[Fresh on Blu-ray] ‘THE DAYTRIPPERS’, ‘SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS’ and ‘APPRENTICE TO MURDER’

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

This week’s Blu-ray releases share a common theme about human connection, whether it is a romance between lovers, the evolution of friendship or the horrors within a family.

THE DAYTRIPPERS (1996)

Rated R, 87 minutes.
Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Hope Davis, Liev Schreiber, Parker Posey, Anne Meara, Pat McNamara, Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci

SUPERBAD director Greg Mottola fashioned a Woody Allen-esque family drama in the mid-’90s called THE DAYTRIPPERS, and it’s a stunner.

Now in the Criterion Collection vault with a restored spit-shine and new supplemental material goodies, THE DAYTRIPPERS is not far off from the work of filmmaker Paul Mazursky (NEXT STOP, GREENWICH VILLAGE) and Noah Baumbach (the upcoming MARRIAGE STORY). The language is elevated and sees its characters — mostly one — speaking like a pretentious novelist. The surrounding characters’ reactions are extremely funny, especially when it comes to protecting one’s ego.

The story is dead simple. It focuses on a dysfunctional family (including Liev Schreiber, Parker Posey, Anne Meara and Pat McNamara) helping a happily married member (Hope Davis) investigate her husband (Stanley Tucci), who may or may not be locking lips with an unknown party.

It’s a silly but dramatically rich film. There’s an organic flow to it — the family operates exactly how you think they would in this particular series of events. They bounce around town, meet new people and are each tested by conflict. Everything about the film feels honest to the human experience. I related to Schreiber’s self-obsessed nature, Davis’ anxiety and Posey’s uncertainty. All the characters are fleshed out and could be people plucked out of your family. Nothing about the film is one-note.

Some may not find entertainment in delving into the dark sides of romantic relationships. I know whenever I saw the movie BLUE VALENTINE, it gave off this sense of hopelessness that made you want to give up. But THE DAYTRIPPERS is more enjoyable than that. It’s a cautionary tale of sorts that also humorously pokes at the kookiness of family. It’s perfect for Thanksgiving consumption.

Grade: B+

Extras: The Criterion Collection release (available through Criterion.com and at Barnes & Noble) includes an exceptional cover art design (featuring R. Kikuo Johnson’s Sunday comics-style art); a new 4K digital restoration; a new filmmakers’ audio commentary; sit-down interviews with the cast and director (dishing about stories from making the film and how the material changed them); a 1985 short film by Mottola, titled “The Hatbox” (with audio commentary); and an essay by critic Emily Nussbaum that’s included in the booklet.

SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS (1999)

Rated PG-13, 128 minutes.
Director: Scott Hicks
Cast: Ethan HawkeMax von SydowYûki Kudô, Reeve Carney, Anne Suzuki, Rick Yune, James Rebhorn, James Cromwell and Richard Jenkins

This 1999 drama is based on a novel and moves like one on screen. There’s a lot of things going on all at once, and it could either make you sleepy or leave you exhausted.

To simplify its multi-layered story, SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS is about young love and a murder trial that happens a decade later. The lovers are played by Ethan Hawke and Youki Kudoh. They met around the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, when emotions were running high and Asian Americans were subjected to racist hostilities and detention born of hysteria. From here, the U.S. government seizes the property of local Japanese American civilians and sends them off to internment camps, a shameful chapter in American history that is often overlooked.

SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS is a courtroom drama with vivid flashbacks. The historical side of it is immensely fascinating and heartbreaking, while the romance will turn on the waterworks from time to time. Unfortunately, the film is not consistent with its dramatic beats. The level of emotional intensity lets off too often, and it wraps up rather unconvincingly. I imagine it’s a tricky narrative to put inside this two-hour box. It’s a commendable albeit flawed effort.

Bravo to the gorgeous cinematography, however. There’s a great bonus feature that sees the film’s director of photography giving viewers a 101 course in color grading.

Grade: B-

Extras: The Shout Select collector’s edition release (available through shoutfactory.com/shop) includes a new 4K transfer and restoration (supervised by cinematographer Robert Richardson); a new documentary featurette about the film’s making (featuring new interviews with the director, author, cinematographer and composer); a director’s audio commentary; “Spotlight on Location” episode on the film’s creation and production; deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer.

APPRENTICE TO MURDER (1988)

Rated PG-13, 97 minutes.
Director: Ralph L. Thomas
Cast: Donald SutherlandChad LoweMia Sara, Rutanya Alda and Eddie Jones

This 1988 horror mystery has a premise that was bound to scare and engage, but it’s a lackluster attempt that loses you within the first few minutes, when it feels like a goofy TV version of THE SHINING. (That was not a jab at the Steven Weber miniseries.)

APPRENTICE TO MURDER stars Donald Sutherland, Chad Lowe and Mia Sara. Based on a true story, the film concerns a preacher who sees Satan everywhere. As a result, he trains his son to detect evil, which leads to the two committing several murders “in the name of Jesus Christ.”

What could have been a haunting marriage of religion and horror is more compelling to think about on paper than it is to experience. I got more out of the analyses in the special features than anything in the movie. Even if the Arrow Video-produced extras are terribly edited, the speakers themselves provide insights that deserve their own documentary. (Knock, knock, Shudder.)

Grade: C-

Extras: The Arrow Video release (available through MVDshop.com) includes a new 2K transfer of the original 35 mm interpositive; a new audio commentary with author and critic Bryan Reesman; a new video interview on religious horror cinema with author and critic Kat Ellinger; new interview with cinematographer Kelvin Pike and makeup supervisor Robin Grantham; and a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Haunt Love.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.