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Paramount Studios presents
Angela's Ashes (1999)

"Don't ever let anyone slam the door in your face ever again, Frankie."
- Angela McCourt (Emily Watson)

Review By: Robert Mandel   
Published: July 19, 2000

Stars: Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle
Other Stars: Michael Legge, Joe Breen, Ciaran Jones
Director: Alan Parker

Manufacturer: PDSC
MPAA Rating: R for (nudity, language, adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:25m:45s
Release Date: July 18, 2000
UPC: 097363360773
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-B+ A-

DVD Review

Angela's Ashes is a very personal film. Not just because it is the true life story based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Frank McCourt, but because, as you can tell from the included interviews and commentaries, this story truly touched everyone that worked on the film. The book was "their bible," and whenever help was needed the cast and crew simply opened the book for guidance.

There is something about Irish novels and films that I cannot resist. As far back as Jonathan Swift the Irish have been battling the British, themselves and every form of bad luck—but always with a shot and a smile. There is something so essentially germane to the human experience in every Irishman, and their resistance to bad humor in the face of constant adversity is nothing less than inspiring. All of the great writers from Swift to J.P Donleavy to McCourt have a sing-song, lyrical way of storytelling, a good sense of humor, and a better sense of irony.

Written as a tribute to his mother, Angela, McCourt recounts his life in the ghettos of Limerick, Ireland and Brooklyn and back, as lovingly transcribed to the screen by Alan Parker (Pink Floyd The Wall, The Commitments, Birdy). Parker, ever the perfectionist, worked closely with the crew to recreate McCourt's street in the ghetto, just across the river from King John's Castle. McCourt tells of being overcome with the likeness while on all of the sets, from the street, to the interiors, to the recreation of his classroom "where [during the filming] I stood against the wall fearing the teacher would see me and admonish me."

McCourt's mother withstood the birth of 6 children in 2-1/2 years, the subsequent loss of half of them (including the only girl in the lot—Margaret Mary) in another year-and-a-half, and her deadbeat husband who fell victim to drinking the dole (his unemployment money) and eventually leaving her to raise them on her own in utter poverty. Despite her suffering, or in spite of it, Angela McCourt did not fail to imbue her surviving children with a dignity most of us are not able to pretend to have. She did not believe in rehashing the past, it was, after all, a tale of impoverishment and shame. As McCourt says, "No one was proud of coming from the ghetto." But Parker does an amazing job of retelling McCourt's story—so good a job I think even McCourt is sometimes fooled into thinking it is a documentary he's commenting on (see the extras review).

What makes this film so extraordinary is the entirety of Oscar® caliber acting. Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves) is simply amazing, having taken on not only the accent but smoking as well. McCourt says that when he watched her acting on the set he thought, "There is my mother." Robert Carlyle imbued his character with a dignity despite his alcoholism, because as he says, he could find no one who had a bad thing to say about him when he was sober. It took 15,000 kids to find the "3 Frankies," Michael Legge, Joe Breen, and Ciaran Jones (Butcher Boy), and the three perform admirably, particularly the newcomer. Interesting is the revelation by Emily Watson that the ever-prepared, thoughtful and anal Parker, allowed the actors great freedom to improvise within his carefully constructed sets.

For the most part this film fell through cracks, receiving only sporadic critical acclaim, but this is a beautiful film filled with sad and ugly images that proves that the human spirit truly exists in the darkest of places. Shining in its dark hues, Parker makes sure the centuries old Irish whit remains intact.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: This is a very difficult image to grade on my 45" rear projection, because the film is so gravely dark that at this size if there are problems they are fairly well hidden. The image is crisp, but scanlines and edge enhancement are occasionally visible, especially in outdoor and daylight scenes. Still, given this, the transfer has excellent shadow delineation, fine fleshtones, sharp blacks. The source print is near free of scars, nicks or dirt.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Again Paramount puts out a lovely DD5.1 track for a mostly character, dialogue driven film. The dialogue is well heard and understandable—not an easy task with such thick Irish accents. But there is some lovely imaging in both soundstages, mostly the front. There is the panning of a bus, car or bike, and the rising angelic voices of the children's choir backing the church scenes. The 2.0 track is adequate but hollow and far less exacting in its imaging.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
2 Documentaries
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1) director Alan Parker; 2) novelist Frank McCourt
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Trailers:

The disc contains two trailers, the teaser (1.78:1, DS2.0, 02m:05s) and original theatrical trailer (1.85:1, DS2.0, 02m:24s), both of which are rendered beautifully, with little speckling or dirt. Nice job here.

Making-of documentary (26m:26s)

As with the followingsupplement, a slick production piece (this one narrated by Robert Lindsay) meant to promote the film by providing cast and crew interviews, interspliced with scenes from the film, and behind-the-scenes shots of the filming and set construction. Both this and the next piece do a nice job of capturing the emotions behind the making of the film, the ties to Frank McCourt's lyrical masterpiece, and the humorful solemnity of the retelling of a working class Irish tale.

Cast and Crew interviews "Reflections on Angela's Ashes" (1.33:1, 16m:40s, DS2.0)

This piece is a scaled down derivation of the longer documentary, but with more interspliced interviews with director Alan Parker, author Frank McCourt, stars Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle, and Michael Legge, Joe Breen, and Ciaran Jones (the 3 Frankies). While basically back-patting in nature, the cast and crew tell why they had to make the film, why they love the film, and the efforts that went into making it. A nice piece that suffers slightly from utilizing clips from the longer piece.

Feature-length commentary with director Alan Parker

Some of Mr. Parker's commentary is derivative of the other supplements, but he does a nice job nonetheless of splitting time between actor info, scene specific discussion, location shooting, filming with kids, and characterization and emotional background.

Feature-length commentary with writer Frank McCourt

While Mr. McCourt follows the action scene by scene, it is more like a narration of a documentary than a commentary on the film. At first his delivery is choppy; as if he might be unsure of himself in this capacity. Soon after however, his storytelling instincts kick in and he rolls from one story to the next background, filling in the holes between the film, his book and his life. Occasionally he lets the film speak for itself, but the pauses seem necessary. This is a very special track, I think, and one that will be difficult for most authors to mimic or top, because he actually LIVED this narrative!

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Angela's Ashes is a wonderful film, with Parker's trademark accurate depiction of the period, and at its heart the wonderfully solemn Irish sense of humor and dignity. The extras are very nice, and McCourt's feature commentary is priceless. I cannot recommend this disc more—it's a must have.

 


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