Unstrung Heroes (1995)

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Released 19-Nov-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1995
Running Time 89:25 (Case: 92)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Diane Keaton
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Andie MacDowell
John Turturro
Michael Richards
Maury Chaykin
Nathan Watt
Anne De Salvo
Celia Weston
Jack McGee
Candy Azzara
Kendra Krull
Giuseppe Andrews
Lillian Adams
Lou Cutell
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Thomas Newman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Danish
Spanish
French
Dutch
Norwegian
Finnish
Swedish
English for the Hearing Impaired
Spanish Titling
French Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Mythically speaking, heroes were the human children of gods. They were a bridge between divine capriciousness and human frailty. In that context, Unstrung Heroes works beautifully - with its unstrung, and basically unhinged, heroic figures creating for us a world that is a mythical universe encapsulated within the "real" world.

     Steven Lidz (played excellently by Nathan Watt) is a bright and sensitive boy growing up in a loving family. His father, Sid (the inimitable John Turturro) is a dedicated man of science who imposes his experiments on his long suffering family. While Steven's relationship with his father is an uneasy détente, his world is made complete by his absolute devotion to his mother, the gentle and tender Selma (Andie MacDowell).

     When Steven discovers some very disturbing news about his much loved mother, it is beyond his capacity to cope, and so he petitions his parents to allow him to take refuge with his two uncles, Uncle Danny (Michael Richards) and Uncle Arthur (Maury Chaykin). These two brothers are regarded as the black sheep of the family - Danny for his offensive and probably bipolar behaviour, and Arthur for his obsessive collecting and unworldliness. The apartment the two men share is filled to the rafters with bundled newspapers, bouncy balls and every kind of thrown away jetsam to which Arthur ascribes deep significance. Steven accepts his uncles' idea that he requires a more fitting name, and consequently refuses to answer to anything other than "Franz." When he sends his mother a parcel containing a batch of perfect pancakes that he prepared, she reasonably becomes concerned that he is "becoming one of them." But "one of them," as well as meaning highly unorthodox and unusual in behaviour, also means coming to understand the heart of matters, rather than just their periphery. Released from the shadow of his bombastic father, "Franz" thrives in the care of his uncles, who constantly aver that he is the "one to watch."

     Unstrung Heroes is an unapologetically sentimental film, presented through the lens of childhood experience, and very effectively directed by Diane Keaton. The characters, whilst all unconventional, are utterly credible, and the story line has sufficient unpredictability to make it a satisfying viewing experience. The brothers are not portrayed as buffoons or simpletons, more as functional beings in an alternate world. Steven/Franz negotiates that world with the unqualified acceptance of a child, and extracts the marrow from his experiences with his uncles.

     The acting is impressive throughout. John Turturro manages to retain sympathy and humanity in a role which could easily have shown him as an ogre, Andie MacDowell provides an enchanting and beautifully subtle performance as the troubled mother, and Nathan Watt is convincing and focused throughout - a credit to such a young performer. The scene stealing star turns are Richards and Chaykin, who create a duo of misfits that are utterly endearing and very well portrayed. Whilst it's inevitable that Richards' performance will be compared to his Seinfeld character, Cosmo Kramer, Uncle Danny, while sharing Kramer's mania, is altogether a more fragile and multidimensional creature. Maury Chaykin is utterly charming and almost hypnotic as Uncle Arthur. There's an atmosphere of Peter Pan's Tootles in him - that innocent and gentle quality of a person who sees what others do not. His performance is rich and warm and provides the sentimental heart of the film.

     I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching Unstrung Heroes. The story was beguiling, the acting was heartfelt, and the direction was subtle and low key, avoiding any overblown histrionics and allowing the characters to do the work of story telling. The themes are enriching and the atmosphere is well maintained throughout the production. If you're in the mood for a warm and sentimental story, this could be just the ticket.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 16x9 enhanced which appears commensurate with its cinematic format.

     Although the print had a tendency to softness and low contrast, it was reasonably clean and sufficiently bright to not irritate the viewer. There was no low level noise present, and the detail was actually quite good, when you looked past the haze of softness. Fortunately, in this particular film, it fitted the hazy, sentimental nostalgic atmosphere of the content, so although I doubt it was a deliberate technical decision, it was not too great a distraction.

     The colours were generally very good although sometimes the reds had a tendency to bleed a little. There was no evident edge enhancement and skin tones were warm and accurate.

     There were no MPEG artefacts seen. Aliasing is very rare and very mild when it does occur. Film artefacts are very rare and not distracting at all although there are occasional problems with motion blur.

     Subtitles were a little abbreviated in their content, but well timed and clear to read.

     This disc is dual layered, but I did not detect a layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     There are three audio tracks on this DVD. The default is English Dolby Digital 2.0, and there are also Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 and French Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack present. I listened principally to the English track, and briefly to the alternate language tracks. I detected no major problems in the alternate language presentations.

     The dialogue was clear and easy to understand most of the time, with no obvious distortions or problems. Occasionally, some of the dialogue was a little muffled, and this could present an irritation. The audio sync was slightly out, but not so badly that it distracted.

    The musical score by Thomas Newman was quite fascinating. Aside from the normal emotive swells and bells to which we are accustomed, there were some really interesting pieces played throughout the film. Cacophony, anti-tonality, and interesting phrasing contributed to some pieces sounding quite "jagged" which lent itself perfectly to the action on-screen. I really enjoyed listening to something a little different for a change.

     The surround channels were put to as good an effect as a 2.0 soundtrack can offer. The sound was directional and interesting, and even the subwoofer saw some action when it was appropriate for it to do so.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are no extras on this disc.

Menu

     The disc opens on a 16x9 language menu that has a photograph from the film, and is silent. On selecting your language option, you are then taken to another silent 16x9 main menu with again, a photograph from the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     There appears to be no difference between the two versions, so for PAL formatting, R4 is my pick.

Summary

     Uncle Danny, in one of his quieter moments says, "All of us are cripples in some way." And therein lies much of the sentiment of the film. We need to accept the reality of ourselves and the help of others to operate in this world. This film has got its emotional tone just right, and it is a truly enjoyable, warm and moving experience. The transfer is sufficiently acceptable to not deter one from watching, so if you're feeling like a feel-good film, grab the tissues and get in front of this little charmer.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Saturday, December 27, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

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