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LIBERTY HEIGHTS ($25) is a warm and amusing look at 1950ís life through the eyes of a Jewish family living in Baltimore. Writer/director Barry Levinson grew up in Baltimore and has loosely based the events depicted in the film on his own experiences during that period. Because LIBERTY HEIGHTS is such a personal film, Levinson has paid meticulous attention to detail, which pays off with every frame of the movie having a wonderful nostalgic glow. On the serious side, LIBERTY HEIGHTS does explore the racial tensions between various groups, but it never comes across as heavy-handed or preachy. Despite some of the filmís deeper thematic elements, most of LIBERTY HEIGHTS depicts the more optimistic side of life that everyone associates with 1950s America.

LIBERTY HEIGHTS is a terrific ensemble piece that features an absolutely solid cast. All of the leads give the kind of understated, naturalistic performances that makes them all seem like real people, instead of just characters in a movie. In LIBERTY HEIGHTS, Joe Mantegna portrays Nate Kurtzman, the head of the household who is also the proprietor of a burlesque show that is losing its audience to television. Nate also has a more profitable business venture that eventually causes his family some serious problems. Bebe Neuwirth plays Nateís supportive wife Ada, a strong willed woman who is very conscious of the familyís Jewish identity. Adrien Brody and Ben Foster are the Kurtzmanís two sons Van and Ben. While both Van and Ben are aware of their heritage, each is looking to expand his horizons beyond the Jewish community of Liberty Heights. The cast of LIBERTY HEIGHTS also features Rebekah Johnson, Orlando Jones, David Krumholtz, Richard Kline, Vincent Guastaferro, Justin Chambers, Carolyn Murphy, James Pickens Jr. and Frania Rubinek.

Warner Home Video has done a very nice job with their DVD edition of LIBERTY HEIGHTS. LIBERTY HEIGHTS is presented in its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio and the DVD has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. For the most part, the LIBERTY HEIGHTS DVD delivers an image that is crisp and highly detailed. However, there are occasional shots in the film that appear just a tad softer than others, although none of these moments make the transfer seem inferior to that of any other new film arriving on DVD. Flesh tones are very natural, while the rest of the vibrant colors are reproduced with maximum fidelity. There are no problems with either chroma noise or color bleeding anywhere during the presentation. Blacks are accurately reproduced, although there are one or two moments where the blacks do appear a shade below the reference level. Shadow detail is quite good, although it is not outstanding. Dual layer authoring eliminates all perceivable traces of digital compression artifacts.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack has a simple, naturalistic mix, which I found to be very pleasant. Dialogue is the main component of the mix and it flawlessly recorded and reproduced. Directional effects arenít used aggressively, and those that do exist, seem to be localized primarily in the forward soundstage. Ambient sounds are subtlety placed in the rear channels, giving the mix an effortless, transparent quality. Original fifties music plays an important part in the movie, as well as on the soundtrack, and the songs are well integrated into the mix. Also, the musical score by Andrea Morricone is beautifully recorded and mixed into the soundtrack. There is very little call for bass reproduction in the sound design, although on the few occasions it is required, the bass channel more than admirably meets the task. Subtitles have been encoded onto the DVD in English and French.

Full motion video, animation and sound have been added to the nicely designed interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVDís supplements. On camera cast and director interviews are provided, in lieu of an audio commentary. The interviews run a few minutes each and give the viewer some insight into the production of LIBERTY HEIGHTS and what it is like to work with director Barry Levinson. An isolated music track in 5.1 has also been included for anyone who wants to enjoy the classic fifties music and the score without any of the pesky dialogue getting in the way. A deleted scene with an introduction by Levinson is also included on the DVD. Production notes; a cast listing, a look behind-the-scenes and a theatrical trailer fill out the DVDís supplements.




DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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