Thursday, November 21, 2013

Paradise Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
Paradise tells the story of 21-year-old Lamb Mannerheim (Hough), who after a nearly fatal accident, is beginning to realize that the world is much bigger than her small, God-fearing Montana town. Armed with a big, fat insurance payout and a checklist of untried sins, there’s only one place for her first taste of temptation…Las Vegas!  Now this wide-eyed, innocent girl will have to navigate the bright lights, seedy bars and dark alleys of “Sin City.”  And, with the help of a few new friends (Brand and Spencer), Lamb just might survive her strange adventure and discover what it means to really live.  The film is written and directed by Academy Award? winner Diablo Cody (Juno), and delivers a hilarious tale of innocence lost and paradise found.  Paradise stars Julianne Hough (Safe Haven), Academy Award™ winner Octavia Spencer (The Help), Russell Brand (Get Him to the Greek), Academy Award™ winner Holly Hunter (The Piano) and Nick Offerman (NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”). 

Film (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)

21 year old Lamb Mannerheim (Julianne Hough) was in a near fatal plane crash which took the life of her fiancée, and left her burned and scarred. Lamb comes from a small town and a conservative religious family. She is returning to church for the first time since her accident to testify about her experience. While the congregation expects a heartfelt testimony about how the love of God got her through this terrible tragedy that is not what they get. Lamb is angry and after giving gory details about her accident and her resulting medical conditions she declares that there is no God.

Lamb has received a significant monetary settlement from the accident and the church was expecting a cut of the action. Instead Lamb heads for Las Vegas to begin racking up sins. In Vegas, Lamb plans to have her first drink, gamble and defy her upbringing at every turn. She has a tote bag with a stack of cash and rents a luxury suite but still packs her own dishes to avoid catching diseases from Sin City.  Lamb befriends “bartainers” Russell Brand and Octavia Spencer who show the small town girl the real Las Vegas, pointing out that the strip is actually Paradise, Nevada.  

Diablo Cody is known for being quirky and satirical but this film missed the mark for me in many ways. This film tried too hard to make its case. Lamb walking around Las Vegas openly shocked about homosexuals, Jews, and anything else she was taught to fear in her hometown and it all came off as too contrived.  Paradise did have some sweet moments as Lamb bonded with her two new friends, people very unlike herself and both Russell Brand and Octavia Spencer’s characters had some genuinely touching moments with her.

I wish the film had been about more than one long night in Vegas. Maybe it was all a little too easy for me but I would have liked to have seen a character like Lamb really leave home (for good, not just a vacation) and start to see the world as a whole in a different light. I could easily imagine someone like that being touched by new friends, the type whose friends are their family – but that takes time. I would have also liked to have seen more about Lamb’s life before her vacation to Vegas and more of a slow but profound transformation over time.  All in all, the character and the plot provided an interesting concept but it could have been improved upon.
Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Paradise is presented on blu-ray in 1080p high definition with a 1.85:1 ratio. The detail is good and the viewer spends a lot of time looking at Lamb’s burns which have varying colors and textures. The glitz and glam of Vegas shines and you will notice the sparkling dresses and shining lights. The issues are minimal and overall the blu-ray provides a solid image.
Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Paradise is presented with a DTS- HD Master Audio Mix. Both music and dialogue are at even consistent levels and the slots and crowds create an authentic Vegas atmosphere. Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
Extras (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)

The special features are brief and generally uneventful and are listed below:
  • Commentary – Writer/Director Diablo Cody provides audio commentary. She discusses having her directorial debut coincide with pregnancy. Her commentary is entertaining in general but could have used a second collaborator to fill in the gaps.
  • Behind the Scenes – Diablo Cody, Russell Brand, Octavia Spencer and Julianne Hough provide individual interviews discussing the expected aspects of the films and their contributions.
  • Theatrical Trailer

Summary (3 out of 5 stars)

Julianne Hough is a very convincing Lamb. She appears younger (in age and innocence) than in her other films and her character is completely believable. Russell Brand and Octavia Spencer are even more believable as the Vegas lifers with big dreams but a likely future exactly where they are. Diablo Cody seems to understand broken personalities and unlikely friendships. The film was often touching and sweet but also overly contrived. The drama did not unfold naturally and I would have appreciated lengthier character development. It was a good film, worth watching but not one I'm likely to watch again. 

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