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Are You Here Blu-ray Review

Are You Here (2014) movie poster Are You Here

Theatrical Release: August 22, 2014 / Running Time: 114 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Matthew Weiner

Cast: Owen Wilson (Steve Dallas), Zach Galifianakis (Ben Baker), Amy Poehler (Terri Coulter), Laura Ramsey (Angela Baker), Alana de la Garza (Victoria Riolobos), Joel Gretsch (Red Coulter), Paul Schulze (David Harken), Edward Herrmann (Dr. Vincent), Peter Bogdanovich (Judge Harlan Plath), David Selby (Karl Stevens), Laura Lapkus (Delia Shepard), Greg Cromer (Kyle Robertson), Jenna Fischer (Alli), Melanie Ratcliff (Attractive Neighbor), Dov Tiefenbach (Zed Starkovich), Tom Key (Felty Yoder)

Buy Are You Here from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD Instant Video

As much as the gap between them narrows, film and television remains two different mediums. What works in one format doesn't always translate to the other. And while we have seen a number of recent TV showrunners like J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon successfully transition into big movies,
we've also seen a number of acclaimed creators strike out in the helm of feature films. I'll spare them the embarrassment of naming them, because they're easy to identify (hint: they're still primarily working in television or not working much at all).

David Chase created one of the most revered modern television series in "The Sopranos" and yet his first attempt at writing and directing a feature film after that -- 2012's Not Fade Away -- came and went with hardly anyone noticing. Matthew Weiner, who flourished as a writer and eventual executive producer on that HBO series, proceeded to create his own landmark TV drama in "Mad Men." With that decorated AMC period series approaching its final lap, Weiner tried his hand at a feature film. His comedy Are You Here attracted some A-list talent and some buzz. And yet its theatrical release in late August was virtually non-existent. Not Fade Away only sold a pitiful 75,000 tickets in its limited winter release, but Are You Here must have fared much worse, as distributor Millennium Entertainment didn't even tabulate any ticket sales on the film, which was released On Demand the same day.

Barely a month later, Are You Here hits DVD and Blu-ray this week, looking like a direct-to-video stinker in spite of its three appealing lead actors. Looks can be deceiving, but in this case, they're not.

In "Are You Here", Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) and Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis) have a strange friendship based on mutual drug use and financial dependency.

Owen Wilson plays Steve Dallas, an Annapolis weatherman who has succeeded on his natural charm and good looks. Simply reporting what a homely meteorologist tells him to, Steve has loads of time and money. Well, the money situation is kind of tricky, because he has a number of maxed-out cards he spends on women (both prostitutes and legitimate dates), booze, and pot. He actually has to ask for an advance on his salary.

But the movie isn't about Steve Dallas' finances. It is a little more interested in his curious lifelong friendship with Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis), an unconventional and financially dependent hermit with whom he gets high. Ben's father, a wealthy farm and grocery store owner in the Amish country of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, passes away in his late seventies. His will surprisingly leaves the vast majority of his $2.5 million estate to his estranged son. In contrast, Ben's sister Terri (Amy Poehler), who is trying hard to conceive with her husband, receives "only" $350,000. The elderly decedent's young widow, Angela (Laura Ramsey), his hippie wife of five years, gets nothing per her wishes.

Terri takes legal action to challenge the inheritance, questioning the mental competency of Ben. For a while, that seems like it could be the focus of the film, as it jeopardizes Ben's grand vision for a non-profit society. Pro-marijuana but anti-chemicals, Ben is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and resists a doctor's prescribed medications. When a judge rules to let the will stand despite Ben's mental troubles, that ends that crux of the plot. Still, Ben's well-being remains a concern to both Steve and Angela, to whom both he and Ben grow closer.

If there is one central focus to the narrative, it is the void in Steve's life, one he can't fill with sex, love, drugs, or sobriety.

TV weatherman Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) arrives to work late and often high, but does his job well nonetheless. The bipolar Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis) uses a spiral notebook to compile rantings he intends to publish.

Are You Here is a real head scratcher. The biggest question it raises is how can the individual behind one of modern television's deservingly most celebrated series declare himself utterly unqualified to write and direct a feature film?
Weiner has taken a writing credit on most "Mad Men" episodes. He's also directed nine episodes to date, including most season finales. Even if it has come down to the ground from yearly Emmy domination, the show still commands a lot of respect and love from critics, the industry, and the general public. How then can Weiner's gifts for storytelling and characterization be so absent here?

Clearly, the showrunner is out of his element. Not only is he moving from hour-long episodes to feature film, but he's also moving from a period setting to the present day and from drama to comedy. While "Mad Men" is very funny at times, it's no comedy and the past it depicts is central to its appeal. As is the nature of the series' design: going to work and coming home with Don Draper and his fellow advertisers against a world of change. Reflecting on the progress of full seasons of "Mad Men", especially the more recent ones, it's tough to remember what happened and to recognize how the story advanced in a meaningful way. It's easy to be distracted from such concerns when investing only an hour a week or even nine hours on a complete season's DVD or stream.

On Are You Here, such structural deficiencies are glaring and disappointing. The film moves from scene to scene with no rhyme or reason to anything. Some moments work. Many do not. The whole thing is a real mess, having the feel of something scrutinized and second-guessed beyond recognition and any identifiable form. Weiner throws in so many metaphors, ideas, and trite philosophies under the apparent assumption that some of them will resonate with viewers. But they're inconsistent and often at odds.

The shortchanged Terri Coulter (Amy Poehler) takes legal action to challenge her father's last will and testament. The recently widowed and saintly Angela (Laura Ramsey) serves as potential love interest to two lead characters.

Weiner wants to simultaneously criticize modern day values and the rural alternatives. He keeps you guessing as to how he really feels, as prevailing sentiments repeatedly contradict one another and ring hollow.
For an upsetting example, there is an absolutely tasteless chicken-slaughtering scene that seems to overtly push a vegetarian agenda. Subverting expectations, the next scene finds everyone, even Bloomin' Onion vegetarian Ben, drawn to and enjoying the appetizing poultry dinner. Is there a point to that juxtaposition? Maybe, but it's one you'll have to derive on your own. The same goes for the ambiguous closing scene, which follows a wholly unsatisfying conventional romance in the rain resolution.

One must acknowledge that Weiner has some interesting thoughts on contemporary life. Such conscientious commentary is truly rare among modern film, especially comedies. Nonetheless, the writer-director fails to convey these ideas in a compelling or coherent manner. There is no obvious market for the film, which has the stars and appearance of a mainstream comedy but uncommercial unconventionality that would give any major studio serious pause. Millennium's nominal narrow release, despite all the clout, is perfectly understandable. Still, you shouldn't misinterpret that as this being an indie film too brilliant for the masses. Are You Here is too brilliant for nobody.

The most troubling thing about this film is that it can't draw a single laugh from three of the most entertaining and likable actors of modern film and television. The film is painful and depressing in that sense. Poehler is flat-out wasted in her minimal screentime. Wilson doesn't even get many jokes as the contemplative center. The real surprise is Galifianakis, who is in the position of not being funny for one of the first times in his career. His many bits intended as comedy draw cringes, while his most powerful moment comes when he shaves his thick beard and becomes somewhat unrecognizable. This cast has delighted too frequently to place blame on them; they are simply unable to elevate Weiner's subpar script.

Are You Here runs closer to two hours than it has any reason to. You certainly notice that excessive length repeatedly, especially when it becomes clear that this isn't the case of a movie overcoming a slow, shaky start to find its footing. This is simply a miscarriage of comedy of which you wouldn't think its makers capable.

Are You Here Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
5.1 Dolby TrueHD (English), Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: September 30, 2014
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($28.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Few have noticed Millennium Entertainment's regrettable practice of cropping wide films to the now standard dimensions of 16:9 televisions for DVD and Blu-ray. One fears that practice may have been performed here, given the case's "16 x 9 Full Frame" designation and the studio's 2.40:1 opening logo. Nonetheless, the 1.78:1 framing does not seem compromised and the trailer (often a telltale indicator) presents the film in a similar 1.85:1 ratio.

With aspect ratio presumably not a concern, it is easy to admire the Blu-ray's outstanding picture quality. The transfer is remarkably sharp and vivid throughout. The default Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is free of any issues as well, showcasing the film's array of music and endless dialogue with nary a concern.

The Are You Here trailer makes clear who you can blame for the movie's failings. Owen, Amy, and Zach look on as Steve Dallas gets last-minute touch-ups and hook-ups for his Annapolis news program.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The disc's one main bonus feature is an audio commentary by writer-director-producer Matthew Weiner, editor Chris Gay, and director of photography Chris Manley. Weiner leads the track (which the menu attributes solely to him), sharing the rationale behind compositions and moments, plus revealing that the movie was ten years in the making.
Other topics include creating a modern news station, shooting at Outback Steakhouse and other locations, technical challenges, the influence of Groundhog Day, personal elements incorporated in the script, and minor details easily missed in viewing. The speakers all seem oblivious to the fact that a lot of viewers are going to hate this film. Though substantial, the track doesn't give you any clues as to where this movie went so wrong.

A Previews submenu adds access to Are You Here's HD trailer (2:23) to the disc-opening SD one for Fading Gigolo.

The scored menu plays clips in the portion of the outlandish cover design that displays sky, while animating the backdrop. This Region A disc does not support bookmarks, but does kindly resume unfinished playback of the film.

Hoping to make the movie stand out in spite of its theatrical obscurity, Millennium tops the standard blue keepcase with an embossed slipcover that applies holographic effects to large parts of the front and back, using the color spectrum to try to draw your attention.

Steve (Owen Wilson), Angela (Laura Ramsey), and Ben (Zach Galifianakis) hold hands and say grace before sitting down to the bonding dinner whose chicken Steve slaughtered.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner makes a most unfortunate feature writing and directing debut on Are You Here. This joyless and interminable soul-searching comedy squanders a wealth of talent and taxes your patience with aimless, unappealing storytelling that's bogged down by muddled contemporary social commentary.

The Blu-ray kindly sports great picture and sound plus a flowing commentary, but this oddly tone-deaf film is likely to annoy, anger, and astonish you with its countless shortcomings.

Buy Are You Here from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed September 28, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 Millennium Entertainment, Gilbert Films, and Weiner Bros.
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