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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Blu-ray Review
Jamesy Boy  (2014)
Reviewed by Dustin Putman

The Film
2.5 Stars
(Release Date: February 25, 2014) – An episodic character drama about a wayward teenage boy who perilously embraced a life of crime before narrowly coming out the other side, "Jamesy Boy" unloads a true-life tale that has become far too commonplace in the real world. This fact also elevates the material, with debuting writer-director Trevor White and co-writer Lane Shadgett providing a tough, involving treatment that avoids feeling like a Lifetime movie. Seguing between two time periods—after his arrest at the age of 15, and what ultimately led to it—they present a full, frustrating but sympathetic portrait of a troubled youth.

Raised by single mother Tracy (Mary-Louise Parker) in a lower-middle class section of Baltimore, James Burns (Spencer Lofranco) is only fourteen years old and already has gotten into so many scuffles with the law—robbery, vandalism, assault—that the public school system is reluctant to accept him. Frustrated by the series of doors slammed in his face and angry about the ankle bracelet he is court-ordered to wear, James rebels, moving out of his house and falling in with a drug-dealing gang led by Roc (Michael Trotter). Three years later, James is in prison on a weapons possession charge, stuck between writing aspirations and keeping his temper in check and giving up completely, yet another victim of the system. It is his unlikely sort-of friendship with a hardened fellow inmate, five-time murderer Conrad (Ving Rhames), that finally sets him on a path toward personal redemption.

"Jamesy Boy" can never quite break free from its routine plot trajectory, but it certainly helps that director Trevor White so obviously cares about his characters. Spencer Lofranco (also appearing in 2014's "At Middleton" with co-star Taissa Farmiga) gives a performance worth being proud out, all the more so for it being his first film. In every scene, Lofranco is believable as the rebellious, unhappy James, attracted to the thug lifestyle when no other options appear to be viable and sacrificing the people who care about him along the way. The whole ensemble is rock-solid, among them Mary-Louise Parker (2013's "Red 2") as James' supportive mother, Tracy; Taissa Farmiga (2013's "The Bling Ring") as the hardworking Sarah, whom James takes a liking to; James Woods (2013's "White House Down") as head prison guard Lt. Falton, and Rosa Salazar as wild-child Crystal, bringing layers of unspoken shame to a girl who has long given herself over to drugs and sexual exploitation. The soundtrack is more soulful than one expects to find in this genre as well, rap and hip-hop standing off to the side to make way for a more ruminative folksy, indie-rock vibe. Where "Jamesy Boy" is headed is not exactly surprising, but the film has been tackled with a sense of thoughtfulness and compassion that makes the would-be garden-variety narrative worthwhile.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

The gritty subject matter of "Jamesy Boy" is no match for its immaculate 1080p transfer. This is a reality-based, character-oriented slice-of-life, not a chance to throw around a lot of shiny new visual effects and pyrotechnics, and so it naturally does not have that certain "wow" factor of a big-budget blockbuster. On its own terms, working among smaller, more intimate means, however, this is an outstanding digital mastering with no downside. Blacks are inky, artificial sharpening is nonexistent, banding is never in evidence, and the details brought forth in backgrounds and clothing are sharp and healthy. The same assessment could be made of the disc's DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, which is beyond proficient but not exactly a seat-rattler. This is a dialogue-centric picture, not an action spectacle, but the sound still impresses by doing its job perfectly. The back channels are used in minor ways-e.g., sound effects, the soundtrack-but the track always strikes one as full and precisely as intended.

Blu-ray Features
Audio Commentary with director Trevor White; Cast Interviews - James Woods (7:33, HD), Mary-Louise Parker (3:27, HD), Ving Rhames (1:15, HD), Spencer Lofranco (1:57, HD), Taissa Farmiga (2:43, HD); Theatrical Trailer (1:37, HD)

Bottom Line
"Jamesy Boy" tells a familiar story, but is lifted up a notch and strikes an additional emotional chord by being based closely on the life of James Burns, a guy who turned his life around despite daunting adversity. The A/V quality is aces all around, while special features include an informative feature-length audio commentary from director Trevor White. This Phase 4 Films/XLrator Blu-ray release is solid on all counts, and comes recommended.

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© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman