Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Motel Life Blu-Ray Review

Reviewed by Allie Schembra
This award-winning film is a searing and profound examination of brotherhood set in the timeless Sierra Nevadan frontier. Frank (Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild) and Jerry Lee (Stephen Dorff, Somewhere) are brothers who get by on telling fantastic stories and creating rich illustrations. When Jerry Lee is involved in a hit-and-run accident, the brothers are forced across the state to the home of Frank’s old flame, Annie (Dakota Fanning, The Twilight Saga). While they seem safe from the law, Jerry Lee’s instability and all-consuming guilt render their future increasingly uncertain.

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
I was not expecting to see the film I saw.  What I expected was a run-from-the-cops-and-hide-out-with-the-ex-girlfriend film.  What I got was an emotional look into the relationship of two brothers.   It’s not a happy story… not at all.  It’s very sad story about what happened to two boys who lost their mother. Jerry Lee and Frank Flannigan live out of motels in Reno, Nevada.  Not the kind where someone stays for a night while traveling through town.  These are the kind of motels where rooms are rented by the hour, day, week or month… but probably mostly by the hour.  The walls are cinder block; they are dank, drab and quite depressing.  

One night, Jerry Lee returns to the room and wakes Frank up and tells him they need to leave.  Once in the car, Jerry Lee tells Frank he hit a boy on a bicycle and killed him and they need to get out of town.  They stop and when Frank gets out of the car to get them food, Jerry Lee takes the car and burns it in the middle of a field.  The next morning, Frank goes to Jerry Lee’s girlfriend’s and finds a note that Jerry Lee shot himself in the leg.  Frank rushes to the hospital where he sees Jerry Lee is suffering, not only from the gunshot, but from guilt.  He’s afraid the police are going to find him and asks Frank to get him out so they can leave.

When their mother died, she left them their father’s Winchester rifle and told them to never sell it.  Desperate for money, Frank sells the gun for $400 and after betting some of it on a boxing match, turns it into almost $10,000.  He buys a beater car and goes to get Jerry Lee from the hospital.  Once on the road, they head toward Elko, Nevada, a small town in the middle of the Nevada desert.  When they arrive, they move into another hotel, and Frank contacts his ex-girlfriend, Anna, who lives in town.  Frank and Anna begin rekindling their relationship, as Jerry Lee stays in the motel room.

One evening, when Frank returns to the room, he sees Jerry Lee isn’t doing well.  His wound is festering and he needs to go to the hospital.  Frank rushes him to the hospital, where the doctors admit him.  Frank sits next to his bed and tells him stories… stories that have always gotten them through the worst of times.  Frank’s stories are wild and adventurous, and always make everything better… just not this time. 

Since the film ended, the story, the characters, the emotions have all sunk in more and I like it a lot more.  I thought that Stephen Dorff and Emile Hirsch had great chemistry as brothers and I really felt the emotion between them.  Dakota Fanning did a really great job as Frank’s girlfriend, Anna and I really enjoyed the interaction between all the characters.
Video (4 out of 5 stars)
The widescreen presentation of The Motel Life is really good.  It’s muted and gritty and really sells the atmosphere of the film.  Scenes in low light and darkness were clear and everything blended well together.  All of this together really made the film work.  I enjoyed watching this film.
Audio (3 out of 5 stars)
The Motel Life’s English 5.1 DTS Master Audio was good, but not great.  There are a lot of soft-spoken parts and they were difficult to hear.  I had to adjust the volume a couple times and even went back in order to make sure I heard what was being said.  That said, when the volume was right in the film, I could hear clearly.  English SDH subtitles are also available if needed.
Extras (2 out of 5 stars)
I’m not sure what I expected by way of special features.  What was provided were short and not entirely interesting.
  • The Motel Life featurette – Of the three features, this was the most interesting.  It was a short interview with stars Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff talking about each of the cast members and working with them all.
  • Illustration Gallery – a photo gallery of the animation woven throughout the film.
  • Trailer – The official trailer for the film.
Summary (3 out of 5 stars)
As the hours have passed, I've gotten to like The Motel Life much more.  I enjoyed the story, the characters and the emotions involved in the film.  I also really enjoyed how the film makers wove animation into the story and how the stories were told.  The Motel Life is definitely a movie I will watch a gain, and each time, I know I will get more out of it.

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