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Child of God Blu-ray Review

Child of God (2014) movie poster Child of God

Theatrical Release: August 1, 2014 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: James Franco / Writers: James Franco, Vince Jolivette (screenplay); Cormac McCarthy (novel Child of God)

Cast: Scott Haze (Lester Ballard), Tim Blake Nelson (Sheriff Fate), Jim Parrack (Deputy Cotton), Nina Ljeti (First Victim), Brian Lally (Greer), Steve Hunter (Auctioneer), Elena McGhee (Lady in White), Terrance Huff (Fair Pitchman), James Franco (Jerry)

Buy Child of God from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD Instant Video

As famous as James Franco may be as an actor, he remains an obscure director. Franco has now helmed four theatrical feature films, but each has played in no more than a handful of theaters. There's a good reason for that: Franco has chosen to direct wildly uncommercial material,
which his deliberate treatment and apparent quest for authenticity push even further away from mainstream moviegoer tastes. No one can doubt that Franco is directing for art, not money. Like any filmmaker, though, he'd probably prefer his art be seen.

While you can understand the inaccessibility of movies about rumored S&M footage cut from the Al Pacino movie Cruising and the final hours of Sal Mineo, Franco hasn't fared any better with literature. In between adapting two "unfilmable" novels of William Faulkner, Franco turned to a celebrated American author who's still alive: Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy's voice has been a staple of modern cinema since the Coen Brothers' 2007 filming of No Country for Old Men won a slew of major awards and substantial public admiration. The author is no more involved with the making of City of God than he was on No Country; Franco and his Sal co-writer Vince Jolivette adapt McCarthy's 1973 novel of the same name.

The story centers on Lester Ballard (Scott Haze), a disturbed man who is introduced angrily objecting to an auction being held on what he claims is his, or his father's, property. Short-tempered, uncouth, and apparently homeless, Lester is quite the protagonist. He spits, he mutters, he swears. He's arrested on a rape accusation, but it's not legit and doesn't stick. That frees Lester to go be a menace to society, which he does.

Lester Ballard (Scott Haze) clutches a stuffed tiger doll as the house he squatted in burns down in James Franco's "Child of God."

Early on, there is a brief shot of feces exiting Lester's anus and being wiped up with a tree branch. Authentic or not (neither scenario sounds pleasant but research indicates it is real), this shocking moment sets the tone for what is to come: content the MPAA describes as "disturbing aberrant sexual conduct", a phrase you're almost surprised to carry only an R rating instead of an NC-17. Lester happens upon a couple of young lovers who have apparently asphyxiated in their still running car. Initially, he's content to grope the deceased lady. Giving it more thought, he returns to go all the way.

You don't see a lot of necrophilia in films, but Child of God is determined not to shy from the subject. Imagine Weekend at Bernie's if Bernie was being violated on a regular basis. Worn out from carrying his dead woman's corpse, Lester rigs up a pulley system to raise and lower her in a cabin he's squatting in. Lester even buys his dead girlfriend a dress and underwear. But, the temperature drops and a fire he makes causes the whole cabin to go up in flames. Lester manages to save two large stuffed animals he won at a carnival with a display of his sharpshooting prowess. His dead girlfriend, however, is lost in the blaze, which reduces the wooden cabin to its frame and brick chimney.

While this puts a crimp in Lester's love life, it's not an insurmountable obstacle for this depraved loner. There are more young couples in cars just waiting to be made dead. The police (led by a sheriff played by frequent Franco player Tim Blake Nelson) are on his trail. There's also an angry mob hungry for Lester to receive justice.

Deputy Cotton (Jim Parrack) and Sheriff Fate (Tim Blake Nelson) apprehend Lester numerous times, to no effect. Lester's brief stint in jail enables him to befriend a convict to be executed.

Between As I Lay Dying and this, Franco seems overly fascinated by seedy southerners of the past.
Child is apparently set in 1960s Tennessee, though it looks like a much older setting most of the time. Child is just as insufferable as Dying, maybe even more so. Once again, Franco makes the experience a challenge, with a lead character who's unintelligible much of the time. After two of these similarly discomforting adaptations, I'm starting to think that Franco's filmmaking career is another venue for the type of performance art that saw him join the cast of "General Hospital" shortly before, during, and after he became an Academy Award nominee for Best Actor and Oscar ceremony co-host. Instead, these movies are just a puzzle, like what his soap opera stint might have been without clarification.

Whereas Dying relied heavily on split-screens, Child makes extensive use of fadeouts, narration from individuals we never know or meet, and giant Roman numerals to distinguish act breaks. Franco and Jolivette seem admiring of McCarthy's novel, placing excerpts onscreen a couple of times, but incapable of demonstrating its value.

Through its agonizing finale, the film is many things: appalling, disgusting, semi-indecipherable. There is some humor and also some of the darkest material you could imagine. A scalp is used as a wig, something you know must be faked. The streams of snot that swing down from Mr. Haze's nostrils seem genuine. Franco takes a minor supporting role in the final twenty minutes (which assumes inflated importance in the packaging's second billing and "And" credit). You assume he knew better than to portray this vile lead character. So instead, he cast a nobody in that role, a nobody whose only other recent film work has been in the other fringe films of Rabbit Bandini Productions, Franco and Jolivette's production company. Supposedly cast in the next film from Mud and Take Shelter maker Jeff Nichols, Haze will have to be an extraordinary actor to make us forget this troubling characterization.

Over a year after starting the festival circuit at Venice 2013 and a few months after beginning its eight-theater late summer engagement, Child of God recently reached Blu-ray and DVD from Well Go USA Entertainment.

Child of God Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS HD-MA (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($24.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Child of God looks pretty good on Blu-ray. The 1.78:1 element is clean and as drab as intended. The jerky digital video doesn't suit the material exceptionally well and the picture is a tad soft and grainy at times. On the whole, though, it is fine, as is the default 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack. English subtitles, which are in all caps for some reason, are a godsend and frequently a must for these incomprehensible southerners.

Child of God's trailer plucks adjectives from reviews that are likely highly negative. The Blu-ray's menu animates beams of sunlight behind a silhouette of our feral protagonist.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Franco evidently wants his art to speak for itself
because the only bonus feature found here is Child of God's trailer (1:49, HD).

It is followed by the disc-opening HD trailers for The Lookalike, The Zero Theorem, and Very Good Girls, which are also individually accessible from the menu's "Previews" listing.

The scored menu animates beams of sunlight behind the cover art's silhouette. The disc doesn't support bookmarks, but does resume unfinished playback.

Tightly held by a soft cardboard slipcover, the side-snapped keepcase includes an insert promoting other Well Go USA titles. Sad news for those who like their necrophilia movies on the go: no digital copy is provided.

Protagonist Lester Ballard (Scott Haze) develops a disturbing taste for dead women.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As someone who has long enjoyed James Franco's acting, I felt he deserved a second chance to impress with his filmmaking. Unfortunately, I'm reluctant to give him a third chance, because Child of God is another bleak, dreary, deliberately inaccessible outing unworthy of anyone's time. I'm not sure how Franco finds the time to make all the movies he has been on either side of the camera. But many are starting to lament his overexposure and I can only wonder what they'd think of the films he's directing if they bothered to see them.

In case it isn't clear, I'm not recommending Child of God to anyone. There are a number of things in this you'll wish you could unsee and practically nothing you'll enjoy or appreciate having seen. Just because this played in art houses doesn't make it artistic.

Buy Child of God from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Directed by James Franco: As I Lay Dying | Cormac McCarthy: No Country for Old Men The Road The Counselor
James Franco: Good People 127 Hours Lovelace Veronica Mars Third Person The Iceman
2014 Indies: Very Good Girls Borgman Blue Ruin 13 Sins Rob the Mob | Tim Blake Nelson: Holes Heavyweights Lincoln
That Evening Sun Winter's Bone Rectify: Season 1 Lawless Tomorrow Badlands

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Reviewed November 6, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 Well Go USA Entertainment, Rabbit Bandini Productions, and Made in Film Land.
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