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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America
Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America
Home Vision Entertainment // Unrated // February 21, 2006
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted March 31, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Movies:

Kind of a cross between Ingmar Bergman and Todd Solondz but with more of a horror genre bend, Douglas Buck has been making independent horror movies for a few years now. Before you instantly dismiss that as shot on video garbage, let it stand that not only are the three movies in this set shot on film but they're some of the most mind-bending and intense examples of what a horror movie can be to come down the pipe in a long while. In short, they're the cinematic equivalent to a swift punch to the balls, but in the best possible way. They hurt you, they make you feel something sharp and fast, and they leave you wanting to curl up in the fetal position and cry.

These movies have been staples of underground and horror oriented film festivals for a few years now and were released independently as a two disc set by Buck. Image Entertainment now makes that two disc set much more widely available and really the only thing that's changed is that instead of being on two single sided/singe layered discs, they're on a double sided flipper. While the two disc format is preferable for most of us, the flipper gets the job done and this is definitely a case where if you ignore the content based on the presentation, you're selling yourself short. Douglas Buck has the potential to be the next big thing. Get in on the ground floor if you haven't already.

Cutting Moments (1997):

In this horrifying slice of life short, a wife and mother (played by Nicca Ray) goes about her daily routine as any of us would until she finds out that her husband (Gary Betsworth) is molesting their son. She decides that she should be the subject of his desires and/or abuse and in order to bring the obviously negative attention he relishes on their child onto herself instead, she opts to get his attention by way of some horrifying self mutilation. As the authorities are on their way to take him away, her desperate measures increase as it all builds to a completely messed up conclusion.

Heavy stuff indeed. This one is very well acted, Ray in particular shines in her part and is believable in her confusion and at the same time in her conviction. It builds really well and the last ten minutes are incredibly intense. When she realizes the inevitable, and comes to the conclusion that she has no other choice, her actions go completely off the deep end. This isn't one for the squeamish…

Home:

This is, in a sense, a remake of the first short though this time out instead of getting it from the wife's point of view, we get it from the husband's. Gary Betsworth once again plays the man of the house, who spends his days toiling away at the office trying to earn a buck. We learn through some intense flashback scenes of his childhood, where he was beaten by his parents and pretty harshly abused. From there, we come to realize that Gary is very much a product of his upbringing and that the emotional and social poison fed to him in his younger, formative years has spread to his own family – his wife and kid respectively.

After watching the first short we know how this one is going to end pretty early on but that hardly diminishes the impact that the movie has when it finally achieves its destiny. The acting isn't as strong the second time around but it is still better than what you'll find in most low budget genre efforts. What it does do really well is, like the first short, build and build some more and once again, the last few minutes are completely riveting and very intense.

Prologue:

In the final part of the trilogy, we learn of a teenage girl who has spent the last few years of her life in the hospital recovering for a horrific assault that left her without any hands and almost completely paralyzed. As her memories start coming back to her, a little bit at a time, she begins to remember the events that took place and finally decides to find out from the man who did this to her 'why.'

Less confrontational in terms of gore or flat out disturbing visuals, Prologue is never the less incredibly bleak, even if it doesn't go as far as the first two movies do. It's a very well made film that has stronger performances than its predecessors and more believable character development thanks in part to its longer running time. This is a more reflective film than the first two, and rather than hit us outside the head with the act of violence instead we're left to ponder the after effects of it. As such, it's appropriately titled and the perfect way to cap off the two movies that came before it.

The Longplay Version:

The three films were also edited together into one longer film which played at a few festivals. While viewing the three shorts as separate entities is the ideal way to watch them on DVD, it's interesting to sit down with them all joined together and that's the option we get on the flipside of this DVD. There are some minor differences in this version in terms of how the material is edited and in how the credits are displayed (you don't get individual credits for each short, you get one set of opening credits and one set of closing credits instead).

The DVD

Video:

Cutting Moments and Home appear on the first side of the disc in their short film format in their original aspect ratio of 1.33.1 fullframe, while Prologue is shown 1.77.1 non-anamorphic widescreen. Quality of the image, considering the low budget origins of the material here, is quite good with nice color reproduction and solid black levels. Flesh tones look lifelike and accurate and the reds are strong and don't bleed into the other colors. Some fine detail gets a little lost in the grain from time to time but overall, this material looks very good on DVD.

On the second side of the disc, for the longplay version, everything is matted at roughly 1.78.1 non-anamorphic widescreen. Quality of the image is more or less identicle to the short film counterparts.

Sound:

Each of the three films and the long play version all hit DVD in their native English language in pretty decent Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mixes. There's some background hiss here and there in addition to the odd snap or pop on the track but for the most part, the dialogue is clean and clear and always easy to follow and understand. At times the sound mix is quite minimalist and as such things do find themselves leaning slightly towards the flat side but that's the worst complaint one can levy against what is otherwise a fine job in the audio department.

Extras:

Douglas Buck provides a solo commentary track for each of the three films in the set. Throughout these tracks he talks about where he got some of his inspiration from, what influenced him to make these movies, and how he feels about some of the more difficult subject matter. He also covers shooting on a budget, working independently outside of the system. They're interesting tracks and he covers a fair amount of ground. Each of the three shorts also contains a second commentary. In the case of Cutting Moments it comes courtesy of writer Douglas Winter, for Home it comes from film professor John Freitas and for Prologue it comes from another film professor named Marc Lapadula. These tracks are more analytical in nature, they examine some of the deeper meaning to the movies and lend a fair bit of insight into what Buck really gets right with this work.

On the flip side of the disc, where the three films are presented as a long play feature, there's a commentary from Douglas Buck who is joined by Douglas Winter. This is the best of the seven commentary tracks on the set, the two bounce a lot of ideas and discussion off of one another and Winter keeps Buck talking with ease. They cover a fair bit of ground here, from audience perceptions and screening reactions to how Buck feels about the movies in hindsight, where his head was at during the various years over which he made these films and more.

Up next is a sixteen minute black and white short film from Buck entitled After All. Made in 1994, this one is about a messed up young boy who gets off on watching nature documentaries specifically so that he can see animals slaughter one another. Buck shot this one while he was in school and it isn't as polished as the three main attractions here but it is never the less an interesting examination of a twisted mind and an interesting foreshadow of what he would do in his later movies. Some brief production notes are included with this feature that provide some basic background information on it.

Up next are two quick behind the scenes featurettes. The first takes a look at Cutting Moments and runs for just over six minutes, the second takes a look at Prologue and it clocks in at almost seventeen minutes. There's some interesting on set footage in both of these pieces as well as a few brief interview snippits shot at the same time with some of the cast and crew members from each production. Pay close attention and you'll notice Tom Savini handling some of the effects work in the first piece.

Rounding out the extra features are a quick deleted scene from Prologue (where in just over a minute two of the characters conduct a quick conversation), five trailers, the film screenplays, some production notes, and three still galleries (one for each film). Liner notes are included in an insert from Douglas Buck, Peter Straub and Larry Fessenden.

Final Thoughts:

Image gives three of the most disturbing and expertly made short horror films to hit the American public a very strong release. These movies aren't for everyone but for those who aren't put off by challenging and genuinely horrific cinema, Douglas Buck's Family Portrait: A Trilogy Of America comes highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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