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Everywhere you look, love is causing chaos. From the bachelor Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who, on his first day at 10 Downing Street, falls in love with the girl who brings him his tea, to a hopeless sandwich delivery guy who doesn't think he has a chance with the girls in the U.K., so he heads for Wisconsin. From aging rock stars, to a stony headmistress, to a monolingual Portuguese housemaid--love arrives in many forms, shapes and sizes. Here, ten separate--but intertwining--stories of love all lead up to a big climax on Christmas Eve, proving that love is the driving force in all of these people's lives.
For more about Love Actually and the Love Actually Blu-ray release, see Love Actually Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on November 2, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman
Director: Richard Curtis (I)
» See full cast & crew
Love Actually Blu-ray Review
A snazzy, fan-favorite Brit romcom arrives on Blu-ray...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, November 2, 2009
Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge. They were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around.
Cynics may scoff, cinephiles may brace for sappy impact, but Love Actually -- Oscar nominated screenwriter Richard Curtis' directorial debut -- is actually a charming, unexpectedly irresistible romantic comedy that represents a rarity in the genre. Its script is both breezy and weighty, its performances hilarious and heartwrenching, its actors witty and honest. In spite of an arguably indulgent deluge of characters and plotlines, Curtis manages to tell a refreshingly simple tale; one filled with passion and whimsy, humor and heartache. It's a bit bloated and, like most ensemble comedies, falls flat on occasion, but is nevertheless an endearing odyssey into the most essential human emotion.
Recounting Love Actually's cast of lovable losers and lovelorn romantics is a daunting chore sure to leave some readers overwhelmed before they even sample the film. Rest assured though, Curtis' steady hand keeps everything in check, making his rather sprawling romcom a seemingly effortless endeavor. It all begins with Billy Mack (Bill Nighy), an aging rock star struggling to insert the words "Chirstmas" and "snow" into a classic Troggs song and, to the dismay of his longtime manager (Gregor Fisher), being transparent with every radio host and television personality he encounters. From there we meet Jamie (Colin Firth), a dimestore novelist who discovers his girlfriend is sleeping with his brother. Heartbroken, he retreats to the countryside where he meets Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), a softspoken maid who doesn't understand English. Liam Neeson plays Daniel, a recent widower tasked with burying his wife and raising his young, reclusive stepson, Sam (Thomas Sangster). However, he soon learns Sam isn't depressed because of his mother's death (which had been expected for some time), but because he's in love with a girl (Olivia Olson) that doesn't know his name. Daniel's sister Karen (Emma Thompson) is facing a personal crisis as well. As Christmas quickly approaches, she begins to suspect her husband (Alan Rickman) is falling for the wiles of his secretary (Heike Makatsch), a suspicion that proves to be all too true.
Meanwhile, we learn Karen's brother David (Hugh Grant) has recently been elected Prime Minister. He's not only been tasked with cleaning up after a timid administration, he begins to grow fond of one of his staff members (Martine McCutcheon), has to contend with a stubborn American President (Billy Bob Thornton), and navigate the tricky political waters of a country desperate to embrace new policies. Along the way, we meet a variety of other anxious lovers. Newlyweds Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Juliet (Kiera Knightley) are forging a happy marriage, but Peter's best friend Mark (Andrew Lincoln) isn't as enthused about their pairing as he lets on. A meek graphic designer (Laura Linney) is forced to choose between love and family; a choice she dreads but knows she'll have to make. Bumbling waiter Colin Frissell (Kris Marshall) becomes convinced that a trip to the US will give him opportunities he doesn't have in the UK. And unassuming sex-scene stand-ins John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page), two of the most disarmingly sweet characters in the film, fall in love in the strangest of circumstances (or positions, as it were). Everyone is connected in some way or another, and everyone is poised to finally find love. After all, it's Christmas.
For all intents and purposes, Love Actually shouldn't work. It has too many characters, too many storylines, too much of everything. Yet it does. It not only works, it works smashingly, dissecting love, lust, and loss with startling precision and scoring a healthy mix of tears and laughs at every turn. While barbed gags dot each affair, truth dominates the storylines, granting the film a relevance most romantic comedies forgo in favor of easy one-liners and contrived couplings. Nothing is as it seems in Love Actually. Cliches are present, but are ultimately skewed; convenience is an operating force, but each connection develops quite naturally; and romantic love, while a primary element, isn't the focus of each relationship. Counsel and friendship are just as important to Curtis, as are restraint and loyalty. Whereas most writers and directors would concentrate on the expression of love, he pulls back the curtain to reveal the innerworkings of the emotion itself. He never settles for the obvious (other than the obvious pairings), and he rarely gets sidetracked by lesser subplots.
Unfortunately, Curtis should have trimmed a few more scenes from the film. I'm sure hacking apart his initial three hour cut was a painful process, but further editing would have made Love Actually a near-perfect genre classic. Frissell's Wisconsin adventures are aimless, silly distractions; Grant's downtime is amusing, sure, but otherwise a complete waste of time; Rickman's brushes with his character's secretary grow repetitive long after having made their point; and some of the musical interludes could have been chopped in half. That being said, other storylines could have used more screentime. I love the Peter/Mark/Juliet subplot, but it feels like it's missing two or three additional scenes. Likewise, Mia is a total conundrum. Is she a villain? A vixen? A woman who gets her kicks pursuing married men? I have no idea, nor does Curtis. While other characters are given backstories, conflict, and motivation, she's little more than a forbidden fruit. Still, Neeson and Sangstar are magnificent, Grant and McCutcheon are perfect together, Thompson and Linney provide emotional gravitas, and Nighy and Fisher reignite the film's fuse every time they appear.
Is love actually all around us? Love Actually pleads a convincing case, shaking its characters' foundations, finding humor in everyday encounters, and unearthing romance in the unlikeliest of places. Curtis doesn't pander to his audience (well, too much); he simply invites them into a cozy little world where paths cross, stars align, and all a man or woman needs is love. I for one am fairly smitten with the results.
Love Actually Blu-ray, Video Quality
Universal's 1080p/VC-1 transfer isn't particularly flashy or striking, but it is quite impressive, offering romcommers rich colors, natural skintones, deep blacks, and a notable upgrade from its standard DVD counterpart. While the film's scenes bound between starkly lit exteriors and warm interiors, Michael Coulter's ever-evolving Christmas palette is strong and stable throughout. Sure, contrast is a bit hot at times (especially during the first act), but the image remains altogether vibrant and attractive. Detail, though slightly inconsistent on occasion, is satisfying as well, delivering decent textures, revealing delineation, and sharp edges. Discerning videophiles will notice the studio has applied some minor noise reduction -- look to Ejiofor and Knightley's wedding for the most noticeable instances -- but it's thankfully kept to a minimum. A faint grainfield is still present, and there isn't any significant artifacting, crush, banding, print damage, or ringing to muck up the proceedings. Will home theater enthusiasts pop in Love Actually to wow their friends and family? No, nor should they. However, fans will find a competent, reliable, and commendable transfer fine-tuned for their viewing pleasure.
Love Actually Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Can a chatty romantic comedy and its faithful but front-heavy DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track surpass expectation and woo audiophiles? When Love Actually's music kicks in, absolutely. Both the film's orchestral score and pop-infused soundtrack sound wonderful, filling every speaker with rewarding tones and satisfying swells. However, when the music subsides, all that remains are conversations, whispers, laughs, and pithy banter, hardly the makings of a sonic powerhouse. Beyond bass beats, LFE output is subtle and subdued; beyond strings, rear speaker activity is limited to light ambience; beyond horn runs, the soundscape is only punctuated by dialogue. Of course, anything more would undermine the integrity of the original mix, rendering Universal's lossless track a somewhat underwhelming but thoroughly respectful offering. There are moments of note -- Rickman and Thompson's shopping trip drops the listener in the middle of a bustling mall, a children's holiday play features convincing auditorium acoustics, and Neeson and Sangstar airport run is suitably involving -- but prepare yourself for an inherently limited, oft-times two-dimensional experience.
Love Actually Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of Love Actually includes all of the special features that appear on Universal's 2004 DVD release, as well as a few extras that were only available overseas. I do wish the studio had upgraded all of the film's supplemental content with high definition video, but the features are nevertheless candid, thoughtful, and worth some investment.
Love Actually Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Love Actually is smart, funny, and surprisingly poignant, sidestepping the usual genre pitfalls to weave a rather thorough exploration of the human heart. Yes, Curtis makes a few missteps along the way, but his romantic comedy is a hilarious holiday treat worthy of its place in any romcom addict's collection. Universal's Blu-ray release is impressive as well, besting its standard DVD counterpart with a strong video transfer, a faithful DTS-HD Master Audio track, and a healthy collection of special features. At such a low pricepoint, it's a great release to add to your high definition library this holiday season.
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