10/19/2018

Blu-ray Review: Rodin (2017)


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Illustrating a change in the way he illustrates before working with clay, towards the end of writer/director Jacques Doillon's Rodin, the famous titular sculptor Auguste Rodin (played by Vincent Lindon) notes that he used to suggest poses for his models to take during sessions but he no longer makes that mistake.

Letting the two young, beautiful women that stand before him just organically move, bend, and rotate together, Rodin notes that he can't look down even for a second at what his hands have been drawing or else the connection between what he feels and what he sees will be broken.

A fascinating description of Rodin's creative process in a film overflowing with them, the delicate connection between life and art (and more often than not love and art) is a recurring theme of Doillon's Rodin which – much like their subject – struggles to find a balance between the two right from the start.


Opening in 1880, the film begins as forty-year-old Auguste Rodin earns his first state commission to sculpt "The Gates of Hell" based on Dante's "Divine Comedy." Yet despite having spent a year sketching his plans for such a massive undertaking, he prefers to rely on intellect and instinct, debating every point in a form of brainy foreplay with his student Camille Claudel (Izïa Higelin), the fiercely talented sculptor in her own right who would go onto become his lover, assistant, and muse.

And much like the way he confesses later on that he learned how to sculpt by watching clouds form, as a lover of movement who needs to feel what he sees – even with the foundation of his drawings – Rodin confesses that figures come to the most when he works with clay.


Trying to capture this feeling in the medium of film, Doillon and Coco Before Chanel cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne – who shot most of the film in the historic locations in which the events take place – rely on framing to emphasize Rodin's sensuous approach, vacillating between frenzied movement as Rodin chases his lovers to suddenly statuesque composition throughout.

Whether lounging on a bed before changing to another in a series of poses in quick succession or dangling her foot off the edge of a boat rowed by Rodin, the scenes with Claudel feel like living reflections of art we imagine he would've been eager to capture on the page, canvas, or clay.


Likewise depicting the imbalance of power that exists between the two – perhaps best epitomized by a gorgeous off-balance sculpture of her own entitled "The Waltz" – while in his letters Rodin frequently tells Claudel that he can't work without her, early on in their relationship we see her as dominating her older, more famous lover easily.

Escaping to England for months at a time, when she returns she pressures Rodin to make good on his promises to legitimize their relationship by signing a contract to make her his only student, introduce her to everyone, and marry her someday, which would force him to leave his decades-long partner, Rose (Séverine Caneele), his veritable housekeeper and trusted friend.


However, things change as the film goes on and we see how much the scales have tipped as she suffers by contrast. A brilliant artist ahead of her time, not only will the world never accept a nude sculpture made by a woman (even if most of the nudes are of and modeled by women), Claudel also discovers that they won’t accept one they believe was made in the Rodin style, despite the fact that they'd worked side-by-side and inspired one another for years.

And as the disappointments in her personal and professional life mount, it leads to the offscreen mental breakdown we've seen depicted over the years in other biopics – most famously by Isabelle Adjani in Bruno Nuytten's 1988 contemporary classic Camille Claudel.


Tired of seeing women used up and thrown away for the sake of an older man's career and reputation, especially when (unlike Lindon's far more benevolent and in fact almost feminist Rodin) the one played by Gerard Depardieu had been an arrogant ass, after I saw Nuytten's Claudel over fifteen years ago, it made me so angry that I had an immediate creative response.

Crafting a modern day gender flipped spin on the characters, Claudel became my own muse as well as I wrote my very first award-winning play, which understandably made me curious to see how I'd react to another telling of her life story in 2017.

However by switching the point of view to a surprisingly even-tempered Rodin and moving a majority of Claudel's downfall offscreen, this time from a feminist perspective you feel an even greater sadness for Rose who, just like the sculptress she resents, gets sidelined by love for an artist.


And while the main cast is excellent (especially Lindon who's been doing some of his best work over the past ten years in a variety of films including Mademoiselle Chambon and Welcome), Rodin's emphasis is less on its people than the art itself.

For as the film continues we realize that, aside from some scenes of domestic fireworks here and there, there's so much we don't know about them personally, which is evidenced by sudden lines of dialogue referencing characters and subplots that are never explored beyond that one moment of screen time.


Similar in spirit to the vastly superior La Belle Noiseuse, Rodin fascinates most when focusing on the creative process itself, including an outstanding sequence where – not wanting to see a pencil – Victor Hugo refuses to pose in a traditional way, necessitating Rodin to run back and forth in between rooms in order to capture Hugo's angles and features on paper before he forgets them.

With its ode to creativity culminating in a gorgeous coda as he helps stage a moonlight photo of his beloved masterpiece Balzac (which was never appreciated in his lifetime), Rodin walks a fine line between inspiring us with its detail and taking things much too far such as when it unnaturally tries to work in Monet, Cezanne, Rilke, and company into the film.

Stagey from the get-go given the way its characters wax poetically throughout by speaking in platitudes and quotable quotes, far too often it seems as if Doillon's extensive research and love for the period gets in the way of an organic plotline as Rodin plays as though he's trying to squeeze a four hour film like Noiseuse into a two hour one.


Considering the disconnect between life and art, in the end, it's a shame that the film didn't take a cue from its subject more often and – in place of too much detail from voice-overs to famous French figure cameos – just let things take shape naturally Rodin-style and form like clouds in the sky, a pencil on the page, or hands in clay.

Ultimately worth seeing since Rodin's passionate celebration of creativity outweighs the problems with its narrative reality, with its emphasis on framing and intriguing composition, perhaps its greatest takeaway is that it'll leave you looking at the world through an artist's eyes, at least for a little while.


Text ©2018, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Blu-ray Review: The Official Story (1985)


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Given a gorgeous 2K restoration for this Cohen Film Collection Blu-ray release, Luis Puenzo's The Official Story is set during the final years of the state sponsored terrorism that took place during Argentina's Dirty War, in which tens of thousands of citizens were "disappeared" following a military coup which installed a dictatorship in 1976.

An intimate family drama with far reaching global implications which sadly resonates even more so today, the 1985 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film stars Norma Aleandro as a history teacher at a prestigious all boys high school who cautious her students not to believe anything that hasn't made it into the history books.


Married to a powerful man with strong ties to the government, when one of her best friends from her own school days wanders back into her life with the horrific account of being disappeared and tortured, the privileged upper-class mother of beautiful adopted five-year-old Gaby (Analia Castro) is forced to confront just what facts and more importantly which fictions the country is being told.

Fearing that Gaby might be the child of someone who's been similarly disappeared and separated from her family by force – which in the Trump era takes on greater urgency – Alicia (Aleandro) begins to open her eyes to the world around her.


Vowing to get to the bottom of the mystery, Alicia must soon contend with the fact that the answers she finds have begun chipping away at the "official story" she'd been told about Gaby's origins by the man who shares her life and bed in the form of her husband Roberto (Héctor Alterio).

Knowing that it might be easy to overwhelm the audience with a film about the Dirty War given its tremendous scope and number of victims, Puenzo and co-writer Aida Bortnik (both of whom received an Oscar nomination for their passionate original screenplay), wisely use a Douglas Sirkian style domestic mystery to gradually introduce international viewers to the horrors of the war vicariously through Alicia.


And as Alicia starts to internally question (and then face) just how much she knows about how her husband makes his living, we start to wonder why this has never occurred to such an educated woman before, particularly given the massive demonstrations on the street by the families of those who've been disappeared.

However, it's only after the script makes it known how difficult it was for her to conceive wherein we realize that – especially given her obvious love for her daughter – how much she didn't want to do anything to jeopardize her family until coming face with another loved one (via Chunchuna Villafañe's Ana) made it impossible to ignore.


While during its ‘85 release, the film hit hard both as an adoption drama and a window into life in Argentina under a murderous dictatorship (especially given the fact that Puenzo accepted the Oscar exactly ten years to the day it began), in our current political climate, the now terrifyingly timely Story impacts viewers on whole new level in 2018.

Though over thirty years old, from the idea of being asked to believe a woman's accusations over her husband's protests (even if given their relationship, in Alicia's case Ana's words carry more weight) to the value of truth in a country flooded with governmental lies, spin, and propaganda, Story packs just as much topical firepower today.


With so much at stake from a narrative standpoint, Puenzo and Bortnik understand that there's no easy solution for the film's main characters. Likewise they're sensitive enough to know that to tie things up in a neat bow would be to undercut the ongoing, incomprehensible suffering of those whose loved ones were taken by the government during the coup never to be heard from again.

And though it feels as though the character of Ana falls off a metaphorical cliff as the film continues (and they just sub in a colleague in her place at a critical point in the plot), at the same time – not wanting to shortchange either woman's trauma – the filmmakers realize that Alicia's arc is stronger overall if she reaches the truth on her own. Fittingly, Aleandro garnered Best Actress honors from the Cannes Film Festival for her heartbreaking turn in the film, which likewise earned accolades from around the world.


Having been made in secret, after members of the cast and crew received death threats, the filmmakers announced that the production had been canceled, only to continue on with the film as planned.

A brave work that uses the story of one family to shine the world’s spotlight on tens of thousands of others, while it serves as an important historical document about the Dirty War, in light of current events, it also plays like a cautionary tale of the dangers of authoritarianism at a time when facts are too easily dismissed as fake.


Delivering the film to Blu-ray with a fascinating, near feature length behind-the-scenes documentary of the making of the first title from Argentina to receive an Academy Award, the stunning release from the Cohen Film Collection ensures that the power of Puenzo's picture will continue to live on.


Text ©2018, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Blu-ray Review: Reprisal (2018)


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As larger-than-life as the characters he plays, much like Nicolas Cage, Bruce Willis has starred in approximately 265 direct-to-disc movies over the past 5 years. And sure enough, as the action hero's latest Blu-ray begins, we're treated to a series of his recent trailers which together play like a short prequel, setting up director Brian A. Miller's aptly named Reprisal.

Of course the upside of Willis being in so many movies is that we never have too long to wait for a new release as there's one available almost as often as a new episode of Moonlighting aired back in the 1980s.


But at the same time, for a man who first blew us away walking across broken glass in every movie lover's favorite holiday action movie, Die Hard, with so many films on Willis's schedule in a calendar year, his characters continue to get smaller and more illogical as filmmakers try anything to squeeze him in before he's due on another set.

Case in point is Willis's poorly developed character James in the slight yet modestly entertaining B-movie Reprisal.

A walking contradiction, instead of helping his civilian next door neighbor Jacob (Frank Grillo) track down the highly-skilled criminal that robbed his bank, killed one of Jacob's employees, and may have cost him a job, ex-cop James merely spends a few days brainstorming up a nonsensical Homeland style case-board with Jacob.


At last thinking they have a good lead (though it isn't fully clear how), rather than take it to the authorities or offer the former police officer's son some actual backup, James simply hands Jacob an old police radio for emergency use and sends him out on stakeout duty, which is predictably when – as the law of action movies dictates – all hell breaks loose.

Going against James's advice, after stumbling into the secret lair of super villain Gabriel (played by Johnathon Schaech), Jacob soon finds himself in the middle of yet another deadly Cincinnati robbery.


While thankfully Bruce Willis gets to leave his location at the house next door for the film's big action sequence near the end of the movie, having a badass ex-cop stuck confined to a roughly 30 foot radius with zero explanation – when even one or two lines of dialogue could suffice – is disappointing to say the least.

Raising even more suspension-of-disbelief problems for Reprisal's overall storyline, without James there to guide him, Jacob does something so insanely out of character that he risks the lives of, not only himself and Willis's largely housebound ex-cop, but also the two people he loves most in the world in the form of his wife (Olivia Culpo) and diabetic daughter.


A clunky segue from Points A to B designed to raise the stakes and lead us into Reprisal’s more suspenseful third act, first time screenwriter Bryce Hammons could've easily figured out a more organic way to reach the same plot-point of a standoff that's at least in line with the character he's created in Jacob. And regrettably it's one of a handful of red flags that pull us out of what had thus far been a pretty solid direct-to-disc action movie, thanks largely due to the strength of its cast.

For although Gabriel's rush into another robbery following his daring heist in the movie's impressive first big action sequence makes us wonder if at least one key scene was left on the cutting room floor (as the sequences of him planning for his next job make it appear to be something grander in scale), Schaech puts some real menace into his scenes.


A far cry from his breakout performance in That Thing You Do!, just as he has been in a number of recent projects on screens big and small, once again, Schaech is impressive in an against type role where, he and Frank Grillo (in particular) do their best to flesh out their admittedly thinly drawn characters. And fortunately their efforts helps us stay with them – for awhile at least – as the film takes the first of several turns that don't make much sense.

Able to quicken pulses during both the bank heist as well as the film's intense yet predictable conclusion, it's apparent that much like the actors, Reprisal's director (who's helmed a few other movies for Willis) is also hindered by its uneven script not to mention obvious budget and scheduling issues.


Well made enough to entertain as part of a double or triple feature of Willis titles at home on a Saturday night, for the most part, Reprisal distracts us from asking too many questions, aside from why of course an ex-cop like Bruce Willis's James finds himself so often stuck in a single room unless that's all they had time for before he was due to report for another movie.

Fortunately, since it's been nearly a week since the film debuted on Blu, we don't have to wait too long for the next Bruce Willis (or Nic Cage) premiere. Likewise, given the intriguing place where Hammons ends Jacob's storyline in the film, I wouldn't be surprised if pretty soon we get another Reprisal, with not only three times as many trailers but even more scenes of Bruce Willis giving his neighbor crime stopping advice from a (hopefully new) stationary location.

Text ©2018, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

10/12/2018

Blu-ray Review: Eighth Grade (2018)


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"I don't talk a lot at school," thirteen-year-old Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) tells the camera recording her latest YouTube video which, based on the number of views her channel's uploads receive, seems to serve as a way for the heroine of former YouTube comic turned writer/director Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade to talk through her own issues in clips disguised as advice for others.

Getting back to her point – following the sounds of false stops and starts often manifested in the words "like" or "um" as she tries to figure out precisely what she wants to say – Kayla looks at the camera once again, and explains, "People think I'm quiet or shy. I'm not. I just choose not to talk."

Hours later, the girl who we see strive to raise her voice a fraction as loud as the cymbals she bangs together in band practice is named "Most Quiet" by her eighth grade graduating class.


And while she's quietly mortified, aside from the film's unexplored fact that at least all of her classmates know who she is (which is saying something indeed for Most Quiet), the upside to being named one of what the principal dubs "the superlatives," is that it gives Kayla an excuse to scope out her crush on Aiden (Luke Prael) aka Best Eyes.

Invited by a classmate's mother to her daughter's birthday pool party the next day, even though they swim in different social circles, she takes her doting single father's (Josh Hamilton) advice to put herself out there.

Making another YouTube video from her classmate's perspective to psych herself up, even before we realize that Kayla might have more than just your average case of nerves – ducking into the bathroom for what appears to be a full blown panic attack – we sense her discomfort on a visceral level.


Recalling our own coming-of-age uncertainty with Burnham's "You Are Here" docudrama style of filming, from the roving closeness of Andrew Wehde’s fly-on-the-wall cinematography which vacillates between the nostalgic soft-edge imperfection of a home movie to the voyeuristic claustrophobia of a 24/7 online vlog to first time composer Anna Meredith's impressionistic score, the film's technical aspects strengthen Fisher's utterly convincing performance all the more.

Though incidentally it was released by the same studio and producer, Eighth Grade is more than just this year's Lady Bird and similarly more than just the best look at middle school since Welcome to the Dollhouse, to which it has been endlessly compared. For while all of the titles are stellar in their own way, Grade feels more genuine than the sardonic Dollhouse and likewise, Kayla is still far too innocent to be likened to the amusing if overly dramatic Lady Bird lead.


Having thrown her phone across the room when her dad startled her late at night, the symbolism of Kayla's cracked screen raises a number of valid subtextual questions regarding just how much of our alienation, anxiety, and confusion about our own self-worth (as well as each other) might come from looking at everything through the cracked screen of the internet as opposed to with our eyes.

Not taking any shortcuts, Burnham trusts his audience as well as his heroine enough to know that they'll find their own way and reach their own conclusions eventually. And while even though there's an early montage of Kayla scrolling through everything from social media to stupid quizzes so quickly that it's bound to make you seasick both due to its velocity as well as obvious impact on her, the film also makes it clear that the web offers our creative introvert an outlet she desperately needs.


In addition to the videos that ultimately serve as a hybrid between diary and wish fulfillment for our leading lady, in one of Grade's most touching scenes, the internet also allows Kayla to reach someone who we feel will mean much more to her than a mere number behind the view count on her screen.

Connecting through social media to the one person who made that pool party worthwhile (played by Jake Ryan), Eighth Grade reminds us that sometimes friends can be found where we least expect it via a character who felt as though he'd fit right in with my best friends in high school.


One of the best films of the year so far, it's also one you might want to watch alone for the first time before sharing it with someone else since these years can open up some old wounds (as evidenced in one unexpectedly timelier than ever scene). While unfamiliar with Burnham's entire career thus far, it's safe to say this feature filmmaking debut makes him one talent I'm excited to watch in the future.

From its active shooter drill training to a debate over the differences between growing up with Twitter before Snapchat, it's obvious that Burnham is zeroing in on eighth grade 2018 (regardless of its ridiculous R rating).

Yet whether it's been fifteen or fifty years since you were thirteen, Eighth Grade brings you right back to that larger-than-life time in our adolescence that we might not think we remember but for better or worse also cannot forget.


Text ©2018, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Film Movement DVD Review: La Familia (2017)


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Ideally suited to play opposite Italian filmmaker Jonas Carpignano's A Ciambra as part of a double feature on modern approaches to neorealism, Venezuelan writer/director Gustavo Rondón Córdova's thematically similar debut feature traps viewers right in the heart of the slums of Caracas from the very first frame.

Wandering the streets armed with rocks and without supervision, twelve-year-old Pedro (Reggie Reyes) and his friends are growing up way too fast in an environment that could easily bring them down.


And sure enough, it only takes a minute of screen time to see how quickly things could go wrong before they inevitably do later on in the first act when, cornered alongside his best friend, Pedro accidentally kills a young mugger.

Pushed by a fight into flight, Pedro's hardworking, quick-thinking father, Andrés (Giovanni Garcia) wastes no time packing up as much stuff as they can carry without looking conspicuous and forces his reluctant son to flee as far away from the only home he's ever known in order to save their lives from the thugs who would hunt them down without a second thought.

A study in masculine contrasts, while the thoroughly unlikable Pedro acts first and doesn't think later like the same macho toughs who would just as soon end his life, he looks down on what he assumes is his cowardly father's way of life – working back-breaking construction and odd jobs just to keep a roof over his son's head and food on the table.

Clocking in at a mere eighty-two minutes, Córdova waits a little too long to actually "start" the film with its official inciting incident. Killing too much time killing time with Pedro and his aimless friends before the killing that sets things in motion, although impatient viewers are sure to tune out, the further away we get from the slums, the more full of life the film gets. And while that indeed might be by design, it's also slightly indulgent and risks alienating a large percentage of its audience.


Although it must've been hard for former editor turned writer/director as well as La Familia's editor Gustavo Rondón Córdova to cut his first feature, looking past its laborious opener – which makes its point fairly quickly – the film has a lot on its mind.  

An existential thriller more than a literal one, the longer they try to avoid peril, the more Pedro gets to know the father who's so often forced to be away.

Talking a good game about why he thinks they should just go confront those back in their neighborhood, Andrés gives him a vital reality check, telling his son, "your tough man bullshit put us in this mess," before putting his son to work alongside him for a real taste of what growing up has in store for the boy.


The latest variation in the genre of the road movie, which (with noteworthy exceptions of course) Latin American countries do perhaps better than anyone else, while this succinct cross between cinema vérité and neorealism might've been even stronger if it had been edited down even more, we can't help but feel drawn into the story since it transports us so easily.

Reminiscent of a documentary in spirit, which says a lot for not only for Córdova and the film's talented cast but its cinematographer Luis Armando Arteaga as well, obviously the main focus of La Familia is on the family onscreen.

However, by putting the men in motion and moving them in and around the streets of Caracas like Roberto Rossellini did in his neorealist Rome, Open City (and War Trilogy), from the threat of violence to the socioeconomic concerns, the story of not only the city but the country itself is never far from mind.

Though initially underwhelming, similar to Pedro's relationship with his father, Venezuela's official submission for Best Foreign Film (as well as the country's first film to play at Cannes Critics’ Week), only gets stronger with time.


Text ©2018, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Movie Review: Sadie (2018)


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Habitually cloaked in an army green coat to remind the world that she is her father's daughter and with more than her fair share of anger, disappointment, and rebellion swirling around inside her clever mind that threatens to rise above the surface  – in the eponymous sixth feature from writer/director Megan Griffiths – Sadie (Sophia Mitri Schloss) is a thirteen-year-old volcano waiting to explode.

Able to quickly size up most of the people in her orbit both at home living in the Shady Plains Mobile Home Park with her hardworking mom Ray (Melanie Lynskey) as well as at school, Sadie puts the military skills she's acquired from a father she hasn't seen in years to daily use.

Knowing how to deflect as well as cover her tracks, Sadie goes from manipulating the school counselor (Tony Hale) who's hopelessly in love with her mom to dispatching a school bully who attacks her best friend and neighbor Francis (Keith L. Williams) with a false bomb threat before setting her sights on an unknown target.


Fascinated by Cyrus (John Gallagher Jr.), the mobile home community’s latest arrival, even before the handsome ex-pilot with a bad back gets involved with her mother, Sadie puts a blade to wood while whittling with Francis's grandfather Deak (Tee Dennard) and takes Cyrus in as though she just knows he'll be as much trouble in real life as he is to carve.

Perhaps reading her mind, Deke advises her to "carve" something simpler. "Men," he tells her, "are tough. I'd give it a little more time before starting in on them."

Sadie is full of moments like this – conversations where the meaning cuts two ways and scenes that appear to be about one thing before we realize that they were about something completely different later on – kind of like the film itself.

More than just the coming-of-age movie it appears to be on the surface, Sadie is (as the filmmaker intended) a war picture, but one set at home with a different kind of soldier that's usually overlooked in not only films but news reports about the unknown cost that being in a seemingly endless war can have on a family.


Likewise, by daring to make her potentially volcanic subject a young female instead of the latest in a long line of alienated teenage males whose capacity for devastating violence has become a new national focal point, Griffiths reminds viewers of those who've slipped through the cracks.

Lost in a world she views in extremes – from lipstick, boys, and pink dresses on one side to a reverence for hyperreal military video games, violent movies, and the power that even the sight of a gun can have in getting her way on the other – Sadie is unable to find a nice safe space in between to land.

Surrounded by a group of caring adults whom, despite having their own stuff going on, would be there for her in a moment if asked, unfortunately aside from Francis, the only person Sadie cares to open up to is the man who isn't there.


Thus, Griffiths fills the soundtrack with the letters she writes to her dad in voice-over in tandem with a fittingly pensive score by Mike McCready (both of which carry on into the film's closing credits).

And while the escalating events of the briskly paced film make us wish that we could have known more about our protagonist in a few scenes we would've preferred to have seen rather than heard about, the longer we think about it the more we realize that leaving us filled with questions is precisely the director’s point.

Reminiscent of Michael Cuesta's underrated 12 and Holding in spirit and tone, Sadie, which features a towering turn by Schloss and apt support by Lynskey, is only my second film by Griffiths following her terrific Toni Collette character drama Lucky Them, but this will certainly not be my last.

A war movie told from a point-of-view we seldom see, Sadie asks us to consider just what the side effects are (and continue to be) for the families of soldiers left behind in a world where confusion and violence increases by the day.

As powerful as it is unsettling, Sadie is a thought-provoking story with far reaching implications and the type of work you'll not only immediately want to discuss but also find hard to shake.


Text ©2018, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

DVD Review: The Witch Files (2018)


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Once upon a time the Project Greenlight co-winner for Battle of Shaker Heights, although Kyle Rankin admits that only after filmmaking fads are past their prime that that's when he thinks he might want to make one, the Night of the Living Deb director's first foray into found footage horror is mostly a success.

Set in and around a Brunswick, Maine high school where five girls from different backgrounds become unlikely friends after a new student manages to set off the fire alarm with her mind and gets them released from detention, The Witch Files is presented as a series of clips compiled by security cameras as well as digital footage shot by the characters themselves.


And even though, as the school’s Queen Bee Brooke (Alice Ziolkoski) jokes, "trying to be a witch in Brunswick is like wearing Mouse ears at Disney," the girls are intrigued enough that they ask the faux firestarter Jules (Britt Flatmo) to teach them how it was done.

Agreeing to meet her at midnight in the middle of a park where (rumor has it) witches were murdered over two hundred years ago, as soon as words are chanted and locks of hair are buried, the five bond together to form a coven.

Starting out small while testing out their newfound powers, once they realize they can levitate not only a book but brainy high school reporter Claire (Holly Taylor), things quickly escalate.


From money-free shopping sprees to wishing for Brooke's mom to stop hitting the bottle and Claire's unemployed dad to find the perfect job, Brunswick's newest witches start using their powers to fulfill their every wish before they learn that nothing in life is free.

Discovering that even spells made with the best of intentions have consequences, members of the coven start suffering from strange side effects including double root canals and early onset arthritis.

Scared enough that some of the girls refuse to tempt fate anymore, when it becomes apparent that their powers are now strong enough that they don't actually need the entire coven to continue to cast spells, witch is pitted against witch.


With each girl wondering not only what is real but also who they can trust, a battle begins brewing which could bring down everyone in the process unless Claire can get to the bottom of what's really going on in Brunswick before it's too late.

Penned by Rankin and Larry Blamire, Witch's whip smart script is delivered very handily by its talented cast, especially frequent scene stealer Ziolkoski and the always authentic Americans MVP Taylor as well as Criminal Minds actress Paget Brewster (who also produced) as a local police detective.


Sure to appeal to those who enjoyed Pretty Little Liars, from his Breakfast Club inspired beginning, Witch feels like an amalgamation of everything from Heathers to Charmed to The Craft and as such, it has more than its share of amused smiles than scares.

And while its obviously rushed shoot does hinder a few scenes which just don't deliver the full impact of the words on the page, Witch still manages to impress nonetheless with some terrific wire-work stunts and special effects that up its thrill value (which you can explore in the special features).

Threatened to be overlooked in the October onslaught of big budget horror movies pouring onto streaming sites in time for Halloween, for those looking for something off the beaten path that you can safely show your teens which (like many films in the genre) has a worthwhile moral buried within the found footage story, this Witch is for you.



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