4K ULTRA HD/BLU-RAY REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
First-time actor Cooper Hoffman plays 15-year-old Gary Valentine, who’s smitten by the much older Alana Kane, played by musician Alana Haim of the sister pop group HAIM. Cooper and Alana opened a waterbed store in the San Fernando Valley.
(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Copy (Apple & iTunes only); 2021; rated R for profanity, sexual situations, and some drug use; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “Behind the Scenes” featurette
PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON (“Magnolia,” “There Will Be Blood,” “Boogie Nights”) delights with a quirky love story “Licorice Pizza,” which he wrote and directed. Starting with his choices of unlikely co-stars, both of whom look like real people as opposed to “stars,” Anderson maintains his penchant for the off-beat and unexpected.
Set in the early 1970s in California’s San Fernando Valley, Alana Haim plays a young woman also named Alana, who encounters a teenage Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman), during a high school yearbook photo shoot, at which she’s assisting the photographer. Smitten with her from the get-go, Gary relentlessly pursues Alana, who immediately informs him she’s 25 – 10 years older than he is – and therefore doesn’t stand a chance. But Gary, who has been working part-time as an actor in Hollywood, is imbued with confidence and will not be denied. Alana is impressed by his determination and lifestyle, and eventually agrees to go into business with him selling waterbeds – a ground-breaking invention at the time. The two make a pretty good team, engaging in a kooky odyssey of adventures, encountering a wild range of characters along the way.
(1&2) Gary spots Alana while standing in line to get his annual high school portrait. Alana is an assistant to the photographer and Gary starts a conversation and invites her to join him at Tail O’ the Cock restaurant, where he has dinner every Thursday night. (3&4) Gary first takes his young brother Greg to Cupids Hot Dogs and then meets Alana and walks her home. (5) Alana arrives home and Haim’s real sisters Danielle and Este and mother Donna play the roles in “Licorice Pizza.”
The cast of “Licorice Pizza” is as full of surprises as the plot. Alana Haim, who proves to be a natural and appealing actress, is part of the pop trio Haim, along with her two sisters, Este and Danielle. They play her sisters in the movie, while her actual parents appear as her fictional parents. Anderson, as it happens, has directed quite a few of Haim’s music videos. Cooper Hoffman, also wonderful in his debut movie role, is the son of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, who appeared in many of Anderson’s films. The supporting cast includes Sean Penn, Tom Waits, a couple of Steven Spielberg’s daughters, and Leonardo di Caprio’s father! Bradley Cooper appears with a hilariously manic take on Jon Peters, the hairdresser turned movie producer, who became famous for being Barbra Streisand’s boyfriend.
The MGM/Universal 4K (Digital) and 1080p disc were strangely sourced from a 2K master, even though Anderson captured the footage on 35mm film stock with anamorphic Panavision lens and cameras. Several theatrical screenings were given large-format 70mm prints, which would’ve been beneficial if it had been mastered in true 4K. The same for home viewing, but in reality, the 4K digital and Blu-ray look similar. Only a slight edge to the 4K, revealing distant signs at a hot dog stand. Both formats have a light washing of '70s-style film grain.
HDR toning has been graded darker, especially in mid-highlights and mid-tones, while shadows are rich and dark. The color palette is well-saturated and natural in most cases, while flesh tones push the orangish side on 1080p.
Honestly, there should’ve been a 4K disc release, just like Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” (released by Universal Studios) which received six Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Director. We’re still waiting for his other Oscar-nominated films to hit 4K, for which the writer/director/producer has been nominated 11 times.
(1) Gary’s laid-back mother Anita (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) mostly works nights running a public relations business. (2) Backstage before Gary appears on a TV variety show promoting a film he co-stars with Lucy Doolittle (Christine Ebersole) a take-off of Lucille Ball. (3) Alana chaperones Gary for the New York TV show since his mother was unavailable. (4-7) Gary is falsely arrested on suspicion of murder but is quickly released, and he and Alana race away from the police station.
The Blu-ray is coded with a six-channel DTS-HD Master with an excellent surround mix doing justice to Jonny Greenwood’s score, as well as to vintage tracks by Nina Simone singing “July Tree,” Paul McCartney & Wings “Let Me Roll It,” David Bowie “Life on Mars?” Seals & Crofts “Diamond Girl,” Gordon Lightfoot's “If You Could Read My Mind” and a good dozen more classics. Dialogue is always clear, but English subtitles are available.
The only disappointments in this package are the rather skimpy extras. Aside from a cute little folded poster, there are some so-called “camera tests”; a deleted scene; a TV commercial for the waterbed store; and “Behind the Scenes” which, at 10 1/2 minutes, is the longest of the lot.
Included in this featurette are some rehearsal scenes, some bloopers and still shots. The most interesting thing we learn is that it appears Alana Haim really learned to drive a big panel truck for the movie. What’s missing are any interviews with Anderson, the cast or the crew, which would have given some insights into the inspiration for the film, experiences from the shoot, explanations about the casting, or even what was behind the movie’s title.
(1) Alana, Gary, and friends go cruising in the Valley. (2) Alana and her sister Danielle smoke grass after a stressful day with Gary. (3) Alana wears a bikini during the opening of their waterbed store called Fat Bernie’s. Gary flirts with Sue Pomerantz (Isabelle Kusman), which makes Alana jealous. (4) Sean Penn plays Jack Holden an alcoholic actor loosely based on actor William Holden and tells Alana she looks like Grace Kelly. (5&6) Bradley Cooper plays producer Jon Peters, the boyfriend of Barbra Streisand. He ordered a king size waterbed from Fat Bernie’s and jokingly teaches Gary to pronounce Streisand’s last name correctly. (7) The psychotic Peters threatens a person at a gasoline pump, during the gas shortage of the 1970s.
You can listen to Anderson’s in-depth 40-minute “The Director’s Cut” podcast from the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), (available on your favorite pod app) where he highlights the 65-day production. He says the storyline was birthed from his memories of growing up in the Valley, where “Licorice Pizza” was filmed. The role of Alana was written for Haim, plus, he’s known Cooper since birth and felt the first-time actor shared a lot with his character. “He’s extremely social, funny and charismatic, but more importantly he’s empathetic. As a kid, he always wanted to be at the adult’s table.” Much of Cooper’s character is based on Anderson’s friend Gary Goetzman, co-founder of Tom Hanks’ production company, Playtone.
Hats off to Anderson who received three Academy Award nominations for his screenplay, his direction, and for the film itself. “Licorice Pizza” also landed No. 3 in the prestigious IndieWire’s annual Best Films and Performances poll by 180-plus top critics and journalists and made the American Film Institute’s top 10 films of 2021.
— Peggy Earle and Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) Alana and Gary film campaign footage for mayoral candidate Joel Wachs (Benny Safdie). (2) Gary transforms his waterbed business into a pinball palace. (3&4) Gary wears a flashy white suit for the opening of the palace. Gary and Alana’s relationship gets hotter.