Cafe Society (Blu-ray)

October 6, 2016 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

I’m willing to be that there isn’t anyone working in Hollywood that’s as consistent as Woody Allen. I was perusing his IMDb page and, for better or worse, this guy has been churning out a movie a year for the last 40+ years. Now that’s impressive. Granted, not all of them are Best Picture contenders though there are a few and one did win – Annie Hall, which remains my favorite Allen film. But, for better or worse, he’s able to cast top notch talent and writes and directs his own films. Again I say – that’s impressive. Looking at his films from the past five years, two stand out to me: Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris. Both of these for different reasons. With Jasmine it was Cate Blanchett’s performance. It was so overwhelmingly good that once the credits rolled, it was a lock that she’d walk away with a Best Actress statue (and she did). With Midnight in Paris, I just loved the film. I didn’t want it to end. And that’s the beauty of Woody Allen movies, while one might be to your liking another might be. And so now we’ve got Cafe Society. We’ve got a few familiar faces and some new ones. Let’s take a trip back to 1930’s Hollywood, shall we?

Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) is ready to escape New York and move out to Hollywood. His Uncle, Phil (Steve Carrell) is a successfully agent who eventually gets him employment. Phil has his assistant Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) show him the town and the two hit it off. Bobby wants to pursue Vonnie but she informs him that she’s in a relationship. In an odd twist of fate she’s actually dating Phil who is trying to leave his wife to be with Vonnie. When Phil can’t do it, this leaves Vonnie and Bobby free to pursue their relationship all the while leaving Bobby in the dark about the affair. Eventually Phil does leave his wife and leaves Vonnie with a choice: Phil or Bobby. She chooses the former and thus Bobby goes back to New York to run his brother’s (Corey Still) nightclub. Things are going fine, he’s successful and meets and marries Veronica (Blake Lively) until Phil and Vonnie show up. Old feelings are rekindled and it leaves Bobby and Vonnie time to reflect on their pasts.

That’s a lot going on. To me this wasn’t the typical Woody Allen film. I’d told my wife that I watch it and her response was “was it about relationships?” so maybe Allen’s films are a bit telling. Truthfully every time I see Jesse Eisenberg in a film, I like him more and more. Yes, his tendency for hyper pronunciation can be a bit annoying, but that’s who he is and it’s worked out for him. It was also nice to see Kristen Stewart shed some of her Twilight films and do something a bit different. The usual ensemble cast is all there with Steve Carrell in a bit of a miscast role, Corey Stoll plays a gangster to a tee and even smaller parts by Blake Lively and Parker Posey are memorable. Again I say, all Woody Allen films might not be for you. This isn’t the worst one I’ve seen, but it’s not as memorable as some others. Still, you can bet that as the sun rises, so too will another Woody Allen film.

Video: How’s it look?

Set in 1930’s Hollywood (and New York), the film seems to suffer from some inconsistency on the visual front. First of all, this is Allen’s “widest” film in a while, shown at a whopping 2.00:1 aspect ratio! Hey now, slow down Woody – there’s only a finite amount of screen to work with here! And while this AVC transfer looks, by and large, good, I found some of the scenes a bit distracting. The scenes in Hollywood look good, they’re baked in a golden hue that just seems to ooze “sunny California.” Maybe it was just me, but the close up shots of Kristen Stewart seem to have a fine haze around them, soft focus if you will. Conversely those of Jesse Eisenberg seem to be more of a normal look and feel. Was it Allen trying to pay homage to the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood or just an error in the transfer? Those in New York seem a bit more cold and corporate, with bluish hues to them and a more workmanlike feel to them. Again, this is by no means “bad” but I wasn’t blown away like I am with some newer titles.

Audio: How’s it sound?

There’s a DTS HD Master Audio “commercial” just before the opening scenes. That’s about as loud as you’ll get with this film and, to be sure, with any Woody Allen film. Until a few years ago all of his movies were in mono and that’s essentially what this is, minus a few choice scenes. As we might expect in any movie with Eisenberg, there’s his natural hyper dialogue which seems to presume that he’s on speed and reading his lines, but in all truth that’s just the way he is. In a bit of a surprise, the film is narrated by Woody Allen who sounds more like a gangster than his usual nasal self. Hey, I have to give the guy credit for trying. The bottom line is that fans of Allen’s movies will know what they are in for when it comes to one of his films and while this one won’t light up the room, it’s passable to say the least.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • On the Red Carpet – Several starts of the movie laud praise upon Allen and the movie itself while being interviewed on, you guessed it, the red carpet.
  • Photo Gallery – A series of stills from the film can be played.

The Bottom Line

Love him or hate him, Woody Allen will be back with another movie next year (and the year after that). While one might not fit your particular taste, another one might. Over the years I’ve become more and more of a Woody Allen fan and while Cafe Society wasn’t among my favorites, I still enjoyed it. It both looks and sounds just a bit above average, and the lack of supplemental features won’t have fans clamoring to buy this disc. But, there are those that will add this to their collection without a second thought.

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