• Lowlife (IFC/Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: August 7th, 2018.
    Director: Ryan Prows
    Cast: Nicki Micheaux, Ricardo Adam Zarate, Jon Oswald
    Year: 2017
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    Low Life - Movie Review:

    Ryan Prows’ directorial debut brings us into the heart of downtown Los Angeles and introduces us to a gangster named Teddy "Bear" Haynes (Mark Burnham). Bear has his fingers in a few different pies – not only is he running whores, he’s also got an underground organ harvesting operation going on in the basement of his taco restaurant. And he’s sneaky about it, because he uses illegal immigrants handed over to him by ICE Agent Fowler (Jose Rosete), figuring they won’t be missed.

    Enter Crystal (Nicki Micheaux), a motel owner who talks to Teddy about having her daughter Kaylee (Santana Dempsey) help her ill husband out by standing up as the donor for a kidney transplant. Getting this to happen involves working with shifty dude Keith (Shaye Ogbonna) and his friend Randy (Jon Oswald), a guy with a swastika prison tattoo on his face freshly released from the clink. And then there’s the not insignificant matter of a luchador named El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate) to deal with, a folk hero who has stood up and fought for the poor and the downtrodden for years. These days, down on his luck, El Monstruo works as Teddy’s bodyguard – but a fire still burns in him… and on top of that he’s got serious anger management issues.

    I hate to call a movie Tarantino-esque, since so much of what QT brings to modern cinema is recycled from older movies, but Lowlife earns that tag to a certain extent. That’s not to say that Prows rips anyone off, he definitely puts his own stamp on this picture and in doing so manages to craft a compelling, and fairly vicious, story. Dismissing this as one of the countless Tarantino knockoffs that have come out over the years would be unfair, and not entirely accurate. But the influence does occasionally seem obvious in terms of the pacing, the style and the rhythm of some of the dialogue. Still, there’s a lot to like here, and Lowlife is very much its own beast in many other ways. It might be tough for some to find a character likeable enough to latch on to as pretty much everyone in the film is a bastard or a bitch, but if you’re able to appreciate the fact that there are a lot of horrible people out there doing a lot of horrible things to each other on a pretty consistent bases and find entertainment value in that, you’ll be okay, those with a dark sense of humor in particular. There’s an emphasis on dark in that last sentence for a reason, we know this from the opening scene in which we see Teddy dismember a woman handed over to him by Fowler in graphic, gory detail.

    The film manages to tell a tense and exciting story while still offering up some valid social commentary, some of it subtle, some of it not so subtle. But what matters more than that in terms of entertainment value is that the story is compelling. A lot of this comes not just from the script but from the talented cast. Ricardo Adam Zarate is fantastic as El Monstruo. He’s a barrel-chested dynamo, a super energetic guy who is clearly entirely into this role. He gives it his all and the movie is all the better for having him in it. On the flip side, Burnham and Rosete are both very good in their respective roles as the sleazy criminals. They’re the lowest of the low, these characters, but both actors play their parts well. Nicki Micheaux and Santana Dempsey are the closest we have to truly sympathetic characters here, these ladies are solid in their respective roles, while Shaye Ogbonna and especially Jon Oswald are pretty damn near perfect as the dimwitted lower rungs of this criminal ladder.

    There are a few spots where the editing hits you like a brick and that might have played better if subtlety were a factor rather than an afterthought and some of the dialogue sounds a little forced where it should have been more natural and believable. Otherwise, Lowlife fires on all cylinders from beginning to end, delivering a serious amount of twisted humor, some nice doses of action and some strong visuals and sound design work.

    Lowlife – Blu-ray Review:

    The AVC encoded 1080p 2.40.1 widescreen transfer on this Blu-ray is just fine. The movie was shot digitally and so it’s free of print damage or grain issues. Detail is typically pretty strong, though there are some shots where the lighting softens things a bit, likely intentionally. Otherwise, this looks good. There’s nice depth and texture to the image and very strong color reproduction. Black levels are nice and deep and skin tones appear natural. No problems here. The 50GB disc gives the feature plenty of breathing room, and as such there are no noticeable compression artifacts.

    DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 tracks are provided in English (with occasional Spanish dialogue), with optional subtitles offered in English SDH and Spanish. Both tracks are strong, but if you’ve got the setup for the 5.1 mix then that’s the way to go. The mix is aggressive without being obnoxious about it, accentuating action scenes nicely while offering up some nice ‘detail work’ in the backgrounds of some of the film’s quieter moments. Dialogue is clean and clear, there are no issues with any hiss or distortion and the levels are well-balanced.

    Two commentary tracks are provided, the first with director/co-writer Ryan Prows and cinematographer Benjamin Kitchens and the second with Prows, co-writers Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson and co-writer/actor Shaye Ogbonna. The first track does a nice job of covering the making of the movie and the more technical side of things, covering pre-production and early development, casting, locations and more. The second track is much busier and has a bit more of a sense of humor to it as the cast and crew recollect collaborating on the film, what it was like working with one another and tell various stories and anecdotes from the shoot and their time spent together on set.

    Additionally, three of Ryan Prows’ early short films are included. Fiends runs just under two-minutes. Thugs runs seven-minutes. Monsters runs just over two-minutes. These are entertaining and amusing diversions and a nice addition to the disc.

    Aside from that we also get a quick three-minute ‘making of’ piece, a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection. Trailers for a few other IFC/Shout! Factory releases play before the main menu loads and the disc comes packaged with some reversible cover art and a slipcover.

    Lowlife – The Final Word:

    Lowlife is slick, it’s violent, it’s occasionally quite funny and it’s typically pretty tense. The cast brings its A-game and the movie never lacks in style. There’s definitely a whole lot of entertainment value to be gleamed form this one and the Blu-ray from Shout! Factory presents the movie in great shape, with excellent audio and with some nice extra features.

    Click on the images below for full sized Lowlife Blu-ray review screen captures!