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B L U - R E V I E W E R  

A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Brian Montgomery

Secretary [Blu-ray]

 

(Steven Shainberg, 2002)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Brian Montgomery

 

Production:

Theatrical: Lions Gate Films

Blu-ray: Lionsgate

 

Disc:

Region: FREE!

Runtime: 1:51:07.494

Disc Size: 21,638,062,938 bytes

Feature Size: 20,455,286,784 bytes

Video Bitrate: 17.998 Mbps

Chapters: 16

Case: Standard Blu-Ray Case

Release date: October 5th, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080P / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

 

Audio:

English (DTS-HD Master Audio 4934 kbps 7.1 / 48 kHz / 4934 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit))
Commentary: English (Dolby Digital Audio 224 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 224 kbps / DN -4dB / Dolby Surround)

 

Subtitles:

English, Spanish, None

 

Extras:

• Writer and Director Commentary

• Behind the Secretary (7:09)

• Photo Gallery

• Theatrical Trailers

 

Description: Sadomasochism provides the backdrop for a very unusual employer/employee relationship in this very offbeat romantic drama from filmmaker Steven Shainberg. Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a shy young woman, who, after a brief spell in a mental institution, is released in the care of her overprotective mother (Lesley Ann Warren) and hard-drinking father (Stephen McHattie). Hoping to make good on her own, Lee begins looking for a job, and in her free time indulges in her odd habit of inflicting pain upon herself in various ways. Lee is hired as a secretary by E. Edward Grey (James Spader), a grim and ruthlessly efficient attorney who warns her that her work will be both dull and demanding. Lee takes to the job with genuine enthusiasm, and while she's recently acquired a new boyfriend, Peter (Jeremy Davies), she's far more intrigued by Grey's coldly patrician demeanor. While Grey often criticizes Lee, she seems to thrive on his abuse, but one day he crosses a line when he insists upon spanking her after some minor mistake. Lee quite enjoys the treatment, and wants it to continue, but Grey can no longer take pleasure humiliating Lee when he knows that she likes it; he fires her, despite her pleas to be allowed to stay. Finally discovering the key to her sexual and emotional needs, Lee tries to persuade Peter to be rough with her, but he simply doesn't have the taste or talent for it, and Lee soon maps out a last-ditch effort to win back her position with Grey, whatever the cost. Secretary won a special award for "Originality" at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

 

 

The Film:

Steven Shainberg's strange and wonderful "Secretary" spells out the letters and more, but not in an orderly, comfortable way -- it's more as if he were spilling them like dice out of a cup, as a kind of jarring reassurance that they're not going to immediately make sense to us. That Shainberg does ultimately make sense of them (as much sense as we can reasonably demand of the human heart and the other organs that spring to attention at its merest whim) will probably rattle some people. "Secretary" has already been referred to as "pornographic" and "disturbing" by some critics. But both of those words suggest a kind of deliberate prurience that the movie just doesn't have. It's a liberating, kindhearted picture, one whose ending brings with it the feeling that something has finally been shaken free. How comfortable you feel with that is completely up to you.

"Secretary" -- which was adapted, with significant changes, from a terrific short story by Mary Gaitskill -- is also extremely funny in places, as the truest movies about sex must always be. But its funniest moments have very serious underpinnings: There are times when "Secretary" is difficult to watch, simply because it's never easy to watch a character in emotional pain....

If you're familiar with Gaitskill's story, Shainberg's movie isn't going to be the one you expect. A less imaginative filmmaker might have done the story a disservice by turning it into a grim little realist picture, with closeups of fingernails bitten to the quick and seedy-looking office interiors furnished with grayed-out file cabinets and workaday swivel chairs. Shainberg knows instinctively that Gaitskill's story isn't about sexual aberration but about a peculiar and precious kind of understanding between two people. In adapting it, he has expanded it, fleshed it out, reimagined it, essentially recasting it as a fairy tale about erotic love. In its ultimate rush of honest feeling, if not always in its tone, it resembles the lovely and little-seen Canadian picture "Kissed," about a woman who yearns to make love with bodies that are no longer alive. (To call "Kissed" a movie about a necrophiliac is like calling "Moby-Dick" a book about a whale.)

Excerpt of review from Stephanie Zacharek at Salon.com located HERE

 


 

Image:    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

For some reason, like the other two Lionsgate films reviewed at this time, Bad Lieutenant and The Blair Witch Project, the film's title sequence starts out being 'jumpy' - bouncing through the credits. It eventually stabilizes after a few minutes. That being said, the appearance on this release is the best of the three. I own the SD-DVD edition of Secretary, but I don't have it with me to compare. If I remember correctly, it was a competent release for it's time and the boost to HD improves in the standard areas of detail, colors and exporting less noise. Visuals aren't crystal-clear but this has more to do with the original production appearance than any fault of the single-layered, progressive transfer. Grain is very heavy in this release and may sometimes flirt with looking akin to noise. There aren't any distracting artefacts to speak of and the source is predictably very clean without speckles or damage.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music:

Secretary comes with an impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track at 4934 kbps that probably makes the film sound about as good as it possibly can. Lionsgate certainly didn't scrimp in regards to this mastering. The lossless audio has range and depth exporting no discernible flaws and ranks amongst the best sounding tracks that I've heard so far this year. It's simply perfection. The disc also comes with optional English and Spanish subtitles and has identified it as being a region FREE disc playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.

 

Extras:

Aside from a photo gallery, the film comes with two extras. First there's a passable, but short bonus documentary detailing the making of the film. Second, there's a commentary track that I've only been able to listen to a few snippets but sounds duplicated from the previous DVD - it's informative and interesting enough to merit an indulgence.

 

Bottom line:

The film is an enjoyable, perversely romantic, comedy that delves into some unconventional territory. It may not ever look any better than this for your home theater viewing and Secretary's auditory upgrade and low price justify a purchase. Recommended.

Brian Montgomery + Gary Tooze
September 8th, 2010

 

 

 

 

 




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