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Riley Stearns
Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, Imogen Poots
Writing Credits:
Riley Stearns

After being attacked on the street, a young man enlists at a local dojo, led by a charismatic and mysterious sensei, in an effort to learn how to defend himself from future threats.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$114,374 on 7 Screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English DVS
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 10/15/2019

• “An Important Message from Sensei”
• Cast and Crew Interviews
• Previews


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The Art of Self-Defense [Blu-Ray] (2019)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 24, 2019)

A quirky take on the story of an ordinary man pushed too hard by violence, 2019’s The Art of Self-Defense introduces us to Casey Davies (Jesse Eiseberg), a 30-something accountant. Awkward and friendless, Casey lives an isolated life with only his faithful Dachshund as company.

One night Casey runs out of dog food and walks to the store to get more. On the trek home, thugs on motorcycles mug him.

Eager for protection, Casey initially plans to buy a gun, but by chance, he finds his way into a karate dojo. Entranced by the empowerment promised by its Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), Casey soon becomes a devoted student.

This comes with various ramifications, as Casey evolves. While he becomes more assertive, he also finds a dark underbelly at the dojo, as the Sensei turns out to be more malevolent than he initially believes.

If you want my five-word review of Art, here goes:

“Wes Anderson Remakes Fight Club”.

While that simplifies matters to a degree, I thing it provides a pretty clear picture of what to expect from Art. An odd combination of stilted, introverted comedy and violent revenge fantasy, the end product doesn’t work.

Not that I view Art as a complete disaster, as it manages a few amusing moments. However, these appear awfully infrequently, and the movie loses massive points due to the sledgehammer manner in which it conveys its message.

For reasons that seem unclear, Art takes place in the 1990s, but it comes with themes that feel more 2010s, mainly in the way it addresses toxic masculinity. Art devotes major screentime to topics connected to manliness, with an obvious orientation toward condemnation of men who feel the need to push their gender stereotypes in an aggressive way.

All done in a quirky, understated manner, of course, as Art never loses its art house vibe. Like a Wes Anderson flick, Art feels overplanned within an inch of its life, and the actors severely underplay their roles.

Barely an emotion registers through this thoroughly deadpan film, as the roles get performed in a relentlessly subdued manner. This contrasts the growing insanity of the characters’ actions in an ironic way that prompts a few knowing chuckles but it also makes the events more difficult to accept.

I get that Art wants to function as parody to some degree, but it still goes too far in its disconnect from the real world. The Sensei and the students need to embrace a cultish mode that doesn’t make a lot of sense and fails to meet the smell test.

My biggest issue with Art comes from its never-ending stupidity, though, mainly related to the aforementioned lack of subtlety. A better film would let us connect to the themes of masculine stereotypes in a more insightful, clever way, but this one just beats us over the head.

Not a single understated moment arises. This leaves us stuck with absurd scenes that exist solely to promote the movie’s philosophy.

Again, the film covers territory similar to Fight Club, but writer/director Riley Stearns doesn’t measure up with David Fincher. Stearns lacks the ability to create an insightful, clever take, so he opts for the most obvious conceits.

All of these factors turn Art into a heavy-handed disappointment. If you hope to find a witty, engaging character piece, you’ll encounter disappointment instead.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus C-

The Art of Self-Defense appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a fair but not great image.

For the most part, sharpness satisfied. Occasional wide shots tended to be a bit iffy, but the majority of the flick demonstrated decent delineation and clarity.

I noticed no shimmering, jaggies or edge enhancement. The image remained clean and lacked any source defects, though it tended to be heavily grainy – intentionally so.

Colors were subdued. The movie preferred a somewhat amber feel with some teal as well, and it lacked many instances of vibrant hues. The tones seemed fine within stylistic choices.

Blacks were dark and tight, but shadows tended to be inconsistent, as low-light shots could be somewhat dull. Overall, this was a generally positive presentation but not a great one.

Similar thoughts greeted the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Art, as it offered a decent but not great auditory experience. Sound quality was always good, at least.

Music demonstrated nice range and depth, though the film emphasized a spare sensibility, so we didn’t get a lot of score. In addition, effects failed to play a major role, but they seemed acceptably clear and accurate, while speech was distinctive and natural.

The soundscape lacked much to impress. As noted, the score didn’t pop up a ton of the time. The music showed good imaging when it appeared, but it wasn’t a frequent partner.

Effects also had little to do, as they focused the realm of general environment. A few scenes – mainly those that involved violence and vehicles – added a nice sense of pizzazz, but most of the flick remained low-key in terms of soundscape. All of this added up to an adequate but lackluster soundtrack.

Minor extras appear, and An Important Message from Sensei runs two minutes, 48 seconds. This offers a phony commercial for self-tutorial videotapes from the film’s Sensei. It’s cute at best.

With Cast and Crew Interviews, we find segments with writer/director Riley Stearns (4:58) as well as actors Jesse Eisenberg (4:19), Alessandro Nivola (4:30) and Imogen Poots (3:48).

They cover cast/performances as well as story/character areas, visual design and editing. All four clips work well, though the segments with Eisenberg and Stearns prove most informative.

The disc opens with ads for Brian Banks, The Tomorrow Man, Luce and Being Frank. No trailer for Art appears here.

A misguided, overdone stab at satire, The Art of Self-Defense disappoints. It suffers from Tries Too Hard Syndrome and becomes an eye-rolling mess. The Blu-ray offers generally good picture and audio along with minor bonus features. I wanted to like the film but found it far too obvious in its social message.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1 Stars Number of Votes: 1
0 3:
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