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Don Verdean: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Don Verdean (2015) movie poster Don Verdean

Theatrical Release: December 11, 2015 / Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Jared Hess / Writers: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess

Cast: Sam Rockwell (Don Verdean), Amy Ryan (Carol Jensen), Jemaine Clement (Boaz Yohalem), Leslie Bibb (Joylinda Lazarus), Stephen Park (Poon-Yen), Will Forte (Pastor Fontaine), Danny McBride (Tony Lazarus), Sky Elobar (Dr. Stanley), P.J. Boudousqué (Gary), Yaniv Moyal (Israeli Police Officer), Jared Shipley (Lab Tech)

Buy Don Verdean from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD • DVD + Digital • Instant Video

With the passage of time and the continued flow of output, Jared and Jerusha Hess look more and more like one-hit wonders. The husband and wife screenwriters caught the public's attention like few independent filmmakers ever had with 2004's Napoleon Dynamite, a quirky, Jared-directed high school tale that instantly entered the cultural zeitgeist.
They followed that up with Nacho Libre (2006). Envisioned as a mainstream summer blockbuster, it put up decent numbers, nearly twice as much as Napoleon did, but it wasn't anywhere near as embraced. The Hesses' third film, 2009's critically derided Gentlemen Broncos, barely got a theatrical release. Despite a healthy amount of star power, their fourth, Don Verdean, went the same route last December, pulling a measly $31 thousand from 40 venues and closing in just two weeks amidst more unflattering reviews.

Opening with a ragged VHS, Don Verdean introduces us to its title character (Sam Rockwell), a Biblical archaeologist whose work in the Holy Land is discredited by authorities but supported and appreciated by church communities. There is reason to be skeptical of Verdean's unsanctioned, unverified findings, which he details in DVDs and books peddled by Carol Jensen (Amy Ryan), a research assistant with obvious eyes for him. But it's not clear where the Hesses, proud and active Mormons, are going with this character.

Don Verdean (Sam Rockwell) and Boaz Yohalem (Jemaine Clement) examine the religious artifact they themselves just fabricated in "Don Verdean."

Don announces plans to unearth the final resting place of Lot's wife, a discovery that has born again church leader Tony Lazarus (Danny McBride) offer to bankroll Don's mission as a way to boost attendance at his church. Don gets in touch with Boaz Yohalem (Jemaine Clement), an Israeli contact who sends a pillar of salt that looks quite different from the one pictured. Don, Carol, and Boaz next set out to locate the Goliath skull. When they fail to do so or gain permission to dig in the place they suspect, Don takes desperate measures, tracking down the remains of an early 20th century wrestler with gigantism and digging up his skull to stand in for the giant that David famously slayed.
When Boaz finds out the truth about Don's forgery, he tries to cash it in for the good life in America, complete with a Pontiac, John Stamos jeans, and a wife. Meanwhile, Don's findings are challenged by Pastor Fontaine (Will Forte), an alleged former Satanist turned skeptic who preaches against the evils of certain breakfast cereals.

Don Verdean is a distasteful comedy. The Hesses have been accused of mean-spiritedness dating back to their breakout hit, but the charges seem to stick more with each passing credit. Their targets here of charlatans, unscrupulous leaders, and people of faith just feel nasty and create an ugly feel. Again, their characters are saddled with outrageous costumes, fashions, accents, and mannerisms. Rockwell's protagonist is surprisingly low-key for both the actor and the Hesses, but Boaz is a pure caricature whose fun pronunciations are his defining trait. Denim outfits and unstylish hairdos abound. We're probably supposed to laugh at these eccentrics, but the comedy is so tone-deaf. Though a slight improvement over the wretched and gross Gentlemen Broncos, Don Verdean is still a far from satisfactory film.

Rival Pastor Fontaine (Will Forte) bemoans satanic breakfast cereals and hopes to expose Don Verdean's fraud.

Given their critical and commercial declines, it is puzzling how the Hesses can keep attracting talent, bringing Clement and Rockwell back from the ill-received Broncos and adding in-demand actors like Forte, Ryan, and McBride to the mix as well. Such performers seem like the best you could get for this material and yet it still falls flat. The cast's presence did nothing to prevent this Sundance acquisition from being dumped in just a handful of theaters two weeks before Christmas under the Lionsgate Premiere banner, which saw it released to video on demand services the same day.

Last week, Don Verdean hit Blu-ray and DVD, each fitted with digital copies in a resolution befitting the format.

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

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: March 1, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as DVD + Digital ($19.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Lionsgate treats Don Verdean to a super clean, vibrant, and detailed 1.85:1 Blu-ray transfer. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix gets the job done, with the Hesses again leaning on some licensed songs, from Elvis to the Bee Gees, though most are contributed by a duo called Heavy Young Heathens.

Sam Rockwell and Amy Ryan discuss the joys of a Jared Hess movie in "Digging In." Director Jared Hess discusses an obvious topic of interest: post-production sound design in "Behind the Sounds."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Extras begin with a solo audio commentary by director/co-writer Jared Hess. He identifies the Utah filming locations and local actors,

reveals Chuck Norris was the visual inspiration for the title character, discusses how the subject matter caught his eye, and acknowledges cast contributions of dialogue and scenes the actors had to fight laughter to get through. It's an okay listen, though his doubts anyone will listen to it may not be altogether misfounded.

On the video side, we get two short HD pieces. "Digging In: Behind the Scenes of Don Verdean" (2:27) collects some behind-the-scenes footage and cast remarks speaking highly of the director and the plot.

The featurette "Behind the Sounds" (9:05), made to promote a facility called Juniper Post, takes a serious and substantial look at the sound design and automated dialogue replacement, unlikely topics for this film that are dissected with clips and commentary.

"Also from Lionsgate" repeats the disc-opening trailers for Mortdecai, American Ultra, Laggies, Love the Coopers, and EPIX.

The scored main menu plays clips from the movie in photo frames which hang against the theatrical backdrop of the poster and cover art. The disc uncharacteristically did not support bookmarks or resume unfinished playback.

An insert supplying directions and a code for the Digital HD with UltraViolet is all that joins the full-color disc in the slipcovered eco-friendly keepcase.

Tony Lazarus (Danny McBride), his wife Joylinda (Leslie Bibb), Don Verdean (Sam Rockwell), and Don's secretary Carol Jensen (Amy Ryan) admire the salt pillar which marks the final resting place of Lot's Wife.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Don Verdean is another piece of evidence in the case against Jared and Jerusha Hess. The Napoleon Dynamite makers have yet to follow that hit up with anything of value. They again squander a promising cast in this unseemly tale of Biblical archaeology and forgery. Lionsgate's Blu-ray delivers a terrific feature presentation plus a handful of okay extras.

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

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: Drunk History: Season 3 • Love the Coopers • Creed
Written by Jared and Jersuha Hess: Gentlemen Broncos | Written by Jerusha Hess: Austenland
Sam Rockwell: Galaxy Quest • The Way, Way Back • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Jemaine Clement: People Places Things • Men in Black 3 • Eagle vs Shark • Muppets Most Wanted • Dinner for Schmucks
Amy Ryan: Win Win • Gone Baby Gone • Bridge of Spies • Clear History Jack Goes Boating • Dan in Real Life
Danny McBride: The Foot Fist Way This Is the End 30 Minutes or Less Due Date | Will Forte: Nebraska

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Reviewed March 7, 2016.



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