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The Kings of Summer Blu-ray Review

The Kings of Summer (2013) movie poster The Kings of Summer

Theatrical Release: May 31, 2013 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts / Writer: Chris Galletta

Cast: Nick Robinson (Nick Toy), Gabriel Basso (Patrick Keenan), Moises Arias (Biaggio), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Captain Davis), Erin Moriarty (Kelly), Marc Evan Jackson (Mr. Keenan), Megan Mullally (Mrs. Keenan), Aison Brie (Heather Toy), Nick Offerman (Frank Toy), Nathan Keyes (Pul), Priscilla Kaczuk (Grandma Keenan), Eugene Cordero (Colin), Gillian Vigman (Carol), Thomas Middleditch (Rookie Cop), Tony Hale (Bus Passenger), Kumail Nanjiani (Delivery Guy), Michael Cipiti (Biaggio's Dad)

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Former David Letterman staffer Chris Galletta and TV helmer Jordan Vogt-Roberts make their feature film debuts as the writer and director, respectively, of The Kings of Summer, an artsy independent coming-of-age dramedy.

Best friends Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) and Patrick Keenan (Gabriel Basso) have just completed their freshman year of high school. Summer vacation is proving to be rather unbearable for each of them.
Joe is disgusted by the prospect of his widowed father (Nick Offerman) dating and trying to revive the sacred Game Night they shared with Joe's Mom and older sister (Alison Brie). Patrick can't seem to go more than a few minutes without his parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) questioning him about the most trivial topic, or adding their cheesy out-of-touch commentary.

Though relatively minor, the realistic problems of their home lives are off-putting enough for Joe and Patrick to find an alternative place to spend their summer: the middle of the woods. Joe, Patrick, and new acquaintance Biaggio ("Hannah Montana" alum Moises Arias), a machete-wielding, odd-looking short kid, put their shop class lessons to use and build themselves a little wooden house in a remote forest. They ditch their cell phones and prepare to live like men: catching their own food and relying on no one else.

In "The Kings of Summer", three teenage boys spend summer vacation in the woods, entertaining themselves with stunts like slicing an airborne watermelon with a sword.

Concerned, the boys' parents contact the police, but they're as at a loss as anyone else. Meanwhile, the three youths are living it up on food that's secretly bought from Boston Market, playful adventures they think up, and contact with the outside world via Kelly (Erin Moriarty), a girl Joe likes, and her friends.

These teenagers' escape is a romantic notion, aptly set up by relatable depictions of mildly but stiflingly strained family life. The plot doesn't stand up to much thought. It doesn't seem believable at all that three modern 15-year-olds could quickly become self-sustaining survivalists. Or that they could disappear into the woods with enough materials and know-how to quickly build a comfortable house, without any trace. Or that they wouldn't soon grow bored after ditching cell phones and electricity, and cutting their ties to the world.

Such considerations aren't addressed, nor need they be, because the film's selective depictions and blend of realism and fantasy are convincing and appealing. Joe and Patrick grow some light stubble and that's that. Their parents accept that the boys have run away and hope that they'll turn up safely. The few classmates they invite to their hideout evidently can keep a secret. But the kids' adolescent paradise loses its luster after Kelly shows interest in Patrick instead of Joe. Cue the tense, passive-aggressive Monopoly.

Kelly (Erin Moriarty) is the girl who comes between best friends Joe and Patrick. Joe's father Frank (Nick Offerman) takes the finding of a Monopoly game piece in the bag with his cell phone as a taunt from his son.

Vogt-Roberts, whose past work includes the web series "Single Dads", HBO's "Funny or Die Presents...", MTV mockumentary "Death Valley", and Comedy Central's "Mash Up", has strong indie filmmaking instincts.
He cuts together montages juxtaposing nature and man that would make Terrence Malick proud, but then lathers such scenes in carefully selected music from indie acts like MGMT to an unexpected rap to a character's a capella performance of "The Band Played On." In addition, super slow motion gives tremendous cinematic value to such boyish activities as arm punches and slicing a full soda can with a sword. It's all enough to provoke an emotional reaction and to enjoy getting swept up into this scenario that could never truly exist in our world.

The love triangle seems like kind of a lazy way out of this idyll. Up until then, you wouldn't expect Galletta's screenplay to go down such a conventional route. Nonetheless, on something as fast and otherwise fresh, it's tough to be too troubled by a kind of weak turn, especially when the film recovers with a satisfying, albeit probably inevitable conclusion. (Warning: before getting there, you'll cringe at preparation of a rabbit dinner.) Galletta draws enough good material from real experience and observation to render the rare misstep forgivable. Likewise, the film's universe is charming enough not to mind that some of its comedy, mostly that involving the bizarre Biaggio, is forced and flat.

Opening in just four theaters and expanding to 65 over the course of four weeks, Kings of Summer became the most limited theatrical release to date by CBS Films. Though unremarkable at face value, its $1.3 million gross exceeded all but one film released as narrowly this year. It might signal a strategy change for CBS, whose founding philosophy of mid-range films has grown questionable over a string of low-impact wide releases (e.g. The Words, The Last Exorcism Part II, Seven Psychopaths). Though limiting its mainstream appeal, Kings' indie sensibilities earned it critical respect. The film hit Blu-ray and DVD this week from CBS Films' video partner, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The Kings of Summer: Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP) and Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Kings of Summer reminds you of its indie nature with a grainy Blu-ray presentation. The nicely-shot 2.40:1 visuals are clean and sharp, but they feature more grain than your typical 2013 film. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio yields less comment, but more satisfaction. It envelops regularly with sounds of nature, prominent needle drops, crisp, full dialogue, and the occasional directional effect.

Biaggio (Moises Arias) faces his fear of quicksand by eating mud in this deleted scene. Jordan Vogt-Roberts talks briefly about his feature directing debut in "The Long Shot."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with an audio commentary by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, writer Chris Galletta, and the film's three young stars, Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, and Moises Arias.
The big group inevitably produces a steady stream of jovial, screen-specific talk. They point out lens flares and subtle touches, recall their experiences of shooting in Ohio, and reveal facial hair forgery and hidden muscles, with many in-jokes and sarcastic barbs along the way. Producer John Hodges is briefly included by cell phone.

The all-HD video extras begin with five deleted/extended scenes (14:07). They include extended forest play/pipe dancing, a convenience store chat, Biaggio facing his fear of quicksand, Joe's nature daydreaming, and a complete look at how that film-opening pipe number took shape.

Beyond those, we get three short shorts.

"The Long Shot" (2:59) gathers remarks from Galletta, Vogt-Roberts, and their cast members voicing their belief in this project and its novice makers.

"Frankly Speaking with Frank Toy" (1:21) contrasts clips of Nick Offerman's character from the film with sensitive communication tips.

Eugene Cordero crashes Alison Brie's interview featurette. The Kings of Summer's Blu-ray menu is the most creative encountered in a long time.

"Alison and Eugene" (2:17) has Alison Brie and Eugene Cordero chat and dance on the set, in between more movie clips. This and the commentary are apparently all that make it to the film's separately sold DVD edition.

The disc opens with a seemingly pointless promo for Sony Blu-ray and trailers for Inside Llewyn Davis, Roadshow Attractions' In a World...,
and Stranger Within. The previews section provides individual and group access to the aforementioned trailers plus a long redband preview of The To Do List and a standard trailer for Bad Country. Unfortunately, The Kings of Summer's own trailer is missing.

The appealing menu creatively animates frames from the film and character portraits while a western-meets-video game score excerpt plays. Originating from CBS Films distinguishes this disc from other Sony Blu-rays in two minor but regrettable ways: it doesn't support bookmarks, nor does it resume playback.

The side-snapped keepcase displays artwork on its reverse side and holds an insert promoting the film's soundtrack, which primarily doles out original music.

Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) wait thirty seconds for an omen from God before moving forward with their plan to live in the forest home they built.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Kings of Summer's narrative doesn't stand up to much thought or scrutiny, but this artsy indie film's exploration of adolescence still holds considerable appeal. This CBS/Sony Blu-ray sports a grainy but solid feature presentation, a lively audio commentary, and a light assembly of video extras. Though not the most remarkable platter, it's one to check out on the strengths of the film.

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Reviewed September 25, 2013.



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