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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
How To Kill Your Neighbor's Dog (2001)

"They have a dog? What are they, Americana run amuck?"
- Peter McGowen (Kenneth Branagh)

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: April 04, 2002

Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Robin Wright Penn
Other Stars: Jared Harris, Jonathon Schaech, Peter Reigert, Lynn Redgrave
Director: Michael Lalesniko

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for language
Run Time: 01h:48m:15s
Release Date: March 26, 2002
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ AB+B D+

DVD Review

In the past few weeks I have had the honor (or dishonor I suppose) of having seen what I consider to be the bottom of the cinematic barrel. From The Time Machine to 40 Days and 40 Nights there seems to be a new low point in the American cinematic landscape that is being deposited into theaters. Normally this is something that one must grin and deal with, knowing that movies as a whole are not likely to get better any time soon. But they can get better, and have, provided Hollywood gives the films that deserve a shot a chance at a mass market as opposed to a straight to video death.

The latest victim is writer/director Michael Kalesniko's brilliant debut feature How To Kill You Neighbor's Dog, a wonderfully satiric look at a sardonic writer whose life is approaching meltdown and the little things that help save him. Dog premiered at the 2000 Toronto Film Festival as the closing night film and received general acclaim. Then, nearly a year later the film premiered on the Starz cable channel and was subsequently sent to video where I fear many may miss this wonderful, hidden gem.

Peter McGowan (Branagh) is in a creative rut. After three bombs his latest play is nearing its opening, but without a completed script. His wife Melanie (Wright Penn) meanwhile is desperately hoping for children; the same can't be said for Peter. While he secretly hopes for a life without children his world is suddenly thrown into a twist when a recently divorced woman and her daughter Amy (Hofrichter) move in across the street. Amy instantly becomes a part of Melanie and Peter's lives. At the same time a man claiming also to be named Peter McGowan (Harris) is stalking the real Peter. Add to the mix the incessant barking of the neighbor's dog keeping him up nights, and you get the picture that Peter's quest to regain his artistic presence is in some trouble. Soon though, Peter and Amy grow close and what he learns from her allows him to change his ways and get back on track with his career, and more importantly, his life.

How To Kill You Neighbor's Dog is far from groundbreaking or original, but the film is an undeniable winner. I enjoyed the interaction of Peter with nearly every character in the film, and while his barbed dialogue and the witty manner in which he deals with life may well be off-putting for most, at the close of the film it is hard not to care for him. Kalesniko (whose only previous film credit is the script for Howard Stern's Private Parts) crafts a beautifully constructed story that allows each subplot its necessary time to expand and become an integral part of the story.

Branagh is simply amazing in his performance, showing a gifted comedic presence that I suspect some may find surprising given the actor's Shakespearean background. If Branagh's performance is close to resembling that of any of his previous work, it is his role in Woody Allen's Celebrity, which may be more than coincidental, considering that Kalesniko's script resembles vintage Allen. But Branagh has such a gifted way of phrasing that his ranting and biting remarks flow from his mouth as if he were born to play this role. I can easily say that if How To Kill You Neighbor's Dog had been granted the theatrical release and success it so richly deserved, Branagh may have been a strong award contender. As the other anchor, Robin Wright Penn is overshadowed at times by Branagh, but her performance is wonderfully understated, her emotions are perfectly reflected in her facial expressions.

Kalesniko does falter in the film's sudden turn into a sweet natured closing, as it does not blend well with the more biting satire found previously. Peter's transformation is too sudden from his former to new self, but Branagh handles it well enough. Despite this, Kalesniko's wonderful dialogue and characters make How To Kill You Neighbor's Dog the sort of film that deserves widespread acclaim.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Presented in a full-frame aspect ratio (strange as several scenes show the film was shot in widescreen) How To Kill You Neighbor's Dog looks fine but falls just short of being a perfect transfer. Colors are crisp with the interiors and bright exteriors looking especially rich and detailed in their color. Sharpness and detail are also of high quality giving the film a film-like look. There are a handful of moments where edge enhancement and grain are each noticeable but never for an extended amount of time.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English and Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: A dialogue driven Dolby Surround mix is provided for How To Kill You Neighbor's Dog and as expected the center channel is the star of this mix. Dialogue sounds nice and clear throughout with little static or hiss. This is a nice mix given the material.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: unknown keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Film-themed menu pages, 28 chapter stops and the red band trailer for the film (presented in full-frame with Dolby Surround) are the only extra features provided.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

It is indeed a rare accomplishment for a featureless disc to receive my highest recommendation but How To Kill You Neighbor's Dog is worthy of such an honor. It is smart, funny and at times touching. Most important, it is a nice reminder that good writing and competent direction are no match for overblown special effects and gross out humor.


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