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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Shame Blu-ray Review

From visionary director Steve McQueen, one of the most talked about films of 2011 comes home to stunning Blu-ray from Fox Searchlight and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. A film festival powerhouse, Shame has captivated viewers through its haunting depiction of the life of a sex addict and his emotionally troubled sister.  Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a New Yorker who shuns intimacy with women but feeds his desires with a compulsive addiction to sex. When his wayward younger sister (Carey Mulligan) moves into his apartment and stirs up memories of their shared painful past, Brandon’s insular life spirals out of control. Evocative performances from Golden Globe nominee Michael Fassbender and Academy Award nominee Carrie Mulligan make Shame the movie everyone is talking about in the privacy of their own home. 


Film (4 out of 5 stars)

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) lives a life that on the surface, is one that many men would envy.  He has a great job, a nice apartment, and an insanely busy sex life.  Brandon is seemingly living the dream of most men but it's not as wonderful as it seems up front.  While he does have a ton of commitment free sex, he also can't seem to think about anything else as he is a sex addict.  When he isn't having sex, he's thinking about it to the detriment of his personal and professional life.  At work he's going to porn sites non-stop on his work computer, masturbating in the bathroom stalls, and ogling his co-workers.  At home, he eats dinner while watching porn and expensive  online sex shows.

Brandon can't stop himself as he flirts with women non-stop even if they are married.  When that doesn't work, he hires prostitutes to occupy his time.  His boss David (James Badge Dale) is well aware of Brandon's appeal so he enlists Brandon to act as his wing-man as he tries his luck at bars.  David's pickup technique with women is overbearing and he makes a fool of himself while Brandon attracts the same women without hardly saying a word.  In fact, the main woman who David was pursuing later picks Brandon up and has sex with him, so it's fairly effortless for Brandon to meet his needs.

That routine is interrupted when Brandon's arrives home to find a naked woman in his shower which turns out to be his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan).  The casualness of how the siblings don't seem to care about one of them being completely naked while they have a conversation might even be a clue into some kind of disturbing family history which led Brandon to turn out the way he did.  Sissy is just as damaged as Brandon is but in different ways.  Sissy is needy and overly depended on a variety of men to take care of her.  At this point in her life, she has no one to turn to other than Brandon and she moves in with him against his wishes.

When Brandon and David watch Sissy sing at a nightclub, David starts hitting on her as soon as she joins them at their table.  Unlike the majority of other women, his pathetic lines work on Sissy and she brings him home to Brandon's apartment and has sex with David on Brandon's bed which infuriates Brandon.  Later, Sissy accidentally walks in on Brandon masturbating in the bathroom and then sees a live sex show taking place on his laptop.  With the level of his sexual desperation exposed, Brandon is enraged at the fact that Sissy knows the depths of his addiction and is at the same time deeply ashamed at her discovery.  He screams at her to leave his apartment and once she's gone, he systematically throws out his entire porn collection in an attempt to erase his shame.

From that point on, Brandon's life spirals even more out of control.  With each following sexual encounter, he becomes less and less satisfied to the point that nothing sates his appetite.  Even when he finally convinces the co-worker that he's lusted after for a long time to have sex with him, he can't maintain an erection because she means something to him which he can't handle.  He would much rather have meaningless sex with strangers so he continues to see prostitutes and easy women at bars.  Brandon's aggression continues to ramp up and when he graphically propositions a woman and then repeats it for her boyfriend, he is beaten severely and left in an alleyway.  By the end of the movie, Brandon is so lost and out of control that he's willing to even go to gay bars to get his sexual needs met.  

Shame is a powerful look at addiction and one that isn't addressed much since most movies focus on either alcohol or drug addiction since that's easier to understand.  For most people, there won't be a lot of sympathy for a handsome man who has a lot of sex. Director Steve McQueen strips away and exposes the truth of a sex addict.  For a movie full of full frontal nudity, McQueen keeps the tone and the desperation so ingrained that none of these scenes are titillating as one would think.  Thanks to McQueen's unflinching take on Brandon's addiction and Michael Fassbender's unadorned and rave performance, the audience gets a powerful look at how addiction can ruin a life. 

Video (4 out of 5 stars)

This 1080p (2.36:1) transfer offers a mixed bag quality-wise.  The overall transfer is clean and fairly crisp, but it also suffers from heavy grain that pops up frequently during night-time scenes (which make up most of this movie).  Detail is fairly good with definable textures that are well delineated and color is also well presented throughout the movie.  Black levels are mostly decent but could have been better.  For a low budget film shot on 35mm film, this looks pretty good on Blu-ray but it could have been better.


Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Shame's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix fares better with a more powerful than anticipated mix for a dialogue driven movie. Every channel is well utilized and active which adds some nice atmosphere to go along with the crystal clear dialogue.  The rear channels offers some wonderful ambiance from the bustling city whether it's the background chatter at a bar or the sounds of the subway.  The score from Harry Escott is well balanced along with the dialogue and effects and also sounds very good.


Extras (2 out of 5 stars)

I was hoping for more extras from this Blu-ray, at least a director's commentary but alas this is what we were given.  All of them are in high definition and run about three to five minutes each.  You can save some time by just watching the Fox Movie Channel clip since it has the most info and the other extras are made up from clips from that.
  • Focus on Michael Fassbender 
  • Director Steve McQueen 
  • The Story of Shame 
  • A Shared Vision 
  • Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Michael Fassbender 
  • Theatrical Trailer 

Summary (4 out of 5 stars)

Fassbender has proven to be a fantastic performer in earlier movies, but in Shame he completely commits to his role and gives it his all.  Carey Mulligan also delivers a great performance as the equally desperate sister and she handles the drama and the sings with aplomb.  This isn't a movie that you can easily shake off, as you will be thinking about it and Brandon for awhile afterwards.  While this Blu-ray can't match the movie itself quality-wise, I still recommend it for these incredible performances that were coached perfectly by McQueen.


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