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My Blueberry Nights

The Weinstein Company // PG-13 // July 1, 2008
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted July 7, 2008 | E-mail the Author
Cinema as pure poetry in motion never made much sense to me, until I was exposed to Wong Kar-Wai's In The Mood For Love. Sure, I had seen certain mild and beautiful arthouse romances before, but they always seemed too engorged in their own efforts to indulge themselves that they failed to impress my slightly skewed view on "real" love. Then, one of the true masters of subtlety and passion enchanted me with his story of star-crossed infatuates lamenting over the depressive questionability of their marriages. As most were, my completely hooked nature over In The Mood For Love, alongside other personal favorites Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, had me excited to see what brevity he would bring upon his audience with his first English language picture, My Blueberry Nights.

What he brings us is something of a different flavor, no pun intended. Instead of choosing to drive a stake in our hearts and twist it about with the romanticism and churning passion between some tangibly troubled souls, Wong Kar-Wai's most recent film gravitates closer to a polarizing outlook on strangers and individuality than on the bonds formed through romance. Though it sounds heavier than his other work, strangely it turns out to be the opposite. My Blueberry Nights shows a softer, more lackadaisical side to this filmmaker's auteur powers, resulting in an easygoing and affectionate tale that focuses more on the stranger in the corner that shies away from making the kind of scenes that Wong Kar-Wai typically bathes in his gorgeously achieved visual design.

The Film:

This stranger I refer to is Elizabeth, played by enchanting musician Norah Jones. She's a simple, honest girl with modest desires and a radiant heart - which just so happens to have been broken by, and this should come as no surprise to Kar-Wai enthusiasts, an unfaithful lover. The last time he was seen happens to be at a corner café in New York, owned by a waywardly placed ex-marathon runner Jeremy (Jude Law, Closer). Elizabeth's struggle with Jeremy over her ex-lover, as well as the fate of his keys, transforms into a weeks-long friendship that causes each of our main character's trials and highpoints to surface within poetic resonance inside their banter. Ah, this isn't happily ever after, though; instead of taking the easy route and sulking into another potentially harmful relationship, Elizabeth takes the road less traveled and disappears into the sunrise before their relationship can peak.

My Blueberry Nights is just getting started with its pathway, measured in miles and days that she strays away from that colorful corner café in New York. The core of Kar-Wai's film focuses on Elizabeth and not necessarily how she develops along the way, but how she impacts (and doesn't impact) the lives of those somewhat lost souls that she interacts with. She rubs elbows as a waitress in a Memphis bar with struggling alcoholic Arnie (David Strathairn, Good Night and Good Luck) fighting to regain his marriage to his promiscuous wife Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz, The Fountain), along the way witnessing the loneliness and depression that comes with the territory when hiding behind our vices. Both Weisz and Strathairn make the most of their lack of chemistry within their eruptions, but Weisz takes her character to another level by giving her typically reserved and bookworm-ish charisma a feisty dash of spice. Straithairn, however, has an eerie effect with the solidity of his performance as a weathered alcoholic, one that felt faithful and haunting in the same breath.

Heavy focus on our necessary weaknesses is a key factor in the humanizing elements in My Blueberry Nights, and they all rain through beautifully as Elizabeth's pathway takes us from a sleepy little town with a busybody sort of bar to the shimmering lights of a casino outside of Vegas that draws close some of the more venomous creatures of our world. One of such biting characters is a raspy poker ace named Leslie, carried with gusto by Natalie Portman (Garden State). If Elizabeth was learning about the earnest nature of relationships when she absorbed Arnie and Sue Lynne's misfired bickering, then she was receiving a crash course in the fabric of distrust by soaking in Leslie's jaded scheming. Wong Kar-Wai crafts an interesting parallel between our honest weaknesses and the bizarre strength that they also stake within those that embody said problems. His analysis upon her character is a little thicker than her simplicity can really support, but the effects of Elizabeth's disarming honesty upon Leslie make up for it.

It's hard to throw together a review for a Wong Kar-Wai film without delving into its symbolism and compelling devices, which applies to My Blueberry Nights to equal measure. He uses the time mechanic, the separation of miles and days from New York, to give a sense of elasticity to Elizabeth's attachment to the central location for the film. With it, we feel that pull as she scours the land stretching in front of her for the resonance that she lacked when we first met her. It's all about experience, which is the great thing about Kar-Wai's efforts with this particular film. There's little bits to take away from the picture, but ultimately its more of a unobtrusive and laid back journey film that merely lets us in on the fact that the highly animated characters of our world, the Arnie's and Leslie's, aren't the only ones who soak in the ambiguous and twisted nature of this problematic and cynical existence.

Part of My Blueberry Nights' velvety splendor comes from the beauty to be seen down this pathway Elizabeth treks on to find herself. Wong Kar-Wai teams up with director of photography Darius Khondji, responsible for Jeunet's moody pieces Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, to craft a visual treat rife with lush palettes and sweeping shots that capture the abundant characters' eccentric and emotive movements. He spends his time separated behind some very familiar close-quartered facial shots and Kar-Wai's signature slow shutter-speed captures. Oh, but the color present here is ever so much in line with Wong Kar-Wai's eye in his other works, most closely resembling 2046 in its neon palette. Having the more leisurely rhythm of the story paves way for the smashing visuals and, as always, phenomenal soundtrack infused with jazzy chords and vocals.

My Blueberry Nights' potent essence, however, pivots completely around the effort of rookie actress Norah Jones, who carries Elizabeth with just enough subdued attitude and warmth to keep her believable as the girl in the shadows who we want to grow to love. She's got a certain kind of charisma that still shines through as she's overshadowed by the likes of Natalie Portman and Jude Law. It makes following her pathway of growth throughout My Blueberry Nights a worthwhile experience that's as comfortable and amiable as can be. Wong Kar-Wai's first English language film is a smooth yarn dyed with radiant colors, one that neglects to hit hard with its emotional punch but counterbalances with an experience that is akin to delving into a rich slice of pie. You know there's stuff with more substance out there, but boy does this particular slice of familiar flavor still taste sweet.

The DVD:

Since My Blueberry Nights didn't get much of a theatrical run here in the United States, picking up The Weinstein Company's copy of My Blueberry Nights is a great way to finally see it. As part of their new "Miriam Collection", which looks to be something close to a Weinstein effort at a Criterion-esque collection of both significant and foreign films, My Blueberry Nights is spine number five (5) in their lineup. It comes in a standard keepcase presentation with lovely coverart taken from one the film's posters, which also leak over onto the discart and "Miriam Collection" promotional insert. Though some of the other Miriam DVDs came with an embossed slipcover, like Control, this retail copy did not.

Luckily, My Blueberry Nights came out on home video with relative quickness after its short North American run. Sadly, it wasn't fast enough for this addict; fortunately for you, and not so fortunate for me, Zoke Culture released a region-free disc over in Hong Kong a few months ago that was just begging for me to import. Match that with smashing coverart and the promise of a DTS track, I took the bite. In a nutshell, don't think twice about opting for the Region one (1) edition from The Weinstein Company, but it severly outclasses the rather crumby import disc.

The Video:

My Blueberry Nights was shot in a 2.35:1 "scope" letterbox image, which is preserved for this 16x9 enhanced transfer. After being pretty dissatisfied by the muddy, digitally unstable presentation on the HK import disc, seeing this transfer cross my screen was a warm and welcome experience. In short, Wong Kar-Wai's film looks phenomenal; digital noise and artifact compression looks leaps and bounds better, as does several instances of detail concentration in the print. Little noticeable details, like the lack of anti-aliasing around the etching on the New York café and the textures on the radiant red wall in the bar midway through the film, offer up a complex and rich visual experience that gets lost a bit in the Zoke disc.

The only thing that the discs are comparable in quality to is the replication of color, even though the Weinstein disc towers over its import counterpart here too. Color palettes shift dramatically in the film, from plummeting purples and neon blues to radiantly burning reds and yellows, all which blend together seamlessly with this transfer. As to be expected, Kar-Wai's film is a very active and intricate visual experience, and this Weinstein disc is easily the better option for people aiming for a region one release. Eventually, My Blueberry Nights might be released on Blu-ray for US players (already available in France and UK through Studio Canal, but region coded for B units), but until then this is a phenomenally rich visual experience that'll get the job done with a bit more strength than you might expect.

The Audio:

With the English surround track comparison for the film, there's absolutely no contest. The Weinstein's Dolby 5.1 audio track, as velvety and brilliant sounding as it is, holds one major strength over its counterpart's DTS track - a lack of an annoying hiss throughout the film that only worsens with higher impact verbal scenes. It's no so much the music, which sounded fine a majority of the time, but more with the recorded materials and, assumedly, a major lack of mastering and re-recorded sounds. Zoke Culture's DVD really disappointed me here, as a high-quality DTS track for this film would be a real treat; instead, it was a hindrance that I had to stomach through in order to enjoy the film my first time through. Wong Kar-Wai's films are romantic and affective because of their crafty blend between aesthetics and emotional appeal - hence the major dissatisfaction with the audio.

Boy, the Weinsteins got a hold of a great sound mix for My Blueberry Nights, though! Now, there's not a wide range of highs and lows in the film, as it keeps a steady gravity at monotone levels much of the time. However, this disc handles each and every expansion and variation from this core with a lot of strength. Vocal clarity is leaps and bounds better, especially noteworthy during Sue Lynne and Arnie's verbal bickering. More importantly, I was able to completely soak in the sound effects of the cities with each stop Elizabeth took along the way - something I wasn't able to enjoy and took for granted in my first viewing. It's not the most expansive track, though it does have its quite a few of multidirectional capabilities once it opens up the audible range to the bustling close-quartered rooms and walks down busy streets. Overall, I was quite pleased with this English 5.1 Dolby Digital track. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available.

The Extras:

Making of My Blueberry Nights:
Here we've got a fifteen (15) minute anamorphic making-of featurette which, in so many words, looks like your typical promo material that you'd watch late at night on IFC. It blends a few scattered behind-the-scenes shots with press junket interviews that captures each actor as they describe their character motivations. It adds very little to what we already know about the storyline and its characters, but it still infuses some commentary from Wong Kar-Wai about its roots and motivations. It's a little harpy on how wonderful the entire process was, but at the same time remains insightful on each filmmaker's efforts.

Q and A with director Wong Kar-Wai:
Museum of the Moving Image held an eighteen (18) minute interview session with Wong Kar-Wai in a more concentrated filmmaker type of setting, which is made available here enhanced for widescreen televisions. It talks about visualizing the cities, invoking inspiration with his performers, working with musicians, and the similarities on working on some of his previous films, like Ashes of Time (which, as a side note, desperately needs a new digital print). Furthermore, it talks a bit on the different cinematic devices he utilizes in his films, like the essence of time. This is the meat and potatoes of the supplements and, even though it's not terribly long, is still a strong addition.

Still Galleries:
Normally, I wouldn't go so far into depth about photographs on a DVD, but this one in particular has some nice shots that I wanted to highlight. Sure, there's the normal promotional captures from the set which, of course, are gorgeous. However, the Scouting Shots portion is a really cool addition. It captures several small-town diners and minute locales in a visual mood similar to Kar-Wai's style itself.

Also available is an anamorphic Theatrical Trailer.


Final Thoughts:

Though My Blueberry Nights isn't an absolute masterpiece from Wong Kar-Wai, it still encapsulates the viewer in his signature visual and audible romanticism the same as his other works. Plus, it takes some time to make us think less about wanting to see the developing relationships and more about the ways a lonely and confused stranger changes as she ventures from her safety zone. Together with great supporting performances and a laid-back rhythm, Kar-Wai's film is a enjoyably rewarding achievement in poetic emotionality. The Weinstein Company gives us very solid aural and visual qualities with this disc, while at the same time offering up some stripped-down yet highly digestible supplements for our enjoyment. My Blueberry Nights, as with just about everything from the director, comes Highly Recommended as a smooth and enjoyable chunk of beautiful and evocative tranquility.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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