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It's a Disaster(2013)
Four couples meet for Sunday brunch only to discover they are stuck in a house together as the world may be about to end.
For more about It's a Disaster and the It's a Disaster Blu-ray release, see It's a Disaster Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on June 12, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Julia Stiles, David Cross, Rachel Boston, America Ferrera, Todd Berger
Director: Todd Berger
» See full cast & crew
It's a Disaster Blu-ray Review
Well, is it?
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, June 12, 2013
Possibly self-deprecating title aside, It's a Disaster is anything but. A dark comedy of manners about a group of mid-thirtysomethings facing imminent death at a potluck "couples" brunch, the film is an indie slacker riff on Luis Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel, in which the bourgeoisie attendants of a dinner party find themselves inexplicably imprisoned in the music room of a mansion, psychologically unable to bring themselves to leave. The middle-class yuppies of It's a Disaster are no less trapped, mentally—in their romances, their jobs, their personalities —but they also have a tangible reason to stay indoors: A nerve gas attack on their unidentified city, and several other U.S. urban centers, has left a poisonous cloud drifting their way. It's a bleak premise, but writer/director Todd Berger mines it for wry, almost English observational humor about relationships and social circles. Berger is the leader of the Los Angeles-based comedy troupe "The Vacationeers"—featuring Second City improv graduates Kevin Brennan, Jeff Grace, and Blaise Miller—who collectively rose to YouTube fame with a series of viral videos, and went on to make their first feature, The Scenesters, in 2009. The whole gang is back for It's a Disaster, along with America Ferrera, Julia Stiles, and David Cross.
Cross, playing dorky fourth grade history teacher Glen Randolph, is the closest we have to a central figure in this ensemble cast, as he plays an outsider being introduced to the group for the first time. Glen is on his third date with the self-obsessive doctor Tracy (Stiles), who has brought him along for her friends' monthly couples brunch. (You get the feeling she arrives with a different guy almost every time.) In quick succession, we meet—along with Glen—the three other romantic pairings. There are the hosts, easygoing Pete (Miller) and his uptight wife, Emma (Erinn Hayes), who seem strangely out-of-sync with one another; free-spirited rockstars Buck (Brennan) and Lexi (Rachel Boston), who have a guitar/glockenspiel duo and are eager to have a threesome; and then the couple that makes the least amount of sense together, overgrown comic book nerd Shane (Grace) and his long, long, longtime fiancee Hedy (Ferrera), an AP chemistry teacher. They've been engaged for seven years, as one of them—and probably not the one you'd think—is a total commitment-phobe.
The film's first act might be mistaken for a straight-up rom-com/drama as the couples awkwardly interact, the women clearly closer to one another than the guys, who retreat to the living room to watch "the game." Only, there's nothing but static on the television. And the internet is down. And the landline is dead. When the power goes out too, Pete and Emma blame each other for not paying the bills on time and inadvertently let it slip that they're getting a divorce. The group gets a bigger shock, though, when the next-door neighbor—director Todd Berger in a bit role—drops by in a hazmat suit to borrow some D-cell batteries for his emergency flashlight. He's surprised they haven't heard the news—several "dirty bombs" have obliterated the city's financial core, and the cloud of nerve gas fallout is drifting their way. They'll all most likely be dead in three hours.
This seems like a cruel prank, at least until a fifth couple—who are habitually late to get-togethers—shows up on the door step, pallid and bleeding from their noses. With the reality of the situation sinking in, It's a Disaster becomes something like an apocalyptic Woody Allen movie, part end-of- the-world scramble for survival—shut all the windows! find a radio! should we stay or should we go?—and part dialogue-heavy social commentary, putting the pettiness and inconsequentiality of most human concerns into perspective.
The plot is less driven by events than slowly deepening character development; with death looming, the true personality of each brunch attendee emerges, unrestrained by the usual cultural rules that keep them in line. The normally straight-laced Hedy sits on the kitchen floor and starts mixing up a "poor man's ecstasy" from the contents of the medicine cabinet. Shane—the sort of guy who seems like he probably has a plan in place for the inevitable zombie outbreak—lets loose his inner X-Files-meets-The Thing paranoiac. Buck and Lexi try to finally cross ménage à trois off their bucket list. Pete and Emma realize the love they still share is greater than the wedges that pushed them apart. Most quotably, the increasingly self-focused Tracy confesses, "I never went scuba diving. I never went to the ballet. I've never been in love. I've never even watched The Wire," to which Glen responds, "All of those things are overrated. Well, except The Wire."
The film is very funny, not necessarily in a gut-busting, ha-ha way, but with the more satisfying humor that comes from sharp writing and real insight into the way people are. Berger's cross-section of upwardly mobile middle class types—too old to be hipsters, too young to really self-identify as grown-ass adults—seems true. Exaggerated, sure, but true. Curiously, Julia Stiles, the film's biggest "name," is probably the weakest link here, proving again that she's better as a dramatic actor than a comedienne. Otherwise, the cast is excellent. Comparing It's A Disaster to The Vacationeers' early YouTube shorts, it's plain to see how much they've grown as performers—more natural and far funnier—and though David Cross appears to playing a toned-down version of Arrested Development's Tobias Fünke, he's an expert at making a character out of small mannerism that take multiple viewings to pick up on. His comedic timing is mirrored by the film's own penchant for expert editing, including one of the best ending cuts in recent memory.
It's a Disaster Blu-ray, Video Quality
Oscilloscope brings It's A Disaster to Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that has its own peculiarities but seems absolutely true to source. What's unusual here is that while the film was shot digitally using the ever-popular Arri Alexa camera, director Todd Berger thought the crisp HD picture looked too clean—he mentions this in his commentary track—and decided to put a layer of film grain on top of the image in post- production. The sometimes heavy grain you see in the picture was very much an aesthetic choice, then, and not the result of camera noise or compression. And actually, the image does look very filmic; if you didn't know it was shot digitally, you'd have a hard time telling. Does the added grain detract from the sense of clarity? Maybe a little, but only if you're pixel-peeping screenshots. From a normal viewing distance, the picture looks excellent, with visible fine detail in hair and faces and clothing, especially in closeups. The color grading starts off realistically, with neutral skin tones and white balance, and as the "disaster" of the title ramps up, the light shifts towards a green-tinged warm cast, hinting at the poisonous air outside. Saturation, black levels, and contrast are all even-handed and unobtrusive, and there are no obvious compression/encode issues.
It's a Disaster Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio options on the disc, the default lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track and an uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 stereo mixdown. If you've got a capable home theater setup, the multichannel track is obviously the way to go, although, functionally, the two aren't that different. This is very much a dialogue driven film, with little cause for cross-speaker effects or aural theatrics. The sound design is cleverly subtle, though, slowly introducing sirens and whirring helicopters off in the distance behind the conversations of the oblivious characters. It's also worth noting that Berger doesn't use a score or any non-diegetic music; the classical pieces you hear throughout—from Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" to Bach's "Moonlight Sonata"—come from sources within the story. Buck and Lexi even do a guitar/glockenspiel duet of "House of the Rising Sun," which was picked—according to Berger's commentary—because the song is in the public domain. Overall, this is a low-key mix that does everything it needs to do well, with good clarity and balance throughout. The disc also includes optional English SDH subtitles.
It's a Disaster Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
It's a Disaster Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Imagine a Woody Allen movie set in the apocalyptic aftermath of a nerve gas attack, and that'll get you close to It's A Disaster, a wry observational comedy about middle-class culture and couples in extremis. The film is very funny—in a sharp but understated way—and Oscilloscope's Blu-ray release does it justice, with an excellent audio/video presentation, lots of extras, and gorgeous fold-out cardboard packaging made to look like a parodic survival manual. Highly recommended!
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