HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:80
I was rather surprised that I had never heard of “Serena” until recently. I assumed it had been a movie I missed in theaters a few months ago, but was very surprised to hear that this had come out about the same time as “American Hustle”. Color me even MORE surprised that this wasn’t pushed out at about the same time period to capitalize on the actor’s relationship to that movie, especially since they were already nominated for several academy awards for their performances in “Silver Linings Playbook”. I was a lot less surprised when I actually saw the film, which was a strange turn of events for all in charge. Penned by the same writer as “Alexander” I should have expected a sluggishly paced movie, but really had hoped for the opposite since Cooper and Lawrence have shown fantastic chemistry in the past. What lays before us is a movie that got shuffled around and delayed for goodness knows how long as the very creators of the film seemed to have lost confidence in the its worth.
George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper), a lumber mogul in the Carolina’s is fighting a movement to have the land he’s culling of trees turned into a state park. He’s bribing officials and doing whatever he can to delay the inevitable until he can get his trees and get out, but until then he has to figure out another way. Smitten with Serena (Jennifer Lawrence), a socialite daughter of a former lumber mogul in Colorado, he makes a hasty wedding and brings his bride back to the Carolinas. Serena is not your average pretty girl. She can hold her own with the rest of the men, and knows more about lumber than even her husband George does. Enduring the disparaging remarks and obviously jealous lumberjacks, she, along with George and his partner Buchanan (David Dencik) turn the profits on the company into an upward climb.
Things go from good to bad when Buchanan discloses the fact that he wants out of the company, and if he doesn’t get the severance package he really wants then he’s going to make a deal with the attorney general’s office to turn in George over to the authorities for bribery and other illegal activities. Killing Buchanan is the only logical approach for George and much to his surprise, Serena goes along with it without batting an eye (that alone should start raising flags). It goes from bad to even worse during the third act. The movie has a way of using a side long glance, or a knowing smile to convey certain things. It’s not said until near the end, but there is a woman with a child who seems to raise a few eyebrows around George and that is not lost upon Serena. Realizing that this woman is the George’s ex and that the child is his illegitimate heir, Serena goes bat crazy and sends one of the lumber foreman’s out to kill the woman and her child. As you can probably guess, this doesn’t sit well with Permberton and the once happy couple is clawing at each other’s eyes as the desperate father tries to save his child from the woman who he thought he loved.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=46649[/img]“Serena” is not a bad movie, but it’s not horribly good either. The sluggish pace and wooden performances by the lead characters really dampen the experience. The book, of the same name and written by Ron Rash, was a rather popular novel, and from what I gather, well written. The movie suffers from a pedantic script that neuters the excellent cast and keeps it from being what it could be. One of the main problem seems to be the slap dash pairing of George and Serena. They’re just thrown together without much backstory or any in depth analysis of their characters and we’re just supposed to accept that they’re simply swooning over each other. In fact the actual swooning over each other that goes on is kind of chuckle worthy as it appears as if Cooper and Lawrence simply read the lines and went home for the day. It might have been more salvageable if they had put the same chemistry that they shared in “Silver Lining’s Playbook”, but instead it’s very obvious that neither character is comfortable in their role and just wanted the experience to end.
Now, that being said, there are some good points to the film. The depression era setting is quite beautiful and the third act is much better than expected. Once the tension picks up over the illegitimate child it doesn’t let go till the very end. Cooper actually gets into his role as the protective father and the intensity is quite good. Another great bookend for the movie is his own ending. That deal with the panther at the beginning does a full loop de loop and ties up the events that happened in this bittersweet tragedy.
Rated R for some violence and sexuality
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=46657[/img]“Serena’s” Blu-ray presentation shows off a lot of beauty, both in nature as well as in the fantastic cinematography. The image benefits form the lush outdoor woodland staging and the greens and browns and dirty reds of the environment give us plenty of eye candy. The film is rather stylized, with a glossy veneer of contrast that shimmers almost as much as the cover art does. This is both a blessing and a curse, as it looks really really clean and clear of flaws except for the slight washing out of blacks and funky white skin tones that occur from the boosted contrast. The fine detail, though, is exceptional as you can see every bit of mud on the logger’s boots and the grimy look of the town accompanied with every bit of wood grain on the roughhewn cabins. The image clarity is top notch and except for the issue of the stylized contrast levels, the movie is a stunning work of digital filming.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=46665[/img]For a period piece drama, the 5.1 DTS-HD MA track that Magnolia pictures has given us is a lot better than I would have expected. The soundstage is alive with all sorts of activity, ranging from the chopping noises of dozens of axes on heavy woodland trees, to the schlurping sound of muddy boots trucking through the streets. Beep beeps of car horns and the rumbling of a locomotive carrying wood echo with great clarity and oomph throughout the whole set of speakers and actually add some very nice LFE to the mix. Dialog is clean and clear, locked up front in the middle and the decent dynamic range allows for some surprise moments to jolt you out of your chair. A very solid track all around, it surpasses most in its genre and is a very pleasing experience for all of those with a nice sound system.
• The Making of "Serena"
• Exploring the Production Time and the Period
• Following the Screenwriting
• Breaking Down the Set
• Deleted Scenes
I honestly wondered just WHY I hadn’t heard much about “Serena”, considering the two leads have gotten tons of critical acclaim lately and even starred together in another critically acclaimed film. It didn’t take much more than the first 30 minutes to realize why, as the movie a plodding, slow film that is full of phoned in performances from pretty much all the lead actors (who have done MUCH better jobs in the past). The audio and video are great, but the rather lackluster performances and story don’t allow it to be any better than a mediocre period piece drama. Rental.
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Ryhs Ifans
Directed by: Susanne Bier
Written by: Christopher Kyle (Screenplay) , Ron Rash (Novel)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 109 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: June 9th 2015
Buy Serena On Blu-ray at Amazon
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