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DVD ReviewWhen it comes to a feature-length film, are pretty pictures enough? That's sort of the question posed by Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day, an exquisitely shot movie with a story that doesn't really rise to the level of its cinematography, and with acting values that are adequate, at best. But my, some of this is just breathtakingly beautiful, both in terms of location and of technique. It may not sustain your interest, even though the movie runs less than an hour and a half, but you may want to take some stills from it and put them up on your wall.
This is the story of John Lee, of Pasadena, who has a fascination with trains. The film begins just after World War II, and Lee, whose mother is French and whose father is Chinese, dreams not of living happily ever after with his fiancée Angela, a pianist, but rather of working on the railroad, all the livelong day. John has a complicated relationship with his sister, and a fairly tortured one with his parents; nonetheless, he prevails upon them to take a family trip to Yosemite, where he falls in love, not with a woman, but with the floundering Yosemite Valley Railroad. John's quixotic quest to make the YVRR a going enterprise is the main tension of the story.
But in truth, that matters a whole lot less than the many vistas of Yosemite provided for us by writer/director Christopher Münch and cinematographer Rob Sweeney. Both have clearly been influenced deeply by Ansel Adams—the vistas of Yosemite are like Adams prints come to life, the monumental in nature shot with a religious reverence. And in story terms, too, Adams' life may well have been on Münch's mind, with the inherent tensions between Yosemite and the city, between the park and the piano. The people are shot almost as prettily as the landscape, too—in the lead role, Peter Alexander lacks charisma, but he looks as if he stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch photo shoot. Michael Stipe of R.E.M. has a brief turn as a moody railroad clerk, and the eminence grise of the YVRR is Henry Gibson, who gives the picture a warm, gregarious presence.
The attention to period detail is exquisite, but the production team has ridden such herd over this that the movie starts to feel claustrophobic—you can see why they don't want anything to interfere with the images, but it's an odd sensation in a movie that's about the call of the open road. But still, even though it's a thing of the past, the romance of train travel hasn't lost all of its luster, and this movie recaptures some of the nostalgia and glamour of a time that isn't coming again.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: Frequent scratching detracts from the splendor of the photography; while there's a lot to admire about the on-set craft, a combination of the passage of time and low-budget filmmaking conspire to keep this from being as pristine a transfer as one might hope.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Lots of the dialogue is oddly muffled and close to inaudible; the balance problems are especially bad with the overly frequent voice-over narrations from the protagonist. This is one of those DVDs where you'll wish that subtitles had been included.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsIt's peculiar when you come out of a movie singing the cinematography and the production design, but the pretty pictures are the most notable elements of Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day, a visual delight that isn't especially emotionally rewarding.
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