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Synapse Films presents

A Better Place (1997)

"We came here to start over. A new life. In a better place. We should have stayed behind."- Barrett (Robert DiPatri)

Stars: Eion Bailey, Robert DiPatri
Other Stars: Brian Lynch, Carmen Llewellyn, Joseph Cassese, Jason Lee
Director: Vincent Pereira

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:25m:13s
Release Date: 2001-08-07
Genre: drama

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
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A+ AB+B+ A+

 

DVD Review

The 1997 release A Better Place is the stunning directorial debut by Vincent Pereira, who also wrote and edited the film. Made with financing help from View Askew's Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier, the meager production budget does not in any way reflect the quality of the final product. A Better Place takes a no-holds-barred look at a pair of alienated teens and presents their troubled world in all it's raw hopelessness, and doesn't bother to pull any punches. With the aid of Synapse, View Askew and Pereira, this DVD release is easily one of the years best.

Barrett (Robert DiPatri) is a quiet, unassuming teen that has just moved to a new town with his mother after the sudden, accidental death of his father. The father's death occurs in the film's opening sequence, and Pereira directs it in a very subtle, but dramatic manner. After watching the opening moments, I could tell that the next 85 minutes were going to be something very special. I wasn't wrong.

Treated like an outcast at school, despite his best attempts at fitting in, Barrett is made to feel completely isolated. After a heated encounter in a classroom, Todd (Joseph Cassese), a thickheaded jock, tries to beat up Barrett in the gym locker room. In a moment that will change Barrett's life forever, he is saved from the beating through the intervention of Ryan (Eion Bailey). Ryan is the school's infamous self-styled loner, and he initially rejects Barrett's attempt at friendship. Eventually though, the two become friends, and as A Better Place slowly unfolds, their lives become inexplicably entwined in a web of desperation and inevitable violence.

The unusual and volatile relationship between Barrett and Ryan is the focal point of Pereira's unflinching script. Barrett is the seemingly logical, levelheaded one, while the dark Ryan, troubled by the tragic death of his parents, is the violently explosive one. On the surface, they would appear diametrically opposed, but in Pereira's world the two become almost a Jekyll and Hyde persona. They are two halves of the same whole.

DiPatri is the standout in A Better Place. His performance as Barrett is just about flawless, and he projects a perfect mixture of innocence, independence and maturity. DiPatri takes Pereira's sharp, natural dialogue and creates a living, breathing flesh-and-blood character. His actions and words play out all too realistically, and his performance is the centerpiece here. The guy is really something else. A natural, as they say (whoever "they" are).

Bailey has to play second fiddle to DiPatri, even though his portrayal of Ryan is in itself a compelling blend of temporarily controlled rage and confidence. Every high school had a kid like Ryan, one who seemed to float along practically anonymous, yet almost the stuff of legend when it came to a dark and mysterious background. There is a powerful scene midpoint through where Ryan delivers what amounts to his philosophy on life to a dumbstruck Barrett, and as he preaches his Hitler-tinged ideals we then can briefly see the seething anger that lurks beneath the surface.

A Better Place does not feature an exceptionally large cast, which is not surprising considering the film's budget. "Hollywood" Brian Lynch (Big Helium Dog) is really funny as the hulking New Wave reject Eddie, who is best buddies with the sweet but tough Augustine Fairfax (Llewelyn Lee). I liked Lee's Augustine character; she projects that veneer of toughness that is only a weak front to another apparently lonely teen. The friendship between Eddie, Augie and Barrett serves as a predictably unintentional wedge against Ryan, and is a source of some decent dramatic tension. Kevin Smith regular Jason Lee (Dogma, Chasing Amy, Mallrats) has a small role as Dennis Pepper, the whiny, overprotective boyfriend of Ryan's aunt.

A film like A Better Place would never survive at your local suburban multiplex, where it would struggle in vain for screen time against big dollar blockbusters with tired, overpaid stars and depressingly familiar plots. Luckily, Synapse Films has taken this small film and gloriously resurrected it on this highly recommended DVD. Pereira may not paint the happiest picture on the block, but it is certainly one of the most powerful.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.5:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Synapse has released A Better Place in a non-anamorphic widescreen 1.5:1 aspect ratio. The disc's liner notes indicate that it was transferred to digital video "in the director's preferred aspect ration of 1.5:1, with one sequence matted to 1.66:1. For this transfer, a brand new low-contrast wetgate print was made directly from the original A/B roll 16mm color negatives." The overall transfer has some minor graining, and may be a result of the film having been originally shot on 16mm stock. Occasional nicks and blemishes pop up throughout, but don't detract too much. However, one sequence in Chapter 4 appears out of focus, with significant ghosting. This is a result of a problem with the camera during filming, and could not be corrected.

One of the pleasures of a dark, independent film like A Better Place is that the low production budget, and subsequent film quality imperfections, only serve to heighten the experience. Pereira's strong direction keeps an almost documentary feel to the proceedings. The color palette is a bit muted, but in general the flesh tones remain realistic and natural.

Despite what may sound like shortcomings, Synapse and Pereira have done an excellent job on the film's transfer. A Better Place is definitely a low-budget film, but it has been given the royal treatment on this release.

Kudos to Synapse and Pereira.

Image Transfer Grade: B+
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: A sharp 5.1 mix is the primary audio option for A Better Place. Remixed at the legendary Skywalker Ranch, this disc is a classic example of how a solid audio track can enhance a film. Dialogue is generally crisp and clear. Ambient sounds and sporadic music cues are a dominant, yet subtle, part of a very effective sound field.

The supplemental section contains a nice feature that allows a comparison between the mono and remixed 5.1 track. This type of feature, while maybe not as sexy as some extras, only reinforces the added attention that A Better Place received for this powerful release.

An English 2.0 surround mix has also been included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Big Helium Dog
8 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1. Vincent Pereira, Brian Lynch, Joseph Cassese, Robert Dipatri
2. Vincent Pereira, Brian Lynch, Joseph Cassese, Robert Dipatri
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier Introductions
  2. Audio Comparisons
  3. Easter Eggs
Extras Review: This baby is jam-packed with quality supplemental material:

Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier Introductions
Three approximately five-minute ad-libbed intros by executive producers Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier, discussing their involvement with, and excitement about A Better Place. All three are interesting in their own way, with snippets of expected dry, deadpan humor laced throughout.

Audio Comparisons
A very cool feature that highlights the drastic differences between the original mono audio track and the Skywalker Ranch remixed 5.1 track on three specific scenes. While it may seem overly obvious that there would be a significant difference, the effect is deceptively overwhelming.

Deleted Scenes
8 deleted scenes, available with or without Pereira commentary. These scenes seemed natural and real, and Pereira's detailed comments shed light on why they were excised from the final print.

Production Booklet
A hilarious 5-page booklet written by Brian Lynch is a decidely uncoventional take on production information surrounding A Better Place. When was the last time liner notes discussed the rigors of "having to poop out of a tree because we had no bathrooms."

Commentary
A Better Places features one of the stronger commentary tracks I've heard in a while. Vincent Pereira, Brian Lynch, Robert Dipatri and Joseph Cassese talk non-stop and share some great insights and anecdotes about production during this scene-specific track. Lynch is terrific, but Pereira dominates the track, and as director, he is effusive when it comes to discussing production specifics on A Better Place.

Color Bars
If you need 'em, they're here too.

EASTER EGGS
The following extras are easter eggs. To access, go to the "Special Thanks" menu option. On the second page of names, use your remote to highlight "The Pizza Guy" and you will be taken to a hidden menu entitled "Loopholes".

Bonus Commentary
This is one of the better DVD easter eggs. A Better Place includes a second, full-length, scene-specific commentary track by Vincent Pereira, Brian Lynch, Robert Dipatri and Joseph Cassese. Only this time they appear fueled by numerous cocktails, and the subsequent comments are really funny.

Big Helium Dog Trailer (8m)
Another hidden treasure. An 8-minute piece that culminates in a trailer for Brian Lynch's Big Helium Dog. Featuring Lynch, DiPatri and Kevin Smith, among others, this featurette appears mostly ad-libbed and is extremely funny.

Extras Grade: A+
 

Final Comments

Much like River's Edge and The Lord Of The Flies, this is a film that will linger with you for days. Vincent Pereira's dangerous look at a couple of adrift teens is one of the finest films I've seen in a long time. This is the type of project that big budget Hollywood wishes they could make. Pereira has put all of the pieces together—great casting, strong acting and a raw, fresh script. Very, very impressive.

Synapse has loaded the disc with a ton of excellent supplementals, including a hidden second full-length commentary track. Even without the stellar bonus material, I would still ecstatically recommend A Better Place.

Highly recommended. Very highly.

Rich Rosell 2001-09-04