/Fuente Cigars - Some text info (really a thinly veiled PR ad) about the tobacco plantation featured in the movie.
Fairly nice picture and sound can't make up for the faults of a movie that bores you senseless. If you really have an interest in The Lost City, stick to a rental.