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American Honey: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

American Honey (2016) movie poster American Honey

Theatrical Release: September 30, 2016 / Running Time: 163 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Andrea Arnold

Cast: Sasha Lane (Star), Riley Keough (Krystal), Shia LaBeouf (Jake Boga), Raymond Coalson (JJ), Chad McKenzie Cox (Billy), Verronikah Ezell (QT), Arielle Holmes (Pagan), Garry Howell (Austin), Crystal B. Ice (Katness), McCaul Lombardi (Corey), Shanna Rae Moseley (Shaunte), Dakota Powers (Runt), Isiah Stone (Kalium), Kenneth Kory Tucker (Sean), Christopher David Wright (Riley), Will Patton (Backseat Cowboy)

Buy American Honey from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

American Honey succeeds at being different from other new films in almost every way. It runs longer than most, at a substantial 163 minutes. It is shot more narrowly than most, employing the 1.33:1 aspect ratio that hasn't been widely used in ages.
And more significantly than those distinctive features: the way it tells a distinctive story with realistic characters you don't often see represented in cinema. Written and directed by the UK's Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, Red Road), Honey features a large cast of unknowns plus Shia LaBeouf and another actor you might know in Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Runaways).

At the film's opening, messily-dreadlocked 18-year-old protagonist Star (Sasha Lane) and two young children are raiding a dumpster for food. While hitchhiking for a ride home, Star encounters a white van full of rowdy contemporaries. Catching her eye is Jake (LaBeouf), a smooth talker in dress pants and suspenders with face piercings and Jedi braids. Jake offers Star a job in his crew that is taking off for Kansas City in the morning. Dumping the kids off on the biological mother who wants nothing to do with them, Star shows up and joins the band of young misfits who make up this operation.

"American Honey" follows Star (Sasha Lane), an 18-year-old from Texas, as she joins a traveling crew of door-to-door magazine sellers.

They're all around the same age as her and mostly from different parts of the South (Star is from Texas). Inviting comparisons to the Lost Boys of Never Land and Fagin's pickpockets of Oliver Twist, the gang features such personalities as a girl in a pixie cut who's obsessed with Darth Vader and draws him as a tortured skeleton under that helmet and an always-shirtless guy notorious for whipping out his genitals. Why are all these lost souls singing along with rap tunes on a van ride to Kansas City? To sell magazine subscriptions. It's an apparently legitimate business with very sketchy and dubious practices. Leading the crew is Krystal (Keough), a young woman who is serious about sales, but who also advises her employees while getting lotioned up in a Confederate flag bikini.

Star tags along with Jake and sees him target the heartstrings of affluent homeowners with made-up tales about the educational opportunities this magazine drive can earn an underprivileged youth like him. On top of the cash they can pull in from subscriptions, the group also swipes some jewelry. Cash is turned in to Krystal, who gets a cut. The lowest sellers are ridiculed and forced to fight one another for the others' amusement.

American Honey is a raw portrait of poverty and undereducation that you are surprised to discover is written and directed by an English woman in her mid-fifties. Without having read reviews, I can only assume that this was repeatedly likened by critics to the films of Larry Clark (Kids, Bully) and Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers). Honey gives a voice to people who don't really have it. Youths without families who are trying to be adults without the educational foundation or social skills to pull it off. They seem like a fairly unpleasant group to be around, as they pile into motel rooms, three to a bed. But this lifestyle of door-to-door selling on the road is an upgrade over whatever they have back home, which for Star includes a repulsive beer-swilling redneck who gropes her.

Mag crew boss Krystal (Riley Keough) dispatches job advice in a too-small Confederate flag bikini while Jake (Shia LaBeouf) lotions her up.

It is not just the runtime that makes Honey a challenging view. There are multiple graphic realistic sex scenes, including an uncomfortable foray into prostitution. And the focus never shifts from the Southern underbelly comprised of obnoxious hustlers and vagabonds and their hardly more sympathetic prey (which include a little girl who quotes Dead Kennedys' "I Kill Children" and young teenagers who hose themselves and dance suggestively in the backyard).

This is not a film easy to love or even like, but it's also one that makes a substantial impression on you with its lack of artifice and the light it shines on tragic figures about whom modern fiction rarely considers and modern society hardly notices. Do ragtag traveling door-to-door magazine crews like this exist? A little bit of research indicates yes.
But even without that research, the movie makes you buy what it is selling and believe into the reality it constructs. At a time, when so many movies resemble one another and conform, American Honey is easy to appreciate for being its own unconventional, unusual thing.

Too different to be much of a commercial attraction, the film grossed only two-thirds of a million dollars from a fall run that peaked in 135 theaters. The predictable critical acclaim it generated does not translate to a major awards season presence, but the film did get recognized with a BAFTA nomination for Outstanding British Film of the Year (ironic, given the setting and cast) and six nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards including Best Feature, Best Director, and acting nods for Lane, Keough, and LaBeouf. We'll see how it fares there on the eve of the Oscars in late February. In the meantime, you can now discover the film on Blu-ray and DVD from A24's video partner Lionsgate.

American Honey: Blu-ray + Digital HD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Extras Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: December 27, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($19.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

You might wonder why American Honey uses the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but you won't question how it does it. The cinematography by Robbie Ryan, the subject of the film's sixth Independent Spirit Award nomination, is distinctive and appealing, its use of sunlight and cramped framing conveying much and putting things into perspective. The Blu-ray presents the narrow film with no issue, as black vertical bars fill up Blu-ray's 16:9 frame. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix also warrants praise, with its prominent use of hip-hop and other songs as well as its distribution of dialogue.

Sasha Lane discusses her film debut across from the "American Honey" poster bearing her likeness. Krystal (Riley Keough) gives the mag crew marching orders from a motel parking lot on the 16:9 "American Honey" Blu-ray menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

American Honey is surprisingly only joined by a single bonus feature in "Sasha Lane & Riley Keough on American Honey" (6:20).
In this short featurette, the two lead actresses separately discuss getting cast and their experience on the film, getting last-minute sides rather than a full script and being able to improvise somewhat across from non-actors. The piece is conspicuously devoid of behind-the-scenes footage, supplying only talking heads and film clips.

"Trailers" simply repeats the full trailers that play automatically when the disc is inserted, for Moonlight and 20th Century Women. American Honey's own trailer is not included.

A Digital HD UltraViolet insert sits across from the gray disc inside a slipcovered plain keepcase.

The flavorful menu plays score and screen-filling clips. The Blu-ray supports bookmarks and also resumes playback.

A braided and eyebrow-pierced Jake (Shia LaBeouf) charmingly extends a job offer to Star in an Oklahoma KMart parking lot.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

American Honey almost certainly represents a distinct change from what you've been watching. Many will find it unpleasant and challenging. But kudos to Andrea Arnold for making a bold, provocative coming-of-age drama outside the norm. You may not love it, but you will certainly not forget it. Knowing what you're getting into, the film warrants a look and, though light on extras, Lionsgate's Blu-ray edition satisfies with its top-notch video/audio.

Buy American Honey from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Shia LaBeouf: Charlie Countryman Lawless Disturbia Eagle Eye | Riley Keough: The Runaways Mad Max: Fury Road
The Kings of Summer The Neon Demon Swiss Army Man A Bigger Splash Violet & Daisy
Independent Spirit Award Nominees: Moonlight Manchester by the Sea Jackie The Witch Hell or High Water

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Reviewed January 19, 2017.



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