Country Strong

 

Country Strong

Written & Directed by Shana Feste

2010

 

Cast:

Gwyneth Paltrow

Tim McGraw

Garrett Hedlund

Leighton Meester

 

Production:

Theatrical: Material Pictures

Video: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

 

Video:

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: 42.11 GB

Feature Size: 31.18 GB

Avg. Total Bit Rate: 35.49 Mbps

Runtime: 118 minutes

Chapters: 16

Region: All

 

Audio:

English DTS-HD MA 5.1 (48 kHz/3703 kbps/24-bit)

French DTS-HD MA 5.1

Portuguese DTS-HD MA 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Subtitles:

English, English SDH, French, Spanish & Portuguese

 

Extras:

• Original Ending (2:50)

• 4 Deleted Scenes (4:30)

• “Shake That Thing” Extended Performance (4:10)

• 2 Music Videos (8:40)

• 3 Featurettes (29:35)

• Putting the Words in Their Mouths (8:50)

• A Little Bit Country (6:40)

• Movie IQ

 

Presentation:

Locking Blu-ray Case: BD x 1

Release Date: April 12, 2011



Introduction

One might walk away from Shana Feste’s movie about the dangers of quitting rehab before one’s time - among other things - feeling like you’ve just been winked good and proper.  Here’s a film where ace country music star, Tim McGraw, doesn’t sing a note; Gwyneth Paltrow rocks as a country music diva, Garrett Hedlund (formerly Patroclus to Brad Pitt’s Achilles) charms, seduces and mugs suggestively while singing the country walk; and Leighton Meester (in a previous lifetime, just another pop singer) just about stealing the movie from Oscar winner Gwyneth.  She sparkles in every scene, rising about pedestrian material, whereas poor Gwyneth drowns in hers.


    

 

Country Strong, so named for the song title that Kelly Canter (Paltrow) feels is THE song for her comeback, is one of those ironic titles – like “How I Won the War” – that is supposed to inspire the characters and the audience to be all that we can be.  Except that the song itself is just another generic off-the-shelf country music song that couldn’t inspire a wildebeest fleeing from a lion.  More a wish than an anthem.  Indeed Country Strong, the movie, is all about wishes.


    


Movie: 4

Kelly leaves a residential rehab program before her time at the insistence of her husband, James (McGraw). Beau Hutton (Hedlund) had been helping her get stronger while helping himself to her bed. He’s a sweet guy who hasn’t quite figured out what he wants to do with his gift – either of them.  But Kelly insists her husband/manager feature him as an opener for her comeback tour.  James has his eye on Chiles Stanton (Meester), who may or may not be banging him, but who, in any case has serious stage fright equal only to her desire to become a big star.


    

 

It seems that near a year ago Kelly miscarried, practically on stage, while in one of her drunken fits.  James loves her as much as he tries to control her.  He seems to think that if she can make a successful comeback on stage maybe they can reconcile.  They have one of those come—closer-a little-further-away type relationships.  Overanxious to make this happen and, perhaps to ward off Beau’s play for his wife – or her play for Beau – he sets up a comeback tour of three gigs, the last of which to end in Dallas where the aforementioned misdeed was performed.  Her fans, like fans everywhere, want her to both succeed and fall on her face, which she just about does in the first two venues.  Meanwhile Chiles gets over her stage fright and Beau tries to be all things to Kelly and dodge her husband at the same time.


    

 

Country Strong plays itself like the lyric of one of those country music songs that has all the ingredients.  You know: a broken heart, alcohol, trucks (or, in this case, buses), cheatin’ wives, husbands, lies, whatever, fights.  I think someone did some jail time in their past, but I can’t be sure.  In the context of a song anything is possible; in real life anything is plausible; but in a movie a certain amount of coherency helps direct the audience’s attention.  It’s not enough to root for Kelly – with or without James - or Beau.  In Ms. Feste’s hands our concern for the fate of this or that character changes with almost every scene.  Her characters are too broad and too mercurial.  I’m guessing she feels this reflects real life: that relationships, motivations and feelings are dynamic.  This may be, but to present such fluctuations without clarity risks our not knowing, or in the end, not caring, how things will work themselves out.


    

 

Image : 8/8

I was, frankly, surprised by how vague this image is.  I have no reason to think this is the fault of Sony’s transfer, which seems to free of defects, noise reduction, or enhancements.  The image is just dull.  Perhaps my expectation was otherwise because of the glitter that comes with country music shows.  To be fair, most of this movie is off-stage and that’s a place where things are more depressing than not.  And, indeed, when the action moves to the stage, the image comes alive with stage lighting and strobe effects never diluting the experience.


     

 

Audio & Music : 8/5

I confess that country music is not a genre that holds my attention for very long.  That said, there were a couple of songs that grabbed me some: Gwyneth’s rollicking stage performance of “Shake That Thing” despite a rather horridly suggestive costume, distractingly shot from as low as permitted, and the duet between Garrett & Leighton “Give in to Me.”  But for the most part, the songs, including the title song, are routine.

 

Dialogue is clear, properly shaped and located across the screen, altered effectively for the various venues.  Ditto this for the music and vocals, whether played and sung on a tour bus, a hotel room, on this stage or that, large or small.  Audience presence and reactions are also correct and supportive of the action.


    

 

Extras : 4

There are three music videos – one of which is presented in Dolby Digital, non-anamorphic, letterboxed and without any contrast tweaking. I found this as surprising as it was insulting to those of us committed to high definition and disrespectful to the performers.  I was looking forward to Gwyneth doing the full extended cut of “Shake That Thing” - but instead it was just about unwatchable.  To be fair, this segment is not designated as a “music video” but as an “extended performance” - still no excuse. The other two videos are in HD (whew!) and should give the fans what they want, and more: Miss Gwyneth doing “Country Strong” and Sara Evans singing “A Little Bit Stronger.”  The Deleted Scenes contains one semi-valuable bit of fleshing-out where Beau and his inebriated mother discuss Kelly, but even so it was better deleted.


    

 

The three featurettes in high-def are back-slapping EPK segments:  “Friend in High Places” (13:45 min)which spotlights the cast; “Putting the Words in Their Mouths” (8:50 min) the best of the three, presents a look at how the songwriters work with the actors,]; and “A Little Bit Country” (6:40 min) examines the costumes, which, as often than not, are pretty dreadful.

 

Recommendation : 4

All in all, Country Strong is a manipulative, unpleasant movie in which the audience is left with the feeling that there is nothing heroic here - this despite good work by the actors.  The audio is very good, the image, passable. Bonus Features are minimal with weakly presented music videos.


    

 

 

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

April 3, 2011

 


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