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It's 1984, and Michael Jackson is king-even in Waihau Bay, New Zealand. Here we meet Boy, an 11-year-old who lives on a farm with his gran, a goat, and his younger brother, Rocky (who thinks he has magic powers). Shortly after Gran leaves for a week, Boy's father, Alamein, appears out of the blue. Having imagined a heroic version of his father during his absence, Boy comes face to face with the real version-an incompetent hoodlum who has returned to find a bag of money he buried years before
For more about Boy and the Boy Blu-ray release, see Boy Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on July 12, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: James Rolleston, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, Taika Waititi
Director: Taika Waititi
» See full cast & crew
Boy Blu-ray Review
Like Father, Unlike Son
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, July 12, 2013
There are two coming of age stories in Boy. The first is the emotional development of the titular main character—an eleven-year-old Maori growing up in rural New Zealand in the mid 1980s—and the second is the maturation of Taika Waititi, the film's writer, director, and co-star. Waititi first gained attention when he faked falling asleep at the 2005 Oscars while the nominations for Best Live Action Short Film were being read—his short, Two Cars, One Night was among them—and he parlayed this same sense of juvenile humor into stints writing and directing episodes of Flight of the Conchords. His debut feature, 2007's Eagle vs. Shark took on a similar vibe to the now-cult classic HBO series—it's a geeky rom-com that stars The Conchords' Jemaine Clement—and while it has moments of heart and absurdist comedy, its too-twee weirdness also attracts negative comparisons to Napoleon Dynamite. In Boy, though, Waititi has finally found a way to combine his off-kilter sense of humor and visual peculiarities with a story that's insightful and affecting too. It's a fun, crowd-pleasing film, and since its release in 2010 it's become New Zealand's highest grossing movie ever, even beating out higher profile titles like Whale Rider and The Fastest Indian.
A huge part of the movie's charm is how it nurtures a distinct sense of place and time. The setting is 1984, on the east coast of New Zealand's northern island; specifically, the oceanside ancestral lands of the Te Whānau-ā-Apanui First Nation tribe. (Where Taika Waititi was raised. You get the sense that there's more than a little autobiography here.) It's a sleepy, economically depressed area, and the rural poverty is contrasted against stunning natural beauty in a way that immediately suggests that this place is a paradise for everyone except those who live there and dream of scraping together enough money to leave.
The pre-teen "Boy" (James Rolleston) shares a ramshackle house with his little brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu)—who believes he has Jedi- like mind powers—along with several other young, indeterminately related children. They're semi-looked after by Boy and Rocky's grandma (Mavis Paenga), although she spends most of the film—which spans a few weeks in time—out of town at an ongoing funeral, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. (They make meals that consist of white bread and sugar dunked in rehydrated powdered milk.) Boy's mother died giving birth to Rocky, and their father, Alamein—played by the director—has been in jail on a robbery charge for most of their childhoods. Boy holds out hope that his dad will come back and take him to to see his idol Michael Jackson live, and in his daydreams he even envisions Alamein himself as a smooth criminal, moonwalking in leather "Billy Jean" pants and facing off against choreographed thugs a la "Beat It" and "Bad."
When Alamein inevitably shows up, he is pretty cool—to Boy, at least. He drives a bitchin' black car and wears a studded denim jacket. He smokes a lot of weed and plays with fireworks indoors. He throws epic parties, pals around with two equally laid-back lackeys—they call themselves The Crazy Horses—and even lets Boy take a sip of his beer. Of course, we don't have stars in our eyes like Boy, and we can see Alamein for what he really is—a lazy crook and absentee father who's stuck in perpetual arrested development. He's an overgrown boy himself, unwilling to grow up.
At one point, he even asks Boy to stop calling him "dad" because "it sounds weird; we're more like bros, you and me." Instead, he asks Boy to refer to him as "Shogun"—after the James Clavell novel—and the two briefly become a kind of Lone Wolf and Cub duo, hanging out together, pretending to be soldiers storming a beachfront, and generally enjoying one another's company. But then Waititi introduces a very Night of the Hunter-esque subplot about a bundle of cash that's buried somewhere on the family property. Has Alamein come back to see his kids, or is he just looking to find his long-lost treasure and bolt off again out of their lives? Or, is it a little of both?
Boy deals tenderly with issues of family, particularly the inherent awkwardness between fathers and sons. The film is made by Waititi's careful attention to nuances in the relationships between the characters. Rocky's wariness of his father's return, and his guilt over his mother's death. Boy's initial elation, which fades when his dad tumbles off the mental pedestal he's been placed upon. Though Alamein is somewhat cartoonish— watch as he goofily tries to pull a Dukes of Hazzard and jump through the driver's side window of his car—he never becomes a caricature. Under the veneer of a pothead who likes to swing samurai swords, there's a brokenhearted man-boy who has never learned to cope with the loss of his one true love. Waititi is fantastic in the role—funny with just the right amount of pathos—and he gels well with James Rolleston, who was originally only cast as an extra but was reassigned to the lead role less than a week before production was set to begin.
The film shares some of Eagle vs. Shark's eccentricities, but Boy is less Napoleon Dynamite and more Wes Anderson, if that makes sense. It's a bit more mature, and its style is frequently clever rather than simply odd. Waititi presents a sort off mythical, exaggerated and nostalgic version of the 1980s that still manages to feel realistic, and he's sly about the ways that New Zealand co-opted and re-appropriated distinctly American culture of the time. Boy has a pair of twin schoolmate friends named Dallas and Dynasty. He has a crush on a girl named Chardonnay. His Michael Jackson daydreams are spot-on. (Stick around during the credits for a version of "Thriller" that's been transmogrified into a tribal Maori dance.) More than anything, though, Boy works because it perfectly captures that painful moment in life when the hope and imagination of childhood come face to face with the sad realities of the adult world. That the film can do this while also being hilarious and uplifting says a lot about Waititi's growth as a storyteller.
Boy Blu-ray, Video Quality
It's taken a long time for Boy to make its way to the U.S.—it came out in New Zealand in 2010—but Kino-Lorber's Blu-ray is worth the wait, with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that's clean and natural-looking. Minus a few errant specks and some noise in the shadows, there are no issues whatsoever with the 35mm print or its digital presentation. Film grain is visible but unobtrusive, untouched by DNR, and the picture is free of edge enhancement or any other types of obvious filtering. As usual, Kino's approach is very hands-off here, and while that can occasionally be a bad thing for some of their older titles—which could use a little digital restoration and polish—it's the ideal tact for a relatively new film like Boy. Although there is some softness here and there, clarity in general is excellent, with fine texture and detail easily visible in closeups. Likewise, color isn't quite as vibrant as many other recent films, but the very neutral film stock and low-key grading give Boy a realistic, beachy feel that's perfect for the movie's tone and setting. You get the sense that Boy looks exactly as intended here.
Boy Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Kino has given us two audio options, a 5.1 surround mix and a 2.0 stereo track, both in the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio codec. Both get the job done, but the 5.1 presentation is clearly the go-to choice if you have a capable home theater system. This isn't an action or effects-heavy film by any means, but the sound design does make frequent use of the rear channels for scene-setting ambience, from lapping water and distant thunder to party noise and insect sounds. The film also makes great use of music, with a poignant score by New Zealand indie band The Phoenix Foundation—who also scored Eagle vs. Shark—and some perfect choices for incidental cues, like Musical Youth's 1982 reggae hit, "Pass the Dutchie." Obviously, as a low- budget film, Boy couldn't afford the rights to any of the Michael Jackson songs and videos that it parodies but the stand-in music evokes the era just as well. The mix is balanced well, with consistent clarity and a good sense of presence, and dialogue is always clean and easy to understand. The lone shortcoming here is that there are no subtitles on the disc, which might've helped in deciphering some of the more inscrutable New Zealand slang.
Boy Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Boy Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Boy took forever paddling its way to the U.S.—it came out in New Zealand in 2010—but it's finally here on Blu-ray, courtesy of Kino-Lorber, and it's easily one of my top picks for this month. This is a movie that's funny and affecting in equal measure—at times, it reminded me of Kikujiro, the great 1999 family comedy/drama from Beat Takeshi—and it shows tremendous growth in director Taika Waititi's powers as a storyteller and filmmaker. The disc also includes Waititi's excellent Academy Award-nominated short, Two Cars, One Night. Highly recommended!
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Boy Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Boy Blu-ray (Updated) - June 28, 2013
Kino Lorber will bring to Blu-ray New Zealand director Taika Waititi's dramedy Boy (2010), starring James Rolleston, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, Cherilee Martin, and Taika Waititi. The preliminary release date set by the studio is July 9th.
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