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In late 2007, filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost sensed a story unfolding as they began to film the life of Arielís brother, Nev. They had no idea that their project would lead to the most exhilarating and unsettling months of their lives.
For more about Catfish and the Catfish Blu-ray release, see Catfish Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on December 31, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
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Catfish Blu-ray Review
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Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, December 31, 2010
Whatever you do, don't read this review. Scratch that. Don't read anything about Catfish. Don't sneak a peek at the back cover, don't skim any plot synopses, don't watch its theatrical trailer... walk into Catfish as blind, ignorant and uninformed as you possibly can.
Still here? I'll assume you're either determined to spoil one of the year's most fascinating documentaries or you're already well acquainted with the surprises that lie within. Me? When I slid Catfish into my Blu-ray player for the first time, I knew next to nothing about it. A small blurb in Total Film clued me into the fact that it had something to do with social networking and long-distance relationships, and a recent article in Entertainment Weekly mentioned that a few outspoken skeptics are convinced it's an elaborate hoax. (After an early screening, Super Size Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock was reportedly so impressed with the film that he reportedly told directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost "that was the best fake documentary I've ever seen!") But as Catfish lured me deeper and deeper into its web, two things became clear: one, it isn't really about social networking or long-distance relationships at all, and two, the people we meet on screen are either exactly who they appear to be or some of the most skilled and convincing amateur actors that have ever slipped in through Hollywood's back door. My money's on the former.
So what is Catfish then? And what's with the title? It all begins when a twenty-something New York photographer named Nev Schulman receives a painting inspired by one of his published photographs. The artist? Eight-year-old Abby Faccio, a talented, brush-wielding prodigy from a little town in Michigan called Ishpeming. More paintings arrive shortly thereafter, and Nev begins speaking with Abby's mother Angela, forges a flirtatious friendship with Abby's nineteen-year-old singer/songwriter sister Megan and, soon enough, finds himself in the middle of the Faccios' inner-Facebook-circle. All the while, Nev's brother Ariel keeps every camera at his disposal running, hoping some semblance of a film will eventually emerge. Several months later, Ariel gets his wish. And that, dear spoiler hounds, is the most you'll get out of me.
In an age of found-footage mockumentaries, home-brewed special effects, and other readily accessible tools of cinematic trickery, it's becoming increasingly difficult to discern between fact and fiction. Factor in the all-knowing, ever-manipulative influence of a subjective documentary filmmaker and a clever editor, and truth? Truth becomes little more than a matter of opinion. Luckily, Catfish has quite a few tells, chief among them Nev's reactions as his nine-month correspondence with Megan and her family unfolds. Veteran actors spend their entire careers perfecting the expressions that flash across Nev's face in an all-too-natural instant... the awkward pauses, the unrehearsed laughter, the palpable shame, the raw befuddlement, the subtle surge of human ego and, more to the point, the infinitely complex blend of muffled emotions that take up residence behind his shaken eyes and uncomfortable smile. As it stands, the only real doubt the film stirs up is of the Monday Morning Documentarian variety. I would've done this. I wouldn't have done that. I would've felt this. I wouldn't have felt that. But blanket statements are easy to make from the comfort of a cushy home theater, completely divorced from the emotions and expectations fueling Nev's every move. Truth be told, it takes far more effort and requires far greater leaps in logic to peg Catfish as a hoax than to simply take it at face value.
Documentary, mockumentary... at the end of the day, believe what you will. Either way, Catfish excels as a film. As a cautionary tale, it's a poignant and timely indictment of social-networking naivetť; a warning to those among us who forget most every human being, be he complete stranger or close friend, is a dishonest, insecure creature of habit. As a reality thriller (executive producer Ryan Kavanaugh's designation, not mine), it's a tense, thought provoking, edge-of-your-seat mystery that takes a number of unexpected turns. As an exploration of the gap between the men and women we are and the men and women we purport to be, it paints a startlingly precise and powerful picture. Moreover, editor Zachary Stuart-Pontier's pacing is impeccable, Mark Mothersbaugh's music is absorbing, Schulman and Joost's use of internet iconography lends the film an appropriate playfulness, and the narrative they pluck out of Nev's nine-month relationship with the Faccios is as brisk as it is arresting. Oh, and the title? Rest assured, it makes perfect sense by the time the credits roll.
Catfish isn't the year's best documentary (that honor goes to Waiting for Superman), but it is an exceptional one. Just be sure to watch the disc's 25-minute Q&A with the filmmakers before passing final judgment. It fills in a number of holes that could have been -- and probably should have been -- addressed in the film itself. Ah well. Hindsight's 20/20, I suppose.
Catfish Blu-ray, Video Quality
Shot on a shoestring and a prayer with whatever cameras first-time feature film directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost had at their immediate disposal, Catfish isn't primed for high definition glory. Be that as it may, Universal's 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer is a proficient one, and documentary diehards will shrug off its shortcomings accordingly. Digital video anomalies litter the proceedings, colors and skintones are slaves to a variety of lighting sources, nighttime sequences are a mess, crush and ringing are frequent offenders, and clarity rises and falls as Schulman and Joost deploy everything from adequate handheld cameras to low-quality lapel cams. Still, aside from some semi-regular bursts of noise and artifacting, all of which trace back to the film's source, there aren't any debilitating distractions to endure. Certainly none that call Universal's efforts into question. Suffice to say, the Blu-ray edition of Catfish isn't going to turn any heads, but it looks about as good as it possibly could.
Catfish Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The same goes for Universal's decidedly decent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, an inherently flawed but technically capable lossless mix that handles Schulman and Joost's shifty soundscape with ease. Dialogue is as clean and clear as can be expected, wind noise and mic issues are kept to a reasonable minimum, and the tic-tac of keyboards is nice and crisp throughout. A few scenes struggle with throaty and muffled sonics (a sequence involving a late night excursion is particularly problematic), but it tends to enhance the film's tension rather than undermine it. There also isn't much LFE oomph or rear speaker support to speak of -- save that which allows Mark Mothersbaugh's score to commandeer the soundfield -- and the film is far more immersive than its 5.1 mix. Even so, there aren't any real issues to complain about. Catfish is a low-key documentary and the studio's DTS-HD MA track follows suit. Filmfans won't be blown away, but they will be pleased with the results.
Catfish Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Catfish only has one special feature to its name, but it's a crucial one. While slow and evasive at the outset, the filmmakers' 25-minute Q&A (presented in HD) gives Nev, Ariel and Henry ample opportunity to discuss the non-starter controversy surrounding the documentary, their motivations, the editing process, scenes left on the cutting room floor, their reactions to everything that occurs on screen, and whether or not events were staged or altered in any way to create a more compelling narrative. If you still believe Catfish is nothing more than a clever hoax, nothing here will change your mind. However, fans of the documentary will be delighted to glean more information from the filmmakers. It's just a shame there isn't a feature-length commentary.
Catfish Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If Catfish is a masterfully constructed hoax, allow me to echo Morgan Spurlock's sentiments and say it's one of the best fake documentaries I've ever seen. That being said, I suspect it's all too real, and to that end, its message is all too pertinent. Just go into it as blind as possible; it makes all the difference. Universal's Blu-ray release is less impressive, but only because the film isn't an AV spectacle. Its video transfer and DTS-HD Master Audio track are proficient and faithful, and its 25-minute supplemental package, while well worth digging into, is the only real disappointment. So don't ask any questions, don't read any more reviews, don't even scan the back cover. Grab a copy of Catfish and give it a spin.
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Catfish Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Catfish Blu-ray Announced - November 10, 2010
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced Catfish for Blu-ray release on January 4, 2011. This documentary (or "reality thriller", as dubbed by filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost) follows a young man who begins a long-distance online relationship, ...
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