To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Twentieth Century Fox’s indie/foreign/art-house and specialty company Fox Searchlight, the studio has kicked off what will be an entire year of new to Blu-ray titles and anniversary rereleases of some of their biggest critically acclaimed and/or box office hits.
Beginning with fan favorites including Napoleon Dynamite and Garden State (with future titles including Kissing Jessica Stein and The Full Monty), perhaps the most anticipated new high definition release in the celebration was in the long overdue Blu-ray debut of the internationally beloved Oscar winning Once from director John Carney.
For Carney, of course, the timing couldn’t be better as his upcoming music-centric release Begin Again starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and Hailee Steinfeld is scheduled to open in a month following a successful film festival run.
And reminding us of where he began is this gorgeous new presentation of Once. More than just Carney's work, the film not only launched its musical star duo (and former real life flames Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard whose post-film relationship was chronicled in the excellent documentary The Swell Season) but also inspired a new generation of filmmakers with its earnest, humanistic approach.
Reminiscent of the early work of Jim Jarmusch, which likewise encouraged Gen Xers to grab a camera, the smash success of Once reminded filmmakers and viewers alike that human relationships are still far more compelling and universally relatable than any number of big budget special effects.
While the Blu-ray upgrade of the title disappointingly boasts no new special features from the ones that were included on the previously released DVD, in a side-by-side quality comparison of my old standard definition disc and the Fox BD on my 240 hz, 1080p LED television with surround sound revealed a major improvement in video and audio alike.
Testing it out in a daylight scene where the limitations of the DVD are on full display given Once’s minimal budget, handheld style and understandably lackluster technical specs, the Blu-ray presentation has more than made up for any cinematic shortcomings.
In addition to driving home the sound in its low, confessional dialogue as well as Hansard's guitar busking wails, visually the Blu-ray adds depth as well as a clear vibrant border that had been missing before in the DVD’s soft video-like image.
Although it’s easily recommended on the improvement in quality overall, obviously a digital copy, deluxe soundtrack (although most of us own the Oscar winning music already) or some kind of “DVD proof of purchase” discount on the upgrade would’ve added to the high definition release's allure.
Nonetheless, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not alone in hoping for new bonus features in time for the inevitable next anniversary re-release of either the title in 2016 or Fox Searchlight’s twenty-fifth anniversary, in which the studio could perhaps feature Once along with several of their other stellar offerings in one big Searchlight box set.
Original Movie Review
Once is the perfect title for this critically acclaimed sleeper by writer/director John Carney that was not only nominated for the Grand Jury Prize but earned the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
A movie this rare and beautiful can only be named Once and as I sit down to collect my thoughts, I realize that it seems nearly impossible to describe the film in a way that would do it justice.
Sure, it’s charming and magical, yet real and simplistic—nearly perfect musical filmmaking, although to call it a musical is an inappropriate shortchange as it contains no dance numbers, doesn’t follow the genre mold and relies solely on people expressing earnest emotion through song for personal and artistic reasons instead of simply the big razzle dazzle showstoppers we’re used to viewing.
However, this being noted, you will catch yourself nodding and toe-tapping along from the heartfelt compositions in this partially autobiographical work from Carney, formerly a member of the band The Frames who was a struggling Dublin musician while his love lived in London.
Carney cast his old band-mate Glen Hansard as a character simply named “Guy," who lives with his father and works as a “Hoover” repairman by day but comes alive at night singing his lungs out on street corners.
And it's there where he meets “Girl,” (Marketa Irglova) a Czech immigrant with whom he embarks on a musical friendship with the stirrings of a romantic attraction, although they are still stuck on past loves and sublimate their budding feelings through gorgeous collaborations.
Not only have most critics expressed in their reviews that they found themselves wanting to see the film more than once, I found myself instantly curious about the film’s singer who struck me as a cross between Connor Oberst and Damien Rice.
Simply put, I was ready to not only immediately view the eighty-eight minute whirlwind one more time but purchase the soundtrack as well. It’s a hopeful movie that will make audience members long to have kept up practicing their pianos and guitars all those years ago and music lovers shouldn’t miss it.
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