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Michael (Blu-ray Review)

Growing up, I had parents that were big fans of John Travolta. Pretty much, if he was in a movie playing in theaters, we were seeing it. If we missed it, we were renting it the week it came out on VHS. They were mostly addicted to the subpar outings of his. An unfortunate piece of trivia for me, is that due to this, I’ve seen every movie in the Look Who’s Talking series in theaters. And of course, one film we DIDN’T go see him for in theaters was Pulp Fiction. Go figure. Anyway, what does my crying and griping about my parents taking me to Mr. Travolta’s lesser projects have relevance for here? Well, I saw Michael opening weekend. Which is the film for which the Blu-ray I’m about to review is of. I didn’t remember much of this Nora Ephron film, so I felt maybe it’d be neat to revisit it when the Warner Archive Collection August titles came by my desk. The film will be available for the first time on August 11th and can be pre-ordered on their website or from the paid Amazon link below.

Film

When jaded journalists Frank (William Hurt) and Huey (Robert Pastorelli), along with “angel expert” Dorothy (Andie MacDowell), travel to a small town in Iowa to investigate a story, they find Michael (John Travolta), a disheveled man claiming to be an angel. But Michael is less than angelic: he drinks, smokes and basks in the attention of women. As the group travels to Chicago, Michael teaches them about relationships, faith and miracles, suggesting that he may be exactly whom he says he is.

Michael isn’t a miserable or bad experience. Its a slightly under average film with some really nice takeaways and a fun performance from John Travolta. Nora Ephron’s film has an interesting idea to explore with conversations to be had, but it doesn’t seem to have the gull to want to go all the way with it. Its approach to religion almost feels like a neutered, kinder/less vulgar version of Kevin Smith’s Dogma in many ways, and things certainly remind me of that movie. A unique approach to religious theology, though it seems timid to get into some tougher territory, despite having the space to do so with minimal and light set pieces designed to just focus on characters conversing and learning about him and each other.

After Pulp Fiction revived his career (Sorry Look Who’s Talking movies), John Travolta took his new found clout into being a villain in action movies like Broken Arrow and Face/Off as well as a couple off-kilter drama projects like Phenomenon and this movie Michael. Sure, there was a lot of other stuff in working with prestigious directors and ensemble casts, but this particular stint came within the first couple years after working with Quentin Tarantino.  The films either had left field subject matter or a left field role. Phenomenon was more a science fiction drama, but in the same year, Michael had him had him as both an oddball raunchy character in another spectacular “real life” scenario. And he’s quite good here and manages to be in his own realm (As the character should be) while managing to connect on a unique level with each cast member.

Nora Ephron’s film follows the road trip model, which allows the cast to stop in many places and sit and reflect with one another as they try and fulfill their goal of a big news story. The tripping all finds itself countryside and a little monotonous, but the actor sink their teeth into whatever they can and mesh with each other pretty well. Its these conversations regarding religious history and the limitations and reality of the angel’s power that are the film’s most interesting, but they are more scratching a surface rather than digging deeper into what is more of a tease. The film wants to be light and not super challenging, but it feels they were at least on to something.

There are things presented in Michael, and its well told, making it a pretty solid watch and decent road trip movie. Though, its a tease and the subjects explored feel they could have had a little more grit, challenge and depth to them. Though, you can’t fault the film for going the fluff route. The film features solid direction and good performances from the cast, though winds up having the problem of being pretty forgettable.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail:  Michael’s Blu-ray debut boasts a “Brand new master”, but leaves no details as to what kind of master it is (HD, 2K, 4K?). Regardless, the film carries a strong image in this transfer. It has a nice, healthy grain, creating a very comforting cinematic/filmic look to the movie. Details are strong, patterns and textures are easily apparent in the plenty crisp/sharp image on display. Colors are bold and well saturated with good, close to natural black levels. Overall, who knows exactly what kind of transfer was done, but it doesn’t matter as the results are more than satisfactory.

Depth:  The film features some impressive depth, showcasing a great area of space in its interiors while having a good clear pushback distancing the backgrounds from the foreground characters. Motion is smooth and cinematic, and no blurring or jittering occurs.

Black Levels:  The films black levels are dark, deep and almost reaching some natural levels. Overall the film has plenty of dark, shadowy places and it happens to find rich shading and sculpting of the definition of the image. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are really quite natural, rustic and full. Its a pretty gorgeous looking image, most wonderfully captured on celluloid and relishing in its beauty. Its well saturated and many of the more popping and fluorescent effects come from glowing neon signs or flashier fabrics.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural, full and consistent from the opening of the film til the start of the credits rolling. Facial features and textures like make-up lines, stubble, wrinkles, tears and more come through quite clear no matter the given distance of the person in the frame.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: Michael makes its Blu-ray debut to the sounds of a lossless 5.1 mix. The film isn’t a demanding one, so this doesn’t have to do much to please, but more than does the trick. The mix’s primary focus is on the dialogue and it captures it wonderfully at the forefront while always feeling a part of its environment. Also making out handsomely are the “regular day” foley effects, coming out especially lifelike in diner sequences with utensils clanging, coffee pouring and mugs setting on a small plate.

Height: N/A

Low-Frequency Extension:  The subwoofer provides some good boom accompaniment with deepening the score and adding to natural sounds like doors closing, engines running and any sort of “action” the film may call for.

Surround Sound Presentation: This isn’t some wild big budget thrill-a-thon encapsulating the room, but it does features some nice touches. The mix does know the room with nice spots of ambiance as well as filling in crowded spaces like restaurants and bars and such. Sound travel is adequate and lines up with onscreen action to good effect.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp, with sound managing to capture good diction and mouth sounds.

Extras

Trailer (SD, 2:00)

Summary

Michael is a nice attempt, with solid performances and good directing, but the script feels it holds back on its study of religion and its figures. Some challenging might have driven it further. Regardless, the presentation is quite a strong one with a terrific looking image and solid 5.1 audio mix to tell this light tale. Aside from a trailer, you’re left to scour the internet for any additional information on the film as the bonus features are nonexistent. Fans of the film are getting a good presentation and should pick it up at the time the price is decent.

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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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