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Cardboard Boxer Blu-ray Review

Cardboard Boxer (2016) movie poster Cardboard Boxer

Theatrical Release: September 16, 2016 / Running Time: 89 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Writer/Director: Knate Lee

Cast: Thomas Haden Church (Willie Leeds), Terrence Howard (Pope), Boyd Holbrook (Pinky), Rhys Wakefield (JJ), Macy Gray (Den Mother), William Stanford Davis (Jazzy), Zach Villa (Tyler), Adam Clark (Skillet), Conrad Roberts (Methusalah), Patrick Davis (Evan), James Logan (Mullet), David Henrie (Clean Cut Man), Johanna Braddy (Clean Cut Girl), Jay Charan (Pawn Shop Clerk), Elyse Cole (Young Girl), Paul Sanchez (Staff Sergeant Thompson)

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Getting nominated for a slew of supporting actor awards including the Oscar for Sideways certainly boosted the career of Thomas Haden Church. The former "Wings" player has been a fixture in film for the twelve years since those nominations, but he hasn't returned to the Oscars or other awards and hasn't been promoted to leading man.
Still, prominent supporting roles in films like Spider-Man 3, Easy A, We Bought a Zoo, Heaven Is For Real, and Daddy's Home have kept Church employed and relevant. And he'll take a leading role where he can get one, even if it's in a little film like Cardboard Boxer.

Church holds the titular role in this low-budget indie from Knate Lee, a longtime "Jackass" cameraman and producer and first-time writer-director. Church plays a man named Willie who has no home but the streets of Los Angeles, specifically the Skid Row community called "The Nickel." Quiet, unshaven, and friendless, Willie's life changes when he discovers the diary of a second grade girl in a dumpster full of burned objects. Captivated by the initial entry, Willie buys cursive alphabet flashcards so that he can read more. The girl's daily descriptions, written for the mother she lost, move Willie enough that he starts penning responses, which he sends off of bridges and rooftops in paper airplane form.

Willie's hypothetical pen palship inspires him to also befriend Pinky (Boyd Holbrook), an Iraq War amputee who carries around a photo with him and President Bush and has been trying to pawn his Purple Heart. Willie also befriends some scummy preppies, who offer him $50 to fight his fellow bums while they film it. Willie indulges them repeatedly, earning enough money to enjoy the occasional night of luxury in a cheap motel. But Willie feels bad about the fights and not just because hobo-turned-cabbie Pope (Terrence Howard) is upset about what has been going on.

Willie (Thomas Haden Church) gets rebuffed when trying to find someone to help him read cursive in "Cardboard Boxer."

Cardboard Boxer treads the fine line between stirring and distasteful. The film alternately moves and disgusts with its portrayal of homeless people. Knowing that Lee is coming from "Jackass" makes you assume he sympathizes with the camera-wielding jackasses exploiting the unfortunate to ambiguous gain.
But they are definitely depicted in a negative light, which makes you hope that the director has perhaps had a change of heart from the mindless pranks and crass shenanigans with which his career began.

Even if you know nothing about Lee and are viewing this as simply the effort of an unknown first-time filmmaker, you'll probably still have mixed feelings, uncertain whether the film is truly celebrating and empathizing with the homeless or just using them to tug on your heartstrings, an offense comparable to what the film's villains are purveying.

Church is good in a dramatic role that lesser actors would go broader with. That approach might have had more impact, but Church's understatement grounds the proceedings in something realistic and relatable.

After a very limited fall theatrical release, Cardboard Boxer is now on Blu-ray and DVD from Well Go USA Entertainment. Though not rated, the film would certainly earn an R from the MPAA for language, violence, and a little bit of sexual content.

Cardboard Boxer Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Release Date: November 15, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($24.98 SRP) and Instant Video


You never know what you'll get from a low-budget film on a small studio Blu-ray, but Cardboard Boxer looks quite good here. The 1.85:1 presentation (which actually measures 1.9:1) is reasonably well-defined and free of any noticeable issues. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix gets the job done and English SDH subtitles are included for those who need them.

The theatrical trailer gives us a functional title font for Cardboard Boxer. Cardboard Boxer's Blu-ray menu animates lens flares around Thomas Haden Church's poster/cover pose.


Though the film would seem to warrant some insight and commentary, it gets nothing of the sort on Blu-ray from Well Go USA. The only extra is Cardboard Boxer's trailer (2:04, HD), which curiously claims the film comes "from acclaimed director Knate Lee."

"Previews" provides individual access to the same three trailers the play automatically at disc insertion and after Cardboard Boxer's trailer finishes. They advertise Baked in Brooklyn, River, and King Jack.

The menu subtly animates a rendering of the top half of the cover art.

No slipcover accompanies the full-color disc in the side-snapped keepcase, but a double-sided insert advertises other Well Go USA titles. No digital copy is included with your purchase.

Milk was a bad choice for "Willie Bear" (Thomas Haden Church).


Cardboard Boxer is an interesting homelessness drama that walks a tightrope between empathy and exploitation. If nothing else, the film is notable for Thomas Haden Church's compelling lead performance. Well Go USA's barebones Blu-ray will leave you wanting something in the way of bonus features.

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: Army of One The Sea of Trees Mr. Church Coffee and Cigarettes Indignation
Thomas Haden Church: Spider-Man 3 Heaven Is for Real We Bought a Zoo Daddy's Home Easy A Smart People
Terrence Howard: Prisoners St. Vincent Iron Man Dead Man Down Lullaby
Boyd Holbrook: Very Good Girls A Walk Among the Tombstones Run All Night
The Soloist Rust & Bone The Fighter The Dark Horse

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Reviewed November 17, 2016.

Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2016 Well Go USA Entertainment, MJW Films, Night & Day Pictures.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.