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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Until the Night
Until the Night
Pathfinder Home Entertainment // Unrated // April 26, 2005
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Scott Lecter | posted September 19, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
Plenty of filmmakers have attempted (most unsuccessfully) to emulate Steven Soderbergh's breakthrough indie film sex, lies, and videotape since its release in 1989. The problem, however, with trying to emulate Soderbergh's classic is that the slightest misstep tends to make your film appear amateurish and manipulative. I'd accuse Gregory Hatanaka's Until the Night of doing this very thing, but the problem here is that Hatanaka's film doesn't really know what it wants to be. The characters seem to drift in and out of the film with little semblance as to what exactly their purpose is in the overall narrative. Which would be fine if Gregory Hatanaka was as capable a filmmaker as Soderbergh but, unfortunately, he's not.

It's certainly not for lack of acting talent that Until the Night fails, as the main actors are all quite capable of doing some good (if not great) work. Norman Reedus proved it most strikingly in Mimic and the cult-hit The Boondock Saints, Missy Crider was excellent in Bill Paxton's Frailty, and Kathleen Robertson had her moments as Clare Arnold on Beverly Hills, 90210. Capable actors, to be sure, but Hatanaka mostly wastes their talent with a second-rate script and highly unlikable characters. Robertson's career woman has a cheery public image that immediately endears her to the audience, but as soon as she shows her gloomy disaster of a personal life, we begin to hate her just as much as the rest of Hatanaka's characters. The Crider and Reedus characters aren't much better as they both appear continuously miserable throughout the film.

That's not to say, however, that everything about Until the Night is bad. There are a few highlights to be found throughout the film. Yasu Tanida's cinematography is often challenging and fresh with some very nicely composed shots, and an expressive color palette. Reedus does his own handheld camerawork for the DV scenes his character shoots and, although it often reminds the viewer of a bad Blair Witch… imitation, it's interesting to see the actor behind the camera. Also of note are a few steamy scenes between Reedus and Sarah Lassez's character. Lassez is certainly easy on the eyes, but her real knack is for looking natural in front of the character. She has a beautiful girl-next-door look to her that is immediately endearing.

Sadly, the few good things about Hatanaka's film cannot save it from becoming a real downer of a story. Aside from an entirely uninteresting opening sequence, Until the Night starts off promisingly with a strong cast of some familiar faces. Reedus, ultimately, does the best he can with what he's given – a weak script and an unlikable character, and there's a nice nostalgia factor to watching Kathleen Robertson do her thing again after practically disappearing after Beverly Hills, 90210. It's not enough, however, to save the film from failing to be either entertaining or enlightening. Hatanaka tries to make a film that shows the underbelly of a Los Angeles filled with sexual tension, violence, and despair. What he, ultimately, ends up making with Until the Night is a miserable film about miserable people.

The DVD

Video:
Until the Night is presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen format that doesn't do a whole lot to make Yasu Tanida's cinematography look nearly as interesting as it actually is. The very expressive color palette comes across fairly well, with some nice blown-out yellows and red, but flesh tones are not entirely accurate at all times, and shadows and lighting aren't quite as sharp as they could be throughout. Detail is lacking, grain is abundant at times, and there are some instances of dirt and spots to be found. The transfer actually makes the entire film look like it was shot on digital video, as there isn't that much difference between the film footage and the footage from the camera that Reedus's character uses throughout the film. Overall, this transfer gets the job done and actually does a nice job with the varied colors in Until the Night, but it could have been much better if a bit more care was taken.

Sound:
The audio on this disc is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 stereo formats, which get the job done, but ultimately fail to impress. The tracks are actually very similar, as there isn't very much action in the surround channels, but the winner here is the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. It sounds much fuller, the dialogue is slightly louder and more distinct, and the film's interesting score gets some help from the rear speakers. Spatial separation is fine across the front channels, but dialogue – while still always discernable – is recorded slightly low. Volume fluctuation is a bit problematic at times, while .1 LFE channel is rarely, if ever, used effectively. These tracks may have a few issues and they certainly are not all that dynamic, but they do manage to suffice.

Extras:
For a film as depressing and lackluster as Until the Night, it's surprising to see Pathfinder Home Entertainment include as many extra features as they have on this disc. The first of which is an audio commentary featuring Writer/Director Gregory Hatanaka and Actors Kathleen Robertson and Luke Y. Thompson. Robertson and Thompson seem to be a bit lost in the beginning of the track, as Hatanaka attempts to bring them back to the film with some anecdotes and encouraging the participants to recall their scenes. The problem, however, is that Hatanaka tries to be very cerebral and technical about his chat while Robertson and Thompson seem to take it a little less seriously. Thompson, at one point, even asks Hatanaka what the film is actually about because he, clearly, has no clue. While comments like that are even more reason why Until the Night doesn't really work, they don't really add anything to the enjoyment of the film. This track, ultimately, fails because Hatanaka comes across as a pretentious filmmaker who thinks his film is better than it actually is. Robertson and Thompson, on the other hand, seem to at least have some fun with the commentary. Maybe they were in on the joke.

Also included on this disc are nine deleted scenes, which would have added little (if anything) to the film itself. While this isn't really groundbreaking material, it is nice to see the excised scenes included here.

Finally, we also have text biographies for seven of the main players, a photo gallery that includes 24 stills from the film set, and two trailers for Until the Night.

Final Thoughts:
If you put the cast of Until the Night in a film with some likeable characters, and a tighter script, you'd probably have a pretty good basis for something worthwhile. If only Gregory Hatanaka had thought about those likeable characters, and that tighter script, when he sat down to write Until the Night, he might have made a film worth watching. Instead, he ended up with a mess of meandering characters that I could barely stand to watch. Reedus does the best he can, and there are a few sexy scenes featuring Sarah Lassez, but it's not nearly enough for me to recommend the film. Pathfinder has made a valiant effort with an adequate audio-visual presentation and a larger-than-expected assortment of extra material, but all that can't save the film from being a miserable experience. Do yourself a favor and rent sex, lies, and videotape. There's a reason Soderbergh's film is considered a classic and Until the Night is barely a blip on the radar.

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