Mister D: This reviewer vilifies this movie, but I always liked. I thought it was one of Midler’s most understated and under appreciated roles:
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer‘s Take
This may sound cruel and disgusting to say, but actually engaging in an awkward one time extramarital affair, and then living with the guilt of doing so for the rest of your life may be a more enjoyable experience than spending 87 minutes sitting down to Paul Mazursky‘s ‘Scenes from a Mall.’ Ignore the obvious reference to Ingmar Bergman and ‘Scenes from a Marriage‘ in the title: there’s nothing classy, introspective, or original to be found here. The only things foreign in this film are a purpose, a point, relevance, chemistry, intrigue, humor, wit, insight, drama, sex appeal, believability…get it? I started out the sentence like it was something minor, and then it turned out to be pretty much the entire film? Ah…I kill me.
This endurance test of a bad movie feels like the longest day of anyone’s life. On the anniversary of Nick (Woody Allen) and Deborah (Bette Midler) Fifer’s marriage (their sixteenth or seventeenth year, depending on whom you ask), as the couple carouse the local mall picking up presents for each other and goodies for a party for later that evening, a bombshell is dropped when Nick admits his infidelities. All’s fair in love and war, and soon Deborah informs Nick of her own indiscretions, as the pair wage a war of words and emotions in a crowded mall on what may be its busiest day of the year. With battle lines drawn, and plans for lawyers crafted, the two seek to do as much damage to the other as possible, though they may not quite understand the damage they’re doing to the other in the same way they didn’t when they first committed their illicit acts.
Everything about ‘Scenes from a Mall’ screams annoying, frustrating, implausible, or ridiculous. There isn’t a single scene that makes either character come across as even remotely likable, and as the film delves deeper and deeper into each of their wells of self-loathing, the two already despicable characters lose any human interest they had whatsoever. Normally, in a film of this ilk, the line is drawn in a manner where audiences will side with one or the other squabbling mate, and you have a teetering balance between harmony and chaos as the ridiculous antics backfire on all involved. ‘The Break-Up,’ while it most certainly isn’t an amazing film, by any means, understood this necessary balance, as both of its leads could come off as wrong or cruel, yet it wasn’t horribly mean spirited or stupid.
See, the balance of power in this film is a constant teeter-totter. One person wants to divorce the other. Then that person wants to stay, and the other wants a divorce. Then they both want a divorce. Then they both want to be together. Lather, rinse, repeat about three or so times, and you have the entire film. Sadly, that isn’t an exaggeration. Once the infidelity bombshell is first dropped, there is no recovering, and the entire premise of the film is how uncomfortable the experience can make you feel, vicariously, and it’s a rather bad idea, for a number of reasons, the least of which has to be the ridiculously slow, borderline lethargic pace this dialogue-heavy tug-o-war exhibits.
The setting of the film is interesting, as what better place to have such a moment than one where everyone is watching. I get that, so the way the film moves from the bedroom to the mall is understandable. From here, there is no other location. The sprawling multi-layer 1990s shopping mecca seems like what one would expect from someone who was in a coma for thirty years, whose only knowledge of the era came from the articles in a Playboy magazine. Don’t ask me how I know these things. The entire mall is excessively convenient, with some of the silliest setups one could imagine. A lounge bar in a mall? Ridiculously lavish high end clothing that probably costs as much as a month’s paycheck and a Waldenbooks? A sushi bar? It screams yuppy from the minute you enter the facility. It’s somewhat insulting, to intelligence and to taste. The fact that Woody Allen has an awful ponytail only proves that yuppy is the word of the day.
The film makes no sense. It had to be damn near impossible to film, as the two actors (and there are so few other characters in the film that it’s literally just Nick, Deborah, and a mime (Bill Irwin)) had to know exactly what mental and emotional state their character was in for each scene, for a film, where, let’s face it, like all other films, was made out of order. As hard as it is to keep up with the stupid rationalizing buried under every line of dialogue, it’s hard to not notice either Allen or Midler somewhat lost opposite their partner in many scenes. Perhaps even they knew they had a stinker on their hands, and just decided to get it over with. How these two talents even got involved in this mess is beyond me.
There are many sore thumbs to be found throughout this film, like the mariachi, complete with trumpet, that is horribly out of sync with the music they’re supposedly playing, or the constant expenditures of the couple, who readily make a case for why the terrorists hate us with their symbolism for the American consumer. Try to ignore the surfboard (yes, Allen gets a surfboard as a gift, and has to carry it around everywhere), if you must, but you’ll still find yourself screaming at characters who just leave it behind for lengthy periods of time, only to retrieve it later. Yeah, sure, that makes sense, no one ever steals. Also, try to not think about the sushi and how much was wasted throughout the day. You could probably feed all of Kenya for a year off all the times the Fifers buy the product and leave it behind somewhere. Ignore the painful dialogue whenever one of the two leads tries to interact with any other character or extra; you’ll thank me, I promise.
Going into this film as an Allen fanatic (the only reason I went into a film with such a cheesy premise and awful art), I knew to keep my expectations low, as the neurotic funny man neither wrote nor directed this flick. It’s just painful to watch knowing this, as you get the feeling the part was written for Allen, based off his earlier, breakout flicks, by someone who just didn’t understand what it was that made his dialogue delivery funny or interesting. I can’t praise either actor here. They’re both awful, since the parts written for them were awful. This isn’t a great effort in a crap film type experience. This is a movie where you see the pain, the boredom of their faces as they try to get the scene over with so that they can get to their trailers and read another script or try to injure themselves to the point that they’d have to be removed from the film altogether. Since I was reviewing this flick, I couldn’t turn it off, but if you get lured into it by its two leads, feel free to end the pain at any time. I promise, as bad as it gets, no matter how frustrated you are at any point in the film…it only gets worse, in a hurry.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Mill Creek brings this Buena Vista title to Blu-ray on a Region A marked BD25 disc. There is no pre-menu content, save for the annoyingly loud company credit screen. The menu itself has no setup or extras tabs, just a chapter search and a play button. The packaging for this release will vary, as Mill Creek puts discs in random style cases with no rhyme or reason. You could get an eco-case or a solid one, a square spine, or even one I got where the disc tab holder is maybe a sixteenth of an inch tall and that’s the only impression inside the package.
This title was released a month or two early at Wal-Mart stores…what few that stocked it, and mostly walmart.com. Consider the lack of fanfare for the entire wave a sign.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
You know what I don’t like? When someone tries to piss on me and tell me it’s raining. Mill Creek pulled an Echo Bridge on ‘Scenes from a Mall,’ with a very important typo in the technical specs. The package says this film is in 1080p…but it’s not. Rather, we get a 1080i video, with the 1.78:1 ratio (from 1.85:1), which makes me wonder what kind of source material the distributor had to work with for this release.
Judging by the end result, I think I know what kind of material they were given. Table scraps. The film opens up under a dust storm, the video bombarded with dirt specks, scratches, and stray hairs. I’m not talking tiny speckles, either. I’m talking about huge blips and globs. It’s absolutely filthy. As the film progresses, it slowly cleans up (my guess: the film never made it past the first reel when shown in theaters, as the audience all left by that time), but there’s still some random bumps in the road thrown in for good measure, including some heavy transparent vertical bars, that look more like worn out, aged tape than anything else.
While ‘Scenes from a Mall’ exhibits absolutely perfect edges (they’re fantastic!), and not a single millisecond of wobble, the picture is still problematic. It’s amazingly flat, ridiculously so. There is no comparison that could make clear how amazingly, insanely shallow the video looks. The light brightness fluctuations seem to be due to lighting on sets, due to their scarcity, which isn’t a real issue, but the constantly crummy textures just kill the picture. Cottony robes look like stiff cardboard, it’s shameful. Backgrounds are rarely all that clear or defined, there’s some slight banding that pops up every now and again, and some rather unfortunate aliasing and artifacting. I couldn’t help but stare at Allen’s brown button down shirt, as it constantly would move and pulse so unnaturally it was almost one of those suits that constantly changes image from ‘A Scanner Darkly.’ I liked the effect in that film. Not so much here, as I don’t think that kind of technology was available yet.
I do forgive Mill Creek, since it’s fairly apparent they were given less than nothing to work with on this release, but the typo on the package is very concerning, as it’s the first crucial step towards being on par with the Bridge. In real life, bridges are higher than creeks, and I really don’t want to see this company make that a reality on Miramax/Buena Vista Blu-ray port quality, as well.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The audio for ‘Scenes from a Mall’ is another area where a typo is in play on the packaging. See, Dolby Digital 2.0 would have been pretty damn lame, even for a four, five dollar stinker of a title. Thankfully, the only audio option is instead a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix. That’s about all the praise I’ll levy on this release.
While I had no problems understanding the dialogue, even some of the mumbles, dynamics weren’t exactly natural, and the random static-laden line was a real pain to have to listen to (the car phone scene outside the mall parking lot is the worst offender here), but thrown on top of painful ambient noise, it was just a recipe for disaster. The film is full of hustle and bustle, and while the soundstage hardly feels anywhere near as busy as it looks, there is a near constant level of background activity that grows distracting after a while, as prioritization on this release is hardly top notch. I don’t want to listen to random background muffled conversation vying for attention over critical lines of dialogue, that’s not good. This track feels busy in the wrong way, just lacking in clarity and about everything else imaginable from an audio track.
Go in with less than no expectations, or the sound of nails on a chalkboard. Only then will you be pleasantly surprised.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
I can count a few films that take place in a mall, and none, absolutely none, are as scary as ‘Scenes from a Mall.’ Apologies, both ‘Dawn of the Dead’ iterations. I’m shocked any mall film could be worse than ‘Paul Blart,’ but this one takes the crap cake. This film is just a mess of a travesty of a waste of a perfectly good hour and a half that can be better used doing damn near anything else. This has to be a career low point for Woody Allen, and I’m sure it ranks pretty low on Midler’s list, as well. This Mill Creek release may be cheap, but it’s pretty damn uninspiring, barebones and all. Skip it. Even if you’re an Allen fan, skip it. You aren’t missing a thing.