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The Art of Self-Defense Riley Stearns Shines in his Sophomore Dark Comedy Grade: A-

Source: IMDB


The Art of Self-Defense tells a story about a mid 30's accountant Casey Davies (Jesse Eisenberg), whom recently got jumped by a couple of motor-cyclers. Casey went ahead and applied to purchase a handgun, before he can make the purchase, they have to run a background check. As Casey waits, he stops by an adult karate class, as Casey felt fascinated and inspired to join a karate class, so he can not be afraid of the world he lives in front of him. When the teaser trailer for this film dropped, I was instantly excited for this one, I loved the concept for this story. The Cinematography was surprisingly great, looked very authentic as it also felt like an old school martial arts action film. What's surprising is that the color pallet of each scene looked great, majority of the sets just looked excellent, it feels like they paid homage to those classics. The Score was fairly good, liked how simple the film sounded. The cast was great, everybody did a stellar job with this film. I prefer Jesse Eisenberg in these smaller movies, I feel he thrives better off them as when he's in a stupid comedy or a dumb blockbuster, it just doesn't fit his style of acting, I’ll make Zombieland an exception. Jesse Eisenberg is excellent in this role, for one to be scared by intimating men and the dark, whom is more feminine than masculine, this how I picture that person to be. Casey does have a great arc, he's a likable character as you always seem to root for him, from to start to finish. Alessandro Nivola playing the karate instructor was excellent as well, both him and Eisenberg stole the entire film for me. Anytime Nivola was on screen, it instantly became a great time, with his sense of serious goofy awareness towards this character. He's hilarious, often times a mad man, I really loved this performance from him very much. I did liked a few of the smaller roles, including Imogen Poots, Steve Terada, one other dude from the karate class and the people in the office were good too. I do have a couple flaws for this film. I didn't like how Casey wanted to be tough, by no longer giving his Weiner dog attention... That's not cool man, but in all seriousness, you don't lack any toughness for petting your dog so that was weird. I can't spoil what I saw, but in the karate studio, there's a back room, and in this back room there's this machine and I'm just like... How did this guy get away with having this in his studio?! It must've cost him not only a fortune, but heck I believe some bill collectors would have some suspicion. I recently watched Riley Stearns directorial debut Faults, I thought it was good but the pacing really dragged this films potential. Stearns improved by a massive amount with his sophomore film, I loved The Art of Self-Defense, this film a hilarious kick ass film. This is easily the best comedy of the year, the dark comedy element of this film is done very well, as I'm truly impressed. What I did liked about the comedy, is that how at times it was straight forward humor, like these characters just fully explain things in detail and it's just hilarious by how they delivered their lines. Both Casey and Sensei provided great humor, just by their personalities. You laugh at Casey by just his facial expressions, he reminds me of Courage the Cowardly Dog in a way, he's flat out scared and filled with humiliation. Then when we see Casey grow into a man, it's still funny just cause how he's a jack ass to people, now that he’s tough. This one scene at the office with Casey and his boss is so funny. You laugh at Sensei just by how serious he takes this karate stuff, like his opening scene where we're introduced to the character... I mean it's so ridiculous the way he acts, but it's just funny. Though this is a comedy, it does have a great dark tale as well. When the plot twist hits, when Casey gets invited to the night class... It becomes very very dark suddenly, a couple of disturbing imagery, where one character just becomes a psychopath suddenly. The manipulation is handled well, you feel like why does this character go hurt this person in the second act, but it's very clear because you realize he was nothing before the class, that's why he honors this man deeply, as he believes in everything he says. The ending boosts this film from being a great film, to an excellent film. I loved how it's simple, yet fully effective, even funny too. It completes Casey's arc, but it also feels like a metaphorical message towards violence too. In some way I feel like the film maker was trying to make a statement about violence: We fear it, we're terrified from it, it disturbs us, yet we celebrate it, we're entertained by it... Very nice. This film feels like fresh air, from all the super hero/remakes we've been getting this summer. If you want to laugh, while also have a great time at the theater with something original and unique, give this a try. Overall, The Art of Self-Defense is excellent. I highly recommend this film, one of the best films by far this year. Riley Stearns, I will keep an eye on you for anymore upcoming projects, you definitely have a gift. -Mitch Smietana

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