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Two terrible lounge singers get booked to play a gig in a Moroccan hotel but somehow become pawns in an international power play between the CIA, the Emir of Ishtar, and the rebels trying to overthrow his regime.
For more about Ishtar and the Ishtar Blu-ray release, see Ishtar Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on August 11, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Adjani, Charles Grodin, Jack Weston, Tess Harper
Director: Elaine May
» See full cast & crew
Ishtar Blu-ray Review
One of cinema's most infamous films receives a bare bones release.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, August 11, 2013
Walk up to any cinephile and whisper the name Ishtar. Some will respond with a chuckle, others a simple grin, some a puzzling look, and a few with "hey, I like that movie! Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty, right?" The most common response, probably, would be something along the lines of "yeah, that really bad movie that cost a fortune and made a pittance?" Rightly or wrongly, Ishtar has come to define cinema failure and poor box office returns for big budget films, the former really more a matter of taste and perspective but the latter certainly undeniable; the film lost millions upon millions of dollars and its production history and the aftermath of its release has become more widely-known, it seems, than the contents within the movie itself. But, hey, maybe it was a blessing in disguise; the film might have attracted, albeit in hindsight, far more viewers in the long run because of its negative notoriety. Nevertheless, Ishtar proves pleasantly better than the reputation that proceeds it. Make no mistake, it's easy to see why the movie is the object of much derision, humor, and even a little bit of ire -- it's clunky, cringe-worthy in spots, and not quite as structurally coherent and genuinely affable as the filmmakers probably envisioned -- but that reputation has ballooned to such an all-encompasing size that it's easy to dismiss the movie outright or fail to see what is a fair effort at action mischief and lighthearted comedy rolled into one.
Wannabe singer/songwriter superstars Lyle Rogers (Warren Beatty) and Chuck Clarke (Dustin Hoffman) work hard at their craft. But the fact of the matter is that they're not particularly good at what they do. Their goal: to become as big as Springsteen and as notable as Simon & Garfunkel. If they recognize their lack of talent, they don't show it. They pursue their career by hiring an agent (Jack Weston) who recommends they play for small change in Honduras or go big(ger) and play in Morocco. They choose the latter but, upon arrival in North Africa, quickly become mixed up in a brewing revolution and a power struggle in the fictional nation of Ishtar. They're approached by a rebel named Shirra (Isabelle Adjani) and also become involved with a CIA agent named Jim Harrison (Charles Grodin). Rogers and Clarke become unwitting pawns and the carriers of a map that, in the wrong hands, could enflame the entire region in chaos. But all they want is a record deal and a place to sing.
Ishtar makes a rather noble effort at creating a classic tale of misadventure in which the heroes hope to accomplish one thing but wind up squarely in the middle of another, finding themselves in the sort of trouble that can get them killed or, here, plunge an entire region into chaos. It's really nothing new, and Writer/Director Elaine May (1972's The Heartbreak Kid, also starring Charles Grodin) does nothing new to freshen the film beyond working magic with two irresistibly charming goofs for characters. Much of the problem lies in the lack of structural cohesion. It's a clumsily told tale, one that's not difficult to follow but certainly one that feels rather disjointed and uncertain of its purpose beyond base entertainment. Perhaps that's all the film was meant to be, and the truth of the matter is that Ishtar does deliver an agreeable little experience. Look past the warts and the certainly dismiss the reputation to find a flawed but viable picture. It's a shame the movie has the reputation it does. There are far, far, far worse out there. Ishtar, it seems, just fell victim to a perfect storm of circumstance.
Yet for all the mess swirling around the movie and the absence of tidiness inside of it, it's at least worth watching for the pairing of Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty. The two brighten the movie considerably, and for all the surrounding faults they manage to bring out its best. They're wonderful together along every step of the way, lighting up the screen with their charming naivetť that courses through the film and, ultimately, defines it (beyond reputation). They're just a couple of guys way over the heads in everything they do -- in life, love, music, and international politics -- but who together manage to overcome most anything they encounter, even if it's largely through dumb luck and a blindness to everything around them. They're not classic cinema goofballs who truly can't see the forest for the trees, but their obsession with scoring a big record deal and their belief that they're capable -- when they're really not -- gives them what it takes to make it through whatever it is they face. As with everything else in the movie, this classic "Buddy" formula isn't at all novel, but Hoffman and Beatty at least make a memorable duo and give fans a reason to watch and pay attention through all the noise.
Ishtar Blu-ray, Video Quality
Ishtar's long-awaited Blu-ray debut isn't accompanied by dazzling picture quality. While the image proves serviceable or better in most every shot, there's nothing particularly impressive about Sony's 1080p, 1.85:1-framed transfer, either. At film's start, viewers are greeted by a fairly dim, nondescript image that showcases flat details and a lifeless color palette. In some early dark scenes, black clothes and dark backgrounds mesh together to where they're indistinguishable one from another. Brighter exteriors, however, both in the U.S. and abroad, show a a fair bit more stability, balanced color, and pleasing texturing. Facial intricacies marginally improve, some heavy winter clothes show rather nice material details, and a scene up around the top floor of a tall building reveals some nice tactile brick textures. In Africa, much the same carries over. Facial lines are nicely resolved, camel hair looks rather good, and the desert floor shows some quality details. Colors liven up under the best-lit scenes, too. Whether natural earth tones or the barrage of colors in a bazaar, the palette showcases balanced and largely accurate hues throughout. There's a bit of edge softness in places to go with some pastier, flatter shots, but generally the transfer reveals a fair film-like texture, accentuated by a light grain layer. There's minor blockiness across a few backdrops, but nothing overly concerning. Fans will wish for better, but for a movie that doesn't have the best of reputations and sort of just snuck out on Blu-ray for a relatively low cost, it's a decent effort.
Ishtar Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Ishtar's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack doesn't fare significantly better than the included original English monaural presentation. Despite the "5.1" encode, there's nothing much to the wider experience beyond what lingers around the middle. Musical delivery doesn't stretch very far. Clarity and stage presence are decent, and "decent" seems to be the ceiling for the entire track. The track finds a little more robust spacing, presence, an clarity at a bar in chapter three. Even then, there's a lack of sonic accuracy and natural replication. A few heavier moments remind viewers that the subwoofer track is engaged; gunfire erupts with a fair enough sense of authority, and explosions late in the film are delivered with decent heft. Additionally, there's a nice bit of low-end support to some Middle Eastern-inpsired Action music. Generally, however, the presentation sounds rather flat, sometimes a touch hollow and occasionally detached. Dialogue comes through clearly enough from the center but sometimes lacks the natural precision of the finer tracks. This one gets listeners through the film with a few nice touches along the way, but a polished, memorable track this is not.
Ishtar Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Ishtar's long-awaited Blu-ray release arrives featureless. Only Sony previews are included. Also note that this is presented as the "Director's Cut" of the film.
Ishtar Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Ishtar might never escape the shadow of its reputation. That's a shame, because there's a better -- albeit still flawed -- movie to see. It's largely the success that it is because of the Beatty/Hoffman pairing, which is outstanding in every scene they share. The rest of the movie is clunky to be sure, but it's far from even approaching the worst of the worst cinema has to offer. Sony's Blu-ray release of Ishtar might allow some to see it with fresh eyes, to go in with a clean slate and leave the reputation and noise as far back as possible. While the Blu-ray is, like the movie, serviceable but hardly noteworthy, it gets the job done of showing the movie with adequate video and passable audio. No collection is complete without Ishtar, if only because of its noteworthiness in cinema history. It's a shame Sony couldn't provide a better package, but this is the best it's going to be for a while. Recommended.
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Ishtar Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: August 6-13 - August 4, 2013
For the week of August 6th, Universal Studios is releasing Oblivion, which is Joseph Kosinski's flawed-but-fascinating follow-up to Tron: Legacy. Other releases include Jeff Nichols' phenomenal drama Mud, with its great Matthew McConaughey performance, the multigenerational ...
• Ishtar Blu-ray Delayed Indefinitely - January 5, 2011
The Blu-ray edition of the legendary movie flop Ishtar, which Sony Pictures Home Entertainment had announced for January 4, has been pulled from the studio's release schedule. A new date has not been announced.
• Ishtar Blu-ray Announced - October 25, 2010
Eat sand, Lawrence; back to your cab, Travis - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has announced Ishtar for Blu-ray release on January 4, 2011. This 1987 comedy starring Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty went down in film history books as a very expensive critical ...
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