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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
Heights (2005)

Peter: I see where you get your nickname. Heartbreaker, that's what he called you.
Jonathan: I wasn't aware Benjamin Stone had a heart.

- John Light, James Marsden

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: November 30, 2005

Stars: Glenn Close, Elizabeth Banks, Jesse Bradford, James Maesden, John Light
Other Stars: Eric Bogosian, Matt Davis, Andrew Howard, Thomas Lennon, Susan Malick, Michael Murphy, Denis O'Hare, Isabella Rossellini, George Segal, Rufus Wainwright
Director: Chris Terrio

MPAA Rating: R for language, brief sexuality, and nudity
Run Time: 01h:37m:28s
Release Date: November 01, 2005
UPC: 043396108707
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BB+B+ C

DVD Review

If you believe the movies and Sex and the City, New York is the smallest place in the world, where you can't go two blocks without running into, say, the writer who is doing a story on the world famous photographer who just happens to have dated your mother, a famous actress interested in your upstairs neighbor, who happens to have had a relationship with one of said photographer's subjects. It's only natural, right? World's largest city, sure, sure. And how convenient that these chance meetings happen when there's a camera around to capture them, too.

Facetiousness aside, director Chris Terrio's Heights is another one of those Altman-esque indies that follows a few different story lines and eventually reveals how they all tie together. The bow turns out looking a little neater than I'd like—based on a stage play by Amy Fox, the film retains a certain theatricality, like you can feel the material stretching toward profundity—but it tells its story fairly well.

The characters are introduced with cutesy title cards. Peter (John Light) is a writer for Vanity Fair, and is tasked to write a piece on the infamous Robert Mapplethorpe-ish photographer Benjamin Stone, known for using and abusing the men he photographs. His background research involves interviewing people from Stone's past, including Jonathan (James Mardsen), who lives in a cramped apartment with his fiancée Isabel (Elizabeth Banks). She's an artsy photographer type, too (a fact the movie illustrates by showing her hauling a camera everywhere and bothering people on the subway, trying to take "profound" pictures of real life, and almost getting punched, deservedly so) making do with taking wedding photos while waiting for her big break. Jonathan's job doesn't matter—he spends the entire movie trying to hide a thuddingly obvious Big Secret from his past.

Isabel's mother is Diana Lee (Glenn Close), a powerhouse Broadway actress who appears to be on top of the world, but who is, of course, barely holding things together (her husband is having an affair with her understudy in the Scottish Play). Looking to ease her pain, she all but propositions young, blank-eyed actor Alec (Jesse Bradford), who seems oddly reluctant to get involved with a stage idol.

So, that's what Heights is about, watching these characters interact throughout the course of a day, brushing past each other in apartment buildings, on the street, in a theater, and at a party hosted by fragile diva Diana Lee. But what is it about? All the characters have their secrets, and said secrets are causing much misery. In the end, all is revealed, and it looks like things will be better—to borrow a line from the Bard (might as well, since the film does it enough), "to thine own self be true." Like I said, not exactly profound, but the movie seems very pleased with itself, and though it's generally well written and acted (Glenn Close, one of those actresses who is good in everything, is very good here), I found it all a little self-conscious and annoying.

First-time director Terrio saves it, though, no doubt thanks in no small part to the influence of producers James Ivory and the late Ismail Merchant, who know how to make a good-looking movie for a little money. Nevertheless, he elevates the material. Some of his flourishes—the occasional use of split-screen, introducing characters with title cards—seem a bit precious at first, something to do so the audience knows this is a film with a bit of an edge. But once the stories all begin to converge near the end, I actually got a feel for what he was trying to do—the fractured points-of-view allow the separate narratives to come together without forcing the audience to empathize with one particular character (a good thing, since I didn't buy half of them).

Really, there's nothing wrong with Terrio's film. It's entertaining and it won't insult your intelligence, a laudable effort that doesn't reach the great heights the title implies.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: Like most new film appearing on DVD, Heights looks fine, with strong colors and deep blacks. Detail is fairly good, and the image is largely free from grain. I noticed some minor aliasing, but it's amazing how little this digital artifact pops up these days—I used to see it on almost every disc. Sharp-eyed viewers will notice a bit of edge enhancement, but it's all but invisible on smaller televisions.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Presented in DD 5.1, Heights sounds decent on DVD, but it's far from demanding material. Dialogue is presented front and center and always sounds clear, while the front mains support the score and sound effects track. Surrounds are fairly silent throughout, except when they provide atmosphere during a party scene and a sequence at a noisy nightclub. For the most part this is a small, dialogue-based movie, and the sound mix certainly reflects that fact.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Saving Face, The Beautiful Country
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Chris Terrio and actress Glenn Close
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
Extras Review: Heights' director Chris Terrio and actress Glenn Close contribute an intimate and informative commentary track, loaded with details about the production, the actors, and the characters. It was interesting to hear Terrio talk about the challenges of making a high-profile independent film for Merchant Ivory Productions with a cast of big names but a smallish budget. It was a little sad to hear his anecdotes about the late Ismail Merchant—the track was recorded in the summer of 2005, before the prolific producer and director died.

Two very brief featurettes provide a look behind the scenes. Shooting New York: Locations Diary (04m:50s) offers a montage of footage filmed at various locations around the city, with narration from Terrio. The Scottish Play: Designing Broadway for Film (03m:16s) is more interesting. Terrio discusses the work that went into creating advertisments, sets, and costumes for the fictional star Diana Lee's Broadway turn as Lady McBeth.

An animated photo gallery (02m:04s) collects some of the photography ostensibly shot by the film's characters. There is no trailer for Heights, but clips for Saving Face and The Beautiful Country are included. For some reason, the film includes no English subtitles, and chapter stops are rather inadequate—some run for over 13 minutes.

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

Heights is fairly standard independent drama fare, an ensemble piece that wears its literary aspirations on its sleeve, but it's well-acted and smartly-directed and comes together nicely in the end.

 


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