A bare-bones, competently done independent motion picture, Raising Flagg is the story of a man who needs to be awoken in more ways than one. A charming little comedy starring Alan Arkin, it might be just too mundane for some viewers. The film deserves a better DVD release than the one I saw, so let's hope it wasn't the commercial one.
Arkin plays Flagg Purdy, a crotchety old man in a small northwestern town. The town's handyman, he's also the most opinionated person there. Flagg's family has been using the water from his old friend Gus's (Austin Pendleton) well for a long time, and when Gus lets sheep graze near the well, Flagg sues him to prevent their urine from getting into the water. He wins the case, but the town rejects him as a troublemaker, and his career as the town handyman dries up. When he comes to understand that no one wants to be around him anymore, he decides that it's his time to die, and he refuses to leave his bed. He forces his wife, Ada (Barbara Dana), to gather the Purdy family to say goodbye to their father. All six of the Purdy children end up at the house for a few days: Anne Marie (Glenne Headly), Rachel (Lauren Holly), Eldon (Matthew Arkin, Alan's real life son), Travis (Daniel Quinn), Annette (Dawn Maxey), and Jenny (newcomer Stephanie Lemelin). We see reconciliation between all members of the dysfunctional family, and the issue with Flagg "dying" is eventually resolved, as he learns the most lessons of anyone.
Shot almost entirely on location in small towns around Oregon, the movie feels very small and simple, the most basic side of Americana, and, frankly, it can feel kind of uncomfortable. I grew up in a small town, and Raising Flagg represents the simple, just-above-poverty-line living of many Americans accurately. The buildings and houses look run down, there is mud everywhere from the rain and snow of Oregon's climate, and a general greyness seems to envelope everything (though maybe that was simply the lack of saturation on the DVD itself). However, it is not a social or political commentary; it is a comedy about family, and about one stubborn old man. To give you some perspective about what sort of movie this is, the most exciting part, with the fastest editing, is when the family's crazy aunt shows up in the driveway. Some of the Purdy children try to run out of the room, and that, along with one scene where Flagg runs down the street after a tow truck, is all the action we get. (According to the commentary, Arkin actually pulled a hammie doing that.)
Arkin sounds most like his character, Peevy, from 1991's The Rocketeer: low-class, pompous old man. He refuses to stop acting as though he knows everything until the very end, and Arkin really seems to be having fun in the role where he can simply act like a jerk freely. Arkin's best line is, "Yeah, that's all we need: teenagers with pagers. As if those cellulose phones wasn't bad enough." The supporting cast all does a fine job, delivering better performances than I tend to expect from independent films, and the quality of the names in this film is a testament to the reputation of first-time motion picture director Neal Miller.
And Miller's direction is great, especially in the performances he gets out of the cast. However, the movie has some uneven editing, making weird use of quick dissolves for relatively tight continuity, where other films would simply have cut. There are also some really fast fades to black as if Miller is afraid of losing the audience over the span of a couple of seconds. The hi def cinematography may have been really good, but it's hard to tell on this disc.
While the DVD copy of Raising Flagg I watched came in a commercial case, I'm not exactly sure the disc itself is the commercial version. It didn't have anything printed on it.
Because of that, I can't really give the video on this DVD the rating it deserves, which would be one or two stars, in case the store bought version is better. As it is, the video quality is horrible. For whatever reason, I don't believe the experts have completely reconciled hi def, digital video with its transfer to home video. Almost everything I've seen on DVD that was shot on hi def shows its errors, only personified. (Remember how bad some parts of Superman Returns looked on home video?) All of the movement is very blurry (on the video itself, so using a progressive scan DVD player can't fix the problem), whether from the camera or within the composition. The 1.78:1 image isn't very sharp even when things are stationary. If the commercial version is different, let's hope they fix the lack of enhancement for 16x9 TV's, which is one of my biggest complaints. Having to zoom in on this picture only made the image worse. The colors are not vibrant.
The only real audio track is English 2.0-stereo. The sound isn't very impressive, but there's very little for it to do, as long as the audience can hear the dialogue. With so much of the movie taking place in the Purdy home, dialogue and musical score are all that matters. There is also a commentary track; there are no subtitles.
Raising Flagg's original trailer is on the DVD, as well as a feature commentary by director Neal Miller and actor Daniel Quinn, who played Travis. The commentary has a lot of fuzz behind it, like it wasn't recorded with professional equipment, which makes the talking a little hard to hear, and it also wasn't put on the DVD quite loud enough. This makes it sound like Miller and Quinn are being shouted over any time voices are raised in the film itself. The commentary is pretty standard for an independent film, with Miller discussing everything from the casting to the location scouting, and Quinn asking some questions to help spur it along.
There isn't a terrible amount of replay to Raising Flagg, charming as it is, and if the commercial release of this DVD is the same as the one I saw, then I can't honestly recommend you spend much money on it. Huge Alan Arkin fans will probably want to see it, and his performance is as fun as you would expect. "Rent It."