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4.4 out of 5 stars38
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on July 11, 2003
"A Better Place" is a disturbing and unsettling look at teen violence. This is a film that is so raw and brutal that it literally shakes you when you're not expecting it. Be warned, this is not a film to watch if you're looking for something to enjoy. This is as harsh and intense as it gets.
The movie tells the story of Barret Michaelson; the new kid in town. The first day at his new school he is picked on by almost everybody. He makes friends with Ryan; an isolated loaner who doesn't particularly like people in general. As time passes by, Ryan drags Barret further and further into his worldview of hate and darkness. It isn't long before things become violent and dangerous, leading to an unbelievably shocking and cruel finale.
It's hard to believe that this movie came from View Askew. Who would've thought they could've come out with something so intense and dark? As disturbing and chilling it is, it's an honest movie. It's not a glamorous film, and it's not trying to be one. That's why it's so effective. It has a raw and brutal feel to it all, and that's what makes it so powerful.
I thought the movie was very well-written and directed. I kind of felt that it could've been longer and that Ryan's character could've been expanded more. But for the most part, it's a very good movie. It reminds me of "Bully," except "A Better Place" is much more "slice-of-life" resembling. It's effective because it doesn't feel like a movie, but more like something that is actually happening.
The DVD has some special features, such as commentary, deleted scenes and more. There are some really cool Easter Eggs if you can find them. (Look at some of the other reviews, and you will find them.)
"A Better Place" is a shocking and unrelenting film that is as honest as it is disturbing. Not too many movies like this are out there. It may be a low budget movie, but the overall product is nothing low, I assure you. Be warned, this is a very uneasy movie to watch. Be prepared.
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on June 19, 2002
To acces these easter eggs, first watch the movie all the way through once (or just access the last chapter and watch the end credits), then go to the "special thanks" screen. On the second special thanks screen, you are now able to highlight a few of the names in the special thanks. Highlight "The Pizza Guy" and you will be taken to a hidden menu called "Loopholes" where you can access the trailer for the hysterical movie "Big Helium Dog" and a second audio commentary for A Better Place, this time with the members of the pervious commentary drunk out of their gords...fun stuff.
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Click on the color bars. Let them play for about 15-20 seconds and you will view a hidden montage of outtakes and deleted scenes.
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on January 28, 2002
I borrowed this movie from a friend without ever hearing of the movie itself or of the director. Although low budget, "A Better Place" turned out to be the best movie I've seen in a very long time. Right off the bat I became drawn to the main character, trying to discover what was in store for him, as him and his mother moved to a new town after the death of his father. After a rough first day at school, Barret becomes friends with an introverted nihilist who has a strong hatred for humanity (Ryan). Barret is drawn (by Ryan) into an accidental manslaughter and the movie takes off snowballing to the amazing ending. The ending is amazing because it is very surprising and complicates most of the themes and the overall message of the movie. The film deals with a lot of philosophical issues like the problem of evil, the existence of God, morals, ethics, and especially free will vs. determinism. Overall, a very thought provoking, intelligent, well made piece. Highly recommended.
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on December 18, 2001
Thoughtful and harrowing story about teenage alienation and its consequences. In pre-Columbine days, this story might have seemed a bit overblown, but now it rings with a truth that can't be denied. The actors put their best foot forward and the director handles the proceedings with assurance and style, despite the budget shortcomings. This disc did not play at all on my Toshiba player model SD-1200 (kept telling me "disc error" and failed to load), but my Apex AD-600A handled it perfectly.
A highly recommended independent gem.
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on September 7, 2001
As a huge fan of all of Kevin Smith's movies, I cannot help but try to find something, anything, of his to enjoy and pass the time before his next pic. There is only so much material out there of his work, and after seeing all his movies, listened to all the commentary tracks, and read his comics, i couldn't help but try to find something more. So lo and behold, on [a] website I found a post about a newly released dvd directed by Vincent. I immediately ordered it, and wondered how he could possibly stack up against Smith's efforts. And the end result was that I was blown away by this movie. I watched it four times in the span of two days, including once with the commentary track. I even made my roommate watch it, and even though he doesn't particularly like indie films, he was equally impressed. This movie has restored my faith in good filmmaking, especially after an uneventful summer of movies. And now I can't wait for Vulgar and Drawing Flies to be finally released on dvd. If you are looking for a smart and edgy alternative to the big effects laden world of modern cinema, I can't think of A Better Place to look than this dark and disturbing movie. But I mean that in a good way.
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on June 11, 2015
This was a very grim and intense movie. But still I really enjoyed it. It's a story about teen alienation and trouble. The story was great and the acting was pretty good. Some of it though is kinda amateur, but the acting of the two main characters was amazing. Especially the acting of Eion Bailey who played Ryan, the "bad" guy. I really felt sympathy for him and for the other main character, Barret, the "good" guy. I also thought that the way the quality looked, gritty and a little grainy, increased my experience of watching the movie. It made it feel more raw...Overall this is a very good movie and it definitely will stick with me for a while. It left me feeling the same way I felt after watching Requiem For a Dream, disturbed. I highly recommended it if you like thriller movies.
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on July 16, 2011
It's a little rough around the edges, as any independent film is, but it is truly a work of art. I first saw this film about ten years ago on IFC, and it really stuck with me. I was kind of young, so as time went on it slipped my mind, until I was browsing around the View Askew web store and saw they had it for sale. Instantly it brought me back to when I first watched it. It's a really powerful movie, and even brutal at times. So I had to come to Amazon and order it.

It's a dramatic independent film that takes an entirely new look at high school violence and person's life in that environment. (well, maybe new isn't the right word because it's been out for a long time) It's a really well made film with a lot of emotion attached to it. I made my girlfriend watch it and by the time the credits were rollings she was in tears. Can't recommend this movie enough.
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on August 29, 2001
The movie is good, but not half as good as newcomer Robert Dipatri. He burns up the screen in his role as a nice guy teenager. I hope to see more of this extremely gifted talent in the future. I was also engrossed by the lavish camera work of the beautiful Jersey shore. The music was real spooky.
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on October 25, 2006
This movie could have easily been written off as just another "feel bad for teens" flick, though I believe since only a small portion of the film takes place within school property, a different focus is put on the main characters than the simple angst-ridden garden variety.

"A Better Place" treads new ground in its focus on the scales of justice and the human response to personal trauma. Sparing the plot (because it doesn't really matter AND it's been said over and over throughout many reviews here), the general idea of the film is that though two people can share similar experiences, they won't necessarily grow from them similarly. Interpretation and what one takes from life's unfortunate circumstances are as varied as the clothes people can wear. In the case of our "heroes," Barret and Ryan, they may have become friends via a similar stroke of bad luck, their outlook on life in its basic form couldn't be any more different. Thus begins the ultimate conflict of the film.

The main driving point that the movie makes is that when you experience hardship in any form, either you learn from it, pick yourself up and move on with life with a better understanding of how to handle stress...or you allow it to bubble inside yourself; eventually letting it bring you to the point of desperation. "A Better Place" is philosophical, psychological and very, very simple as well. ..simply put, "a better place" may not be a literal reference to a location on a map where one may run to when looking to escape the torments of home or one's history.

It may be locked away deep in the mind or the heart. A little serenity surely would have helped Barret and Ryan in the long run.
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on March 25, 2007
Well, you know you're in for a low-budget movie experience when one of the opening credits reads "Camera: Ian Dudley" (as it does in this movie). And that's not meant to be a knock against Ian Dudley: it's just that it says "camera". Singular. As in one.

Fortunately, in my world, low budget does not equal low quality. In fact, I often find it to be just the opposite: the constraints and restrictions forced upon filmmakers by a lack of financing can lead to more creative ways of approaching things which might not have occurred otherwise. And though I think that occasionally happened with the movie "A Better Place," this $40,000 flick ultimately falls just a little bit short of greatness (though more because of its writing than its lack of budget).

The movie begins with a voiceover spoken by the charmingly earnest high school senior Barret (Robert DiPatri, who resembles a younger, much more sincere Ed Helms), after he and his mom relocate following the death of his father: "We came here to start over - a new life in a better place. We should've stayed behind."

So right away, you know things aren't going to go particularly well. And boy don't they! After a particularly miserable (and shakily filmed) first day at his new school (at times giving new meaning to the phrase "lack of focus in the classroom"), Barret befriends local outcast Ryan (Eion Bailey), who is considerably less charming than Barret. Ryan is, in fact, so aggressively misanthropic that he favors nothing less than the catastrophic extinction of the species. Not so charming at all! And it isn't long before you realize why Barret might just have been better off had he, in fact, stayed behind.

The phrase "a better place" actually appears in two key scenes in the movie: at the beginning (as quoted above) and in a pivotal (and ironic) scene in Ryan's bedroom, where he and Barret discuss the finer points of Sartre: "The way Sartre see it, if people would just accept responsibility for their actions...the world just might be a better place," says Ryan. But when Barret asks, "So, do you accept responsibility for all your actions?" Ryan just kind of laughs and says, "Yeah - most of the time."

Not too much later, when we see how Ryan handles an unfortunate occurrence in the woods ("we can make this look like an accident"), we realize that Ryan is like many teens who can absorb ideas conceptually but can't yet put them into practice experientially. This turns out to have some major repercussions down the road.

This film is rich with ideas and a serious, oftentimes foreboding tone - it gets a little River's Edgy at times. Its talkiness, I feel, owes more to films in the Richard Linklater canon like "Waking Life" than it does to Kevin Smith's usual View Askew/Clerks fare. It's got a hauntingly, hypnotically effective mostly-electronic soundtrack, and Ian Dudley usually does a good job with that one camera.

Where the movie falls a little short for me is that the generally-solid acting gets a bit amateurish at times, and the dialog a bit too writerly and not entirely natural-sounding in spots. Now, it's true that great acting can occasionally overcome stilted dialog, and that great dialog can often inspire actors to transcend their limitations. Here, however, the confluence of uncertain acting and writing sometimes makes some of the scenes ring a bit false. Plus, one aspect of the ending also seemed a bit forced, as I feel there might have been more plausible ways of getting the three characters to the same place at the end.

With all of that being said, however... this DVD is a gem. It's absolutely crammed with extras, most of them as interesting as the film itself. The three introductions with Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier are hilarious, there are 8 deleted scenes (both with and without commentary), a comparison of the film's original mono mix with the remixed sound done at Skywalker Ranch, and not one, but two feature commentaries with writer/director Vin Pereira and cast members Brain Lynch (Eddie), Joseph Cassese (Todd) and Rob DiPatri. The first commentary is a bit annoying, as we hear for ourselves why Pereira has the reputation for talking too much (A fun challenge: see if you can identify the very few moments when he lets one of the others say more than two sentences in a row!)

But the second, "ultra-secret" hidden Easter Egg bonus drunken commentary is a riot. It is here where you will learn that Brian Lynch is, indeed, the funniest man alive. Also, learn amazing things about topics such as (but not limited to): Toothless Joe's "shaved teeth" (the style at the time), Ben "I was in Armageddon" Affleck's future prophetic nickname, and Eion Bailey's gay filmmaking choices. Plus, did they really kill that horseshoe crab? All that, and guest cameos from "George Lazenby" and Silent Bob!

Thus, while I give the movie itself three stars, the feature-packed DVD is worthy of nothing less than five, making my overall rating four stars. Good stuff.
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