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Billy Bob Thornton
Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, J.T. Walsh, John Ritter, Lucas Black, Natalie Canerday, Robert Duvall
Writing Credits:
Billy Bob Thornton (and play)

Sometimes a hero comes from the most unlikely place.

For the first time, Miramax proudly presents this riveting motion picture in the phenomenal intensity of Blu-Ray Disc. Applauded by critics and moviegoers alike, the award-winning masterpiece written/directed by and starring Billy Bob Thornton achieves new heights of greatness in high definition. 25 years after committing an unthinkable crime, a quiet man named Karl (Thornton) finally returns home. Once there, he's befriended by a fatherless boy and his mother. But when his newfound peace is shattered by the mother's abusive boyfriend (Grammy Award Winner Dwight Yoakam), Karl is suddenly placed on a collision course with his past! Also starring Robert Duvall, John Ritter and J.T. Walsh, this emotional powerhouse is an unforgettable experience for the eyes and ears as well as the heart. Feel the stirring power of Sling Blade as never before in Blu-Ray high definition.

Box Office:
$890 thousand.
Opening Weekend
$36.644 thousand on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$24.475 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
German Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 135 min.
Price: $34.99
Release Date: 8/4/2009

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director/Actor Billy Bob Thornton
• “Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood” Documentary
• “Bravo Profiles: Billy Bob Thornton”
• “A Roundtable Discussion with Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakum, Mickey Jones and Producer David Bushell”
• “A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall”
• “A Conversation with Robert Duvall”
• “A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Composer Daniel Lanois”
• “The Return of Karl”
• “On the Set” Featurettes
• “Doyle’s Dead” With Introduction by Billy Bob Thornton
• Sneak Peeks


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Sling Blade [Blu-Ray] (1996)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 20, 2009)

Has it really been 13 years since Sling Blade brought Billy Bob Thornton to the public consciousness? With such an absurd name, it remains astonishing that he’s built a career as a serious actor, but that’s a tribute to his talents. Blade announced him in a big way and continues to be his signature role.

Thornton plays Karl Childers, a mentally deficient inmate at a psychiatric hospital. As a child, his parents neglected him and his peers taunted him. When he sees his mother in the throes of carnal passion, young Karl loses control; he uses a sling blade to kill both his mother and her lover.

That’s why he spent 25 years in the hospital, but he now earns his release. Karl heads home and tries to deal with modern society. He befriends a youngster named Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black) but remains unsure of how to cope with the real world and tries to return to the hospital. Administrator Jerry Wooldridge (James Hampton) finds him a job at a fix-it shop that pleases Karl.

As he spends time with Frank, Karl also gets to know the boy’s mother Linda (Natalie Canerday). A single parent, she dates Doyle Hargraves (Dwight Yoakum). Karl thinks Doyle treats Linda poorly, a fact that makes it seem more likely his violent history might repeat itself.

By all rights, Karl should come across as a goofy cartoon character. Essentially a dark Forrest Gump or a scary Rain Man, he starts as a one-dimensional personality and always teeters on the edge of parody. Indeed, comics have mocked the character many times, and I’m sure he’d be serious satirical fodder on the level of Gump or Rain Man if Sling Blade had been as popular as those smash hits.

To his credit, Thornton actually manages to make Karl feel… well, I don’t know if real is the right word, but at least he allows Karl to transcend the level of basic caricature. Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hanks may’ve won Oscars for their performances, but that doesn’t mean they were able to really do a whole lot with their roles. Both provided entertaining turns but not anything really insightful or deep.

Thornton turns Karl into a more compelling character than he should be. The actor really transforms himself in the role. We didn’t quite realize what a leap the part was when the movie came out in 1996; despite his semi-advanced age of dshajdkhsad, Thornton was essentially an unknown prior to Sling Blade, so audiences couldn’t compare Karl to Billy Bob. One assumed Thornton possessed greater mental acuity than Karl – somehow I can’t imagine the movie’s lead could write and direct a film – but Thornton’s newness on the scene meant we didn’t have a sense of his standard personality.

13 years later, we know much better what to expect from Thornton, so that makes his transformation into Karl even more remarkable. It might seem like he delivers a one-note performance, but closer inspection reveals the depth of his work. Despite his dead eyes and lack of emotional expression, Thornton somehow gives Karl real life and personality. It’s a remarkable piece of work.

Thornton also handles himself well behind the camera. As director, he also makes Sling Blade a still life. It seems ironic that he later worked with Michael Bay on Armageddon, as he comes across as the anti-Bay here. I can’t recall the last time I saw a movie that enjoyed such a languid pace and such calm camerawork and editing. I often rail against the modern love of shakycam, and this flick stands as the antithesis of those tendencies.

Indeed, some may complain that Sling Blade is too damned slow. I wouldn’t agree, however. I don’t think it’s slow: I think it’s deliberate, and that style makes sense for a lot of reasons. For one, it deals with a character who thinks and acts in a delayed manner; putting Karl in the center of more frantic filmmaking would be illogical.

Also, Sling Blade sets itself firmly in the American south, and that’s not a region known for its fast-paced lifestyle. The drawn-out progression seems totally sensible given the story’s setting. Again, anything more dynamic and insistent wouldn’t fit; it’d feel forced and out of place.

All of these factors turn Sling Blade into a curiously fascinating movie. A character piece, it comes with the slimmest of plots, and it could easily sum up its actual dramatic content in half its running time. However, both of those “complaints” miss the point. Sling Blade provides an interesting character tale that works because of the journey, not because of the destination.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio C+/ Bonus A

Sling Blade appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though hampered by the source material, the transfer looked pretty good.

Sharpness usually came across well. Some shots looked a smidgen soft, but those instances didn’t dominate. The majority of the flick appeared reasonably concise and well-defined. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and the presentation lacked edge enhancement. Source flaws remained quite minor. I noticed a couple of small specks but nothing more than that. Though grain could be somewhat heavy, that came from the original photography and didn’t seem heavier than expected.

As befit a low-key film like this, colors remained cool. The film went with a palette that stayed on the subdued side of natural. Within those parameters, the tones appeared positive. Blacks were dark and tight, while shadows seemed decent. A few interiors seemed a bit murky, but those instances weren’t a substantial concern. You won’t use this disc to show off Blu-ray to your friends, but it represented the source material fairly well.

Similar thoughts greeted the very laid-back DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Sling Blade. Nothing extraordinary occurred here. A chatty movie, dialogue dominated. Occasional snatches of score presented decent stereo music, and effects provided a moderate sense of environment. If anything memorable popped up through the flick, I didn’t notice it; this was a decidedly subdued soundfield.

For the most part, audio quality was good. Speech had some mild concerns due to some edginess at times. Nonetheless, most of the lines were accurate and clean. Neither music nor effects remotely taxed the track, though some intense heartbeats provided decent bass. All elements showed good reproduction and represented the information in a positive way. Between the edginess and the lack of ambition, I thought the track deserved a “C+”, but I can’t say that the audio disappointed me, as it fit the story.

Literally hours of extras accompany the film. We open with an audio commentary from writer/director/actor Billy Bob Thornton. He offers a running, screen-specific track that looks at cast, characters and performances, script and story, sets and locations, inspirations and influences, cinematography and other visual choices, music, and various anecdotes from the shoot.

Like the movie itself, Thornton’s commentary proves to be quite low-key. That doesn’t mean it becomes boring, though, as Thornton digs into a lot of useful topics. Despite more dead air than I’d like, we get good insight in this quiet but informative piece.

For a biography of Thornton, we head to Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood. In this one-hour, six-minute and 51-second piece, we hear from Thornton, friend/screenwriter Tom Epperson, mother Virginia Thornton, friends/actors John Ritter, Dwight Yoakum, Jim Varney and Rick Dial, high school teacher Vonda West Cranford, filmmakers Steve Gyllenhaal and Dan Hoskins, friend/producer Harry Thomason, executive producer Larry Meistrich, assistant Joe McCracken, composer Daniel Lanois, and actors Robert Duvall and Hank Azaria. “Hollywood” looks at Thornton’s childhood and family, his interest in theater and his development as a writer and actor, his early days in show business, his slow path to success, and the creation of Sling Blade.

“Hollywood” turns into a reasonably comprehensive view of Thornton’s life and career through the mid-90s. I especially like the tales of his youth and initial years in LA, as those offer plenty of entertaining details and help us understand Thornton better. The parts about Sling Blade slow a little – partially because other aspects of the package cover it well – but this nonetheless remains a strong program.

We learn more about the director/writer/actor in the 43-minute and 23-second Bravo Profiles: Billy Bob Thornton. This program provides remarks from Thornton, Yoakum, Virginia Thornton, Dial, Thomason, musician Marty Stewart, producers Bruce Heller and Janet Yang, actress/then-wife Angelina Jolie, childhood friend Mike Shipp, and actor Matt Damon. The “Profile” covers the same kinds of biographical elements looked at in “Hollywood”.

Which means a moderate amount of redundant information in “Profile”, but that’s not the program’s main problem. Created in 2000, “Profile” shows a very different Thornton than the one seen a few years earlier in “Hollywood”. The “Profile” Thornton seems like a much more arrogant, full of himself person; he constantly declares how authentic he remains, but it feels like he protests too much, as he seems much cockier and more in love with his fame. “Profile” throws out some interesting facts, but between Thornton’s arrogance and the constant stream of praise from everyone else, it gets tiresome.

For another extended piece, we head to A Roundtable Discussion with Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakum, Mickey Jones and Producer David Bushell. This one runs one hour, 15 minutes and 25 seconds as the actors and producer discuss garage bands and music, how they got to know each other, elements of the cast, characters and performances, and a mix of movie-related topics.

Though Thornton dominates – and Bushell barely speaks – this is a more balanced chat than one might expect. Since Thornton was the head cheese behind the flick, you’d anticipate little from supporting participants like Yoakum and Jones, but they chime in with good frequency and add to the spirit of the discussion. We get many interesting anecdotes in this lively and enjoyable program. Too much praise drags it down at times, but it’s too good for that material to cause a significant negative.

Two more actor-focused programs follow. We get A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall (8:31) and A Conversation with Robert Duvall (7:35). In these, we learn of how Thornton and Duvall got to know each other as well as their work together. On his own, Duvall chats a little about Sling Blade and his experiences. Both are good, but the program with both Duvall and Thornton works best. The two actors clearly enjoy each other’s company, and they provide some fun stories.

More chat arrives via the 22-minute and 59-second A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Composer Daniel Lanois. Thoughts about the score dominate this piece, as we find out how Lanois got the gig along with aspects of the music. In addition to their comments, we get some performances from Lanois. They cover aspects of the score well in this useful piece.

We find some behind the scenes bits with the next few components. The Return of Karl goes for three minutes, 40 seconds, as it shows a joke reel of Karl after the events of Sling Blade. It’s not clear where they shot it or why; the disc calls it a rehearsal, but it’s clearly not part of the Sling Blade shoot since Thornton’s hair is wrong for Karl and the character discusses movie events in a self-referential manner. Wherever it came from, it’s fun to see.

Three On the Set Featurettes ensue. These include “Billy Bob at Work” (4:39), “Doyle’s Band: The Johnsons” (1:46), and “Doyle Gets Pummeled” (1:53). All of these show footage from the set without any comments or additional information. That makes them moderately interesting, but they lack the perspective to allow us to learn anything terribly valuable. I will admit it’s kind of cool to see “Pummeled” as a raw take without cuts, though.

Finally, ”Doyle’s Dead” With Introduction by Billy Bob Thornton runs four minutes, 23 seconds. “Dead” provides a deleted sequence intended to appear after the end credits. Thornton’s intro lasts two minutes, 34 seconds, so the odd and comedic “Dead” goes for a mere one minute, 49 seconds. It’s definitely goofy.

The disc opens with a few ads. We get promos for Extract, Adventureland, Miramax Films and Blu-ray Disc. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks area along with clips for Confessions of a Shopaholic and Lost. No trailer for Sling Blade pops up here.

Billy Bob Thornton entered the public consciousness in a big way with 1996’s Sling Blade. In spite of – or maybe because of - its slow pace and low-key nature, the film offers a fascinating character study. The Blu-ray provides pretty good picture, acceptable audio, and a rich collection of extras. This becomes a nice release for a satisfying movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6666 Stars Number of Votes: 12
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