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Dream With the Fishes

Reviewed by: David Litton
Genre: Drama
Video: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0
Language: English
Subtitle: English (cc)
Length: 97 min
Rating: R
Release Date: 05/06/2003
Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Commentary: None
Documentaries: None
Featurettes: None
Filmography/Biography: None
Interviews: None
Trailers/TV Spots: Theatrical trailer
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: None
Music Video: Greg Brown "Sadness" music video
Other: None
Cast and Crew: Davis Arquette, Brad Hunt, Kathryn Erbe, Cathy Moriarty, Patrick McGaw
Written By: Finn Taylor
Produced by: Mitchell Stein, Johnny Wow
Directed By: Finn Taylor
Music: Tito Larriva
The Review:

"Dream With the Fishes" is the type of pretentious independent muck that thinks its quirkiness is enough to make up for its inability to inspire interest in itself. Here is a movie where not once did I find myself captivated- or even remotely intrigued- by the bizarre nature of the lives of characters who have almost no appeal whatsoever. The film's writer and director, then-newcomer Finn Taylor, isn't exactly one of my favorite filmmakers: his up-and-coming talent shows promise in places, but is sorely lacking in others, and his 2002 entry, "Cherish," was a prime example of that. But at least that newer film had some pull to it; "Fishes" doesn't even appear to be trying. ***

The entire movie is a series of episodic events revolving around the unpredictable nature of Nick (Brad Hunt), a terminally ill man who wants to spend his last few weeks on God's earth living out his fantasies and fulfilling his dreams. Along for the ride is his neighbor, Terry (David Arquette), a voyeuristic shut-in who has no social life and no drive to look for one, either; when he attempts to commit suicide early in the film, Nick prevents him from doing so, and in a series of cut-and-paste events, they become buddies of a sort. This will lead to the eventuall free-wheeling nature of the script when they make their rounds to places of the past, Nick confronting old memories before it is too late, Terry coming to terms with himself and his inability to interact with others. All that and nude bowling, too. ***

A critics' gem during its brief theatrical run in 1997, "Dream With the Fishes" makes various leaps and bounds for something vast and deeply moving, trying ever-so-forcefully to shake us up inside. I just didn't buy into it. The very idea of someone robbing a bank in the nude because he played a joke on his friend by making him think he won the lottery isn't funny, nor is it touching; it's a basis for a movie about mental health. I found it rather off-putting that mere hours after Nick is married in his hospital bed to his longtime sweetheart Liz (Kathryn Erbe), Terry and Liz can be seen in the early throes of passion. These are not endearing characters; whether or not the filmmakers wanted them to be is completely lost to me. Throughout the film, however, I got the notion that Taylor wants us to relate to them on some level of higher meaning, but I found their actions to be altogether self-centered and ludicrously disjointed. He never really gives us a chance to get involved in their plight: before we have barely begun to take an interest, he whisks us away on another lopsided, haphazard adventure that takes us right back to where we started. ***

Not that the film doesn't have a few shreds of entertainment value to offer us, though. The performances from Hunt, Arquette, and Erbe ultimately outshine their efforts to make us care for the roles they inhabit; Arquette is especially good here, and reveals his versatility as an actor in light of more recent ventures like "See Spot Run." A long-unseen Cathy Moriarty makes an appearance as Nick's vivacious ex-dancer aunt, and she steals every scene she's in. The actors are surrounded by a visual style that evokes a gritty grandeur of which the script is not worthy. But these small attributes are mere flotsam in Taylor's unending sea of boring characters and even less-appealing situations. "Dream With the Fishes" may be the stuff of dreams for some, but for me it was closer to a garish nightmare.

Image and Sound

The abstract visual nature of "Dream With the Fishes" provides many possibilities for flaws on this DVD transfer; fortunately, the picture looks very good. Measured in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the image is heavily-laden with film grain and boasts an overly-dark appearance. As a result, contrast looks terrific, with good shadow delineation and rich, solid blacks. Colors are nicely saturated and accurate throughout, with admirable textures. Edges, however, are a bit soft in places, most likely the result of stylistic intentions; there are a few noticeable enhancement halos visible. Overall, a semi-solid effort. ***

The sound is a bit disappointing, though. Mastered in Dolby 2.0 Surround, there's not a great deal to marvel over here, although the music does have some ambient flow to it, and the dialogue sounds natural for the most part. There are one or two moments where imaging is present; other than that, this remains a bit flat.

The Extras All we are given here is a music video, and a gallery of trailers for this and other Columbia TriStar releases.
Commentary None
Final Words: Long-awaited by fans of the film, "Dream with the Fishes" makes for a rather disappointing DVD.

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April 27, 2003