L  e  n  s  V  i  e  w  s

A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz


Introduction: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

The LensView Home Theatre:




Burn After Reading [Blu-ray]


(Joel & Ethan Coen, 2008)






Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Focus Features

Blu-ray: UNiversal Studios Home Entertainment



Region: All

Runtime: 96 minu

Chapters: 20

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: December 23, 2008



Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1



English DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1; French DTS 5.1



English SDH, Spanish & French



• Finding the Burn: The Making of Burn After Reading (5:31)

• DC Insiders Run Amuck (12:24)

• Welcome Back, George (2:51)



The Film: 7
The Coens maneuver about as far as possible from No Country for Old Men In this wild and crazy satire of the espionage business, married to equally wild and crazy attempts to find romance and a new body image to go with it: A kind of Ruthless People meets Blood Simple.

John Malkovich plays Osborne Cox, who is summarily relieved of his position in at the CIA – not his job, just his position. Apparently his bosses and co-workers simply find him intolerable, as do we. Cox is so self-righteous and cox-sure of himself that he quits altogether, only to find that he is fit only to write his memoirs, and he's not much good at that, we wager. His doctor wife (Tilda Swinton) hates him and has been having an affair with philandering federal marshall, Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) – a nut case with a gun.

Meanwhile, back at the Hardbodies Fitness Center, Linda Litzke (veteran Coen artiste, Frances McDormand) declares she has gone about as far as she can go with her body and implores her insurance company to authorize elective plastic surgery. They're not buying it. When she comes across a CD of Cox's memoirs and household budget that has been accidentally dropped in the locker room, she and best friend Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) attempt to sell it back to Cox. Failing that: to the Russian Embassy.

Like Blood Simple there are no best laid plans, merely grossly conceived intentions that result in typically dark Coen mayhem: thus the title.

Brad Pitt is the real gem in this cast of wonders, a fascinating concoction of charm and bungle. His attempts at master spy and extortionist are like the Ruthless Bill Pullman and Judge Reinhold characters combined. As Pitt repeats "Osborne Cox" repeatedly in his telephone interrogation of John Malkovich – an actor I generally find tiresome, especially when he swears – I imagine the joy I will have in reading Cox's obituary. I have to admit: Malkovich's devolving burn is priceless.




The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-rays on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

The high contrast, a bit grainy and somewhat grainy desaturated image can be assumed to be the intended artistic vision of its photographer, Emmanuel Lubezki (the genius who shot Children of Men). Still, it's not the kind of image you want to show off your HD system with, despite its sharpness. Grayscale tends to shorten at the black end. Bit rates are high: in the mid-30s.













Audio & Music: 8/8
The movie is dialogue driven, so it's nice that Universal offers an uncompressed audio mix to help us grasp the meanderings and inflections of the text. Foley effects are wonderfully distributed and executed with realism. I like the music - it's dynamic, immersive and has lots of punch - though it confuses me a little as to what aspect of the drama it intends to support.




Operations: 8
It's Universal's standard issue menu, but without U-Control. What could be easier?

Extras: 3
Slim pickens here. No audio commentary. The two short and casual featurettes interview actors, directors and crew as they discuss the characters and how they fit into a story about spies, fitness, romance and their wardrobes. The Coens admit to creating a movie around the actors they wanted to use, rather than vice-versa. Hmmm.




Bottom line: 7
The movie twitches with Coen delights. It doesn't quite hold together, which is, in part, the point, and it ends too abruptly, which may not be; but it is enormous fun in the details and characterizations. The Blu-ray looks good, if not demonstrable, and sounds great.

Leonard Norwitz
December 20th, 2008









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