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Dustin's Blu-ray Review
The Motel Life  (2014)
Reviewed by Dustin Putman

The Film
1.5 Stars
(Release Date: June 3, 2014) –"The Motel Life" is a pedestrian, undeveloped indie clunker, its failure as a complete, satisfying story especially disappointing since the sibling relationship at its center could have been special with a better script. As the slightly younger, comparatively together Frank Flannigan and the troubled, handicapped Jerry Lee, Emile Hirsch (2013's "Prince Avalanche") and Stephen Dorff (2010's "Somewhere") share an intimate spark specific to brothers who have grown up together and know each other inside and out. Were it not for the actors' gaping 12-year age difference, they would be a faultless match for these roles. As the plot develops, however, a deadly hit-and-run accident the catalyst for the two of them skipping out on their directionless blue-collar lives in Reno, first-time directors Alan and Gabe Polsky (screenwriters of 2009's "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans") can never quite focus on what it is they are trying to convey.

The narrative is all over the place and doesn't do anything particularly well, the brothers' present-day predicament undercut by scattershot flashbacks to their childhood, subplots involving a gambling addict (Joshua Leonard) and a car dealer (Kris Kristofferson), a romance between Frank and former flame Annie (Dakota Fanning), and self-indulgent hand-drawn animation sequences where Frank weaves wild tales to Jerry Lee about their alternate-reality pasts. There is too much here and, at 85 minutes in length, not enough time to cohesively explore any of it. "The Motel Life" has been adapted by Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue from an acclaimed novel by Willy Vlautin, and the only nuances remaining in the translation from page to screen can be attributed to the work of its fine, if underutilized, cast. They all deserve better.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound
 A/C+

"The Motel Life" was shot on 35mm, and the consistent textures and fine grain-life structure showcased in its excellent 1080p transfer make a convincing argument for the continued value of non-digital moviemaking. Even if the picture has plenty of problems, its Sierra Nevadan milieu comes to vivid life through its particular filmic lens. Dim lighting situations are every bit as reliably resolved as the daytime segments, blacks are deep and rich, and a solitary split-second hint of banding is the only detectable anomaly to be found. Considering how modest of means the film is, "The Motel Life" looks great. Unfortunately, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio does not match the visual properties, the sound field so adamantly front-heavy that I had to check the back speakers in my home theater to make sure they were working properly. To be fair, this is a dialogue-heavy feature—and the dialogue is always clear and leveled—but one nonetheless expects more from a brand-new release's lossless audio track.

Blu-ray Features
"The Motel Life" Featurette (3:23, HD); Theatrical Trailer (2:31, HD); Illustration Gallery

Bottom Line
It is appreciated whenever smaller independent studios support the Blu-ray format, and for this Cinedigm needs to be heartily saluted. "The Motel Life" isn't nearly as good as it could have been, but the high-definition visual presentation is a treat to gaze upon all the same. Hard-core fans and completists of Emile Hirsch's, Stephen Dorff's and/or Dakota Fanning's filmographies will want to take a look. For all others, there are plenty of better things they could be watching.

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© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman