Topsy-Turvy: Criterion (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton & Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

While Arthur Sullivan and William Gilbert have enjoyed some serious success with their musicals, it seems as though they have slammed into a brick wall. Their latest production Princess Ida has some fond remarks, but most found it to be boring and routine. Sullivan feels as though he has run out of ways to create powerful music for Gilbert’s stories, which he thinks are getting to be bland and tiresome. Instead of the usual comedic musicals the team works on, Sullivan longs to compose an entire opera, which doesn’t sit well with Gilbert or the company that has created a stage company around the pair. Despite the pleads and talks from their friends it seems like these long time partners are destined to take different paths. While it looks as though certain doom lies ahead, the future holds something much better for this talented pair. After Gilbert took his wife to a display of Asian culture, inspiration struck the two began work on what they hope will stand as their finest work ever…The Mikado!This film took home two golden statues at the Academy Awards and I feel it should have taken a few more along with those. The awards Topsy-Turvy win were in the categories for costumes and make up, and no other films were even close in either category in my opinion. If for no other reason you should view this movie for the amazing costumes, which are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a film. Between the lavish costumes, effective make up work, and the other excellent visuals your eyes will not be able to believe how gorgeous this movie is. Even if this weren’t the terrific movie that it is, I would add it to my collection on the basis of how visually powerful the film is. The dialogue is quite good if a little lacking times and the storyline flows smoothly for the entire running time. This movie clocks in one hundred-sixty minutes but you won’t be checking your watch, the screen will always be loaded with something to keep your attention.

This film was written and directed by Mike Leigh, who I feel has created a visual masterpiece with this effort. This is literally a feast for the eyes, with all manner of colors and sights grazing across the screen at all times. This is a very long movie that tends to move on the slow side of the clock, but I never found myself bored or stalled. The pace is deliberate to be sure, but Leigh’s choice is perfect and highly effective. While this is a terrific film for those interested in an almost voyeuristic glimpse into the creative process, not all will find Leigh’s pacing and shot choices worth their time. Even so, I recommend this movie and believe to be Leigh’s best work to date. If you want to see more of Leigh’s films I recommend Naked, Secrets & Lies, Career Girls, and Life Is Sweet. This film features a large ensemble cast, but Allan Corduner and Jim Broadbent take on the true leads. Corduner (Indian Summer, The Impostors) portrays his character very well and also plays well off of Jim Broadbent (The Borrowers, The Avengers), who is also quite solid in his role. The show is stolen however by Leslie Manville (Milk), who is picture perfect in her performance. The supporting cast also includes Timothy Spall (Chicken Run), Wendy Nottingham (Dead On Time), and Martin Savage (Britannic).

Video: How does it look?

“Topsy-Turvy” has always (and always will be) a very visual movie. The 1.78:1 AVC HD transfer has been improved from the previous DVD release. This Blu-ray has sharpened the image a bit, given a bit more “oomph” to the color palette (not that it needed it) and in general just makes it a better-looking transfer that what was previously available. The movie never really looked bad and at only a decade old, it wasn’t in need of any major restoration. Contrast is just as impressive as it has been, black levels are right on and as previously mentioned – the colors are brilliant.

Audio: How does it sound?

The audio has also been remixed and we’ve now got a DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that replaces the old Dolby Digital 5.1 found on the DVD. Again, there’s an improvement here but not so much that it’s a night and day difference. Yes, there’s a bit more depth associated with the film, but overall it’s just a bump up instead of a “Wow!” that can be heard with other titles. Vocals remain strong and consistent throughout, surrounds are present but don’t really take charge and most of the action is located in the front stage.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The previous DVD was noticeably short on supplements, but thankfully Criterion treats their titles with the utmost care. We start off with an audio commentary by director Mike Leigh who gives us a great track. We learn of details of the shoot, the subject matter (circus, anyone?) and pretty much everything in between. Leigh’s comments are insightful and a welcome addition to this movie. Also included is an interview of sorts with Leigh and his musical director Gary Yershon. “A Sense of History”, a short film by director Mike Leigh from 1992 is also included which coincidentally stars actor Jim Broadbent. Some deleted scenes and a “vintage” featurette from 1999 are also included as is the original theatrical trailer and a supplemental booklet with an essay by film critic Amy Taubin.

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