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Morris From America (Blu-ray Review)

morris from america coverIt’s great to hear a lot of positive things about a small film you have some interest in and find that it delivers. Morris from America is the kind of film that would have had to be sought out to find it in theaters this past summer, despite its success at the Sundance Film Festival.  That is understandable, as it’s an independent film acquired by A24, but a shame, as the film is plenty enjoyable for a coming-of-age tale and a fish out of water story. Fortunately the film can now be found on Blu-ray and watched by many more with interest in this fine, little comedy-drama.

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Film:

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Markees Christmas stars as Morris, a 13-year-old American boy living in Germany with his father Curtis (a terrific and understated Craig Robinson). Curtis is a widower and Morris deals with rejection from other kids his age, as he is not strong with the language as of yet. Morris does think of himself as a young rapper with potential, which allows him to form a bond with a slightly older girl, Katrin (Lina Keller), whom he has a crush on. As Morris tries to be a regular teenager, outside of a life he is more comfortable with, Curtis does his best to also deal with German culture and be a good father, while they both continue to deal with the loss of the mother.

There is a level of familiarity to this story, as there is only so much to do with a father-son tale, but it has a number of welcome elements that keep it from feeling like a total cliché. Writer/director Chad Hartigan has some things in common with Morris’ story (although he wasn’t a young black boy who grew up in Germany), but the film does better for playing up the setting and scenario, without making that the key aspect that defines these characters’ arcs. This is a story about isolation and growing up and it just happens to have German culture as the particular flavor to further add to the film’s unique nature.

It’s a character study and a strong one thanks to the film’s creative choices, level of humor and casting choices. Robinson is a key player here and while he’s not the main character, his work with Morris and in general shows just how capable the man can be in any setting. I am a fan of Robinson for the way he can make me smile, but he has an element that will no doubt serve him well in the future when it comes to opening up and playing more roles that allow for more depth. Christmas was merely a presence on YouTube, before getting a chance to act in a film, but he finds what is required for a role like this. Never playing up a level of cuteness, he works well as a kid who could believably be the son of Robinson and one who is working out how to get along in his current situation.

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Swiss actress Carla Juri is the other notable performer here, playing Morris’ language tutor who also helps to provide some life advice. She’s just one of a number of factors that allow Morris to show us who he is and what he is capable of, were he to focus. Again, the film is about a young black boy with a penchant for writing his own raps (which are vulgar in a juvenile sort of way), but Morris from America wisely knows how to blend in these various factors without feeling overdone. It would be one thing, for example, to see Morris excluded because he’s a black kid amongst a bunch of white Germans, but the film doesn’t try to go with that angle. Instead, he’s just an American outsider and kids act the way some kids can, while others are more willing to try and make friends. The rapping, on the other hand, gets some fun play on both Robinson’s side as well as from the perspective of the German culture, who are more engaged by EDM.

Morris from America is not reliant on major scenes to emotionally manipulate you. The film is actually a lot cozier, especially when seeing the father-son interactions. By the time an audience reaches the climax, it feels less like an epic journey and more like a good perspective has been shown as far as how these characters are currently getting along, with some decent developments to get better. That’s all well and good, because Morris is a good kid who deserves some attention.

 

Video:

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail: Morris from America is a small scale film, but it does a fine job of presenting the Germany setting. We get lots of great detail in the various building, clubs and other locations visited. Outdoor scenes play well to the amount of clarity found in parks and other places as well. It’s a solid transfer that does justice to this low-budget feature.

Depth: Dimensional work is pretty decent here. No real flatness and some scenes featuring crowds provides the best examples of what the film has to offer.

Black Levels: Black levels are strong here. Quite deep and inky, given the many indoor and nighttime set scenes. A fine job is done of handling the lighting of various scenes, in addition to shadow work and more.

Color Reproduction: Colors are great here. Lots of various costume choices for the different characters, which allow colors to really pop. The clubs and youth group locations also feature lots of colors to allow this Blu-ray to shine.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones all look natural here. Facial textures all register very well, with the various details standing out to the right degree, without any hints of smoothing out the process.

Noise/Artifacts: None. A layer of grain appears during one segment of the film, but this was actually intentional for the sake of making a location feel different.

 

Audio:

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Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: The soundtrack is great, as we get plenty to comprehend on both the dialogue level, as well as the work done to factor in a number of songs and other audio elements. It comes through effectively, with a fine balance heard throughout.

Low Frequency Extension: The LFE channel gets some heavier songs to work with in club scenes and moments when Morris is tuning out the world.

Surround Sound Presentation: The audio track is mostly center and front speaker focused, but there is enough to take away in the rear channels as well.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone sounds loud and clear.

 

Extras:

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Morris from America arrives with a handful of extra features that do enough justice to the film, given the small scale of its release. The commentary track is certainly welcome, as it provides lots of stories that make up what went into creating this film.

Features Include:

  • Audio Commentary with Director Chad Hartigan and Actors Craig Robinson and Markees Christmas – There’s good information here and Robinson is naturally funny, but he tries almost too hard to get Christmas to open up, taking away from the potential humor than can come with the behind the scenes stories we hear many of from Hartigan.
  • Making Morris From America (HD, 11:22) – A standard EPK, featuring interviews with the cast and crew.
  • Deleted Scene (HD, 1:18)
  • Bloopers (HD, 2:35)
  • Casting Tapes (HD, 4:28)
  • Trailers (HD)
  • Digital HD Copy of the Film

 

Summary:

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I was happy to catch up with this one, as it had potential and delivered. The film is entertaining, sweet and quite funny. It makes good use of the cast and central concept, while feeling familiar in a good way. The Blu-ray does proper justice to the low budget roots of Morris from America, which means we see the film that was made, without dealing with an inferior level of quality, thanks to how Lionsgate has handled this release. Seek this one out, if you are looking for a charming feature.

 

Order Your Copy Here:

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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