DVD Review HTF Review: Pieces of April (Screener)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Dec 10, 2003.

Tags:
  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2003
    Messages:
    310
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    [​IMG]


    Pieces of April (Screener)







    Studio: MGM
    Year: 2003
    Rated: PG-13
    Film Length: 80 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Subtitles: English, Spanish, and French (on final version)
    Audio: English - Stereo Surround (Final Version may be 5.1 channel Dolby Digital)






    NOTE: The disc I received for Pieces of April is a screener, so final content will probably vary. For instance, the press release indicates that the widescreen (1.85) and full-frame (4:3) versions of the film will both be included on the final DVD release, while the screener only had the widescreen version on it.

    Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time for people to forget their differences, if only momentarily, and unite with those closest to them to give thanks for the good things in life. Unfortunately, that is often easier said than done, and some families have rifts so deep that it can be difficult to come together at any time of year, holiday or not. With that in mind, Peter Hedges’ intelligent, ambitious film Pieces of April takes viewers on young April Burns’ (Katie Holmes) near-disastrous attempt to make amends with her family for being a problem child by hosting the “perfect” Thanksgiving dinner for them.

    Conversely, the film also follows her tightly-wound family members on their reluctant car ride to her tiny, impoverished Lower East Side apartment for what they are certain will be an inedible, hostile holiday dinner with the black sheep of the family. On the surface, this sounds like pretty straightforward stuff, but Hedges throws an interesting dynamic into the mix, as April’s mother, Joy (Patricia Clarkson) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Hedges is also aided by the fact that entire cast does a superb job of bringing forth the subtle comedic elements sprinkled amongst the tension-laden relationships between its characters.

    The majority of the tension in this story stems from the tenuous relationship between Joy, who believes her daughter will not amount to anything, and April, who recognizes the pain her rebellious nature has caused, but still hopes to make peace by bringing the family together. Though her effort is noble, it does not help that April seems to have never even made toast before, which puts a tremendous amount of pressure on her to successfully create a large meal. Joy’s grave illness places April under even greater stress, as she is not only cooking her first Thanksgiving dinner, but it may very well be the last one that she is able to share with her mother.

    As if things are not bad enough, there is also considerable animosity between April and her siblings, especially her sister, who seems to think she is perfect. Indeed, while April’s father, Jim Burns (Oliver Platt), drives the brood into New York City from the suburbs, these two rotten teens perpetually bicker and complain, not to mention struggle to conjure up even one pleasant memory of the time when April still lived at home with them.

    I know all of this probably sounds a bit dark, but there is an underlying sense of humor that never lets this film’s seriousness dampen the audience’s spirits. Writer/first-time director Peter Hedges (About A Boy, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) has an uncanny ability to create humorous situations out of dysfunctional familial relationships, and he accurately depicts April's desperation to create a unifying family experience, as well as her family’s feelings of obligation that force them to attend her dinner in the first place. As a result, Pieces of April’s central characters are realized in an extremely genuine, but also very heart-warming, fashion.

    In fact, Hedges’ characters are written so realistically that some are a little hard to like, which is a refreshing change from the overcooked holiday movies where everyone is sweet and lovable, in one way or another, and they all recognize their faults and come together in the end. This is especially true of title-character April, who is on the verge of adulthood, yet still possesses the grating immaturity of a spoiled kid, even giving attitude to neighbors that are willing to help her out of a jam.

    Picking up the story again, as April rushes to get dinner ready, her nice-guy boyfriend Bobby (Derek Luke) is cruising through Manhattan, picking up last-minute goodies for her, and even a coat from an experienced clothing store, to help make a good impression on April’s family. Since Bobby is an African-American, I must admit that I initially expected Pieces of April to be yet another film about old, stubborn parents not accepting a boyfriend/girlfriend because of the color of that person’s skin, and that it may have been the bone of contention between April and her family. Thankfully, I was pleasantly disappointed, as this subtext is extremely understated.

    Meanwhile, disaster strikes April, in the form of a non-functioning appliance. To salvage her dinner, the nervous, habitually irresponsible April is practically pounding down the doors and of her odd, reclusive, or non-English-speaking neighbors to beg for their help in cooking her turkey, once she discovers her own oven is on the fritz. Indeed, April’s oven was serving as a storage space until she began prepping her Thanksgiving feast, at which point she discovers its useless state!

    Now as far as the acting is concerned, the performances are uniformly outstanding, although stars Patricia Clarkson and Katie Holmes shine the brightest as a mother/daughter with completely opposite personalities. In particular, Katie Holmes exhibits a charming yet tenacious performance that is far more mature and substantial than anything she has done before. Further, despite limited screen time, Oliver Platt and Derek Luke are also outstanding, and both performers add their special brand of charisma to the proceedings.

    Another element that adds to this film’s likeability is the way these characters’ issues are resolved, which (thankfully) is not in typical Hollywood style. In addition, Pieces of April has a rather unique look, as it was shot (on digital video by cinematographer Tami Reiker) in only 16 days with a shoestring budget of half-a-million dollars, which gives it a rough-around-the-edges look and feel. Its gritty style, however, gives this work a uniquely intimate quality that helps the audience bond with these diverse, complex characters. In fact, the only quibble I had with this film is that its later scenes feel a little rushed (the film runs for only 80 minutes), but they still manage to get the point of the film across.

    To sum it all up, Pieces of April is a joyous experience that puts a different spin on the neurosis that surrounds the holidays than past Thanksgiving films, but it is all the better for it. It is truly remarkable how much Mr. Hedges was able to accomplish with only $500k! Although the film is not without a minor idiosyncrasy or two, I really enjoyed celebrating [a late] Thanksgiving with the spunky April Burns and her guests.





    SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
    In its home video incarnation, Pieces of April features an anamorphic widescreen (1.85) transfer that, quite honestly, does not quite cut the mustard. However, as I noted at the outset of the review, this is a “screener” and may not be indicative of the final product’s quality (at least I hope not). Anyway, since I can only work with what I have, let’s get started.

    First of all, color rendering is handled adeptly, and flesh tones look pretty accurate. The image is also fairly clean, which stands to reason, since it was shot on digital video. Further, I saw no evidence of edge enhancement. Unfortunately, that is about covers the high points. Contrast is iffy, and black level is not as good as most recent offerings from MGM, so shadow detail is obscured somewhat.

    It is the overall lack of detail, however, that was most disappointing. Not only was it quite a bit “softer” than I expected it to be, but at times the image appeared almost out-of-focus. Of course, I can’t speak for everyone, but I do not like blurry characters! Given its budget, I was more than willing to cut Pieces of April a little slack when I saw it in the theater, in terms of picture quality, and was quite surprised to find I didn’t need to! Quite frankly, this movie looked a heck of a lot better in the theater than it did on this screener, so I can only hope that the final product does a better job of presenting this gem of a film.

    It goes without saying that if I receive a final version of Pieces of April, I will update this portion of the review.




    WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
    Again, I must state that the stereo track on this screener is not the final product, if the press release is correct, but the audio presentation is somewhat un-involving nonetheless. To be more specific, it is not a terrible track, but it is not worthy of accolades either. Even though Pieces of April is almost entirely dialogue driven, this stereo mix sounds thin, and the soundstage is quite confined. Dialogue, on the other hand, is presented in a clear and intelligible manner.

    Since this temporary(?) audio track is probably not the final product, let’s just say I hope the sense of space and frequency response are improved on the 5.1 channel mix, and that music reproduction is handled better. Please note that should I receive the final product, I will update this portion of the review.




    EXTRAS, EXTRAS!!!


    NOTE: The press release for Pieces of April indicates that the following bonus features will be on the final product:

    --- Audio Commentary with Director Peter Hedges
    --- A Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
    --- The Trailer for Pieces of April (this is included as a “forced” trailer on the screener.


    Trailers and Promotional Materials
    I don’t know if I would classify these as extras, since they open the disc (and are “forced”), and this is a screener. Anyway, for the sake of being thorough, here goes:

    Trailers are included for Pieces of April, Jeepers Creepers 2, and Out of Time



    SCORE CARD

    (on a five-point scale)
    Movie: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Video: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Audio: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Extras:
    Overall: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]



    THE LAST WORD
    Peter Hedges’ Pieces of April is a poignant look at the neurosis that most of us suffer from during the holidays. The writing is strong, the performances are stronger, and the whole thing just feels fresh and organic. As I said earlier, I am amazed at what Hedges and company were able to accomplish with such a brief shooting schedule and so little cash. This quirky holiday film is definitely no turkey!

    As I have already made plain, the DVD I received is a screener in the true sense of the word. Forced trailers, no menus, no extras, and presumably video and audio that are not in their final stages were the rule here. Although the audio track was not awful, the video quality was quite disappointing, despite accurate color rendering. However, since the press release states that a 5.1 channel surround mix and bonus features will be included, I can only hope the final version receives a better visual treatment as well.

    However, since I cannot be assured that I will receive a final version of Pieces of April, I will refrain from giving this release my unqualified recommendation, especially if the presentation on the official release is not improved. I guess I will have to keep my fingers crossed that will happen, because this film is different (and good) enough to warrant a rental at the very least, almost irrespective of how it looks.


    Stay tuned…



    Release Date:
    February 24th, 2004
     
  2. Marko Berg

    Marko Berg Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Mar 22, 2002
    Messages:
    857
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0


    I hope they at least change the packaging - the cover art is a bit too much like that of Two Weeks Notice, or maybe it's just me [​IMG]
     
  3. Marc Colella

    Marc Colella Cinematographer

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 1999
    Messages:
    2,601
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Now we know what Jason uses as a template. [​IMG]
     
  4. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
    Moderator

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 1999
    Messages:
    38,749
    Likes Received:
    480
    Trophy Points:
    9,110
    FYI: I saw this film in the theater last week, and it sounds like the DVD video transfer looks like the film I saw (soft, out of focus, a few purposefully "washed out" scenes, etc). The camerawork at times seems amateurish to say the least, whether it was due to the budget constraints, or a stylistic choice (to show the state of the characters at that point in time), I don't know.

    So...while the film itself is enjoyable enough, don't use it to showcase the quality of your TV/Projector!!!
     
  5. Randy A Salas

    Randy A Salas Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2002
    Messages:
    1,348
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    MGM often sends out movie-only screeners of new movies to get them out well in advance of their release (mostly for magazines with long lead times and retailers) and to drum up interest. But it always follows up with a final version a few weeks before the release date. It might be worthwhile to wait until closer to street date to write a full-length review rather than doing it twice, once for a basically useless screener and again for the complete version.

    You might want to confirm that you'll get the final version with MGM's PR firm, Jason, but I can confirm that MGM always makes one available closer to street date. For what it's worth, I refuse to write about or evaluate a screener, because that's not what consumers will be buying, and I make sure the studios know that if that's all they send me.
     
  6. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2003
    Messages:
    310
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Marc,

    Template????

    Randy,

    I see your point, and I do agree. However, I have received a great many DVDs from MGM now, and this is the first screener they have sent me, so I had no way of knowing whether or not I would get the final version or not. Actually, my main purpose for posting this review was to let people know about this movie, since it is something many people may have missed. As I said, aside from the latter part of the film (which "feels" a little rushed), it really is quite good.

    Anyway, I do value everyone's opinion, and since it is true that "screeners" are not what consumers will be buying, I will probably refrain from evaluating them in the future.

    Regards,

    Jason
     
  7. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
    Moderator

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 1999
    Messages:
    38,749
    Likes Received:
    480
    Trophy Points:
    9,110
    Marc is referring to the coverart jpg for "Two Weeks Notice" at the beginning of the review for "Pieces of April" in the first post in this thread.
     
  8. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2003
    Messages:
    310
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Hey Patrick!

    Now that makes sense. I do not insert the cover art into my reviews, so I have taken the matter up with those who do. Hopefully it will be cleared up before long. Thanks!!!

    Regards,

    Jason
     
  9. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder
    Owner

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 1997
    Messages:
    48,304
    Likes Received:
    5,481
    Trophy Points:
    9,110
    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein
    Sorry about the cover art mistake.

    One of my early morning rush jobs.
     
  10. Derek Miner

    Derek Miner Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 1999
    Messages:
    1,663
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    This film just came back to my town, and I made sure to catch it. I was very pleasantly surprised at the humorous and quirky nature of the story. I would definitely suggest people check it out on video if they missed it in theaters.

    Incidentally, writer/director Peter Hedges was a co-screenwriter on ABOUT A BOY and writer of WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE (both favorites of mine). If I had known that up front, I would have seen the film a lot sooner!
     
  11. Jeff Kuykendall

    Jeff Kuykendall Stunt Coordinator

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2003
    Messages:
    106
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    This is my vote against including reviews of screeners in the Home Theater Forum. If you wanted to make people aware of the film, shouldn't you have posted the review in the Movies forum? I tend to think this gives people like Jack Valenti the wrong idea.
     
  12. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 1998
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    0
    It's November! Time to rewatch Pieces of April -- my new Thanksgiving tradition. Quite simply the best Thanksgiving film I've ever seen.

    M.
     
  13. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2003
    Messages:
    310
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Hey Michael!

    I am on board with that! You don't mind if I adopt your tradition, do you? [​IMG]

    Seriously folks, this is a great movie, and if you haven't seen it yet, I urge you to do so....

    Happy Hoildays to everyone!
     
  14. Robert Ringwald

    Robert Ringwald Cinematographer

    Joined:
    May 16, 2001
    Messages:
    2,641
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Watching on Thanksgiving Day with my friends. [​IMG]
     
  15. ThomasC

    ThomasC Lead Actor

    Joined:
    Dec 15, 2001
    Messages:
    6,526
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Thank you so much for bumping up this thread, Michael. I Netflixed this movie as a result, just finished watching it, and here is my thought:

    Brilliance.
     

Share This Page