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Jayne Mansfield's Car Blu-ray Review

Jayne Mansfield's Car (2013) movie poster Jayne Mansfield's Car

Theatrical Release: September 13, 2013 / Running Time: 122 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Billy Bob Thornton / Writers: Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Epperson

Cast: Robert Duvall (Jim Caldwell), John Hurt (Kingsley Bedford), Billy Bob Thornton (Skip Caldwell), Kevin Bacon (Carroll Caldwell), Robert Patrick (Jimbo Caldwell), Ray Stevenson (Phillip Bedford), Frances O'Connor (Camilla Bedford), Katherine LaNasa (Donna Baron), Marshall Allman (Alan Caldwell), Shawnee Smith (Vicky Caldwell), John Patrick Amedori (Mickey Caldwell), Ron White (Neal Baron), Irma P. Hall (Dorothy Lambert), Carissa Capobianco (April Baron), Karli Barnett (Autumn Baron), Wester Joseph (Connell Lambert)

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Billy Bob Thornton recently took a break from his music career to try his hand once more at filmmaking.
Thornton got into writing and directing not long after becoming a known actor. He won an Oscar for it, too, taking the Adapted Screenplay statue for his breakout feature and directorial debut, Sling Blade. Lately, though, when Thornton isn't making music and isn't making Canadian radio interviewers uncomfortable, he's simply acting and not often in films of note.

Thornton returns to both sides of the camera in Jayne Mansfield's Car, his first narrative film as writer and director since 2001's Daddy and Them. Thornton and his frequent writing partner Tom Epperson (The Gift, One False Move) tell a flavorful story set in 1969 small-town Alabama. That locale has always been home to the Caldwell clan, consisting of aging patriarch Jim (Robert Duvall) and his grown-up children, some of whom still live in his house.

Jim Caldwell (Robert Duvall) is an observer and commentator on deadly crime scenes. Cultures clash when the British Phillip (Ray Stevenson) is chatted up by beer-swilling former NFL player Neal (Ron White).

Dad is a crime scene enthusiast, who listens to police radio reports to show up at car wrecks and other deadly incidents to observe and share his thoughts about the deceased's dying thoughts and state of mind. That morbid pastime isn't appreciated much by his offspring, who got enough death in their war experiences. Skip (Thornton) was decorated as a Navy pilot in World War II, where Carroll (Kevin Bacon) also served. Now, Carroll vocally protests the ongoing war in Vietnam; he encourages his teenaged son (John Patrick Amedori) to enroll for college so that he isn't forced to enlist. Jim Jr. (Robert Patrick), better known as Jimbo, doesn't have quite as impressive a military record and that too is a source of pain.

Early on, the Caldwells get the news that Jim's ex-wife, the family matriarch, has died in England after an unreported illness and had asked to be buried back in Alabama. The occasion brings Mom's widower Kingsley Bedford (John Hurt) and his two middle-aged children overseas to meet their American kin for the first time. The awkwardness of the situation and the cultural differences soon fade as the film focuses on three relationships formed between the two families.

Lifelong bachelor Skip flirts with Camilla (Frances O'Connor), whose British accent drives him crazy. Jim's daughter Donna (Katherine LaNasa), who's married to an NFL player-turned-oaf (Ron White), takes a liking to the divorced Phillip (Ray Stevenson). And Jim and Kingsley manage to put aside their hostilities to bond.

World War II veteran turned protestor/hippie Carroll (Kevin Bacon) takes his turn seeking his father's validation. Car buff Skip (Billy Bob Thornton) sets his sights on a British visitor.

War stories are swapped. Fathers voice their disappointments in their sons. Hallucinogenic drugs are taken. Sex is had in a couple of different ways.

Thornton and Epperson's script is full of flavor and original ideas.
You don't often encounter as many characters and storylines, or as much attention to detail and setting, in an original script. Some of the war discussion and reflection is forced and the film ends on a strangely sour note, but that follows a number of exchanges that resonate and mean something.

The whole does not add up to more than the sum of the parts, but Thornton is a capable storyteller and talented director, who gives his actors and himself plenty to work with. Duvall, in particular, is great. Of course, he always is, so that's nothing new. Other cast members, like Stevenson and Patrick, are able to supply more than the one note they usually are given.

Shot back in the summer of 2011, Jayne Mansfield's Car (whose title refers to the bombshell movie actress' death vehicle that's put on display to Jim's interest) premiered at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival and played a number of US festivals the following fall, including Toronto, where it was acquired by Anchor Bay Films. A limited distributor whose business model makes little sense to me, Anchor Bay released Jayne to just eleven theaters for two weeks in September during which it grossed a scant $15,000 to subpar reviews. Now the film hits DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow.

Jayne Mansfield's Car Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Release Date: December 10, 2013
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($26.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Thornton's gifts aren't just dramatic in nature. He also brings technical proficiency to the picture, with his fine use of the 2.40:1 frame. The Blu-ray boasts excellent picture and sound, the sharp video displaying those strong compositions perfectly while the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix remains active and enveloping throughout.

Robert Patrick discusses reteaming with Billy Bob Thornton in the behind-the-scenes featurette. The Blu-ray's menu breaks off rectangles to display clips and stills.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The only extra is a hi-def behind-the-scenes featurette (9:13), which supplies the standard mix of cast & crew comments and on-set footage.

The disc houses nothing else, not even trailers for other Anchor Bay properties.

The menu displays pictures and clips in a variety of rectangles while score plays. The disc does not resume playback, but does allow you to set bookmarks on the film.

No inserts or reverse side artwork jazz up the plain blue keepcase.

Two old men (John Hurt and Robert Duvall) married to the same woman at different times bring different expectations for a Hollywood star's death vehicle in "Jayne Mansfield's Car."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Jayne Mansfield's Car serves to remind us that Billy Bob Thornton can be a compelling filmmaker when he wants to be, which isn't often. This indie drama does have some hokey and heavy-handed elements, but it holds the viewer's interest with its tale of a death bringing two families together in the South at the end of the 1960s.

The Blu-ray delivers a fine feature presentation and a routine making-of featurette. You don't really expect more than that from such an under-the-radar movie. But most will consider the film a one-time viewing, so it's only a matter of time before the disc should fetch bargain bin prices.

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Billy Bob Thornton: Sling Blade Faster Dead Man Eagle Eye Armageddon Tombstone
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Reviewed December 9, 2013.



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