Clear History (US - BD RA)
Jonathan plays catch up with Larry David's latest output from HBO...
A comedic original film starring Larry David (HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm), Clear History follows Nathan Flomm (Larry David), a marketing executive at a start-up electric car company, who , after a petty argument with his boss (Jon Hamm), gives up his 10 percent of the shares. The company goes on to make billions of dollars, leaving Nathan publicly humiliated. Ten years later after creating an entire new life on a small island off of Massachusetts coast, all is well - until his past arrives to threaten his new life. (From the HBO synopsis)
My feelings on Larry David have always been a little mixed. Curb Your Enthusiasm ended on a strong season, but I didn't always think the series was great. It was predictable, and I always found myself annoyed by the way characters would conveniently become jerks about specific things to get Larry in trouble. The one thing it did consistently well was make great use of guest stars. I was curious to see what Larry David has been up to since Curb ended, aside from being a nun in the Three Stooges movie. It turns out he is up to much of the same. At times, Clear History is virtually indistinguishable from an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Nathan Flomm gets annoyed by a waitress not putting silverware on napkins, someone not shampooing their hair enough, or unyielding drivers. The overarching plot is serviceable, but it really just serves as a framework for more Curb humor. Even J.B. Smoove shows up and accuses Nathan of treating him certain ways because he is black. So there is no startling originality here, but if you're a fan of Larry David's work then you should find this worth your time.
The real crux of the story is that Nathan Flomm's boss, Will Haney, who he had a falling out with. Will has moved to the island where Nathan now resides. And Nathan has changed his appearance so drastically that Will does not recognize him. Nathan manipulates his way into becoming a construction worker so he can infiltrate Will's dream house and make plans to destroy it. The story doesn't strive for plausibility. Everything is structured for humorous effect, and it mostly works. There are some funny ironies that develop as the story moves along and I was happy to roll with them.
Much like Curb, this movie has an interesting cast of side characters. Some are great. Bill Hader is always a great addition to a comedy, and seeing veteran Philip Baker Hall is always a treat. Danny McBride plays a surprisingly normal dude. Kate Hudson is charming as Will's wife. Two characters really bothered me though. The first is Michael Keaton, who plays a pipe-smoking worker that wants to help Nathan destroy Will's home. He talks in an over-exaggerated, grizzled sailor voice. That might sound really funny, and Keaton tries, but it doesn't work. It feels like a character from a failed SNL sketch. Then we have Eva Mendes, a talent that is totally wasted playing a caricature of a foreign woman with a really overdone accent. The cast and characters are a real hit or miss affair, but there is enough variation to at least sustain the viewer's interest.
HBO's record continues with a great looking 1080p transfer. The movie isn't a visual marvel by any sense, but it looks good for a television movie. Cinematographer Jim Denault and director Greg Mottola don't try anything flashy for the movie's visual style, but there is a clear sign of production value put into this movie that makes it look nicer than an episode of Curb ever did. The material doesn't call for any panache, so it works. I couldn't find confirmation online anywhere, but I'm very sure this was shot on the Arri Alexa. It has that film-like personality matched with a clean digital look. You can see every detail of Larry David's ridiculous looking hair, and the makeup holds up well. Color is vibrant and has that warm push to it that is common with modern comedies. The movie is on a BD-25, but with no extras on the disc there is plenty of space for a healthy bitrate and compression is not a visible problem.
As with the visual design of the movie, the audio is nothing to write home about. HBO has included a perfectly apt DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, but this is not the kind of movie that is going to utilize the technology. Nearly all sound is kept to the front channels with little directionality and very few nuances. Dialogue is clear and very easy to make out. The only time the surround channels and LFE are really utilized is when the soundtrack takes over. Some scenes feature a little ambient noise, but nothing remarkable. This all sounds pretty negative, but the audio score here is relevant. It is a perfectly fine match for the content of this movie and it serves its purpose well.
Ardent fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm should find Clear History a worthwhile diversion. It has the same sense of humor and a similar cast of side characters, and consequently some of the same core issues that I had with Curb. If you don't consider yourself much of a fan, there is nothing here that will change your mind. HBO's Blu-ray release is expectedly strong in the AV department, but there are no special features to be found.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Release Date: 5th November 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS Spanish 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Larry David, Jon Hamm, Kate Hudson
Length: 100 minutes
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