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

Wonderful World [Blu-ray]

 

(Josh Goldin, 2009)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Ambush Entertainment & Back Lot Pictures

Blu-ray: Magnolia Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:28:51.701

Disc Size: 23,184,662,572 bytes

Feature Size: 19,967,569,920 bytes

Video Bitrate: 24.96 Mbps

Chapters: 12

Case: Standard Canadian Blu-ray case

Release date: March 16th, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 3372 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3372 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

 

Subtitles:

English, Spanish, none

 

Extras:

• As Soon as Fish Fall Out of the Sky – in SD (4:35)

• Behind the Scenes: Working with Writer/Director Josh Goldin and Actor Matthew Broderick – in SD (1:25)

• Behind the Scenes Montage – in SD (1:20)

• HDNet: A Look at Wonderful World – in HD (4:40)

 

 

The Film: 5
Though shown at four separate film festivals across the U.S. from June to November, 2009 and in limited run in January, 2010 with another film festival in February, Wonderful World, as of this writing, has yet to find serious national distribution, save its release in video this month. The reason is apparent to me, at least, having just watched the movie: The title lies. For some 80 minutes we have to endure Matthew Broderick giving his impression – and a convincing impression it is – of the "world's most negative man" only to find an epiphany in the final ten minutes, all too reminiscent of Magnolia's rain of frogs (Magnolia - Hmmm?)

His encouragingly, but unimaginatively named Ben Singer is not without compassion and some talent, which makes it all the harder to like or endure this guy. Since we like Broderick, we want to like Ben, but Ben makes it difficult. He's like the robot in The Hitchhilker's Guide o the Galaxy, but in place of humor, we get anger – anger which is neither clever nor believable. We might wonder how Ben got that way, but it's not an itch that invites much scratching – not, until the arrival of Khadi (Sanaa Lathan), a woman so striking, so agreeable, so open, that we worry if Ben has got some parts missing. Turns out he doesn't, but he's warped all the same. But I'm getting way ahead of myself.

Ben has been carrying a torch for himself for years – we don't know exactly why until near the end of the movie, but until then, his negativity is infectious. Ben used to be a popular writer and singer of children's songs. But now. . . Only the strong or someone so completely into parallel play can withstand his bitter outlook on just about everything. He has become a career proofreader, working for the same company for the past seven years. He's good at his job, which means he's careful. He doesn't chitchat with his colleagues, which means he's bored with himself and everyone around him. Ben is also divorced and has regular visitation with his tweenage daughter, Sandra (a believable Jodelle Ferland) with whom he is equally unengaged. It's all very depressing.

Ben makes very little money and shares a one-bedroom apartment with a Senegalize man, Ibu (Michael Kenneth Williams, The Wire's incredible Omar Little), a diabetic. Ibu's also a pretty good chess player, and can play the game and engage in meaningful conversation at the same time, something Ben must not be able to do, since he always loses. It is not without significance or hope that Ben allows Ibu the use of the bedroom, while Ben makes do behind a curtain in the living room. One day, Ibu goes into a diabetic coma and Ben (never thinking to call an ambulance – for which he lost most of what little sympathy I had for him) drives him to the hospital. Ibu's prognosis is not good and Ben gets in touch with Ibu's sister, who comes all the way from Africa to be at his bedside when Ben walks in for his visit.

Khadi is not so much a breath of fresh air, as a heaven-sent angel of mercy. Mumurings of a life under all that cynicism begin to take shape until one day, Ben overhears something that drives him back into his shell. But I understate the situation. . . because Ben's reaction is so contrived, even absurd, that he appears almost not human. But the worst is yet to come when we find out the source of all Ben's agonizing negativity – it's then that we learn that Ben isn't an adult at all, but a five year old. And how he grows up in the final ten minutes of the movie isn't worth our trouble. By the halfway point, we know we're in trouble when we start to notice that for a guy without prospects, he always manages to trim his beard to the same length every day.

The tag line for Wonderful World is "Happiness is a state of mind." It's not the cliché that concerns me, but that Josh Goldin's script tells a different story: more like "You reap what you sow." Raining fish notwithstanding, it's only when Ben starts to treat people with some degree of courtesy and listens to their story instead of his own garbage that he can see opportunity instead of exploitation. Ibu is every bit as open as his sister, but evidently he doesn't have sufficient sex appeal to motivate Ben to get off his high horse and treat others with the respect Ibu treats him. So, let's hear it for hormones! That would be my tag line, in any case.


 

Image: 7/8   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Magnolia's Blu-ray is a pastiche of the soft, flat and grainy on the one hand, and the clean, clear and quasi-sharp on the other. I can't imagine a good dramatic reason why any part of this movie should have less than good picture quality, but neither can I see how Magnolia could have got it so wrong. My vote is for production carelessness at the source. In any case, most of the last hour looks pretty good. Color and flesh tones seem right, black levels are good and shadow information is likely consistent with intent. I wasn't aware of transfer issues, DNR, edge-enhancement or ruinous artifacts.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 7/7
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 is, for the most part, a front directed affair, as expected for the material, with ambiance registering in the nightclub scene and some of the outdoor sequences. The Senegalese storm certainly makes one sit up and take notice with its lovely rolling thunder and splashing rain.

 

Operations: 7
As a pictorial graphic the menu design leaves a lot to be desired, but you can't fault it for easy to read windows and accurate access.

 

 

Extras: 2
"As Soon as Fish Fall Out of the Sky: Character & Story of Wonderful World" would seem to be a shoe-in to win this year's award for longest title with proportionally little to say, if it weren't for "Behind the Scenes: Working with Writer/Director Josh Goldin and Actor Matthew Broderick." The former, at four and a half minutes, the latter at a mere one-minute twenty-five. There's also a third: "Behind the Scenes Montage" the third, at about one-minute twenty. Between them they would be sorry excuses for bonus features if it were all we got, and it almost is all we get – if you have an Internet connection at your player. The HDNet featurette is the only segment among them in HD and, while still promotional in spirit, at least we don't have to squint to watch it. Except for the Behind the Scenes Josh Goldin memorial piece, these are all routinely, even embarrassingly promotional.

 

 

Bottom line: 4
Despite Matthew Broderick's chillingly nuanced performance, Sanaa Lathan's engaging beauty and directness, I found this movie hard to sit through. Josh Goldin's script struck me as contrived for effect and neither the screenplay nor his direction felt like it had any sense of direction. The image quality is variable, though it settles down after the first half hour. Extra Features are not worthy of the name.

Leonard Norwitz
March 12th, 2010

 

 

 


 

About the Reviewer: 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.


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