There is an ironclad law of Hollywood moviemaking that says you can't kill off your lead character. Imagine if Luke Skywalker was accidentally crushed by R2-D2 twenty minutes before the climax of 'Star Wars,' and failed to blow up the Death Star -- it probably wouldn't have been a blockbuster, would it? Sure, you can wipe out a supporting character -- or even the top-billed love interest in a romantic weepie (think 'Titanic'). But to actually kill off your movie's hero -- the one audiences have come to identify with and root for? It's a rarity to say the least.
Dylan Jamieson (Michael Angarano from 'Will & Grace') is not your typical movie hero. A high school sophomore with terminal cancer, even the most optimistic doctors give him no chance for recovery. So with the support of his mother Carol (Cynthia Nixon), Dylan is granted a wish from the from the Wish Givers Foundation. Much to the horror of the charity, his wish is to to go to New York and spend one evening with supermodel Nikki Sinclaire (Sunny Mabrey). Nikki, we soon learn, is damaged goods; she's stuck in an abusive relationship, and is bordering on a nervous breakdown. When Nikki and Dylan first meet amid a press barrage, it's an awkwardly choreographed exchange. Dylan, however, remains undeterred in his quest. With his two pals Ricky (Matthew Bush) and Slap (Gideon Glick) in tow -- and much to the dismay of his mother -- he makes the trip to New York to be with Nikki, determined to have this One Last Thing.
We know where 'One Last Thing...' is going from the first frame, but we just can't quite believe it will get there. This is the kind of movie that rarely makes it to the big screen, because quite frankly it is not commercial. We so like Dylan from the beginning, and yet his situation is so crushing that we keep secretly hoping the film will cop out and find some way to save him. As much as critics and moviegoers like to complain about cliched plots and predictable feel-good endings, box office trends continue to support the notion that in American cinema at least, we don't want reality -- we want fantasy.
But 'One Last Thing...' doesn't cop out. Dylan will take what ultimately becomes an existential journey before he suffers his cruel fate. There are no cheap melodramatic tricks along the way -- he doesn't find God, he doesn't discover the meaning of life, and the peace he eventually does achieve offers no seismic revelations for those around him. Though Nikki will figuratively be "saved" by granting Dylan his final wish, we are left with the distinct impression she hasn't been wholly transformed by the experience, either. The revelations Michael does experience along the way are presented as quiet, measured moments -- almost as throwaways. 'One Last Thing...' is almost disconcerting in its matter-of-factness, in the way it accepts death in such plain terms that there is no Hollywood-sized grandiosity to shield us from its utter finality.
The moments that achieve the most resonance in 'One Last Thing...' are the most ordinary. Director Alex Steyermark and screenwriter Barry Stringfellow never pump up or force a scene. The relationship between Dylan and his mother feels completely believable. Angarano and Nixon are particularly well matched, and I appreciated how even during what Carol knows will be the last few days with her son, she doesn't say all the right things, or feel all the right emotions. These are flawed, real people -- not martyrs. Nikki (well played by Mabrey, in what could have been a thankless role) is also not the caricature we expect. She opens herself to Dylan not just because she's supposed to, but because she realizes if she doesn't, her fate may be even more sealed than Dylan's.
Ultimately, few will probably want to watch 'One Last Thing...' But it is the kind of intelligent, passionate, minor-key movie that everyone complains doesn't get made. Hopefully, this HD DVD release will help change that. 'One Last Thing...' is a lost little gem well worth discovering.
'One Last Thing...' was shot with HD cameras in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and is presented on HD DVD in 1080i/VC-1 video (versus the MPEG-2 encode on the Blu-ray version). Given the film's thrifty budget, I didn't have high expectations for the image, but 'One Last Thing...' boasts a rather good-looking image that's aided by slick photography and strong production values that transcend the movie's "indie" tag.
The most noticeable aspect of the transfer is its strong colors. Aside from a bit of dourness evident in some of the early scenes before Dylan leaves for New York, saturation is vibrant and clean. Many of the big city exteriors, as well as a couple of nightclub scenes, are quite flush with color. Fleshtones are also generally accurate, although again, some of the early scenes seem a bit too tinted towards green or sickly yellow.
In regards to this being a VC-1 encode versus the MPEG-2 on the Blu-ray, I did find this version a bit smoother. There are still pockets of obvious noise in the shadows, but it is a smidge less irritating on the HD DVD, although the trade-off is that VC-1 tends to provide a slightly softer look. Such disprepancies are so incredibly minor in this case, however, that the results are a wash for me. This is a sharp, quite detailed presentation that exceeded my expectations.
In a move that has had some crying foul, Magnolia has tended to favor its HD DVD releases over the Blu-ray, offering VC-1 encodes versus MPEG-2 while also bumping up the audio to Dolby TrueHD. Such an upgrade would have hardly matters on a film like 'One Last Thing...' however, because there just isn't that much to work with here.
The Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 Surround tracks (both 1.5mbps) are perfectly solid. Occasionally some of the canned effects and dubbed-in dialogue sound inorganic to the rest of the mix, while dynamic range is also healthy but hardly expansive. Low bass never really rocks, and the film does sound "small." However, I liked the minor ambiance during some of the city scenes, and dialogue is always clear and intelligible. There is little that impresses (regardless of high-res audio or not), but this is at least a soundtrack that gets the job done.
Extras are rather sparse. There are only two supplements included -- both decent, but unexceptional.
'One Last Thing...' is a poignant and well-crafted little sleeper -- I was really captivated by the film even if its pleasures are ultimately small. Still, I would recommend the movie to anyone looking for something a little off the beaten path. This HD DVD is a nice effort from Magnolia -- the transfer was better than I expected for a low-budget indie shot on HD, and there are couple of decent extras. If you're looking for something a little different, at least give this one a rental.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.