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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • French: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • German: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
    English, French, German, English - Hearing Impaired, German - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Deleted scenes
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Cast/crew biographies - Credits only
  • Animated menus
  • Behind the scenes footage
  • Interviews
  • Music-only track

Liberty Heights

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 122 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

America is a nation still troubled by the history of slavery. In the '50s, when black folks were finally getting ahead a little, there were some difficult times with the integration of white folks and black folks into most aspects of society. Schools were one place in common focus and this forms the sweetest part of this film, where a white boy, having never seen a black girl before, falls in love against everyone’s wishes.

Ben and Van are the two Jewish sons of a father who runs a numbers racket. Ben has always seen things a little differently and this is never more apparent than when he dresses as Hitler for Halloween. When the public school system begins integration, he befriends a black girl and learns a lot about the black folks, as well as dispelling myths he has heard. Soon, they become very close and although love is present, the difficulties in establishing that among the society of the time prevents it from blooming.

"If I knew things would no longer be, I’d have tried to remember them better."

Meanwhile, Van has problems of his own. He’s crazy about a girl he met at a party and, in tracking her down, he becomes friendly with her boyfriend. Soon the three of them are close pals and Van must deal with his feelings in private. On top of this, his father took a huge bet in the numbers and must now pay out with funds he doesn’t have. This storyline collides with Ben’s when, after a James Brown concert, Ben and his friends are kidnapped as ransom on the unpaid funds.

After recently being unimpressed by Tin Men, I was dubious as to how much I would enjoy Liberty Heights, but am happy to say I did enjoy it a great deal. The storyline is much stronger and much more socially aware than Tin Men with multiple parallel tracks running throughout. Writer/director Barry Levinson has written another story about his beloved Baltimore, with his incredible grasp of authentic American life of the period. Attention to detail is superb in costume and props and even in dialect, creating an immersive piece regarding the simple changes in life that have so much impact further down the line. Performances are great, with Adrian Brody shining (as ever) as Van, while relative newcomer Rebekah Johnson is astonishing as Sylvia, Ben’s unrequited love.

  Video
Contract

Again regarding attention to detail, this film looks simply elegant. The picture quality is just off razor sharp, but looks brilliant and is still exceptionally clean. There are barely any film artefacts of which to speak, although there are moments of compression issues; even right at the start where the worst one is featured in a tree outside the property. It’s fleeting, sure, but ugly, and can be seen at 0:00:51 two or three times in a row.

Shadow detail is nearly perfect, being slightly murky only once or twice and the colours are lovely and bright. Otherwise a pretty awesome transfer for this 1999 film, which is delivered here in 16:9 enhanced 1.85:1.

  Audio
Contract

Firstly, there’s an irritating narration at the start and finish but this is about the only real problem with the sound. Dialogue is all well spoken and clear, while sound effects are also handled well. The Dolby Digital 5.1 doesn’t do a lot regarding these, but the music is where it shines. This is absolutely awesome and without doubt the highlight of the audio soundscape. Classic, well-chosen music of the age is given us at full force and sounds crystal clear and resonant. Featuring tracks by Tom Waits, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Bill Haley and his Comets, Ray Charles, Perry Como, James Brown, Louis Armstrong and even Elvis, this sets the film perfectly. Although not all these songs or performers were around in the '50s, the feel of the music and film have been respected here and there’s not a single track that doesn’t belong. Sensational stuff. Andrea Morricone’s score links all these tracks together and is also deliciously suited to the film.

  Extras
Contract

Quite a mixed bag here that contributes well to improving the value of the DVD. First up, and returning to reference on the killer soundtrack, is a music only track which lets us hear just the music, of course. Probably better played as background to something else you’re doing, rather than watching the film without dialogue, but a worthy inclusion given the quality of the included music.

A very simple cast and crew page that is little more than a worthless credits follows, before we get to the interview gallery. This features soundbite interviews with Adrian Brody, Bebe Neuwirth and Joe Montegna answering questions we don’t hear. This runs for 12:39 while they discuss themes and the making of the film.

A solitary deleted scene pops by next with an introduction by Barry Levinson. The entirety of this bit is 4:13 and it’s worth a look, but nothing to blow a gasket over. On the Set is a quick behind the scenes bit running for 3:41 with some quick interviews and, naturally, behind the scenes stuff.

Finally we have the theatrical trailer clocking in at 2:23 in 1.85:1 with 16:9 enhancement. It’s a good variety of stuff for the extras enthusiast here and some nice companion pieces to the film.

  Overall  
Contract

The sweetness of first love has been dealt with beautifully here, with the added angst of the racial debate during the '50s to complicate matters. The other less important, but no less interesting, storylines pad the film out nicely and together they contribute to making a nice film about the age. Performances are perfect with Ms. Johnson being so natural onscreen it is truly refreshing.

This is a very immersive film of one family’s journey through their most difficult time and played against the backdrop of the authentic '50s with an extraordinary soundtrack makes this film very easy to recommend.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=3459
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      And I quote...
    "With a soundtrack forged by the Gods, this comic drama set amongst the turbulent racial integration of the 1950s is truly entertaining viewing."
    - Jules Faber
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Teac DVD-990
    • TV:
          Sony 51cm
    • Speakers:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Centre Speaker:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Surrounds:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Subwoofer:
          Akai
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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