‘Casablanca’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

Casablanca” is a film which conjures up an immediate reaction from film fans whenever they hear the title.  It’s right up there with “Citizen Kane” as one of those films which film buffs and historians consider one of the greatest movies ever made.  There are many reasons for this, but the biggest reason is the love story between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.  There is also the dialogue and the many quotable lines which come to mind when thinking of this film.  I won’t be repetitive here and list all of them for you, but if you have seen “Casablanca,” you know the lines by heart.  It’s one of those films which means a lot to a great deal of people and for good reason.

Set in 1941, the film introduces the audience to Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), the owner of the nightclub Rick’s Café Américain. He refuses to have drinks with any of the customers and mostly keeps to himself.  The audience can tell he’s cynical, unhappy, and something has happened to him to cause him to lose a big part of himself. He tends to stay neutral on almost every topic.  Even though he’s cynical, he’s still a good guy with a good heart.  His world gets turned upside down when his old flame, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), shows up with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), as he’s seeking protection from German Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) who intends to arrest him.

Victor Laszlo is a fugitive Czech Resistance leader. Rick’s Café serves as a place for all sorts of types, good and bad, because of World War II.  A lot of people there are looking to keep a low profile while others are looking to find someone to arrest.  Rick has some war experience himself, but now he’s focused on his nightclub.  He starts to become very focused on Ilsa when he catches up with her again, and it’s clear there are still strong feelings between the two.  They were in love back in Paris, but when it was time to leave, she just left him hanging with a note that left him with more questions than answers.

Rick has letters of transit, which allow two individuals to get out of Casablanca safe and sound and start over without any consequences. Rick can give the letters to Ilsa, but that also means he will be giving her up as well.  Again, even though he stays neutral on most topics, he can tell the good guys from the bad guys.  He’s not afraid to lend a helping hand to someone in need. However, if he helps her and Victor out, he knows he will never see the love of his life ever again.  That was the beauty of some of the old Hollywood films: the romance felt urgent and very important.  It never felt frivolous or silly.  You can tell that two people really loved each other, and it made a huge impact on their lives.

“Casablanca” is an old-fashioned Hollywood classic in every sense of the word.  You have the black and white picture, the classic romance, and the big stars. You also have great supporting work from actors like Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, and Paul Henreid.  It all feels vital and like it serves a purpose.  It’s old-fashioned Hollywood craftsmanship at its finest.  The story with the war can sometimes bog the film down a little bit, but it’s there to push the love story between the two leads.  They are the heart and soul of this beautiful picture.  Like fine wine, this is the kind of film which gets better with age.  Even if you have seen it multiple times and know how it’s going to end, you still can’t help but get swept up in the story.  “Casablanca” is the kind of movie Hollywood doesn’t make anymore, but I wish they did.

This is Bogart’s best performance in his storied career.  He has a certain vulnerability to him we don’t often get to see on film.  He’s also an everyman in this film, and it’s great to see him connecting with his black piano player, Sam (Dooley Wilson).  He respects people and does the right thing, but it doesn’t feel forced. It’s a completely natural performance. It’s not a big or showy performance, and it doesn’t need to be as we see everything in his face: all of the pain and the agony. Bergman is sweet, tough and very, very smart.  She’s the perfect actress to go toe-to-toe with Bogart in this film.  She looks absolutely stunning and gorgeous on screen.

I was sucked into “Casablanca” from start-to-finish, like I am every single time I watch it.  Even though I know how it’s going to end, I’m still on the edge of my seat when they get to the final scene.  The last line of dialogue is iconic and the perfect note to end this film on as well.  I’m a huge fan of old Hollywood when stars were stars, and they could light up the screen with their presence. It should also be noted that “Casablanca” won Best Picture in 1942 along with Best Director (Michael Curtiz) and Best Screenplay. This is Classic Hollywood at its finest!

* * * * out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “Casablanca” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It also comes with a digital copy of the film as well.  It has a running time of 102 minutes and is rated PG for mild violence.

4K Video Info: “Casablanca” looks pretty good on 4K.  The black and white and older films in particular play pretty well with light and darkness on HDR.  It’s not a fantastic upgrade, but I don’t know how much more they could have done to really upgrade a film from the 40’s. It’s better than the Blu-ray, but it’s not a huge improvement.

Audio Info: The audio for the film comes on DTS-HD MA: English 1.0, and Dolby Digital: French and Spanish.  It also comes with subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.  There isn’t a huge upgrade on the audio here, but it still sounds pretty solid.  I don’t really think this is the kind of film which needed a huge audio upgrade.

Special Features:

Commentary by Roger Ebert

Commentary by Rudy Behlmer

Introduction by Lauren Bacall

Warner Night at the Movies

Now, Voyager trailer

Newsreel

“Vaudeville Days” (1942 WB short)

“The Bird Came C.O.D.” (1942 WB cartoon)

“The Squawkin’ Hawk” (1942 WB cartoon)

“The Dover Boys at Pimento University” (1942 WB cartoon)

“Great Performances: Bacall on Bogart” (1988 PBS special)

Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You’ve Never Heard Of

Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic

You Must Remember This: A Tribute to “Casablanca” (1992 TEC documentary)

As Time Goes By: The Children Remember

Deleted Scenes

Outtakes

“Who Holds Tomorrow?” (1955 “Casablanca” TV episode)

“Carrotblanca” (1955 WB Cartoon)

Scoring Stage Sessions (audio only)

Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater Radio Broadcast – 4/26/43 (audio only)

Vox Pop Radio Broadcast – 11/19/47 (audio only)

Trailers

I can’t get too upset over the lack of updated special features, as they transported a ton of special features from previous releases. The fact you get two commentary tracks, especially one with Roger Ebert, is quite a treat.  There are A LOT of special features here.  This one is pretty simple for film buffs and physical media collectors out there—if you love classic Hollywood, you owe it to yourself to pick up this film on 4K and watch it in the best possible format.  As mentioned previously, it’s an upgrade over the Blu-Ray, even if it’s not a massive upgrade.  Nonetheless, this is a film you should add to your collection on day one with the slipcover. Personally speaking, I love a good slipcover on my favorite films, and if you want the slipcover, it’s always better to buy it sooner rather than later. This will make the film lover in your life very happy this holiday season!

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

La Vie en Rose – Marion Cotillard is Beyond Exquisite

This review is for my friend Cordell as he begged me to watch this movie constantly.

Every once in a while, you witness a performance so utterly brilliant that it leaves you in a state of total awe. It’s the kind of performance which really blurs the line between the actor and the character they are portraying. You don’t see any trace of the actor because they have succeeded in fulling inhabiting a character as opposed to just playing one. Mickey Rourke pulled this off in “The Wrestler” as did Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight,” and this goes for every role Daniel Day Lewis played in his entire career. An actor’s job is never as easy as it looks (if you are serious about the craft of acting that is), and it involves tearing down all those protective layers we surround ourselves with to protect us emotionally. To do this requires an immeasurable amount of bravery, and if they succeed in what may seem impossible to some, they will leave you believing no other actor could have played such a role as good as they did.

You can add Marion Cotillard to this list after witnessing her extraordinary performance as Edith Piaf in Olivier Dahan’s “La Vie en Rose.” She plays Edith from when she was a teenager to her death at the age of 47, at which point she looked more like she was elderly. It’s surprising to learn Cotillard was in only her early 30’s when she took on this role, and it is a performance which feels flawless from both an emotional and a technical point of view. She gives a performance bursting with emotion, and her portrayal of Piaf at the latter part of her life is never less than believable. Her Oscar win for Best Actress was seen as a surprise by many, but this is probably because they never bothered to watch the movie when it was released.

Watching Cotillard play Edith in the different stages of her life instantly reminded me of the opening shot of Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull.” It showed Robert DeNiro as Jake LaMotta in his post-boxing years, overweight and smoking a cigar while he runs through his standup act before going on stage. It then goes from there to when LaMotta was in his fighting prime with DeNiro a lot slimmer and in better shape. I remember watching this transition and almost having to remind myself it was the same actor playing LaMotta. Cotillard accomplishes this feat as well in “La Vie en Rose” as she portrays Edith Piaf from when she was young to where her life was fading all too slowly. This is also in part due to the equally brilliant job by the makeup artists who were also deservedly rewarded with Oscars as well.

“La Vie en Rose” does follow the similar path of biopics as we see Edith Piaf from her lowly beginnings as a child, and of how those experiences end up informing the rest of her life as she grows up to become the singer we were so moved by. Dahan does not try to sugarcoat Edith’s life as it was not exactly an enviable one. We see her as being more or less neglected by her mother, and then later by her father when he leaves her for a time in a brothel which ironically gave her some of her happiest memories as she is cuddled constantly by the prostitutes who work there. When we are presented with a childhood which is absent of parental guidance and neglect, we know this is a life which defines the word “dysfunction.”

Edith as child is played by two young actresses: Manon Chevallier at age 5 and by Pauline Burlet at age 10. Both are wonderful, and their performances are not your average child actor performances that are full of over emoting and forced reactions. I point this out because it is incredibly difficult to pull off performances like these for young actors, and both do great work as they chronicle Edith’s young adventures and her inevitable heartbreaks as reality eventually comes crashing down on her.

Dahan moves the story back and forth in time which, in another movie, might seem distracting, but it helps break up the usual rhythm of your average biopic to where it doesn’t feel so much like others we have seen before. In seeing Edith confined to a hospital after her morphine addiction has long since ravaged her already fragile body, we know full well her story is not going to have a happy ending. Still, it made me wonder how Dahan was going to end the movie. Would it be at Edith’s dying breath, or at some other point in her life? I leave it to you to find this out.

Seriously, I cannot get over just how amazing Cotillard’s performance is. She brilliantly captures the stage fright which threatens to keep Piaf from going onstage, and we see how she slowly overcomes it through her first performance. We then see her move on to bigger houses to sing in, and it’s almost like she is becoming a different person in front of our eyes. From when she becomes an acclaimed star of stage and screen to her tragic demise, Cotillard nails every moment she has in the movie perfectly and never misses a beat. Watching her go from what seems like infinite happiness when she finds who she believes is the love of her life (the look in her eyes is beautiful) to the tragedy which takes it all away is simply enthralling. I am still thinking about her performance long after the movie ended, trying to figure out how she accomplished all of this without falling into the trap of playing a caricature.

Even as we see Edith’s body giving out, and her looking 20 years older than her actual age, Cotillard makes you believe you are seeing someone who has lived and experienced much more than the average human being does. This could have been where her performance would have suffered from overacting, but she keeps us entranced throughout the movie’s two and a half hour running time.

But a lot of credit should also go to Dahan for making one of the best biopics ever, and he surrounds Cotillard with a wonderful cast who does their best to hold their own in the wake of her ultimate tour de force. Gérard Depardieu has a nice supporting role as Louis Leplée, the nightclub owner who discovers Edith singing in the streets and gives her the opportunity to perform in front of a big audience. I also loved Emmanuelle Seigner’s heartbreaking performance as Titine, the prostitute who desperately wants to adopt Edith regardless of the odds never being in her favor.

“La Vie en Rose” may tread the familiar ground of many film biographies, but this one has an immense power all its own, and it stands way above many other films in its genre. Cotillard gives, as Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote, “a performance for the ages.” I can’t stop gushing over just how phenomenal she is here. I am so glad she got the Oscar.

* * * * out of * * * *

Brendan Gleeson on Acting Naturally in ‘Calvary’

brendan-gleeson-in-calvary

As Father James in “Calvary,” actor Brendan Gleeson succeeds in giving one of the very best performances of his career. What I loved about his performance is you never really catch him acting. Instead of just playing the character, Gleeson inhabits him to where you’d think he’s been a priest all his life. Father James attends to the townspeople of the small Irish town he lives in, and he tries to keep his faith strong even as everyone else struggles with their own or have long since given up on finding goodness in life. We see the various emotions flow over Gleeson’s face such as grief, anger, sadness, disappointment and confusion to where he makes film acting look so easy. But anyone who knows the craft of acting in front of the camera can tell you it’s bloody difficult work.

After watching Gleeson in “Calvary,” I was very eager to learn about his style of acting. When it comes to awards seasons, the performances that get the most attention are the showy ones which scream out Oscar, but the subtlest ones like Gleeson’s don’t often get the credit they deserve which is a shame. I got to meet him when he was at the “Calvary” press day during a roundtable interview, and I asked him how he was able to pull off such a naturalistic performance. His answer showed how it has taken him a number of years to learn how to do just that.

Brendan Gleeson: You know, I had to quite meticulously look at my own performances when I started because I was 34 years of age before I started doing anything in front of a camera. I had to actually figure out how my face worked because it’s a different craft from stage work which I knew, but I knew theoretically that something you do on camera is magnified to such an extent. So I knew that I shouldn’t exaggerate by way of communicating where you have to talk to somebody there at the end of the room and all that in the theater. I knew I had to bring it down to a natural level. What I didn’t understand is that my particular face at least had a way of expressing itself. You kind of go, what’s going on there? You’d see it back and kind of say, it’s telling lies. I look angry there. I didn’t feel angry at the time. What’s going on? So there was a long period of kind of working at your craft, but at some point it becomes very dull just not making mistakes. It becomes very dull playing safe, and at some point you have to start trusting. When it comes down to it fundamentally, if you trust the person behind the camera and the person in the editing room, you can then let the walls down and just be, and that’s what your striving to do. They always say it’s that John Hurt thing about trying to get it into your DNA, and ultimately that’s what you’re trying to do; you’re trying to access it and then trust that it’s going to carry.

With that, Gleeson perfectly captured the challenges of film acting and of how hard it can be. A craft like this can take years to perfect, and Gleeson has paid his dues for quite some time now. His performance in “Calvary” contains some of the best acting I have seen in a 2014 movie. Here’s hoping we get to see more great performances from Gleeson again in the near future.

calvary-movie-poster-2