If any of you have noticed in the past few weeks we’ve reviewed some quirkier titles here than we have in the past. While before you’d be hard pressed to find a review that didn’t stem from a major studio, we’ve recently begun venturing into the domain of First Look Studios, which have had an extremely satisfying and interesting catalog of titles that have been and will be coming out on DVD. With King of California, I saw only a trailer of it on one of their other titles and knew I’d want to see it—and it was the first time in a long time that the movie more than surpassed the trailer.
King of California, while making no more than half a million worldwide (no I didn’t type that wrong—it’s total intake was $546,763, although it admittedly only opened as wide as twenty eight theaters in the US), is a quirky and entertaining film in its own right. While the word “quirky” is thrown a lot to describe indie films and indie imitators, King of California can really only be described as such. The slightly psychotic portrayal of Michael Douglas as the father of Evan Rachel Wood is one of the films more charming qualities as it manages to lighten the tone to a movie that would otherwise be quite depressing.
The film focuses on Charlie (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood) and their strained relationship. While Charlie went away to jail for robbery, Miranda was left to fend for herself. While only sixteen, she managed to make everyone believe that she was either in the care of her mother, her father or foster parents so that she could remain on her own. Dropping out of school and with only a job at McDonalds and a rundown car to keep her mobile, Miranda had little going for her until her father got out of jail. With the two having an already strained relationship, Miranda finds it difficult to believe her father’s crazy tales of hidden treasure in California.
Despite relying on the dysfunctional family ploy to grab in the viewer, King of California has so much more going for it than just the relationship between Miranda and Charlie, although that in of itself is obviously the highlight of it. The supporting cast and their interactions with the world is what make the film so much of a joy to watch. It’s not overly obsessed with telling the tales of everyone and everything and instead the movie focuses on why, despite the dysfunction bubbling to the surface on more than one occasion, Charlie and Miranda share a close bond. We don’t see it until the very end of the film, but for all the fighting the two do throughout the film, they’re the closest thing either of them has to true family. You’re asking yourself “well of course, they’re father and daughter!”, but that really doesn’t mean much in some respects and with Miranda merely addressing her father as “Charlie” for the first half of the film, it’s obvious that there was little respect and only a tiny undercurrent of love underneath her words.
Outside of the characters, we have a plot that is almost as exciting but not quite as lifeless as National Treasure. The search for treasure buried under someone’s home or in an empty field under a windmill somewhere is always fascinating and exciting to watch and King of California’s plot of having some Spanish doubloons buried six feet underneath a Costco makes for one heck of an interesting and entertaining story.
The story telling of the film is also quick and rapid, with no drag from scene to scene. There’s always something going on in the film and while it leaves us with a bit of time to feel for Miranda and her father, it doesn’t mean the film has to stop to wait for us to absorb anything. It’s a very short film and that is perhaps what makes it so enjoyable—it’s a quick afternoon flick that entertains the viewer effortlessly. I’m also always intrigued by seeing the inside of stores in films for some reason, so seeing Costco at night and drilling into its floors made for quite the entertaining exploit.
King of California’s strengths lie in the hands of its writers and directors. With a witty and punchy script that flies us through the quirks of Charlie and Miranda’s world and the bright and sunny atmosphere that the film is set in. While the end of the film may leave some feeling unsatisfied and questioning how it happened exactly, it will definitely leave you with a smile on your face. In the end, King of California is simply just a delightful film that will have no trouble entertaining its viewers, no matter how silly or contrived they may find the concept. Recommended.
Arriving on DVD in a standard single disc amaray case and a matching slipcover, King of California’s sunny visuals are matched by its bright orange/yellow cover. Not only is the cover very representative of the film itself, the look on Douglas’s face sums of the character of Charlie quite well. Inside the case we have the DVD itself which repeats the cover art and the menus for the film, animated and with music, are simple and easy to navigate.
Video and audio for the film is a solid 16×9 anamorphic widescreen transfer which shows no signs of compression or loss of detail. In addition to the crisp video is a crystal clear audio track which, while not heavy on the surrounds (the film is, after all, mostly a comedy), manages to engross the viewer. The technical details won’t blow anyone away by any means, but it is a very nice presentation regardless.
Moving onto the extras we first find our commentary with writer / director Mike Cahill, director of photography Jim Whitaker, production designer Dan Bishop, and first assistant director Richard L. Fox. I was surprised to learn that this was Cahill’s directorial debut—quite a feat to have Michael Douglas in your first feature. Despite that, the track is very informative and focuses on the low budget nature of the film as well as all the details they had to get locked down so they could have certain products and stores appear in the film without issues…it’s a very technical and informative commentary track that is most assuredly a delight for movie buffs. Also interesting to note are the script changes and what the film was originally going to be.
After the commentary we have a short making-of which includes comments from the cast and crew that seems to focus more on what people can expect from the film rather than what it actually became. Basically I think they made this expecting it to air as part of some Entertainment Tonight special, because watching it after the movie seems kind of frivolous—but most making-of fluff pieces are.
Finally we have a five minute blooper reel which is mostly Evan Rachel Wood cracking up at Michael Douglas. Admittedly this isn’t hard to believe, as he is quite goofy looking in the film. Past the bloopers we have a mix of trailers for other films from First Look Studios, but other than that we’re done with the extras for this one.
Overall King of California is a great little comedy that packs a pleasant DVD release. The commentary is definitely one of the best I’ve heard in a long time, as it’s not a lot of jovial back-patting, rather it’s constructive and lets the viewer just know what they went through to make this movie. Despite the disc being a bit light on the extras, it still comes Recommended, if only for the film itself.
King of California arrives on DVD, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD on January 29th.