Titled Woody Allen Project 2016: Café Society (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Once again, it's that time of year... the new Woody Allen is here!  It's a great, reliable traditional.  Each summer we get a new Woody Allen film in theaters, and each Fall/ early Winter, we get it on DVD and blu-ray.  Even this year, when he paused production to write and direct a (quite good!) mini-series for Amazon "television," he still delivered another top quality film right on time.  And just to bring home how impressively consistent this is, Allen hasn't missed his one-film-a-year schedule since 1976!  And you bet, "Untitled Woody Allen Project 2017" is already listed on the imdb as filming, starring Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  What's our movie for 2016?  Café Society!
So let's start by answering what we all want to know about a new Woody Allen picture?  Is he starring in it?  No, though he does narrate.  Instead we have Jesse Eisenberg (To Rome With Love) essentially in the Woody role.  He starts definitely giving a Woody-like performance, though the character evolves into something I don't think Allen could really play as the film progresses.  In our story, Eisenberg leaves Manhattan for California with dreams of hitting it big in late 1930s Hollywood.  That's not as unrealistic a goal as it might seem, because his uncle, Steve Carell (in a role originally cast with Bruce Willis, who got replaced), is a big shot film agent.  So he gets a job doing small jobs for his uncle and swiftly falls in love with his secretary, Kristen Stewart, not knowing that she's having a secret affair with Carell.  When she chooses Carell over him, he moves back to New York to go into the nightclub business with his gangster brother and Blake Lively.  But of course you know their paths will cross again...
This is a beautiful looking film, shot by the Academy Award winning DP of Reds and Apocalypse Now, Vittorio Storaro, and full of long, sharp tracking shots.  There's a great cast, also including Parker Posey and a cameo by Twin Peaks' Sheryl Lee.  Even Stewart, though not exactly a surprising scene stealer, was more than capable and certainly superior to her time in those Twilight movies.  The old Hollywood stuff lends itself to some nice moments and costumes, but this movie doesn't get caught up in tribute like Midnight In Paris; it's just focused on the effective, if familiar, story.  You've seen all these themes in Allen's work before; but it's still an excellent execution.
I was a little worried that Amazon acquiring Allen's latest film for distribution meant it would be trapped in streaming-only limbo or something, or just an MOD thing like they did with Wiener-Dog.  But no, they promptly issued DVD and blu-ray releases through Lions Gate.  In fact, the blu is a combo-pack, so I can give us an SD/ HD comparison, too.
2016 Lions Gate DVD on top; 2016 Lions Gate blu-ray on bottom.
2016 Lions Gate DVD right; 2016 Lions Gate blu-ray left.
Let Allen start shooting digitally, and he gives us a film in 2.00:1.  Unusual, but the compositions look great, so no complaints.  And the image quality looks terrific in HD, with lots of excellent detail and color.  It's sharp and looks filmic except for the lack of grain.  In SD, though, you get a lot of compression smudginess and you lose a lot of small detail.  If you're a viewer who only sometimes springs for blu-ray and other times still picks up DVDs to save a few bucks, you'll find it's worth the extra cost on this one.  Audio is a nice 5.1 mix in DTS-HD on the blu, and we're given English, English HOH and Spanish subtitle options.
It tells you how starved we've become for extras on Woody Allen releases that I'm actually excited for the tiny little promo featurette they've started including on Allen's last couple releases.  This one is the shortest yet, clocking in at two minutes and thirteen seconds.  At least it's not padded with film clips!  It's just very brief interview clips with Posey, Stewart and Lively on the red carpet before the film's premiere.  There's also a stills gallery of promotional and behind-the-scenes photos.  No trailer.  It does come in a nice slip cover, though.
Lions Gate has given us an excellent release of a very good film.  Sure it's light on extras, but it's Woody Allen; that's par for the course.  So besides that, there's not much more you could ask for than what we've got.  Now, hopefully they'll give us a physical release of Crisis In Six Scenes.  If not, I'll see you all here next year for Untitled Woody Allen Project 2017.

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