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MIRAMAX

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Rob Marshall
Cast:
Richard Gere, Chatherine Zeta Jones, Renee Zellweger, Queen Latifah
Writing Credits:
Maurine Dallas Watkins, Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb, Bill Condon

Tagline:
Everyone loves a legend, but in Chicago, there's only room for one.

Synopsis:
Velma Kelley (Catherine Zeta-Jones) burns in the spotlight as a nightclub sensation. When she shoots her philandering husband, she lands on Chicago's murderess row and retains Chicago's slickest lawyer, Billy Flynn.

Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), seduced the city's promise of style, dreams of singing and dancing her way to stardom. When her abusive lover tries to walk out on her, she too ends up in prison.

When Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) recognizes a made-for-tabloids story, he postpones Velma's court date to take on Roxie's case. As Roxie fashions herself as America's sweetheart, Velma has more than a few surprises in store. The two women stop at nothing to outdo each other in their obsessive pursuit of fame and celebrity.

Box Office:
Budget
$45 million.
Opening Weekend:
$2.074 million on 77 screens.
Domestic Gross:
$170.306 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 113 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 12/20/2005

Bonus:
Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Director Rob Marshall and Screenwriter Bill Condon
• “From Stage to Screen: The History of Chicago
• Deleted Musical Number
• Sneak Peeks
Disc Two
• Musical Performances
• “Chita Rivera’s Encore”
• “An Intimate Look at Director Rob Marshall” Featurette
• “When Liza Minnelli Became Roxie Hart” Featurette
• “Academy Award-Winning Production Designer John Myhre” Featurette
• “Academy Award-Winning Costume Designer Colleen Atwood” Featurette
• “VH1 Behind the Movie: Chicago

• Booklet


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EQUIPMENT
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RELATED REVIEWS


Chicago: Razzle Dazzle Edition (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 13, 2006)

When I heard a film version of the stage production Chicago would come out, I showed no interest. After all, I don’t like musicals. Then my Dad saw it and told me how terrific it was. This made little impact. The Old Man and I usually disagree on movies, and after all, I don’t like musicals.

Then my friend Kevin watched Chicago and also stated it was excellent. This made more of an impact, for Kevin doesn’t usually care for this sort of flick. However, I resisted his recommendation – after all, I don’t like musicals.

Because of this site, I rooted for Chicago to lose at the Oscars. Since we maintain a page devoted to the Academy’s choices for Best Picture, I knew I’d have to watch Chicago if it won, and I didn’t want to do that. After all, I don’t like musicals.

But win it did, which saddled me with this inevitable screening. Since after all, I don’t like musicals, did I dislike Chicago? Nope. While it didn’t make me rethink me opinions of the genre, I must say it’s a very effective piece of work.

The film starts with the arrival of cabaret star Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) at her club. Part of a sister act, sibling Veronica won’t perform tonight; Velma killed her and her husband when she caught them cheating on her. The cops soon take away Velma.

In the meantime, we meet aspiring songstress Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger). She’s married to Amos (John C. Reilly), but he’s a dud, so she cheats with Fred Casely (Dominic West). He allegedly has connections at the club and will get her an audition. When she finds out he’s not exactly truthful, she murders him. Initially, Amos takes the rap and claims he killed the “burglar”, but when he realizes what actually happened, he spills the beans to Assistant District Attorney Harrison (Colm Feore) and Roxie gets arrested.

In prison, Roxie meets Matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifah), the female chief of murderer’s row. She overhears a deal between Mama and Velma to get the latter work when she gets out of prison. Eventually Mama points Roxie toward lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere); a slick attorney, he’s handling Velma’s case and wants $5000 to take on Roxie. When the pathetically devoted Amos comes up with enough to attract Flynn’s attention, he works for Roxie and shapes her story into a myth. From there the movie follows what happens to Roxie and the others as they undergo public scrutiny.

Why do I find Chicago to offer a satisfying piece despite my general disdain for musicals? Quite a few factors make this occur, but primary may be the film’s basic structure. Director Rob Marshall integrates the production numbers into the story in a remarkably seamless way. In most musicals, the film comes to an abrupt halt so everyone can sing and dance. Sure, the best musicals use those songs to further the story in some way, but they still almost always feel like an excuse for a tune, and they also often go on way too long. When I look at something like Oliver! I can’t stomach the flick because the production pieces seem never-ending.

That doesn’t occur for Chicago. For one, it avoids the massive “cast of thousands” syndrome. Many musicals toss out enormous numbers that go on for days. Chicago keeps things simple. I don’t think a single performance ever really includes more than a handful of participants; the focus seems tight and intimate. In addition, the songs know when to call it a day. All of the tracks come and go reasonably quickly, so they don’t overstay their welcome. If more musicals followed that template, I might find them to be less tedious.

I also like the concept that the production numbers all reside inside the world of fantasy. This makes the movie seem more realistic since we don’t see people drop everything and dance, but it also melds with the story better. It lets us get character insight and development through the songs. Not only do we learn information, but also we get a feel for the different motives and feelings. The songs in Chicago genuinely help further the movie, and that’s extremely rare for a musical.

It also helps that Marshall stages the numbers remarkably well. Each one stands out as different from the others, and they pop and sizzle nicely. Of course, a lot of the credit goes to Bob Fosse and those behind the original stage production, but Marshall makes things his own as he creates a lively and involving performance piece.

The cast does better work than I might have expected. I don’t think of any of these folks as likely candidates for a musical. Even Queen Latifah seemed like an odd choice; her background as a rapper didn’t make me conjure images of her as a singer, especially not in this sort of flick. However, all do quite well with their roles. Zeta-Jones stands out from the pack, mostly because she demonstrates a real force-of-nature charisma. Of course, her character demands that, but Zeta-Jones lives up to her billing and allows the role to shine.

If I looked for flaws in Chicago, they’d stem from a pretty simplistic and uncomplicated plot. That’s part of the curse of musicals: they’re usually so concerned with singing and dancing that the story gets neglected. I don’t think that’s totally the case in Chicago, but the tale appears rather basic, and none of the characters ever develop as three-dimensional personalities.

Chicago earns its stripes simply as a piece of cynical fun, however, so these complaints don’t really matter. I wouldn’t have called it the Best Picture of 2002, though conversely, I think Marshall probably should have gotten the Best Director award. The movie itself seems too insubstantial to merit Best Picture consideration, but Marshall makes its merits shine and diminishes its problems. After all, I don’t like musicals, but I think Chicago offers a fun and kicky little flick.


The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+ (DTS) B (DD)/ Bonus B+

Chicago appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Most of the movie looked quite good, but overall it fell short of the highest levels of quality.

Sharpness always seemed solid. The film consistently came across as distinct and well defined. I noticed no issues connected to softness or fuzziness. Jagged edges and moiré effects never presented concerns, but I did detect some mild edge enhancement periodically throughout the flick. Print flaws didn’t seem obvious. A couple of specks popped up along the way, but otherwise the movie appeared clean. At times the film took on a grainy look, but that seemed related to the fairly heavy use of smoke during many production numbers.

Colors generally were positive, though some exceptions occurred. Colored lighting caused some concerns, as those instances looked slightly heavy and hazy. Otherwise, the hues appeared nicely bright and vivid. Black levels were deep and dense, and low-light situations demonstrated good definition without becoming overly thick. For the most part, Chicago looked fine, but it never quite became a great image.

The DVD of Chicago included both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Though fairly similar in general, I thought the DTS mix offered the more positive experience, so it earned a “B+” compared to the “B” of the Dolby track. I’ll first discuss the DTS piece and then relate why I preferred it to the Dolby one.

Not surprisingly, music dominated the soundfield. The showtunes demonstrated very good breadth and spread across the front channels. Stereo response seemed strong, as the songs filled the speakers nicely. They also popped up appropriately from the rears. The surround channels supported the music naturally and didn’t resort to gimmicky material. Effects played a less active role in the film, but they helped flesh out the story well, as they created a good feeling of atmosphere throughout the flick.

Audio quality came across as solid. Speech appeared distinct and natural, and I noticed no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. Effects seemed tight and accurate. As previously noted, they didn’t play a prominent role in the proceedings, but they remained clear and concise at all times. Music sounded quite good. I thought the songs could have demonstrated slightly stronger bass response, but the tunes mostly appeared vibrant and lively, with clean highs and a nice dimensionality in general.

Why did I think the Dolby track seemed inferior to the DTS offering? Although I wasn’t wowed by the latter’s bass, the low-end appeared a bit deeper there, and dynamics were broader overall. The soundfield also opened up a little more and came across as broader and more engaging. The differences between the pair didn’t seem extreme, but the DTS mix improved upon the Dolby one enough for the increase in my grade.

How did the picture and sound of this “Razzle Dazzle Edition” of Chicago compare to those of the original DVD? Both seemed identical, as I noticed no changes in either area.

On the other hand, the “Razzle Dazzle Edition” includes many more extras than its predecessor. On DVD One, we get the same audio commentary already found on the original release. Director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon sit together for a running, screen-specific piece. While not a great track, their discussion presents a generally useful examination of the film.

Not surprisingly, Marshall dominates the commentary as we learn about many facets of the film. We get notes on the challenges of making a musical these days along with information about changes made from the stage presentation, working with the actors, and general issues related to staging and budget. They also get into deleted scenes and other alterations. At times the pair devolve into simple praise for the participants, but overall they provide a fairly rich and informative chat that helps flesh out our appreciation for the movie.

Another element found on the original DVD, one deleted musical number shows up here. “Class” lasts four minutes and eight seconds. This tune would have come late in the movie during Roxie’s trial, and it shows Velma and Mama Morton together. It seems out of place in the context of the rest of the flick and would have slowed down the action heavily, so it was a good omission.

“Class” can be viewed with or without commentary from Marshall and Condon. They let us know about the trials that they encountered as they attempted to make the song work within the context of the film. They also relate why they ultimately left the tune out of the movie. We already learn some of this during the main commentary, but their information here seems helpful.

A new component, From Stage to Screen: The History of Chicago lasts 27 minutes and 25 seconds. It presents shots of the movie and stage production along with comments from Condon, Marshall, executive producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, Bob Fosse biographer Martin Gottfried, stage actors Jerry Orbach, Chita Rivera, and Ann Reinking, composer John Kander, producer Marty Richards, and lyricist Fred Ebb.

The piece covers the origins of the stage production as well as elements of its development, original casting, and growth over the years. We get nice insight into what affected the show as well as aspects of its creation and staging. We also learn about Bob Fosse and his issues related to Chicago along with the work of the actors, the music and choreography, and adapting it for the screen.

I like aspects of “History” but I think it comes across as too general. I’d prefer something that solely examines the stage production, as we get many other elements here that discuss the movie. We find some nice tidbits, but the show is too quick and superficial to provide a truly satisfying look at its subject.

The DVD opens with some ads. We find promos for The Brothers Grimm and the Miramax 25th anniversary.

Moving to DVD Two, we open with some Musical Performances. These break down into three categories. We get “Extended Performances” of “And All That Jazz” (six minutes, six seconds), “When You’re Good to Mama” (3:33), “Cell Block Tango” (8:02), “We Both Reached For the Gun” (6:36), “Mister Cellophane” (4:00) and “All I Care About” (4:43). Some of these offer curious presentations. They mix movie clips, rehearsal footage and other behind the scenes bit, and they show all onscreen at the same time via multiple panels. I like the extra footage, but the title can be misleading. It implies we’ll get longer versions of the tunes, but really we just find “making of” material for most. A few do appear to present elongated performances, though, and all are interesting to see.

Next come three “From Start to Finish” clips. We see “Richard Gere and ‘All I Care About’” (3:29), “Renee Zellweger and ‘Nowadays’” (2:07), and “Catherine Zeta-Jones and ‘And All That Jazz’” (3:04). “About” and “Jazz” mix rehearsals, song recording and filming the final scenes. A few comments appear during “Nowadays”, as it includes remarks from Meron, Zellweger and Marshall, and the rest of it shows Zellweger’s recording session. Zeta-Jones also talks about her taping in “Jazz”. They’re not terribly different than the “Extended Performances”, and I continue to think they’re cool additions.

Finally, “Musical Performances” looks at four rehearsals. We get these takes for “I Can’t Do It Alone” (3:46), “Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag” (3:31), “We Both Reached for the Gun” (3:57) and “Cell Block Tango” (3:10). Based on the title, the content should be self-explanatory, as these show the performers as they practice the numbers. Meron, Marshall, Zeta-Jones, music supervisor Maureen Crowe and associate choreographer Denise Faye chat a little about “Tango” as well. A lot more nice footage shows up here. I especially like “Gun” since it shows the entire number straight through with only one camera and no cutting.

With that we head to Chita Rivera’s Encore. This five-minute and 10-second clip includes info from Marshall, Meron, and actor Rivera. We learn how the veteran of the stage Chicago ended up with a role in the film. She also chats about her experiences on stage as Velma and what it was like to work on the movie. Inevitably, this becomes fluffy, but I like Rivera's details about her past.

In the 19-minute and 41-second An Intimate Look at Director Rob Marshall, we find notes from Marshall, Zellweger, Meron, Richards, Zadan, Kander, Ebb, Gottfried, Faye, Rivera, and actors John C. Reilly, Queen Latifah, and Christine Baranski. The show looks a little at Marshall’s background and career, how he got the Chicago gig, and what he brings to the production. We get a lot of insight into the choreography and similar elements. As I expected, we hear a lot of gushing about Marshall’s greatness. Nonetheless, it includes enough meat to be worthwhile. We get a decent look at Marshall’s work and style in this reasonably enjoyable piece. I just wish it lacked so much happy talk.

For When Liza Minnelli Became Roxie Hart, we get a 13-minute and 15-second piece. It features notes from Zadan and Meron. They tell us how Minnelli filled in when Gwen Verdon took ill, and how this affected the stage production. We don’t see Minnelli in the show, but we get her performance of “Nowadays” on the Dinah show; that clip also includes a surprise guest. This is a very good program, as we get a nice glimpse of what Minnelli’s short stint did for the show.

The next two featurettes concentrate on film personnel. Academy Award-Winning Production Designer John Myhre goes for six minutes, nine seconds, and includes comments from Myhre, Marshall, and Meron. This looks at the various sets and the visuals Myrhe pursued. Short but tight, we find a solid view of his work. It’s a satisfying show.

During the five-minute and 31-second Academy Award-Winning Costume Designer Colleen Atwood, we hear from Atwood, Marshall, Reilly, Zellweger, and Meron. As expected, we get a discussion of the various outfits donned in the film and learn about their influences. It doesn’t satisfy quite as well as the Myhre piece, but it works fine for what it is.

Finally, VH1 Behind the Movie: Chicago fills 35 minutes and 49 seconds. It presents statements from Marshall, Zeta-Jones, Zellweger, Meron, Baranski, Zadan, Latifah, Condon, Crowe, actor Richard Gere, executive producer Meryl Poster, music producer Randy Spendlove, and music producer/songwriter Ric Wake. “Behind” addresses old rumors and challenges bringing the show to the screen, how Marshall got the gig and its adaptation, casting, rehearsals and the tiring nature of the production, problems experienced by the leads, various performances, the physical effect taken on Marshall, and reactions to the flick.

VH1 specials aren’t known for their depth and detail. They go for flash and entertainment, which makes them fine for an idle viewing. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for a great DVD extra. We find a few neat notes that don’t appear elsewhere, but the show’s essentially superficial. It’s a lackluster piece.

The package also includes an 18-page booklet. It presents introductory notes from producer Marty Richards and director Rob Marshall as well as a history of Chicago, a list of honors it won in various incarnations, and many photos. It provides a nice little piece.

Only one element from the original Chicago DVD fails to appear here: a 28-minute and 27-second “Behind the Scenes Special”. I don’t miss it, as I thought it felt like a long trailer without much detail or insight. The new DVD’s components make up for its absence.

A cynical but lively and amusing flick, Chicago offers a musical even a dedicated foe of the genre can like. The film diminishes many of the usual flaws and offers a fun and vibrant experience. The DVD presents generally solid picture and sound with a pretty good set of extras.

Supplements are the only thing that differentiates this “Razzle Dazzle Edition” of Chicago from the original disc. I’d like to say they’re good enough to warrant an upgrade for owners of the prior release, but I can’t make that claim. Both sets offer identical picture and sound, and while the new version includes better extras, they’re not essential, so I wouldn’t drop the bucks for a replacement copy.

Actually, I’m not even sure I’d recommend this 2-DVD release for those who don’t have the original. That’s simply because of cost. Right now the single-disc version retails for $20 while the “Razzle Dazzle Edition” lists for $30. I don’t think this set’s extras are worth the extra $10, at least not unless you’re a major fan of the film. If you love Chicago, pay the extra money. Otherwise stick with the single-platter release.

To rate this film visit the Widescreen Edition review of CHICAGO