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St. Vincent: Blu-ray + Digital HD UltraViolet Review

St. Vincent (2014) movie poster St. Vincent

Theatrical Release: October 10, 2014 / Running Time: 102 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writer/Director: Theodore Melfi

Cast: Bill Murray (Vincent MacKenna), Melissa McCarthy (Maggie Bronstein), Naomi Watts (Daka Parimova), Chris O'Dowd (Brother Geraghty), Terrence Howard (Zucko), Jaeden Lieberher (Oliver Bronstein), Kimberly Quinn (Nurse Ana), Lenny Venito (Coach Mitchell), Nate Corddry (Terry the Banker), Dario Barosso (Robert Ocinski), Donna Mitchell (Sandy), Ann Dowd (Shirley the Sunnyside Administrator), Scott Adsit (David), Reg E. Cathey (Gus), Deirdre O'Connell (Linda), Ray Iannicelli (Roger), Maria Elena Ramirez (Amelda), Ron McLarty (Principal Monsignor O'Brien)

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In St. Vincent, 12-year-old Oliver Bronstein (Jaeden Lieberher) and his recently-divorced mother (Melissa McCarthy) move to Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
Their introduction to their next-door neighbor is not a cheerful one. Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) is a grouchy old man who does not take kindly to the family's movers hitting a branch off his tree onto his old car and property.

When gym classmates at Oliver's private school take his school uniform with his phone and keys inside, Oliver comes home to an empty, locked and impenetrable house. As usual, his mother is at the hospital, working her long hours as a CAT Scan Technician. Vincent reluctantly lets the boy wait inside his dumpy house, treating him to some Abbott & Costello and a can of sardines and saltine crackers for dinner. That experience establishes Vincent as an unlikely go-to babysitter for Oliver. For $11 or $12 an hour, Vincent picks up the kid at school and lets him tag along on his daily routines, from the race track to his favorite bar.

One can easily question the wisdom of exposing a boy to the curmudgeon's many vices, which include smoking, heavy drinking, impatience, and swearing. The arrangement does arise as an issue in Mom's custody battle with her philandering ex-husband (Scott Adsit). But real world concerns are not high among St. Vincent's priorities. This is a film that wants you to get swept up in its world and to embrace this unlikely pairing of a cranky old man and a loner boy as beneficial to both parties.

Vincent teaches Oliver how to throw a punch when bullies at school warrant it. He also teaches him about the high-risk, high-reward nature of the trifecta bet.

"St. Vincent" stars Bill Murray as Vincent MacKenna, a hard-drinking Brooklynite who becomes an unlikely babysitter to the boy next door.

St. Vincent may remind you of movies like Bad Santa and Bad Teacher, where an oft-inappropriate adult of questionable influence finds themselves in a position of authority among children. What you could retitle Bad Babysitter ends up being better than those comedies. Yes, it is contrived, formulaic, and somewhat predictable. Furthermore, much of the film simply does not work as intended, from Oliver's dealings with bullies to Naomi Watts as Vincent's regular prostitute, a thickly-accented pregnant Russian stripper (or rather scantily-clad dancer, this being a PG-13 movie).

What does work is Bill Murray. Every moment he's onscreen, there is something to like about this film. Murray sinks his teeth into a lead role that any actor of his age would relish. The character is a little shaky at first. Murray adopts an iffy, inconsistent working class Brooklyn accent and his outbursts at societal standards (from bank lenders who cut him off with a shrug and a smile to telemarketers) feel a little stale and unoriginal. Eventually, though, Vincent wins you over, with Murray adding to his repertoire of surrogate father figures that includes Meatballs and Rushmore.

There are many layers to the character. One of them -- a subplot about money owned to a loan shark (Terrence Howard) that literally goes nowhere -- is unnecessary. But several of them enhance our understanding of a grumpy pauper who's barely getting by on booze, cigarettes, a (photogenic) white Persian cat, and his paid sessions with Daka. The characterization reminds one of a pair of performances Murray turned in a decade ago in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Broken Flowers. While the film as a whole may be comparable to those two, Murray's work here feels a little sharper and more powerful. He's ten years older and it shows on his very aged face. Doing the opposite of what most actresses do, Murray is actually playing a character four years older than him. He got the part after Jack Nicholson, 77, backed out.

Once a brilliant mainstream comedian and major box office draw, Murray has been embracing indie roles with drama and pathos for over fifteen years now. He has been celebrated for it, most significantly for his Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated turn in Lost in Translation. Murray could have gone the Steve Martin route and continued to make the same kind of vehicles to diminishing returns. Instead, he's challenged himself and been choosy. His work for a couple of trusted directors (Wes Anderson, Jim Jarmusch) has won him admiration and respect even if it continues to drag down his box office averages from his lucrative days as a multiplex attraction.

Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) do not have a pleasant first encounter with their grouchy next door neighbor.

For awards purposes, St. Vincent was classified as a comedy, which as expected earned Murray his fifth Golden Globe nomination.
But despite the actor's reputation as a comic virtuoso and the frequent laughs that flowed in my packed-full theatrical screening, the film is far more striking for its drama. It is remarkably touching at times, including for much of its final act. Some jokes land and some do not. But the dramatic material cuts you to the core with precision and will offer relief for those with habitually dry eyes.

St. Vincent would not be nearly as endearing with a different actor in the title role. Murray's forty years in entertainment have earned him goodwill that enables you to love his characters even when they're doing horrible things (and given his reasons, nothing Vincent does is all that horrible). Murray gets some fine support from newcomer Lieberher, who is precocious but likable; McCarthy, who shows off some fine dramatic chops and is spared even a single fat joke; and Chris O'Dowd, who delights as a warm, approachable priest/teacher at Oliver's school. Watts' comic material falls flat, but I don't think any actress (especially a recognizable one) could make it work. Howard's plot could be lost without any detriment.

Theodore Melfi has attracted an admirable amount of talent to this, his first theatrical feature as writer-director (he did helm Winding Roads, a movie that ended up on Showtime in the late 1990s). His screenplay is somewhat derivative, a bit green and often not as clever as it thinks it is, but he does a solid job as director and helps the movie reach a satisfying end through some pretty tricky and potentially treacly turns. Melfi also has figured out a way to make moviegoers sit through end credits: have them appear over Bill Murray singing along with a Bob Dylan song while using a hose on his predominantly dirt backyard. Very few of those in attendance at my screening began filing out while those ran. Even watching at home, there is no compulsion to return to the menu until the song is done.

Pushed into wide release to a hearty $44 million domestic gross, St. Vincent ended up one of 2014's top-grossing indie films. Nominated for two Golden Globes (Best Picture, Musical or Comedy being the other), a scattering of newcomer honors for Lieberher, and, most surprisingly, a Supporting Actress SAG for Watts but no Oscars, the movie is now available to own on DVD and in the Blu-ray + Digital HD edition reviewed here.

St. Vincent: Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: February 17, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase in Textured Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

With a budget of $13 million, St. Vincent is a relatively small film. But it looks as good as much bigger ones in the Blu-ray's vibrant, flawless 1.85:1 presentation that's full of detail and color. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack also gets the job done well, with its fine, even distribution of dialogue, music, and minimal atmosphere. French and Spanish dubs are provided in Dolby Digital 5.1 along with English SDH and Spanish subtitles.

Pregnant prostitute Daka (Naomi Watts) gets a big breakfast with Vincent in this deleted scene. A colorfully dressed Bill Murray answers questions between Ivan Reitman and Mitch Glazer at TIFF's Bill Murray Day.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray holds two types of video bonus features, both of them encoded in HD. First up is a collection of twelve deleted scenes (10:44), arranged in no evident order. Though pretty short,

these do contain some bits of significance, including closure to the loan shark storyline, more of Oliver and his bully-turned-friend, more of Oliver's father (Scott Adsit), and scenes of Vincent sharing meals with Daka and his wife.

The other extra is "Bill Murray Is St. Vincent, The Patron Saint of Comedy" (19:55), a featurette comprised of St. Vincent movie clips and behind-the-scenes content plus, more significantly, highlights from Toronto International Film Festival's Bill Murray Day. Though we begin with a St. Vincent panel featuring Murray, Chris O'Dowd, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher and writer-director Theodore Melfi, the piece kindly also includes footage from earlier in the day in which Murray chats with Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman and Scrooged writer Mitch Glazer. Murray even humorously answers a few audience questions.

It does seem like the kind of passion project that would ordinarily elicit an audio commentary from the first-time writer-director, so the lack of that is somewhat unfortunate.

The disc opens with HD trailers for Begin Again and The Sapphires. These are not accessible by menu and St. Vincent's trailer isn't included at all.

Illustrating how Weinstein/Anchor Bay's Blu-rays are starting to more closely resemble the competition, the final extra is Digital HD UltraViolet, a code for which is the lone insert within the slipcovered blue keepcase.

The menu loops a montage of clips to the opening titles song, Tweedy's "Everyone Hides." As usual for the studios, the Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks and unfortunately doesn't resume unfinished playback.

Vincent (Bill Murray) imparts unconventional wisdom on Oliver Bronstein (Jaden Lieberher) in "St. Vincent."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The pretty funny and highly poignant St. Vincent succeeds largely on an outstanding performance by Bill Murray. Nicely complemented by newcomer Jaeden Lieberher, Melissa McCarthy, and Chris O'Dowd, Murray's turn certainly deserves to have been in contention for this weekend's Best Actor Oscar. Though it goes without major accolades, the film did at least connect with the public, becoming the best-performing movie starring Murray since Lost in Translation.

The Blu-ray treats the film to terrific picture and sound plus two valuable bonus features. It's a movie to see and one that may be worth owning at the right price.

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Bill Murray: Scrooged Rushmore The Royal Tenenbaums Passion Play Kingpin
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Reviewed February 21, 2015.



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