Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Rewrite Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Once upon a time, Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant - About a Boy, Love Actually) was an Award-winning Hollywood screenwriter, but divorce and a string of unsuccessful films have left him with nothing but bad debts and blank pages. So when his agent arranges a job as guest screenwriting professor at a remote university in upstate New York, a desperate Keith can’t say no. Initially hoping to give minimal effort to actual teaching so he can focus on his next script, Keith unexpectedly finds himself becoming invested in his students lives, including Holly (Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler), a single mom looking to start her own new chapter. The Rewrite features an all-star cast, including J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), Allison Janney (“Mom”), Chris Elliott (Groundhog Day) and Bella Heathcote (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).

Film (3 1/3 out of 5 stars)
The Rewrite marks a return to form for Hugh Grant and director Marc Lawrence who previously teamed up to give us two good movies, Two Weeks Notice and Music and Lyrics, and a third, Did You Hear About the Morgans? which was terrible. In all of these movies, Hugh Grant has essentially played the same character, aloof, witty, and sarcastic while still being completely charming and very English. It's a role that he has perfected over time and I can't think of anyone that does that particular combination as well as he does. Probably the American equivalent would be Robert Downey Jr. who also would have been great in this role.

This time, Grant plays Keith Michaels, a once hot screenwriter who won an Oscar for his screenplay for Paradise Misplaced before his popularity and bankability were lost due to his age and a string of bad movies that left  him on the outside looking in again. His long suffering agent calls to tell him that the only job she can get him is a teaching position at the State University of New York in the small community of Binghamton. Left with no other options, Keith accepts the position and makes the trip there, which only makes him feel worse when he arrives. Binghampton is everything that he detests, terrible weather, a small town vibe, and a community of eccentrics.

That includes his new neighbor Jim (Chris Elliott), a Shakespeare quoting oddball, Karen (Bella Heathcote), a college student who practically throws herself at him, and a local waitress named Holly (Marisa Tomei) who wants to attend his screenwriting class. The school faculty are also an eclectic bunch, with Dr. Lerner (J.K. Simmons), a former marine who cries whenever he thinks about his wife and four daughters, and Professor Mary Weldon (Allison Janney), a Jane Austen expert who instantly dislikes Keith. His views on Jane Austen's books and women in movies in general just infuriates her which is bad for him later because she's also the head of the college's ethics committee.

An then there's his students, which are a group of caricatures that really stand out in this movie since the rest of the roles are well developed and interesting. Among these students are the obligatory dour art house snob, the happy girl who wants to make accessible comedies that aren't too deep, a Star Wars fan (who is of course portrayed as a complete loser), and the one student named Clem who actually has some writing talent. Clem is shy and has a crush on one of his fellow students, but of course it's only a matter of time before Keith sets him on the path to happiness. For Keith, what began as an unwelcome chore, becomes interesting and teaching reawakens his passion for writing. Following the usual plot cliches that Keith is very aware of and like to point out, Rewrite arrives at the exact ending that you expect without any surprises. 

It may not seem like it, but I did enjoy this movie. There's a lot of good lines in the movie and the main cast (minus the students) are are fantastic in their roles. As I mentioned earlier, Hugh Grant has this kind of role down cold and I believe J.K. Simmons is incapable of giving a bad performance. Allison Janney is great as the stuffy professor who insists she has a wild side and Marisa Tomei reminds us again why her charm and comedic timing won her an Oscar for My Cousin Vinny. As much as I liked the older characters, I have to say how much I hated the characters of the students. They are all offensive stereotypes but the one that I disliked the most was the continuation of the standard portrayal of a Star Wars fan as an awkward weirdo loser. As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I am so tired of this stereotype. It's cheap and lazy and there's wide variety of fans that span the spectrum of popularity and personalities. Despite that, I would recommend the film as it does offer many laughs and some great performances from some of the best character actors around.
Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
This 1080p transfer looks very nice with sharp visuals, good clarity, and bright and distinct colors. While the first half of the movie has the color fairly leeched out of it to reflect Keith's outlook, the second half of the film begins to warm up along with its protagonist. There's no major digital defects to mention and overall this is a very sharp transfer.
Audio (4 out of 5 stars)
Rewrite's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also strong although viewers shouldn't expect a bombastic kind of mix for a dialogue heavy movie. This mix offers some very nice ambiance during party scenes and the classroom and the dialogue is always clear easy to understand.
Extras (2 out of 5 stars)
There's not a lot of extras included and most of these can be skipped. The only decent one to watch is "The Making of The Rewrite."
  • Deleted Scenes - Two collections of deleted scenes are included: one series of Keith trying to be friendly to an indifferent guard and an even worse series of the students reading their screenplays.
    • The Making of The Rewrite - This featurette runs a little under eight minutes but it includes comments from Hugh Grant, Bella Heathcote, director Marc Lawrence, Allison Janney, Chris Elliott, and J.K. Simmons. Grant in particular seems enthused about the movie and his frequent director Lawrence.
    • Trailer 
    Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
    This is your usual Hugh Grant romantic comedy, but this time it's filled with some of our greatest character actors which really helps this movie a lot. All of the cast are great in their roles but I disliked the stereotypical students that really hurt the movie's momentum. The Blu-ray offers some excellent video and audio quality, but the extras are severely lacking. I enjoyed the movie enough to recommend it mainly thanks to the fine cast and some great lines.

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