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Koch Vision presents

Iowa (2005)

"I don't want you going all slut-headed on me when you see your son in a pine box."- Larry (Michael T. Weiss)

Stars: Matt Farnsworth, Diane Foster
Other Stars: Michael T. Weiss, John Savage, Rosanna Arquette, Amanda Tepe, David Backus, John Bliss
Director: Matt Farnsworth

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, drug use, violence, nudity, rape, sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:38m:15s
Release Date: 2009-02-10
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- CC+C B-


DVD Review

The idea of young meth addicts in rural Iowa might seem surreal, but writer/director/actor Matt Farnsworth takes a page of this real-life problem and spends 97 minutes painting a familiar downward spiral of the film's characters.

It's intended as a cautionary tale, a woeful unspooling of drug manufacturing/dealing/addiction, centered on a blank-faced and bushy-bearded Esper (Farnsworth) who dabbles in dead daddy's meth business, along with the help of virginal, wide-eyed girlfriend Donna (Diane Foster, Farnsworth's wife). A $200,000 insurance payout causes Esper's skanky mother (Rosanna Arquette) to inexplicably order a hit on her son, to be carried out by a cartoonishly violent parole officer (Michael T. Weiss).

As the young lovers' meth business and personal addictions rise, so does trouble and tragedy. Tasers, rape, prison, finger removals, burned genitals, knives, and guns are just a few of the ways things go off the tracks for Esper and company, and as Iowa marches toward what can only be an unhappy end director Farnsworth attempts to give his film a jittery, meth-tinged coarseness. The stylistic touches—animation, black-and-white, excessive grain—give the whole thing a sort of Natural Born Killers/Oliver Stone tweak, and to his credit Farnsworth mostly succeeds in attempting to recreate the manic panic of a meth high a number of times. It's ugly and paranoid, and during one sequence a character in a meth rage attacks Donna, and the scene plays out in alternate shots of reality and the drug-induced visions, which include a particularly unpleasant encounter with the imaginary contents of a toilet bowl.

Iowa gets a bizarrely comic boost from Michael T. Weiss (The Pretender) as an excessively violent parole officer. Strutting around with a 1970's porn star moustache and smoking joints at work, Weiss' Larry Clarkson is not only corrupt, but he's a rapist and a murderer, a villain so cornballingly extreme that I wasn't entirely sure whether or not it was supposed to be so a parody. Either way, he lights up Iowa with an ugly glow whenever he's onscreen, uttering some of the film's best ridiculous dialogue, most of it during macho verbal beatdowns of Esper's boozy tramp of a mom, played by Arquette, who operates here in full-bore overacting mode.

As a sidebar, Farnsworth seems willing to offer up frequent (and thematically unnecessary) nudity of his wife Diane Foster, an element that upon further review seems just plain weird to me. And it's not only the extremely unpleasant rape sequence, but there's a couple of traditional sex scenes that serve no measurable function other than to highlight her very attractive breasts; ditto for the lesbian smooching-and-fondling meth hallucination bit.

There's nothing to learn in Iowa that you probably don't already know. The terrible things that happen are inevitable, and the ravages of meth addiction come fast and hard. Farnsworth tries to get tricky here to make the visual journey match a meth tweak, playing with textures and colors, but the message remains the same, and it's one that has been seen before.

Drugs are bad. I get it.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Iowa comes from Koch Vision in 2.25:1 anamorphic widescreen. There's a rough-and-tumble texture to much of Farnsworth's film, and it seems the disc does its best to accommodate that intent, making it difficult to separate artistic concepts from specific transfer flaws. The stylized use of occasional black-and-white or extreme blue hues works, and primary colors appear natural without being overly vibrant. Edges are very soft, and the absence of any well-defined edges remains a constant. A few bits of specking appears here and there, as do some measurable compression artifacts.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 audio is problematic, marred by an oddly flat tone to all sounds (doors, guns, cars) other than dialogue and music. At first I thought this could be some intentional effect by Farnsworth—given the whole meth storyline—but that seemed less and less likely as the film progressed; purposeful or not, it's distracting. Voice quality ranks solidly average, as is the frequent use of background music throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Blue Blood
2 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: No commentary from writer/director/actor Matt Farnsworth, but included here are a pair of Farnsworth-directed documentaries on the Iowa meth situation: Poor Man's Dope (37m:19s) and Dying For Meth (42m:27s). The docs serve a couple of purposes, and not only provide a little background on how and why Iowa the film came to be, but are grim educational tools that would probably do a fine job of scaring anyone away from using meth.

The disc is cut into 12 chapters, and features optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: B-

Final Comments

This isn't the first film to attempt to display the familiar tragedy of drug addiction, and I'm certain it won't be the last. There are bits and pieces of Iowa that are wonderfully bleak, but they are sandwiched between hammy histrionics (Rosanna Arquette, I'm talking to you) and sometimes godawful dialogue.

I would, however, buy the twangy and downbeat alt-country soundtrack in a heartbeat.

Rich Rosell 2009-02-23