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Are You Here (2013)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/30/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/2/2014
Despite the fact that they are both visual mediums for entertainment and information there has long been a wide gulf between feature films and television. While there were some who moved between the two, both in front of and behind the camera, for decades entertainers often found their niche in either film or TV and stayed there. Often, those who worked in TV would long to make it to the movies. Today, those lines are definitely blurred, as movie stars headline television shows and popular TV actors show up in movies. Still, it can be a big deal when someone moves between these two worlds. Matthew Weiner gained acclaim with his award-winning show Mad Men. Therefore, Are You Here, his first foray into feature-film directing, certainly deserves a close look.
Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) leads an odd life. He is a TV weatherman in Annapolis, Maryland. He's popular with the ladies and has a new date every night. Also, he's always broke and also like prostitutes. His life-long best friend is Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis), a wanna-be author who lives in a mobile home and grows marijuana. Instead of taking life seriously, Steve spends all of his money on women and all of his time with Ben. Things change when Ben gets word that his father has died. Steve accompanies Ben back to their hometown in the Amish country of Pennsylvania where they encounter Angela (Laura Ramsey), the woman who had married Ben's father, and Terry (Amy Poehler), Ben's caustic sister. When the will is read, there are some surprises and Ben suddenly finds that for the first time in his life, he must take on some real responsibilities. But, there is a question of his mental competence. Meanwhile, Steve finds himself oddly attracted to Angela.
When someone like Matthew Weiner, who has 6 Emmys and 3 Golden Globes under his belt, announces that he's going to make a foray into feature films, people pay attention and the questions begin. Will it be just like Mad Men? Will it be the exact opposite of Mad Men? (Although, I don't know what that would be. Something set in the future where no one smokes and women are respected?) Obviously, this sets up expectations and no matter what Weiner did, viewers were bound to be disappointed. But, I doubt many expected him to make a movie which, on the surface, is so unoriginal. How many times have we seen a story where a family (often an estranged one) is forced to come together due to the death of a patriarch? This old chestnut has been featured in countless movies, ranging from comedies to dramas. Or how about the lost son, Ben, who may be crazy? We've seen that before. Steve may be the closest thing here to Mad Men, as his hedonistic lifestyle could be seen as a modern-day Don Draper of sorts.
So, Weiner decided to shoot for zero originality with Are You Here. That means it's awful, right? Not necessarily, but the movie is a bit challenging. Even if you've never seen these storylines before (And if you haven't, where have you been?), the movie presents us with many unlikable characters at the outset with Steve, Ben, and Terry, and one enigma in Angela. The main themes in the film have to do with growth and re-birth, so it takes patience to watch these characters go through some changes. Weiner takes his time with the pacing, so many will find these changes slow in coming. (This angle won't be surprising to viewers of Mad Men, as viewers have a love/hate relationship with nearly every character on the show.)
However, if you stick with Are You Here, you'll find a movie that is not without its charms. Look beyond the hackneyed plot and you'll find that Weiner has littered the film with many poignant lines which really stand out. Also, the film has a few significant moments where each character is faced with a special challenge. Weiner also gets a boost from his cast. Yes, Galifianakis is playing yet another weird dude, but Ben is like the darker twin of Alan from theHangover movies. Whereas Alan remains blissfully unaware of his issues, Ben is forced to confront his. (Also, kudos to the movie for portraying a semi-realistic view of mental illness.) Poehler abandons his typical bubblyness to play Terry as frustrated and mean. Wilson clearly feels at home in the lothario role, but his natural whimsy helps to keep Steve grounded.
So, how did Matthew Weiner do with his first feature film? The result is decidedly mediocre. He seems to be playing it safe by giving us an overly familiar plot, but he inhabits the movie is interesting characters and ear-catching dialogue. Therefore, we get a film in which the parts are better than the whole. Obviously, if I told you what the movie was about, it probably wouldn't sound very interesting, but given a chance, it may win you over.
Are You Here will make you re-think that chicken sangwich on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Millennium Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc carries an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. Weiner has shot the film in a very natural style, allowing all of the colors of the farm to come forward. The picture is never overly dark or bright. The picture has a nice amount of depth and the level of detail is good. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. There are a handful of noticeable stereo effects here, mostly highlighting sounds coming from off-screen. Likewise, we get a few surround effects, with the bulk coming during the finale, where we get some subwoofer as well.
The lone extra feature on the Are You Here Blu-ray Disc is an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Writer/Director Matthew Weiner, Editor Christopher Gay, and Cinematographer Christopher Manley.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long