One of Woody Allen's recent offerings(his films seem to come at the rate of about one a year), and I also found this to be one of the better of Allen's recent work. The film is a light effort, but the performances are lively and the film has an energy with all of the music that engaged me.
Sean Penn plays Emmett Ray, a fictional "legendary" jazz guitarist whose life is the focus of this biography. Penn plays the role as a wonderfully awkard drifter - he knows music and his feelings are in the act of playing, but when it comes to relationships, life becomes a mystery. One day he meets Hattie, a mute girl who he begins dating. Played by Samantha Morton, Hattie is a wonderful character even though she doesn't say a word. The actress is easily able to communicate words and feelings through a simple look. She's the right one for him, but he doesn't quite understand that. Penn plays Emmett as a genius at music, but awkward at almost everything else. Still, the character remains charming and sympathetic due to Penn's winning and edgy performance.
One day though, Emmett meets Blanche - played by Uma Thurman, she's not the right path for him to follow, but he unfortunately goes anyways. When Allen's film really gets into the groove, the performances and the music combine to form a very sweet and entertaining picture. The performances of Penn and Morton are nearly perfect, and the film is nicely paced. "Sweet and Lowdown"'s 93 minute running time allow it to get in and get out, never wearing out its welcome.
VIDEO: Another of Tristar's near-perfect efforts, "Sweet and Lowdown" has one great thing going for it - that's the cinematography of Fei Zhao("Raise The Red Lantern", "Emperor and the Assassin"), whose work on this picture is nothing short of striking, filling the images with warm light and capturing the rich, deep colors quite well. The picture seems a little bit soft now and then, but that seems to be part of the "look" of the film. Detail is consistently good, and clarity is very fine. As I mentioned before, colors are wonderful and bold; lovely reds and yellows are consistently pleasing to the eye.
The print used is completely clean and free of any sort of marks and scratches at all. There's no pixelation and only some slight instances of shimmering. Nothing takes away though from what is otherwise excellent work - this is a beautiful looking picture and Tristar's transfer does it justice. A pan&scan version is located on the flip side.
SOUND: What can you say about the audio of a Woody Allen film really besides, well, mono? The director has almost contstantly presented his films in mono and this is yet another example. The sound quality itself is fine; the audio is completely clear and clean, and the music played in the film sounds very natural. Dialogue is clear and easily understood, as well. This is definitely a limited film in terms of audio, but the quality is definitely enjoyable.
MENUS: With warm colors that are similar to the movie's, the main menu offers no animation, but is easily navigated. I'm not complaining about lack of animation for a movie like this, but the score really should be at least in the background of the main menu.
Trailers: Trailers for Sweet and Lowdown, Husbands and Wives, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Les Miserables, U-Turn and Gattaca. Trailers for "Gattaca", "U-Turn" and "Les Miserables" are in Dolby Digital 5.1 .
Also: Cast and crew bios.
Final Thoughts: Containing beautiful image quality and a wonderful movie, Tristar's DVD for "Sweet and Lowdown" is recommended.
The Film B+
Video 97/A = (388/400 possible points)
Audio: 81/B = (324/400 possible points)
Extras: 75/C = (225/300 possible points)
Menus: 70/C- = (140/200 possible points)
Value: 81/B = (243/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: B+
DVD GRADE: B