Plot: What’s it about?
Barret Michaelson (Robert DiPatri) has just lost his father and moved to a new area, but this is not the kind of fresh start he needs. In his first day at his new high school, he finds himself the subject of abuse, in the form of verbal tirades and even worse. He is even almost beaten up by some jocks, not the kind of welcome any kid wants on his first day, especially in a new school. But he does find a connection with one person, a loner named Ryan Walker (Eion Bailey). Although the friendship is formed due to Barret’s rejection by the other students, the two become friends and as time passes, become quite close. But Ryan has a lot of anger inside and when he starts to vent in undesired ways, Barret decides to seek new friends, including some Ryan disapproves of. When this happens, Ryan begins to spiral out of control and is determined to make Barret as miserable as he is, no matter what that takes. But how far will Ryan go in his rage to drag down Barret and the others, and will Barret find some way to escape from this mess before it’s too late?
I had heard a lot of good press on A Better Place, as it toured the festivals and headed toward an eventual home video release. So when this much delayed, but highly anticipated disc arrived in the mail, I was finally able to take a look at A Better Place. Despite the praise and promotion around the film (especially within the View Askew fanbase), I kept my expectations low and in this case, I am glad I did just that. While A Better Place is a solid movie that’s well worth a look, I feel it falls short of being a great flick, so I am glad I didn’t buy into the hype on this one. I don’t mean to say this is a bad film by any means, as I enjoyed viewing it, but it has a lot of flaws, on both sides of the camera. As you would expect from a low budget movie from a first time director with a cast of mostly friends, not much is too impressive here, in terms of visuals, direction, or performances. You can tell no one was really sure of their tasks, aside from the few workers with some experience. The acting has some bright spots, but is pretty weak most of the time, but solid enough for the level of the material, I think. A Better Place is a more than decent effort however, with solid writing most of the time and a good sense of the subject matter involved. This special edition has been a long time in the works from Synapse, but rest assured fans, as the disc is more than worth the extensive wait, to be sure.
Most of us know Vincent Pereira as the official View Askew historian, but in this case, he is the writer & director of the feature. You can tell he is involved with Kevin Smith and friends, as his writing takes some elements from Smith’s style, to be sure. But Pereira has enough sense not to ape Smith too much, though when he stops, his work is less effective. I know I’ll be going against the grain here, but I feel Pereira’s direction is rather flat here, he does little to enhance the material in terms of visuals, even less than his buddy Smith. His work as a writer is decent, but has a lot of flaws, some of which are to be expected from a first time writer/director, I think. So no, I don’t think this is one of the more powerful movies I’ve seen of late, but Pereira has made a nice debut picture. The cast here includes Robert DiPatri, Eion Bailey (Center Stage, Almost Famous), Carmen Lee (The Mod Squad, Never Been Kissed), and Jason Lee (Mallrats, Mumford).
Video: How does it look?
A Better Place is presented in a 1.50:1 widescreen transfer, which is not enhanced for widescreen televisions. This looks much better than I expected, given the film’s origins and circumstances around the newly added footage. You can tell when the new scenes are present, due to additional wear, but on the whole, the image is solid and fans should be most pleased. You’ll see some grain and marks on the print, but nothing too serious and all things considered, we should be thrilled A Better Place looks this good. The colors seem natural and contrast is well balanced, an overall terrific visual effort, kudos to Vincent Pereira and Synapse here.
Audio: How does it sound?
I was surprised to find a Dolby Digital 5.1 track on deck here, but even more surprised at how effective it was. This is not the kind of movie you think of when it comes to audio presence, but this is one terrific mix, to be sure. The musical soundtrack makes good use of the added range, while sound effects are well placed also, very immersive at times. But this track is never forced when it comes to surround use, so it all remains natural, as intended. The vocals are clean, but show some flaws, though I don’t think anyone will be let down here. This disc also includes a 2.0 surround option, in case that better suits your home theater needs.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This release isn’t as loaded as some special editions out there, but it does have some cool supplements, without a doubt. A selection of deleted scenes start us off and since the film has seen a lot of changes over time, it is cool to see these additional sequences included here. Pereira provides optional commentary for each of the scenes, which sheds some light on why they were excised, very cool indeed. Next is a trio of video introductions from executive producers Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier, who ham it up for three takes, none of which end up as humorous, if you ask me. A couple dumb laughs at times, but not too worthwhile, though the concept is a good one, I think. An audio commentary with Pereira, as well as a few performers is also found here, which makes for an enjoyable and informative session. Pereira has a ton of comments to make and in the end, I don’t think he was able to push it all out, though he still offers an insightful look behind A Better Place. A cool audio comparison rounds out the disc, in which you can compare the original mono audio to the remixed 5.1 surround option, with predictable results.