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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Motel Life

June 2nd, 2014

The Motel Life - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

The Motel Life opened in limited release, as well as Video on Demand, back in November of last year. It earned good reviews, but not great reviews, and failed to find an audience in theaters. Granted, most films that open on Video on Demand fail to find an audience in theaters, but would this film have struggled even if it debuted in theaters without the Video on Demand? Or is it not strong enough for limited release?

The Movie

After we hear a young Frank Flannigan tell his brother Jerry Lee Flannigan a story, with animation, the film flashes to the modern day with Jerry coming home late at night to the motel room he shares with Frank. Jerry wakes up Frank and tells him they have to leave. They grab a few things and head off on the road. After they drive a bit, Jerry finally breaks down and tells Frank what happen. He had a fight with his girlfriend, Polly, who pointed a gun at him and then lit his pants on fire. He took off, but while driving home, hit a boy who was out on a bike. It wasn't his fault. It was really dark out and snowing and the kid came out of nowhere. However, when he saw the kid was dead, he panicked.

Through flashbacks, we learn Frank and Jerry's mom died when they were young and instead of letting the state separate them, they ran away. Their first attempt was to go by train, but Jerry slipped and lost his leg below his knee as a result.

The guilt is too much for Jerry, so he abandons Frank, sets the car on fire, and decides to kill himself. However, he can't go through with it and instead shoots himself in the leg. When Frank gets back home, he sees a note from Polly telling him what happened and what hospital he is in. Polly's there when Frank gets there.

Through another flashback, we learn about Annie James, Frank's ex-girlfriend with an abusive mother. The next day, Frank collects his last paycheck (with all that had happened, he couldn't go to work and understandably lost his job.) He tries to get money they need to get out of town, and back to Annie, but that turns out to be a bust. Tommy owes Jerry Lee money, but he also owes his bookie 2 grand. Shortly after that, the cops come to visit and Frank gets desperate and decides to sell his father's old gold-plated Winchester, but the place Tommy works at can only afford to give him $400. Tommy convinces Frank to put $250 of that on Douglas in the Tyson - Douglas fight ... Apparently this movie takes place in 1990. I did not know that till Tommy first mentioned that fight. For those who know their boxing history, Buster Douglas won that fight, and with it, Frank won several grand.

Is this the start of a turn of luck for Flannigan brothers? If you think so, you haven't been paying close attention to the movie thus far.

The Motel Life is a mixed film. It features a number of great performances, including Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff, as well as supporting actors like Dakota Fanning and Kris Kristofferson, who plays Frank's boss / father figure. Unfortunately, while the acting is fantastic, the script is meandering, to be kind. Not enough happens throughout the film to hold its audience's attention. This is compounded by the fact that the two main characters are also not compelling. It is hard to stay interested in what little happens to them, because they themselves are just not interesting.

The Extras

The only extras on the DVD and the Blu-ray are a three-minute long making of featurette and an image gallery. This is not a good selection of extras.

Likewise, the technical presentation isn't very good. This is partially an aesthetic choice. The film is about two people living in poverty, so the filmmakers made the movie look the part. It isn't ugly and there are no problems like compression issues or digital artifacts. However, the colors are not vibrant, as to fit the mood. The audio has clear dialogue, but it is very much front and center as far as the 5.1 surround sound track goes. Granted, it is a dialogue-driven drama, so clear dialogue is the most important aspect.

The Blu-ray costs $18, which is only $3 or 20% more than the DVD. That's a fair price for this kind of release.

The Verdict

If you really like the cast of The Motel Life, then the film is worth checking out. I requested a screener because I liked a number of the actors in this film. However, they are not given enough to work with that the replay value is high enough to be worth buying the DVD or Blu-ray over just renting it.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Motel Life, Jenica Bergere, Stephen Dorff, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Kris Kristofferson, Joshua Leonard, Garrett Backstrom, Andrew Lee, Nancy Youngblut