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Romance & Cigarettes (Blu-ray Review)

Romance & CigarettesOriginal and audacious. Contemporary and classic. Director John Turturro’s (The Big Lebowski) Romance & Cigarettes is a romantic comedy, a musical drama and, above all, a showcase for an amazing cast of talented actors lead by James Gandolfini (TV’s The Sopranos), Susan Sarandon (Bull Durham), Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).  Paying homage to classic Hollywood musicals, borrowing from The Singing Detective and Pennies From Heaven, a jukebox musical where heartfelt feelings are verbalized not through spoken word but through song and dance. From Dusty Springfield (“Piece of My Heart”) and Elvis Presley (“Trouble”) to Cyndi Lauper (“Prisoner of Love”), the musical numbers are as eclectic as the characters mouthing them.  Romance & Cigarettes, directed by John Turturro from his original screenplay features performances by Steve Buscemi (Fargo), Bobby Cannavale (TV’s Boardwalk Empire), Mandy Moore (A Walk To Remember), Mary-Louise Parker (Bullets Over Broadway), Aida Turturro (TV’s The Sopranos), Christopher Walken (True Romance), Barbara Sukowa and Elaine Stritch (TV’s 30 Rock).

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Film 

Romance & Cigarettes is the story of a marriage on the brink of collapse. A mid-life crisis has given Nick, a Queens, NY ironworker a roving eye much to the bewilderment of his wife Kitty. The object of Nick’s affection is Tula, a romantic in the truest sense of the word.

I wanted to really like this movie.  It features a pretty outstanding cast, consisting of a lot of people I really do enjoy.  The film also sells itself upon being a jukebox music.  A jukebox musical is one that doesn’t write its own songs for a theatrical production/film, but uses pre-existing material like pop hits and the like to do its numbers with.  And, it had John Tuturro at the helm.  However, something with this film just really wasn’t working for me.

The whole “musical” aspect of this film is its biggest disappointment.  The breaks don’t happen frequently enough and are paced in such a way that you forget this film has that going for it at times.  When they do a number, its just not executed well in the audio department.  The source version of the song plays, vocals and all.  And its set much too loud as you can barely hear the actors singing their parts.  Lip syncing probably would have been more effective if they weren’t confident in someone’s abilities.

This cast is terrific, and they do their darndest in performing the hell out of script that sort of just sits there hanging out and never really progressing anywhere.  James Gandolfini and Susan Sarandon are great, as to be expected.  There is a nice little turn by Mary-Louise Parker in a film that is just before Weeds was about to begin.  And Mandy Moore is pretty solid here too.  The stand-outs however, are Christopher Walken and Kate Winslet.  Walken is just having himself a damn good time and its infectious.  I was enjoying every frame that man set foot in.  He’s so funny, its almost recommendable just on his antics alone.  Speaking of antics, Kate Winslet is in rare form here.  I’ve never seen her so…cockney?  She is a bit of a looney, buts its a revelation to see here like this here.

Unfortunately, this one’s story just sorta drags.  It starts off well enough, but doesn’t really have much interesting going on.  If the musical parts of the film would’ve worked, then that might have enhanced it.  Seeing as those fall flat in their execution, it hurts the film.  There is good intention at hand with Romance & Cigarettes, but it just doesn’t really work out.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Clarity/Detail:  The movie looks fine, it just doesn’t look like its too much of an upgrade over DVD standard definition quality.  It has a dingy look and feel to it.  Details are there, but the film doesn’t look to sharp and is all around kinda murky.

Depth:  It has its moments, but overall this is a very average one when it comes to depth.  Quicker movements do get blurry at times.

Black Levels:  Blacks can be rich and do swallow up some detail.  Slight blocking issues come with it too.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are a hair down from natural.  Although, Kate Winslet’s attire does come off vivid and pop as well as Mary-Louise Parker’s blue hair.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural.  Close-ups feature a good amount of facial detail like make-up, lip texture, stubble and blemishes.

Noise/Artifacts:  Some compression issues as well as a hint of aliasing at times.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: N/A

Dynamics:  The music in the film is boisterous and pretty loud and clean.  Its a decently balanced track, but at times vocals, effects and score can sound as one.  Dialogue and songs in the film sound very nice though, and that’s all that really matters.

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Clean, loud and clear.  Singing can be drowned out or matching up to the song that is playing concurrently.

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Extras 

Trailer (HD, 1:56)

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Summary 

This one sounds very interesting at least, and when you see the cast for it, its pretty wowing.  However, while the cast is game and fun, this thing never really takes off and the musical bits come across as lazy and disappointing.  The story gets to be a bit of murky boring affair too.  This Blu-ray is underwhelming in its performance too and carries nothing but a trailer for extras.  Hardcore fans will probably scoop this one up, but I can’t recommend anyone beyond that.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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