Looking for Eric (Blu-ray) (2009)

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Released 2-Feb-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Director Ken Loach and Actor Steve Evets
Featurette-United We Stand Documentary (28.36)
Short Film-Another City : Short by Ken Loach (25.47)
Short Film-Happy Ending (3.20)
Music Video-Music Video (3.03)
Deleted Scenes-Deleted Scenes (11.34)
Featurette-Directors Selected Shots (11.34)
Featurette-40 Minute Q&A (48.09)
Theatrical Trailer-Theatrical Trailer (1:14)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2009
Running Time 116:49
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Ken Loach
Studio
Distributor
Icon Entertainment Starring Steve Evets
Eric Cantona
Stephanie Bishop
Gerard Kearns
Stefan Gumbs
Lucy-Jo Hudson
Cole Williams
Dylan Williams
Matthew McNulty
Laura Ainsworth
Max Beesley
Case ?
RPI ? Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (4608Kb/s)
English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 (4608Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

     I recently had the pleasure of reviewing the standard definition release of this charming film. The Blu-ray release follows hard at its heels. The question for purchasers with Blu-ray equipment is whether it is a worthwhile purchase. Some people, like me, will never buy another standard definition film where the Blu-ray exists. For others, the question is one of price and performance. Quality really depends on three issues. Whether the video transfer is superior, whether the sound transfer is superior and whether there are sufficient interesting Blu-ray exclusive extras. See below for my views on each.

     In the meantime, here's what I said about the movie:

     British film maker Ken Loach shares with fellow Brit Mike Leigh the mantle of king of social realism.

     Whilst Leigh occasional cracks a smile (Secrets and Lies, Happy-Go Lucky) Loach's writing is often a far more serious place. His greatest works, (Kes, Riff-Raff, Raining Stones and My Name is Joe) are all snap shots of working class Brits struggling to make headway in an uncaring world. His last film The Wind that Shakes the Barley was a harsh look at mother England's rule of Ireland at the turn of the last century. It therefore comes as a surprise that there are plentiful laughs to be found in his latest film Looking for Eric. What is perhaps not surprising is that those laughs are interspersed with drama and heartbreak.

     When we first meet Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) he is literally and metaphorically going round and round in circles. Trapped in a bottomless funk he drives his car the wrong way around a roundabout until the inevitable collision. Picked up from hospital by his best mate Meatballs (John Henshaw) Eric is at a loss to explain his actions.

     In fact, he is a man adrift from almost everything. A postman by occupation he lives by the strength of his friendships. He needs to as his home life is a disaster. It's seven years since his last partner departed leaving him with two step kids in his care, the late teens Ryan (Shameless actor Gerard Kearns) and young teen Jess (Stefan Gumbs). But the problems in his love life stretch far further back. For reasons he has kept to himself Eric walked out on his wife Lily (Stephanie Bishop) 30 years ago and hasn't spoken to her since. Their daughter Sam (Lucy Jo-Hudson) is the only reminder of the last time he was truly happy.

     Actually, that's not true. Eric has been intermittently happy when watching his beloved Manchester United play and his name sake the great Eric Cantona slotting incredible goals. At the crossroads of his life, stealing dope from Ryan's hiding place, Eric is visited by Cantona himself. The great Frenchman, a figment of Eric's imagination, then schools the unhappy Manchurian in the lessons of life.

     To a Manchester United supporter Cantona is a godlike figure. Captain and chief goal scorer for many years he was passionate and controversial (witness the kung-fu kick that saw him banned for nine months) and prone to spout philosophical comments.

     If there is anyone who can inspire Eric to give himself a go it is Cantona. By chance Eric is forced into meeting with Lily and begins reconciling with his past and gently rekindling their love. Amongst this tenderness is a far more serious sub plot. Ryan has got himself associated with nasty hard case Zac (Steve Marsh) who forces the youngster to keep a gun at Eric's house so that it will be ready whenever he needs it. Eric discovers the gun and tries to stand up to the hoodlum with predictably poor results. Whilst Cantona is on hand for inspiration it is ultimately to his friends that Eric needs to turn to solve his problems.

     Looking for Eric marks, as said, something of a departure for Loach, injecting humour into the gloomy landscape. He is ably assisted by a fantastic performance from Steve Evets as Eric Bishop. Evets lives and breathes the fags, lagers and faded dreams of Bishop. Each deep sigh resonates with the realisation that life could have been so much better.

     It is not entirely clear how closely Cantona the actor represents Cantona the individual. Regardless, he plays himself well and has a ball with the role. When Eric Bishop says to him "people forget that you are just a man" and Cantona replies "I am not a man … I am Cantona!", staring him down with Gallic intensity before breaking into a wide smile, he is not only playing with his fame but also showing his skill as an actor.

     Loach likes to work with unknowns or non-actors. He has gathered a wide cast of stand-up comedians and sometime actors to perform alongside Eric as his post office mates. Excellent comic timing makes the humour stand out proud.

     The film is not perfect. The script, by long time Loach collaborator Paul Laverty, comes to a juncture where it doesn't know whether to tell the love story of Eric and Lily or the underworld drama. The result is at times an uneasy mix. The conclusion of the film, however, which draws from the crime story is so funny, serious and effective that worries about inconsistency are washed away.

     Whilst some knowledge of Cantona is helpful, the inclusion of film clips of the great man in his prime are spine tingling whatever your level of football appreciation. Sometime actor Cantona, who co-produced the film, describes in it his desire to give his soccer fans "a gift" whenever he walks on the field. With this film Loach and Evets have given us an undeniable gift, a diamond in the rough.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Looking for Eric was shot on 35mm film and projected in the cinema at 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Here’s what I said about the DVD quality:

     That ratio has been preserved for the DVD release. It is 16 x 9 enhanced.

     Looking for Eric would not fit into anyone's list of great looking films. That is no insult to Loach and Cinematographer, Barry Ackroyd. For the film captures the grit and grim reality of everyday life in working class Britain. Colours are subdued, flesh tones are on the pale side and there is not a gleaming surface in sight. There is slight grain throughout however the night scenes and dimly lit interiors are very murky and grainy.

     The transfer is sharp enough and there are no problems with compression or artefacts of any kind. There was a minor telecine wobble during the opening credits which, it must be said, name over a dozen contributing financiers!

     There are sub-titles in English for the hearing impaired which are entirely accurate.

     No one would ever think of using a Ken Loach movie to show off their home theatre system. That having been said it is immediately apparent after popping in the Blu-ray that the image quality is markedly superior to the standard definition. The level of detail is increased so that every line and crevice in Steve Evets' face stands out and there is a greater degree of sharpness. The dimly lit interiors that were troublesome in the standard definition are better handled by the Blu-ray.

     The colours are very stable and the shadows are well defined. This is still a film with that gritty, working class Britain look but it just makes that grit easier on the eye!

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

Audio

    Looking for Eric DVD carried an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack running at 448 Kb/s. Here's what I said about the sound for the film.

     Again it is no slight to the film to say that the surround effects are subtle as most of the film comes front and centre. The sub-woofer is also used subtly.

     Aside from the normal soundtrack there is an audio descriptive Dolby Digital 2.0 sound track running at 224k/bs.

    Audio sync is fine.

     At the cinema it was sometimes a struggle to hear all that was being said. It is not that the actors are particularly bad at enunciating - it is just that they have such strong accents. Steve Evets speaks clearly but quickly and his postal worker mates tend to throw in rapid fire lines in heavy accents. Eric Cantona is very French and his accent is strong. One of the joys of DVD is to be able to play the film with sub-titles (even with the Hearing Impaired audio cues) so as not to miss a line. This was particularly useful for picking up Cantona's pearls of wisdom - an example; he who is always checking the weather forecast will never go out to sea!

     Music is by six-time Academy Award nominee George Fenton. He provides one of his sunniest sound tracks with a lot of brass thrown in for good measure.

     The Blu-ray of Looking for Eric has two additional soundtracks. For reasons which are not entirely clear Icon have two competing High Definition audio formats on their recent Blu-ray releases - True HD and DTS HD Master Audio. Most Blu-ray players are capable of playing both and even the lively internet forums have gone quiet in the last year over which sounds better. They are both uncompressed audio formats and in a comparison test with volumes set identically it is impossible to tell them apart.

     Once again this is a film that does not cry out for High Definition sound. Aside from the dialogue there are really only a few moments where the surround is prominent and the sub-woofer is only a subtle presence. Perhaps the music of George Fenton benefits the most, having an extra punchiness and bite.

     The film is 4% longer than the DVD due to PAL speed-up but there is no perceptible difference in the tone.

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

Extras

The Looking for Eric DVD contained only 2 extras.

Theatrical Trailer (1:14)

     A short trailer for the film.

Audio Commentary - Ken Loach and Steve Evets

     Ken Loach is now in his 70's. He is a careful speaker and deliberate thinker. This is not a track wanting to delve too deeply into the themes of the film although he does state at the outset what he thinks the film is about. The commentary track does benefit greatly from the interaction between actor and director.

     Loach shoots in a fairly unique style. Fellow Brit director Mike Leigh workshops his actors to develop the script. In contrast, Loach has a script but gives it to the actors piece by piece. This has its upsides and downsides. Evets frequently relates how certain scenes came as a great surprise. The greatest, of course, was the appearance of Eric Cantona. Loach had provided Evets with the script only up to the point where Cantona speaks. The footballer was hidden on set until the moment when Evets turned around, and almost passed out, to see Cantona standing in the room.

     There are other examples in this film and Loach's other films where this technique was used to surprise and motivate the actors.

     It is fairly low key for a commentary track but definitely worth a listen. It starts with an almost literal bang as Evets relates how in the opening scene (Loach's films are shot in the order of the script) a stunt woman driving a vehicle travelling in the other direction swerved into their path causing a collision. Fortunately, says Loach, only he the expendable director was bruised.

     The Blu-ray set contains a veritable swag of additional material, none in High Definition. These are:    

United We Stand Documentary (28:36)

     If extra value is needed then this featurette is almost worth the price of admission alone. It is really a film about football and the love of the game. Not only do we see Ken Loach in the stands watching his beloved Bath play but there are interviews with die-hard supporters and heavy hitters , including Sir Alex Ferguson. This does have some bits from the film, including behind the scenes material, but mostly it is about the why of football fanaticism. A great short.

Another City : Short by Ken Loach (25:47)

     A tribute to his beloved Bath FC, this film was made for TV in 1998. It is a bar rooms and change rooms look at a sporting club fighting to climb out of the doldrums. The technical standards are appropriate for 1998 TV. The story is an honest and an endearing one. Bath, a semi-professional club, have never been within screaming distance of the Premiere League and old news footage of a crowded stand contrasts with the middling attendances in the film. This is grass roots soccer far away from Man United and the glitter clubs. Worth a watch.

Happy Ending (3:20)

     A short from Loach with a football slant. A boy and his dad stand in a cinema queue trying to decide what film to see.

Music Video

     Some of the theme music from the film set to images from the movie.

Deleted Scenes (11.34)

     There are deleted scenes here but it is a rag bag filled with other snippets including some bloopers. The key missing scene is where Eric goes to the evil bloke’s place to deliver the mail and is humiliated yet again. It was probably dropped as it laboured the point.

Directors Selected Shots (11:34)

     Loach apparently personally selected these scenes from the film as the key moments. Which are they? That would be telling!

40 Minute Q&A (48:09)

     Hosted by Jason Solomons from The Guardian, this is a comprehensive Q&A. Solomons is joined by Loach, Evets and Cantona and the scope of discussion is wide ranging including filming without giving the actors much of the script and the British love of football. Although a fair bit of the material is covered in the commentary track it is worth watching for the comedy of Evets and the aura of Cantona.

R4 vs R1

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

    The pre-production review disc of this Blu-ray was not marked as to Region. There is no Region A release as yet.

Summary

     Looking for Eric is a sometimes prickly blend of humour and drama but it is a worthwhile ride featuring a brilliant performance from Steve Evets and a great cast of supporting characters including Eric Cantona.

     The Blu-ray quality is a step up from the DVD quality but still reflects the look of the film in the cinema.

     The extras are beefed up from the DVD release. Aside from the excellent commentary track we now have a host of other materials, though none in High Definition,including a quasi-Making of and some nice deleted scenes.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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