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MAGNOLIA

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Eugenio Mira
Cast:
Elijah Wood, John Cusack, Kerry Bishé, Alex Winter
Writing Credits:
Damien Chazelle

Synopsis:
Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) is the most talented pianist of his generation, but has stopped performing in public because of his stage fright. Years after a catastrophic performance, he reappears in public for a long awaited concert in Chicago. In a packed theater, in front of an expectant audience, Tom finds a message written on the score: "Play one wrong note and you die." In the sights of an anonymous sniper (John Cusack), Tom must get through the most difficult performance of his life and look for help without being detected.

MPAA:
Rated R

DISC DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1/16X9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 90 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 5/20/2014

Bonus:
• “The Making of Grand Piano” Featurette
• Interviews
• “Soundtrack” Featurette
• “Coaches” Featurette
• “Following Eugenio” Featurette
• “Stunts” Featurette
• “Wayne’s Shot” Featurette
• “Visual Effects” Featurette
&bull: “AXS TV: A Look at Grand Piano” Featurette
• Previews


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RELATED REVIEWS


Grand Piano (2014)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 22, 2014)

For today’s Adventure in (Essentially) Direct-to-Video Flicks, we go to 2014’s Grand Piano. Classical pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) establishes himself as the best performer of his generation. However, after a disastrous performance, crippling anxiety keeps him off the stage for years.

Tom eventually sets up his comeback concert but he encounters a major snag. As he starts to play, he finds a message attached to the score that warns he’ll die if he makes a single mistake. We follow the cat and mouse between Tom and Clem (John Cusack), the sniper who keeps the musician in his sights.

That’s a set-up we in the movie review business like to call “Hitchcockian” – which is also what someone could’ve said of 2003’s Phone Booth, a thriller with a not-dissimilar premise. Perhaps the makers of Piano felt Booth happened long enough ago or wasn’t successful enough for viewers to make the connection, but it seems pretty clear to me.

Not that a semi-derivative notion disqualifies Piano from the potential to become a solid drama, of course; if I only wrote up “original stories”, I’d write maybe two or three reviews a year. Piano does throw a fun premise at us, so I hoped it’d deliver a satisfying, tense experience.

Which it occasionally does. On the positive side, I like that the movie doesn’t waste too much time before it tosses us into the main story. We get appropriate amounts of exposition and backstory but we don’t find ourselves bogged down in needless material before we dig into the meat of the tale. That decision allows the flick to move at a better rate and keep us from losing interest too early.

However, once we get to the concert stage, the tale becomes spottier. That turns into a problem, as a) the majority of the film takes place there, and b) we expect the best drama there. Some moments do manage reasonable tension and excitement, but the piece stretches credulity too much for us to really buy into the action.

I don’t find fault in the basic concept, but I encounter issues with the execution. The movie requires us to suspend disbelief too often and accept behavior that doesn’t make much sense. In particular, the movie requires Tom to juggle too many figurative balls while he plays perfect piano – and also expects us to believe that he could talk on a phone while no one else hears him despite the intimacy of the venue. Those don’t become fatal flaws, but they detract from the movie’s potential.

I don’t quite buy Wood in the lead, either. He does an acceptable job, but “bug-eyed and twitchy” seems to be his standard mode, so he doesn’t have much room to grow as the tension escalates; he already starts at “11” on the “Anxious Meter” and doesn’t get to broaden past that.

Piano still has enough merit to make it a watchable little thriller, but it doesn’t elevate above that level. Though it does enough to capitalize on its premise to keep us with it, the movie never becomes anything memorable.


The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Grand Piano appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not a bad SD-DVD presentation, the transfer was more erratic than I’d like.

Some of the inconsistencies came from sharpness. Parts of the movie exhibited good clarity and definition, but more than a few exceptions occurred, especially in wide shots. Mild signs of jaggies and moiré effects occurred, and I also saw some light edge haloes. The image lacked any print flaws.

To fit its thriller genre, Piano went with a stylized palette. The movie tended toward a sickly green/blue, with a few other tones on display. These were acceptable much of the time but could also tend to be a bit heavy and messy.

Blacks were erratic. Dark tones tended to be somewhat flat and inky, and shadows were up and down. Some low-light shots offered decent clarity, but others were a bit dense and tough to discern. The image was good enough for a “C“ but the mix of problems made it less attractive than I’d anticipate.

I felt more pleased with the film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. It went for a fairly atmospheric air, as the mix gave us logical accompaniment for the visuals. This meant music popped up around the room and became somewhat dominant while effects remained mostly in the environmental realm. The mix did give us a nice sense of the concert hall setting, and that managed to open up the material in a satisfying manner.

Audio quality was good. Speech seemed natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music showed nice range and impact, while the effects were reasonably accurate. This became an acceptable mix for an atmospheric thriller.

As we move to extras, we launch with The Making of Grand Piano. It fills 16 minutes, 50 seconds with comments from producers Adrian Guerra and Rodrigo Cortes, director Eugenio Mira, writer Damien Chazelle, composer Victor Reyes, visual effects supervisor Alex Villagrasa, and actors Elijah Wood, John Cusack, Kerry Bishe, Don McManus, Tamsin Egerton, and Allen Leech. The program looks at how Mira came onto the project, story/character areas, cast and performances, music and Mira’s approach to the concert scenes, sets and effects, and a few other elements. Some of the usual happy talk appears here, but we get a good mix of notes, and the shots from the set add value.

Under Interviews we find sessions with director Eugenio Mira (13:57) and actor Elijah Wood (20:26). Mira covers what interested in him about the film, cast and performances, influences and stylistic choices, music, and the shooting of concerts. Wood talks about the thriller genre and what appealed to him about the story, learning and filming piano sequences, co-stars and performances, aspects of the shoot, and thoughts about the movie. Both segments work pretty well – surprisingly well in the case of Wood, as actor chats tend to be superficial. We learn a lot of nice details in these interviews.

A few more featurettes follow. Soundtrack goes for three minutes, 28 seconds and includes Mira and Reyes. They talk about the movie’s music and the choreography of the concert scenes. We got a little about these subjects elsewhere, but “Soundtrack” delivers a bit more depth.

With the five-minute, two-second Coaches, we hear from Wood, McManus, piano instructor Hector Marquez, and instructor Tobias Gossman. In these, we hear about the training required for the actors to perform their musical parts. This becomes a quick but useful program.

Following Eugenio runs four minutes, 56 seconds and features Wood, Guerra, Cortes, Bishe, McManus, and actor Alex Winter. This one examines Mira’s work on the set. It gives us a decent sense of the director’s personality and skills.

During the four-minute, eight-second Stunts, we locate remarks from Mira, Cortes, Wood, Cusack, and stunt coordinator Ignacio Carreno. To the surprise of no one, “Stunts” looks at the film’s stunts. This turns into another short but moderately useful piece.

Next we get Visual Effects. It occupies three minutes, 26 seconds with details from Villagrasa, as he covers his contributions to the “virtual concert hall” and other visual elements. Some of this showed up earlier, but a few new details emerge.

In the four-minute, 34-second Wayne’s Shot, we hear from Cortes, Mira, and Villagrasa. The featurette examines one specific long sequence. With the addition of a glimpse at the animatic, the piece gives us a good overview.

AXS TV: A Look at Grand Piano fills two minutes, 52 seconds and features Wood and Mira. This acts as promotion and little else.

The disc opens with ads for Nymphomaniac, Stage Fright and The Protector. No trailer for Piano appears here.

While it comes with potential, Grand Piano rarely lives up to expectations. It does give us sporadic drama but it usually seems too limp and scattershot. The DVD provides decent picture and audio along with a fairly informative set of supplements. This isn’t a bad thriller but it never really satisfies.

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