Thursday, June 23, 2011

Burlesque - Blu-ray Review


Blu-ray/DVD Release Date: March 1, 2011

This film was beaten to death when it was released last year. It currently has a 36% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been thanklessly thrown out with the garbage it seems. I was eagerly awaiting it's release and wanted to check it out but with such a backlash (and very little time on my part) I missed it during it's theatrical run. Which is quite a shame now in hindsight because despite all the negativity I found the film to be every bit as entertaining as I had initially hoped it would be.

Review Vital Stats:
Format: Blu-ray
Player: Playstation 3
Monitor: Samsung 40' LCD Series 5
Picture Quality: 1080p
Sound Quality: DTS HD - English

Loves: Musicals, Christina Aguilera (the singer)
Likes: Christina Aguilera (the actor)
Neutral: Cher (the singer and the actress)
Hates: Cliche storylines, plot devices, locations, etc...
Confused: Is this the same Christina Aguilera that is currently on the television show "The Voice"?

The Hollywood musical has no where left to go. There are only three ways to do a musical anymore it seems with the first being the Moulin Rouge style, casting well known actors that can handle the vocal requirements. Second would be the Sweeney Todd style, casting well known actors who cannot handle the vocal requirements (despite giving it that old college try that is). Third would be what I will refer to as the Burlesque style, casting a musical talent in the lead role in hopes that they can act when needed (another example of this would be the 2006 musical Dreamgirls). I know a lot of people out there were both curious and cautious when it came to the question of whether or not Christina Aguilera could pull off a lead role in a movie and rightfully so. The funny thing is that she wasn't what they or us should have been worrying about because the film has plenty of other bigger issues that needed to be addressed.

Ali (Christina Aguilera), short for Alice, is your basic country girl (without the country girl accent of course) who dreams of coming to Los Angeles and becoming a star. In no time flat she quits her job, packs up and is on the first one way bus to the city where dreams can come true. Upon arriving in the bustling city she lands a waitressing job at a local club called Burlesque which not surprisingly features a burlesque stage show of varying types such as musical numbers and more comedic works. Ali quickly learns the tricks of the trade and after convincing the club owner, Tess (Cher), to let her audition for her she finds herself up on the stage where she eventually becomes the star attraction and is well on her way to making her dream a reality.

Ali is out on the prowl for a place that will make her a star.

Okay, let's get the obvious out of the way first, the story in Burlesque is not very good. And by that I don't mean it is poorly executed but more like it doesn't really break any new ground here when it comes to story or plot. The character who aspires to prove themselves to the world by leaving their rural roots behind for a big city that is just waiting for the next star to shine is probably one of the most over done cliches in film history. If you are even familiar with the concept from film or literature of a person leaving their past behind to find a brighter future then you will know exactly where this story is heading before the opening credits begin to roll.

I hold romances and most comedies to the same rule, as long as it does what it sets out to do and does it well then a lot can be forgiven when it comes to well traveled territory like this. Burlesque contains just about every cliche in the book such as the young starlet who is in danger of being corrupted by the possibilities of becoming famous, the club that is so far in debt that it would take a miracle to save it, the older and/or less disciplined former star of the show getting the shaft and the would be romance between the leading lady and a guy trying to find his place in the world. That's alright though, I can handle a little cliche just so long as the important stuff (the music, the acting) is handled well enough and I think Burlesque did a fine job in that regard. Once again, it's nothing that will set the world on fire but it was presented competently enough.

Tess introduces us to her burlesque night club in a proper musical number.

The biggest question mark was always Christina Aguilera. Her vocal talents are unmatched and she is undeniably beautiful but that doesn't always equate to a good actor. While the opening moments may lead many to reach for that off button on their remote, I found that once she started working at the club she sort of blossomed some how. Perhaps it just took me a while to get in tune with the film but after about ten or so minutes I had no problem believing that she was this naive young girl from the mid-west with a hidden talent searching for stardom. She plays Ali with such energy that I found it impossible to not get caught up in the moment whenever she would accomplish a seemingly impossible goal or got hurt in some way. This is not to say she is an amazing actress but I gotta give it to her, you can clearly tell that she poured her heart and soul into the part and never let up.

Probably the biggest compliment I could give her though is that when she was asked to share scenes with the immortal Cher or the impeccable Stanley Tucci as Tess's assitant, she held her own admirably. Speaking of the other actors they all did what was asked of them, which wasn't much in some cases, and served the film well in most regards. Tucci has always been a favorite actor of mine but even I have to admit that his performance here as Cher's assistant is nothing more than a repeat of his assistant to Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Cher herself did a fine job (despite looking like a drag queen) and smartly played against the cliche of the impossible to please club owner. I liked that Ali had to fight to get Tess to notice her but when she did finally take notice she took Ali under her wing and attempted to mold her into a real star which is in stark contrast to most club owners in films like this who usually try to exploit their new found talent. Plus both Cher and Aguilera shared a really good chemistry with one another that helped convey that mother/daughter relationship they forge.

They may love each other but I never cared one way or the other.

Everyone else was mostly window dressing, Cam Gigandet as Ali's (boy)friend Jack was a pleasant enough screen presence but was instantly forgettable and Kristen Bell as the unruly Nikki played the part of the woman who can't accept the fact she has been replaced well enough. The only person to really get the short end of the stick out of the bunch was Alan Cumming who was criminally underused here. Most importantly though is that everyone involved seemed to be really into what they were making and all appeared to be having a good time. And that is ultimately what won me over, there was just such a good vibe given off by the performances and the aesthetics that I couldn't help but feel energized by it.

So far we have a script riddled with cliches and a cast of actors that range from good to decent. With those being key components to just about any movie what else is there that could possibly have made me like it so much then? That would be the music of course and not only that but the accompanying stage acts as well. Burlesque isn't the type of musical where the characters sing about their feelings on a whim and everyone around them bursts into an award winning dance routine. The film is very much rooted in reality when it comes to how all the musical numbers are presented. They all take place on the Burlesque stage and each one of them is completely unique from one another.

It's showtime!

Other than the semi unnecessary opening song there isn't a bad one of the bunch. And all the stage performances are not your usual song and dance routines. The idea behind a burlesque performance can be acquainted to a sketch comedy of sorts with the performers playing their parts for laughs. Heck, not even all the performances even have a proper musical act to go along with them and most (other than Christina's of course) are lip-synced to older recordings of songs. If you go into this expecting musical numbers like those found in traditional musical films then you might feel a little misled. However, I think that is what I liked most about each of the acts and what made them feel so different from each other. But the true star of the show is none other than those amazing vocals from Christina Aguilera.

When she first belts out her solo suddently the energy generated by that performance and all the others by her became downright infectious at times. The decor and look of each performance as well was stunning at times and very reserved at others which helped compliment the songs that were being performed. It wasn't uncommon for the film to switch gears from a quick paced piece (a fun little song called Express) to a slow and sorrowful ballad (the powerful Bound to You) in a matter of minutes. And I think I should elaborate a little because I mentioned that these songs are not exactly used to express how a character is feeling which is a tad wrong. Each song is relevant to what is happening in the lives of the characters which gives them much needed weight but they never directly reference themselves in the songs they sing. I just wish the story that the songs were conveying was worth a dam. I cannot think of one song that felt out of place and I often times found myself in constant awe at how the film was able to balance all the different emotional beats each song carried with it.

Without a doubt the music and stage performances steal the show.

Once again I would like to reiterate...I have some mixed feelings on the film. The story is pretty much useless, the romance plot is done well but isn't very important to anything that happens, the acting is fair with a surprisingly good Christina Aguilera in a role that was perfect for her and you get some amazing stage performances and music that is scattered throughout the entire film so that you never find yourself getting bored from all the cliche elements present. So who exactly would I recommend this film to...? I would have to say that if you are either a fan of Christina Aguilera and/or musicals in general then this is a solid bet as a rental and a possible purchase if you are feeling saucy. But...if you find yourself a little tired of seeing the blond, beautiful and talented country girl rise up to be a star storyline then you might want to steer clear unfortunately. Lastly though I would like to state that even with the issues I had with the storyline I still cannot understand why it has attracted so much hatred from film critics. If you are not convinced from my words then at the very least go on your own instincts with it and forget all the negative feedback it has generated. Because you never know, you might just find you like it or even love it.


What's on the disc?

I am really happy with what was included here. I was kind of worried when I started listening to the commentary track and discovering a distinct lack of engaging information but all the other features made up for it thankfully. You get some decent insight into how the film came to be and how Christina Aguilera got the part as well as her deep involvement with the project from the very beginning. And anyone that can't get enough of the music and performances from the film will find a lot to get lost in with plenty of behind the scenes info. Overall this is a pretty solid collection of features that compliment the film's greatest strength (it's music) nicely.


Sean recommends a different look for Ali.

Audio Commentary - Director/writer Steve Antin gives a very tech heavy description of the film. Describing how some scenes were constructed over time using pieces from other scenes and what changed from the first drafts of the script to the final. Every now and then he points out the actors and gives a couple anecdotes about them but overall it is a rather dry and sometimes interesting listen.

Alternate Opening (6:31 min) HD - This original opening scene plays more like a music video than a scene from a movie. The opening scene in the final cut of the film plays out much better and this one was wisely ditched. However, it was strange to notice the sequence of events in both scenes are the same except played in reversed order from one another.

Blooper Reel (5:09 min) HD - Your standard set of flubbed lines, people laughing uncontrollably and....feet bloopers? Cute and amusing but hardly relevant.

Burlesque is Back (3:19 min) HD - I learned more about the history of the film's production from this one little feature than the entire commentary track. You find out how exactly the idea of the film came about (it was inspired by a performance by Christina Aguilera) and how instrumental both Aguilera and Antin were in getting it on screen.

Performers: The Cast of Burlesque (8:50 min) HD - Interviews with various cast members who give their thoughts on the film and their characters.

Setting the Stage: Production Design of Photography (4:10 min) HD - No matter your feelings on the movie itself, there is no denying how good it looks and this little feature covers the basics on how they were able to mix a 1920's look into a modern day setting.

Christina never fails to impress while on stage.

Inside the Dressing Room: Creating the Burlesque Look (5:46 min) HD - Just like the set design, the outfits all the characters wear (especially Christina) were key to nailing that period look and this feature delves into the costuming decisions that were made such as the difficulties with the green dress she wears near the end, which was fantastic looking by the way.

The Set List: The Music & Choreography of Burlesque (11:02 min) HD - If you haven't guessed by now the musical numbers and stage performances are the main attraction here and this feature covers the music used (some of which were written exclusively by Christina and her team for the film) and the dance choreography that went with the music. Good stuff and anyone that loved the music in the film will love this as well.

The Burlesque Jukebox HD - A collection of music performances from the film presented in full and uncut form. While I really like this feature it was kind of a let down to find out that the two songs that Christina Aguilera wrote (and performed at the end of the film) were not included here for some reason. Other than that this is a very welcome feature for those out there that liked the music but found the movie itself to be a bit much to slog through again.

"Something's Got A Hold On Me" Dancers Version - (2:36)
"Long John Blues" - (3:14)
"Guy What Takes His Time" (2:26)
"Express" (3:57)
"Jungle Berlin" (1:59)
"That's Life" Deleted Sequence - (3:14)

Final Verdict:

I know that you might still have some reservations on whether or not I am being honest or am just plain crazy but I know what I like and somehow I came away from Burlesque entertained and invigorated. It won't win any awards for writing or acting but that doesn't stop it from being a good time. The Blu-ray disc offers outstanding picture quality and the music was captured beautifully with the HD soundtrack presented here. The extras go way beyond what I was expecting and provide a good bit of insight into the production of the film. I would have to say check it out when you get the chance.

Movie   -  B-
Video   -  A+
Audio   -  A+
Extras  -  B




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