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Meet Joe Black/C+,A-

Universal/1998/180m/ANA 1.85

      Meet Joe Black marches along at a slower pace than a procession of professional mourners following a hearse. The tone is quite strange as well. There are times when the situations call for droll and clever, but they lapse into platitudes and emptiness.
     Inspired by the 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday starring Fredric March as Death, Meet Joe Black takes it's sweet time in every scene. It's economical predecessor runs 79 minutes while director Martin Brest's vision runs a mere three hours. Mere? Virtually every scene in Meet Joe Black could be shorter by a long shot. A good film surgeon may have brought Joe Black to earth with lots more intensity. Interestingly, the languorous pacing is felt more scene by scene as opposed to the overall length of the movie. I felt antsy as each scene ran too long, filled with repetition and dialogue pauses, but when the film was over I did not feel it ran three hours.
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Not enough fireworks in Meet Joe BlackŠUniversal

     Approaching his sixty-fifth birthday party with tolerance and reluctance, William Parrish is thrown for a loop when a tightness in his heart accompanied by a strange voice suggests an unpleasant birthday present. Parrish soon discovers that the voice is Death communicating with him for selfish reasons. It turns out that Death wants a taste of life and is willing to give Parrish a little bit more time on Earth if he will act as Death's tour guide. What's as guy to say? Death turns up in the body of a recently deceased young man who happened to meet Parrish's daughter and make an indelible impression on her. It's a handy coincidence. But is this really the same guy she met at the coffee shop. In the midst of all the romance and life questions, Parrish changes his mind about a buy-out of his empire, making for unconvincing board room fireworks.
     Joe Black is played by Brad Pitt. Pitt's an interesting choice for Joe and manages to find a range of emotions, from charming to bewildered, to brazen and demanding, to cold and sentimental, that almost give Meet Joe Black enough star power to overcome its indolence. But there are lots of inconsistencies in the way Death reacts to earthly things that make it difficult for Pitt and the script never really develops or tackles some of the difficult questions that Death learning about life could pose. Anthony Hopkins plays billionaire media mogul William Parish with surprisingly little insight into the character. It's almost a breeze for him and while he is charming, the character lacks the depth that might have injected an interesting edge to Meet Joe Black. Clare Forliani gives Susan Parrish with a variety of smiles and flirtatious glances. Jake Weber has the impossible task of bringing life to the ridiculously cardboard character of Drew, Parrish's right hand that is holding a knife behind his back. Marsha Gay Harden and Jeffrey Tambor add a nice level of humanity to the cold proceedings as the older Parrish daughter and her husband.
     The sumptuous settings are quite beautiful, but I actually found the film closed and restricted in its point of view. I had the feeling Death was getting cheated by not seeing and experiencing enough. Too bad Martin Brest didn't add more locations for designer Dante Ferretti to create with his brilliant eye. Emmanuel Lubezki manages the photography with grace.
    Another very sharp DVD with no unsightly artifacts resulting. More and more new DVD releases are appearing at or near perfection. There is some slight edge enhancement visible at black transitions, though it truly does not disturb the picture. Color and various light situations are handled perfectly. This is a bright and thoroughly pleasing DVD to watch. The night party scenes sparkle with all the life of the fireworks on display.  A lot of the dialogue is delivered in hushed tones and I missed a few pearls of wisdom, but the Dolby Digital 5:1 sound is in good balance. Thomas Newman's score is lush with an openness. Production and cast and filmmakers bios, a theatrical trailer and a Spotlight on Location short complete the DVD package.