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Next One Productions presents
Brewster McGee (1998)

"If a man doesn't have friends, he doesn't have s***."
- Brewster McGee (Brent Neale)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: March 18, 2004

Stars: Brent Neale, Reid Edwards, Don Ackerman
Other Stars: Corey Turner, Melanie Mitchell, Suzanne Mah
Director: Ross Munro

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (strong language, mature dialogue)
Run Time: 01h:00m:37s
Release Date: August 12, 2003
Genre: black comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+B+B+ C+

DVD Review

The term "low budget independent film" is bandied about a lot these days, but the definition is accurate with Canadian writer/director Ross Munro's debut, Brewster McGee. Produced on an extremely tight $50,000 Canadian budget and entirely self financed, the film was in development for five years before shooting began. Snubbed by the festival circuit, and bereft of government funding, the work has found favor in its audience, being named among the top Canadian films of all time in a Vancouver Sun newspaper's reader's poll. With a fitting opening quote from Voltaire, this one had me in stitches from the get-go.

Brewster McGee is an arrogant, loud-mouthed slacker with a propensity for profanity, who lives his life in the passenger seat of a beat-up Plymouth, espousing his condemnation of the world to his only audience and sole companion, Malcolm. Although the two spend their days in the parking lot of the Chicken Hut, Brewster believes he is destined for greatness, as the recipient of wealth from the royalties on a slogan he has submitted to the copyright board. His active imagination also has him believing that the drive-thru girl is sending him a message with her liberal allotment of fries. While hippielike in appearance, Malcolm contrasts sharply to Brewster's colorful vocabulary, as a sensitive and well-educated man, and when the two of them witness the Chicken Hut assistant manager being chewed out by his boss over a missing toilet paper mystery, Malcolm suggests they offer the employee, Oliver, some help. Oliver is despondent over the recent loss of his girlfriend, which gives Brewster all the ammunition he needs to save the man, but his manipulative ways may not meet with the results he is after.

Brewster McGee is a hilarious character study, rife with wit and humor, as Brewster lays out his warped observations on life, women, and the world of advertising. More impressive is Munro's writing of the part, allowing Brewster some vulnerability and dimension, instead of simple charicature. With its similar feel and attitude, Brewster McGee has generated comparisons to Kevin Smith's pivotal Clerks, but having viewed the two back to back, I found Brewster to be stronger in some respects, less reliant on gross out humor, yet using its main character's excessiveness in language to great comic effect.

Brent Neale, whose filmography includes a number of fellow Winnipegger Guy Maddin's films (Careful, Tales from Gimli Hospital), captures Brewster perfectly, whether doling out the diatribe or feigning heart attacks in an effort to gain sympathy from his friends. It took a while to adjust to Reid Edwards' Malcolm, with his quasi-Cheech Marin appearance going against the grain as the soft spoken and well articulated sidekick. These two are quite the pair. Don Ackerman plays the spineless and heart broken Oliver, whose pathetic whining is redeemed by the final reel.

With the majority of the film taking place inside Brewster's car, credit is due cinematographer Cees van Muiswinkel for his creative coverage and use of camera angles in what could otherwise prove a mundane visual experience. While avoiding overtly "arty" gimmicks, there is an element of style, and I appreciated little things like the final parting montage of the car, which, while simple, was also effective. The performances are well executed with only a couple of minor miscues, the editing is tight, and the direction focused, and there were only a couple of brief moments where things seemed a bit awkward. Even with its shorter than usual running time, the story and characters are well developed, and the ending gratifying. A great first effort.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: The black-and-white image quality is generally pretty good, and considering the budget, this came out quite well. Contrast and tonal range are usually well balanced, although a few scenes are on the darker side which tends to obscure low level detail. There is moderate grain (expected for a 16mm film) which renders naturally, the source has some minor print defects, sharpness is fine and not over exagerrated. The only real issues are a few tape anomalies, and some mild cross coloration in places. For a self-financed release, I'm impressed.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono audio is quite decent, with good spectral coverage, and a full presence. Dialogue is sometimes a little difficult to understand, and occasionally on the sibilant sideónothing I wouldn't expect on a no budget film.

The only real issue here is how the audio is encoded, which will cause (fixable) problems depending on your player/amp setup. If decoded via Prologic, the image shifts to the rear, instead of locking to the center channel. The commentary track actually works better decoded this way, as the two channel mono doesn't anchor in the center very well.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Ross Munro, Brent Neale
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Writer/director/producer Ross Munro and star Brent Neale provide commentary for the feature. They cover a lot of ground, and have a few running jokes comparing Brewster McGee to a few classic films. The track is informative and entertaining, tending to be more anecdotal than technical.

Two trailers are included: an English version and a mock Spanish installment, showing a good sense of humor.

The packaging also includes a promo postcard as an insert.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Demonstrating a maturity beyond his experience, writer/director Ross Munro delivers a sharp, funny and well-executed inaugural effort in Brewster McGee. While its crude humor and excessive language will limit its appeal to some crowds, the film is filled with memorable dialogue and strong performances. The DVD is currently only available through his website, but warrants wider distribution, and if this is the quality of material he is capable of, I can only hope that Munro is able to bring his future projects to market with greater expediency. This one deserves to be seen.


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