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Gifted (Blu-ray) (2017)
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Details At A Glance
Featurette-Inside the Equation
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Gifted: HBO First Look
Year Of Production
||Cast & Crew
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Roadshow Home Entertainment
Michael Kendall Kaplan
John M. Jackson
Candace B. Harris
NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.
2017's Gifted is the fourth feature film from director Marc Webb, who makes an astute return to smaller-scale productions after taking charge of the two astonishingly inept Amazing Spider-Man pictures. Carefully returning to reality with a modest $7 million budget, Webb welcomely dials back the blockbuster theatrics to construct a film from the heart, recapturing the earnest spirit of his 2009 debut feature, the truly wonderful (500) Days of Summer. Gifted falls short of perfection due to screenplay shortcomings, but it's an encouraging effort from the director, even though it unfortunately failed to receive any attention from the major award shows. With Webb at the helm, this is an agreeably breezy and involving watch, and as a result it never feels like monotonous homework.
In rural Florida, Frank (Chris Evans) is the uncle and primary guardian of seven-year-old Mary (Mckenna Grace), whom he has raised since infancy following the tragic suicide of his genius mathematician sister. Although Mary is a child prodigy with amazing mathematics skills, Frank strives to give his niece a normal childhood, enrolling her in a local elementary school which is unable to cater to her extraordinary abilities. With Mary's teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate), quickly noticing her genius, Frank declines an offer from the principal (Elizabeth Marvel) to secure a scholarship at a private school for gifted children, due to concerns that the change will rob Mary of her childhood and mirror his late sister's unhappy upbringing. These events attract the attention of Frank's estranged mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who arrives from Boston seeking to gain custody of Mary and guide her to become one of the world's top mathematicians. Refusing to give up his niece, Frank faces off against Evelyn in court, where conflicting philosophies and personal shortcomings are highlighted as the legal system decides Mary's fate.
With a script by Tom Flynn (which featured on 2014's Blacklist), Gifted delicately inspects the custody battle, persuasively presenting both sides and their conflicting outlooks. In Frank's care, Mary receives a normal childhood and the chance to make friends, but might never live up to her full potential. Meanwhile, under Evelyn's roof, Mary will get to attend private school and might become a world-renowned mathematician, but risks experiencing the same despondency which led her mother to commit suicide. Webb and Flynn thankfully eschew cheap melodrama, and do not paint anybody as a brazen villain - although the emotional bond between Frank and Mary is tangible and easy to connect with, Evelyn's viewpoint is not entirely unreasonable. Flynn's screenplay adequately develops the characters, while the narrative is not as predictable as one might assume in the first instance. However, even though the film establishes Bonnie as an important figure in the story who cares about Mary and enters a tentative relationship with Frank, she is absent for long periods of time, with the second half downgrading her to a minor character who mostly appears silently in the background.
Although telemovie comparisons are tempting, especially with the limited scope and the story's dramatics, Gifted avoids a made-for-TV feeling due to the gravitas that Webb brings to the material. Cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh (Alice Through the Looking Glass, The Upside) is mostly handheld, generating a vérité vibe which effectively amplifies the drama, but it's also not unnecessarily shaky or ostentatious. Additionally, Webb allows authentic, unforced moments of tenderness and joy to sneak into the movie, which gives more dimension to the characters. It's a pleasure to watch, for example, Mary enthusiastically singing karaoke with Frank's neighbour Roberta (Octavia Spencer), or Mary playfully climbing on Frank at the beach while they talk about God and faith, silhouetted against a gorgeous sunset. The little moments between Frank and Mary are sublime, and while they do not exactly serve the plot, such scenes heighten the attachment we develop to these characters. It helps that the script's witty dialogue sparkles as well, creating gentle moments of humour which further humanises the material. Meanwhile, Rob Simonsen's emotive score enhances the story's power, perfectly accompanying the handsome 35mm photography.
A superlative cast further separates Gifted from a fluffy Lifetime movie, with the outrageously talented Mckenna Grace making the biggest impression as young Mary. Grace never comes off as irritating or cloying, instead delivering a well-rounded and emotional performance, handling the dramatic material with the confidence of a seasoned veteran. She also sells Mary's smartass attitude, showing fine comedic timing. Moreover, Grace and Evans are perfect together, sharing ideal chemistry and giving genuine warmth to the scenes they share. It's a nice change of pace for Evans, who plays the blue-collar everyman role with well-judged restraint. The chemistry between Evans and comedian/actress Jenny Slate is equally charming, and Slate is endearing in every frame, but the two do not have enough scenes together. (Evans and Slate actually entered a relationship after filming concluded.) Meanwhile, Lindsay Duncan (About Time) brings gravitas and authority to her role without turning Evelyn into a cartoonish villain. Digging even further into the supporting cast, Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures) is the movie's secret weapon, offering laughs and sassiness, as well as genuine warmth. There is not a dud performance in sight.
Gifted does admittedly feel like a commercial product which shuns grit and realism, particularly as it approaches the finish line when the screenplay glosses over complicated processes to reach a pat, happy ending. Not everything works (in one predictable moment, Mary awkwardly catches Bonnie after a night of passion with Frank), but the film receives immense aid from the rock-solid performances as well as the smooth direction and editing. Moreover, Webb manages to infuse the material with honest-to-goodness emotional resonance, in the process rediscovering his competent dramatic chops which were missing in action for those two awful Spider-Man films. Without reinventing the wheel or breaking new ground, Gifted is a satisfying example of good, old-fashioned sentimental moviemaking done right, and it is worth your time.
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An increasing rarity in modern cinema, Gifted was captured on 35mm film by cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh, who made use of Arricam and Arriflex cameras. Unfortunately, while the powers that be at Roadshow Entertainment thankfully chose to release a Blu-ray edition of this title, they also elected to completely cheap out on us. This 101-minute movie is squeezed onto a single-layer BD-25 (with extras also included on the disc), resulting in a pitiful average video bitrate of 16 Mbps, which is just about on the same level as a stream on Netflix. Presented in 1080p high definition at its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1, the resulting AVC-encoded presentation is, in a word, inconsistent - not the abomination I feared per se, but it leaves room for improvement, making it all the more disheartening that Roadshow went down this road.
I consulted the bitrate monitor on my Sony player while viewing the disc, and it's always obvious when the bitrate plummets. The first few shots of the movie look superb, with finely-resolved grain, satisfying sharpness, and gorgeous textures. However, a long shot as Mary eats breakfast at 1:30 suddenly lacks refinement and precision in terms of grain and textures, which coincides with the bitrate dropping. Also see the medium shots of Frank as Mary jumps on the school bus for the first time around the 2:30 mark - such coverage looks smeary, with Evans resembling a wax sculpture, and with fine detail and grain resolution taking a serious hit. Again, this coincides with a sudden drop in bitrate. During these times, the Blu-ray transfer looks more like a stream - and I should know, as I compared it to the streams on both Stan and Netflix. For crying out loud, when Frank and Bonnie speak at 8:40, the bitrate stays below 8 Mbps, which is pathetic and again very noticeable, looking soft and with indistinct fine detail. Shadow detail is merely adequate in darker scenes, such as Frank and Bonnie meeting at the bar at the 18-minute mark or the 37-minute mark - as usual, Evans' facial hair is poorly resolved.
Still, there are some really nice-looking scenes, such as Mary and Evelyn spending time together at the 44-minute mark, during which textures look nice and grain is beautifully resolved. But this is the big issue with the encode - for every scene with a bitrate above 20 Mbps, there's another scene with an average bitrate below 10 Mbps. And while there are some really nice-looking shots (including a close-up of Mary at 29:15 for which the bitrate spikes to 30 Mbps), there are even more smeary, soft shots with poorly-resolved grain. I could go on and on about which scenes look great and which look bad, but suffice it to say, the inconsistency is frustrating as hell. Interesting, I also detected some minor film artefacts - for instance, there are white specks on the right of the screen next to Evelyn at 76:50.
On a brighter note, colours are usually impressive despite the limitations of a 1080p encode. The achingly gorgeous sunset shot at 30:15, for instance, shows astonishingly deep orange and yellow hues, and since the shot involves silhouettes, it looks extremely sharp despite the low bitrate. Skin tones look pleasingly balanced as opposed to cooked, though a lick of High Dynamic Range would undeniably give the image more pop. (Unfortunately, at the time of writing, there's no 4K HDR presentation anywhere in the world, neither streaming nor disc.) Contrast is above-average, and therefore black levels look nice and inky when Frank and Bonnie hang out on a boat at night, and depth as a whole throughout the transfer is respectable. Highlights are also sufficient more often than not, though of course the transfer struggles to resolve specular detail when harsh light sources are on-screen - some lights and windows look completely blown out (see the courtroom windows in a wide shot at 63:38). Despite the level of compression, I was thankfully unable to detect any unsightly compression artefacts such as macroblocking, aliasing or banding (though aliasing is evident in film clips in the special features, interestingly enough). In final analysis, Roadshow's encode is watchable and at times very good, but there's room for improvement across the board. It's a big shame that Roadshow chose to compress the hell out of this to squeeze it into a BD-25. Casual viewers without top of the range TVs probably won't see an issue, but videophiles like myself with large televisions will see the shortcomings in spades.
The disc only includes one subtitle stream: English for the hearing impaired. The track is well-formatted and easy to read.
Video Ratings Summary
The primary audio track on the disc is a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, which is in keeping with how it was originally mixed and exhibited (Atmos would be overkill for this production, let's face it). Descriptive audio is also available on the disc, encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0. The DTS-HD MA track is actually 16-bit as opposed to 24-bit, and admittedly I did detect a slight lack of punchiness that could be rectified with a 24-bit encode - again, Roadshow did their best to compress this onto a BD-25 by any means necessary. However, it's still comprehensible and clear enough, with the track primarily staying front-centred since the movie is heavily dialogue-driven. Surround activity is very subtle and borderline non-existent in several scenes, with very perfunctory use of the rear channels to deliver mild atmospherics (such as at the beach) and Rob Simonsen's score. Scenes inside bars, with commotion and music, also exhibit some respectable surround activity and low-frequency effects. Mostly, though, this audio track is all about the dialogue, and thankfully it's always easy to hear and comprehend. There are no issues with prioritisation. Additionally, the encode exhibits no bothersome anomalies like sync issues, popping, clicking, or drop-outs. This is a perfectly adequate and satisfying track, and I'm not sure if the audio could be too much better given the nature of the production.
Audio Ratings Summary
|Surround Channel Use|
In terms of special features, we get some deleted scenes and some puffy behind-the-scenes featurettes. There is actually a play all function for the extras: the total length is 30:59. Additionally, on start-up, there's an anti-piracy ad, as well as trailers for The Big Sick, The Only Living Boy in New York (also directed by Marc Webb), and The Circle. These are thankfully skippable. The nicely themed main menu, meanwhile, has music and clips from the movie.
Interview: Director Marc Webb (HD; 1:26) This isn't really an interview solely with the director, but instead a short EPK piece about Webb, with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. Unfortunately, it's nothing substantial.
Inside the Equation (HD; 1:36) Another puffy EPK piece about the mathematics in the film, with Octavia Spencer also drawing parallels to her role in Hidden Figures.
Cast (HD; 2:05) Yep, more promotional EPK puff, this time concentrating on the actors. And again, it's not long enough to be genuinely insightful.
Story (HD; 2:07) Another short YouTube promo featurette about the story and such.
Georgia (HD; 1:55) The final EPK promo piece is about the location where Gifted was shot.
Gifted: HBO First Look (HD; 13:31) Making use of the same interview sessions as the previous extras, and edited in a similar style, this is a promotional featurette for television with film clips, interviews and on-set footage. Disappointingly, there is overlap with the previous extras, but there is thankfully a fair bit of new footage to be seen, including interview snippets with writer Tom Flynn, and footage of Mckenna Grace reciting a song she created to remember a mathematical equation. However, it's still not enough, and I'm left yearning for a more in-depth look at the making of Gifted.
Deleted Scenes (HD; 8:16) Five deleted scenes are included here, which play as one huge chunk, with no chapter stops to break up the scenes, and no title cards to introduce them, either. These are also presented unpolished, without grading or any film artefact clean-up. Nevertheless, I loved watching these. It's understandable why some of them were cut, including a scene between Frank and Evelyn that's extremely on the nose, but I still enjoyed seeing more footage of these characters interacting. There is one scene between Frank and Bonnie that should probably have remained in the final cut, as it explains her sudden absence.
R4 vs R1
NOTE: To view
non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually
also NTSC compatible.
Some of the featurettes on Fox's Region A are named differently, but are identical to those included on the local disc. However, the Roadshow disc still misses out on:
There are also additional language options on the Region A disc, if that means anything to you. I'm giving the win to the American disc. If you have a Region A player, that's the edition to buy.
- Superior video presentation
- Theatrical Trailer
Gifted was overlooked by critics and made little impact at the box office, but it's a lovely movie, thanks to the talents of an outstanding cast and some sharp dialogue. It's more watchable, emotional and memorable than most Oscar baiting dramas. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Despite its dismal box office performance in Australia ($550,000 in all), Gifted comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Roadshow Entertainment. Unfortunately, cost-cutting measures forced the movie to be compressed onto a BD-25, resulting in a noticeably compressed 1080p transfer. In addition, the extras aren't much to write home about. If you really like the movie and can't be bothered importing a superior edition, Roadshow's disc is adequate, I guess.
© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Friday, November 29, 2019
|DVD||Sony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output|
This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver.
This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
|Amplification||Samsung Series 7 HT-J7750W|
|Speakers||Samsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up|