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mid90s Blu-ray + Digital Review

mid90s (2018) movie poster mid90s

Theatrical Release: October 19, 2018 / Running Time: 85 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Jonah Hill

Cast: Sunny Suljic (Stevie "Sunburn"), Katherine Waterston (Dabney), Lucas Hedges (Ian), Na-kel Smith (Ray), Olan Prenatt (Fuckshit), Gio Galicia (Ruben), Ryder McLaughlin (Fourth Grade), Alexa Demie (Estee), Fig Camila Abner (Angela), Liana Perlich (Teresa), Ama Elesser (Zoe), Teren "Del the Funky Homosapien" Jones (Homeless Man #1), Chad Muska (Homeless Man #2), Harmony Korine (Todd)

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Jonah Hill rose to prominence as part of Judd Apatow's collective of funny young actors. Fellow members of that group Seth Rogen and Jason Segel advanced themselves by writing movies like Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall and then starring in them. Hill hasn't taken or needed that route, instead seizing outside opportunities
like the memorable roles in Bennett Miller's Moneyball and Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street that both earned him unexpected Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor. He has remained in demand largely by being good in good movies, a class in which many would include 21 Jump Street, War Dogs, and This Is the End. Now, in perhaps a move that most directly recalls Greta Gerwig's universally beloved Lady Bird a year earlier, Hill makes the leap to writer-director not to land a good part but to dramatize his own personal experiences in a coming-of-age movie distributed by young clout factory A24.

mid90s does not strike you as complete autobiography, but the titular setting and the fact that the protagonist is a 13-year-old Angeleno are two big clues that Hill, born in 1983, is drawing from his upbringing and fictionalizing the real universe in which he grew up. You may or may not love Hill's directorial debut, but you've got to admit he has written something authentic and personal from his heart and memories.

Stevie (Sunny Suljic, most recently seen in a supporting role in The House with a Clock in Its Walls) is a short, quiet kid who looks about 11. Our introduction finds him at the receiving end of punches from his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges, playing against the friendly gay type of his previous two movies). Stevie is kind of in awe of his 18-year-old big brother. When Ian is out, Stevie sneaks into his room and writes down the names of the rap CDs he has. Maybe that is just to buy a birthday present that Ian won't appreciate. Stevie doesn't seem to take after his orange juice-loving loner of a sibling in any other way.

Jonah Hill's directorial debut "mid90s" centers on a bunch of friends who bond over skateboarding in Los Angeles in the middle of the 1990s.

Stevie pops into a skateboard shop, where with a minimum of effort he finds himself welcomed into a group of friends consisting of four slightly older skate enthusiasts. There are the cool de facto leaders Ray (Na-kel Smith) and Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), the casually homophobic Ruben (Gio Galicia), and the quiet aspiring filmmaker they call Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin).

Swiping $80 from the dresser drawer of his single mother (Katherine Waterston), Stevie gives half to Ian and uses the other half to upgrade his dated dinosaur-themed board for something better and fresher. Practicing in the driveway at all hours of the night, Stevie, who is given the nickname Sunburn by the group out of a discussion barely involving him, begins spending all of his summer days boarding with the boys. They're not the finest of role models and soon "Sunburn" is smoking cigarettes, drinking booze, and engaging in dangerous stunts.

That is about as far as Hill takes the narrative. He develops some ideas: a rivalry between our protagonist and the apparently threatened Ruben, Mom telling the others to stay away from her son, some building conflict between Ray and Fuckshit. Little of it gets seen through or resolved in any way. Hill would rather just reflect on adolescent rites of passage, whether he's revisiting his own encounters or rewriting them to make him seem like the coolest little barely teen in all of '90s California. At a party, Stevie fingers a girl who is uncomfortably older and more experienced than him. His brother wears a Bill Clinton mask and punches him in the night after the young'un won't take any blame for the dresser drawer theft. There's a close call with the cops, who patrol a courthouse lot appreciated by trespassing skaters in fits. And there's an accident which drives the final act and serves to distract the less engaged from the story's many loose ends.

Stevie (Sunny Suljic) has a strained relationship with his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) in Jonah Hill's "mid90s."

All the while, Hill serves up the things that made the '90s what they were for him as a kid turned teenager in California. Mostly, that manifests in music, which predominantly is of the not-quite-mainstream hip hop variety.
The dilligently assembled soundtrack features tunes from The Pharcyde, Gravediggaz, A Tribe Called Quest, Souls of Mischief, and GZA that have mostly aged well and not become played out, especially not in film. A rapper few will recognize as Del the Funky Homosapien has a cameo as a thoughtful homeless man.

Reflecting the title, the movie places an importance on the era, which may be lost on those who didn't come of age around the same time that Hill did. For that matter, the allure of Stevie and his friends' way of life may be lost on those whose adolescence didn't involve skate parks. Hill nostalgizes and glamorizes this clique that he personally must have belonged in to some degree. He seems to be channeling young Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused with a much more narrow and less universal focus. None of the wisdom and little of the wit of Linklater's more mature films, like the Before series and Boyhood, makes the cut here. Running just 80 minutes plus credits, mid90s is brisk and never uninteresting even when it's uncomfortable or immature, which it often can be.

Still, in his first time in the director's chair at any length, Hill displays competency and flair, with the promise of more to come. He opts for more of an arthouse aesthetic than you'd expect of an actor whose filmography is almost completely mainstream. Shooting on Super 16 and using the long antiquated, former television standard aspect ratio of 1.33:1, Hill distances his work as an auteur from the technically straightforward movies he's known for. It likens the proceedings more to things like David Gordon Green's George Washington, Larry Clark's Kids, and Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild than Superbad.

The results are better than average but nowhere near as rewarding and life-affirming as, say, Gerwig's Lady Bird. The movie is hindered by the fact that Hill is either unable or uninterested to write characters who aren't juvenile boys with a penchant for mischief. The mother's few scenes don't resonate or ring true, Ian expresses himself only through silence and violence, and the closest we get to a heartfelt, insightful monologue feels out of place coming from Ray's mouth.

Though it made a big splash in a four-theater mid-October opening, mid90s didn't really catch on the following week when it expanded to over a thousand theaters, barely cracking the top ten and fading and contracting quickly. Both too small and not good enough to compete for major awards the way that Lady Bird did, mid90s didn't even vie for first-time filmmaker awards you figured it would. Its biggest nod was making the National Board of Review's top ten independent films list. It is now on Blu-ray and DVD from A24 video partner Lionsgate.

mid90s Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: January 8, 2019
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as DVD ($19.98 SRP) and on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

As mentioned above, mid90s runs with a dated arthouse aesthetic, which is maintained on this Blu-ray in an appealing way. The 1.33:1 visuals have the light grain of film, the occasional brief white speck, and some deliberately askew choices in lighting and framing. With no 4K edition, this Blu-ray will have to do and by any standard it does. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix also satisfies, mostly for its distribution of nostalgia-inducing '90s youth tunes.

A music store employee wisely recommends The Pharcyde's Labcabincalifornia CD for Stevie to buy his brother in this deleted scene. Stevie shares the screen with his not terribly age-appropriate party love interest on the mid90s Blu-ray menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The primary bonus feature here is an audio commentary by writer-director Jonah Hill and his director of photography Chrstopher Blauvelt. Hill predictably exudes the enthusiasm of a first-timer and he speaks with passion. Repeatedly, he touts the authenticity, from the period production design to skating talk to matching graffiti to a Spike Jonze music video from the era.
Using his co-speaker's surname countless times, Hill does bring Blauvelt into the conversation to discuss lighting and camera movement (or lack thereof). While there aren't any huge revelations (bigger than Sunny Suljic actually urinating on camera), this short track should hold some interest to fans of the film and aspiring filmmakers.

A deleted scenes reel runs three minutes. It features Stevie making prank calls and shopping for a CD for his brother, and the gang assigning themselves numbers based on looks and driving past a theater to spoil The Usual Suspects for those waiting in line.

Trailers holds no mid90s previews, but instead the disc-opening full trailers for Eighth Grade, Lady Bird, Moonlight, The Disaster Artist, and The Florida Project.

The menu splits the screen in two, playing clips in both along with an excerpt of piano score.

An insert supplying the digital copy accompanies the plain disc inside the slipcovered, eco-friendly keepcase.

Protagonist Sunburn (Sunny Suljic) enjoys a breezy skateboard ride down one of sunny Southern California's hills.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though loose-ended writing and a narrow voice ensure it falls short of the cult classic status it seems determined to achieve, mid90s makes for an interesting and personal debut for writer-director Jonah Hill. Lionsgate's Blu-ray serves the film well, with a fine feature presentation complemented by a passionate audio commentary, four deleted scenes, and a digital copy. But unless its '90s music and skate culture depiction speaks to you more, this coming-of-age tale feels like a one-time viewing.

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: First Reformed Juliet, Naked Once Upon a Deadpool
Lady Bird White Boy Rick Eighth Grade American Honey Florida Project
Sunny Suljic: The Killing of a Sacred Deer | Lucas Hedges: Manchester by the Sea | Katherine Waterston: Inherent Vice
Written by Jonah Hill: 21 Jump Street Sausage Party

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Reviewed February 25, 2019.



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