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.



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.

10/06/2018

Film Movement DVD Review: Between Land and Sea (2016)


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For Ollie O'Flaherty, who is just one of a handful of Irish surfers at the heart of Ross Whitaker's fascinating documentary Between Land and Sea, the patience you need to find, charge at, and ride just the right wave, "is what makes it so addicting."

In the Atlantic surf town of Lahinch on Liscannor Bay on the northwest corner of County Clare, Ireland, which is like as O'Flaherty muses "having a playground on [his]...doorstep, only my playground is the ocean," Whitaker and his crew took his advice on patience literally while chronicling a year in the life of a core group of surfers and their loved ones.

Similar to the way O'Flaherty says the ocean "can offer the wave of a lifetime in the best amphitheater in the world but everywhere you look there's danger," each year the community virtually closes down for winter until Easter when the locals hope to make enough money from tourists to get by until the following year.


Although it might not have the same impact as a couple hundred feet of water hitting a fifteen foot shelf, given not only the ever-dwindling amount of travelers as well as the number of different pop-up shops selling beautifully handcrafted boards and gear as well as surf schools, it can hit residents supporting themselves as well as their loved ones on that income just as hard.

Introducing us to a couple of men who run surf related businesses such as Lahinch Surf Experience and Lahinch Surf School where a few current and former pro surfers (including O'Flaherty) moonlight as instructors, Whitaker gives us a good reason why some places close down in winter as one year earlier in a bad storm, the waves did twenty-three million pounds of damage to local businesses.

Having either aged out of the sport or embarked on a different endeavor, we're first introduced to Tom Doidge-Harrison, who, despite acknowledging that "some things in life have slipped by" him, has settled into a cozy life with his beautiful pregnant wife and daughter.

Trained as a mining engineer which he does for money and to enable him to make surfboards for enjoyment, Tom's wife Raquel has also had to think outside the box since leaving her home in Bristol by using her scientific background to make handmade soaps as she was unable to find something in her field in Lahinch.

While we don't exactly know if Raquel's soap-making is for money and/or enjoyment, by including her story alongside her husband's, it's a subtle study of contrasts and similarities and part of what makes the observational documentary so compelling on a human level.


One of many people looking for new purpose, having walked away from the life of a professional surfer where he spent too much time chasing sponsors, Australian Fergal Smith has returned to his roots growing up on an organic farm.

And over the course of the year captured in Whitaker's observational documentary, Fergal embarks on perhaps the biggest risk captured either on or off the ocean as he and his wife and child put everything into the soil and live in a yurt while waiting for both their venture and crops to grow.

Of course, you don't check out a surfing documentary if you aren't interested in surfing. Yet while Whitaker is far more focused on a fly-on-the-wall approach in making the viewer feel like an honorary Lahinch resident for its ninety-four minute running time, the film's surf's scenes (directed by Kev I Smith and featuring a cameo by Hawaiian big wave legend Shane Dorian and crew) are quite thrilling to watch.

With the breathtaking backdrop of Ireland's cliffs by the sea, whenever the lens zeroes in on a color deeper than the shades we mostly see of mossy green, brown soil, and saltwater blue, we're immediately taken in and Land and Sea delivers on this front repeatedly – alternating from orange red skies to later on, a rainbow streaking across the sky.


Released by Film Movement, admittedly, this highly recommended slice-of-life documentary might bore viewers reared on traditional stunt filled sports documentaries geared toward those with the shortest of attention spans.

Less like a feature length music video, Land is more reminiscent in spirit of director Michael Apted's Up series, which was an obvious influence on Hoop Dreams director Steve James, whose work seems to have in turn inspired Whitaker.

The end result makes this one wave you'll definitely want to take, as long as that you have the patience to learn not only what makes it so stimulating for the surfers but also what's at stake.


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 Row (2018)


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Rush Week turns into Hurry Up and Run Week when a serial killer starts targeting members of a top group on campus described early on by our virginal heroine Riley's (Lala Kent) stereotypically slutty best friend Becks (Mia Rose Frampton) as "if Victoria's Secret was a sorority" in director Matty Beckerman's lackluster, low-budget slasher movie.

Shot and styled like a Girls Gone Wild video with an emphasis on skin and sin in the social media era, this feeble attempt to deliver a new spin on classic horror loses its audience almost as soon as it starts.

Hindered not only by its one-dimensional characters and wooden acting, The Row is also as generic as it is predictable as most people, with the exception of the purportedly brainy Riley – who's supposed to be a natural at this thanks to her police officer father (Randy Couture) – will have no trouble identifying the obvious killer within the first twenty minutes of the movie.


But instead of keeping her guard up after she finds the first dead body in a late night game of hide and seek, as she navigates college as an incoming freshman, Riley takes a walk on the kegger side.

Plunging head-first into Greek life, after Riley discovers that her late mother – about whom she knows very little – had also been a member of the same exclusive sorority, she dives in even deeper.

Paying homage to the genre’s obsession with mother issues – starting as far back as Hitchcock's Psycho and then crystallizing in subsequent generations with Friday the 13th and ScreamThe Row attempts to serve up an interesting enough mystery to keep us invested in the classic horror trope.

And while to her credit, screenwriter Sarah Scougal drops a few threads and red herrings along the way that could've led to a more complex denouement, instead of following through on its promised twists, she gives in and opts for the easiest solution.


It's a shame too because with a stronger cast, more self-awareness, humor, and imagination (think Heathers meets Mean Girls, and Scream), this could've been an entertainingly campy thriller.

However, with otherwise talented cinematographer Jamie Barber's camera seemingly devoted to zooming in on women's bodies to the point that sometimes all we see is a rear and a colorful thong to introduce us to a new soon-to-be dead character, The Row never rises above the obsessive mindset of our predator killer who opts to treat the coeds like interchangeable dolls. Thus, it's trash instead of camp.

When you combine this approach with its laughable opening sequence in which Randy Couture almost runs down a key character who will coincidentally factor in later, let's just say that subtlety is not the film’s strong suit.


And neither, as it turns out is suspense as The Row wastes three potential suspects by doing nothing with them to help generate more mystery or tension before it suddenly offers an explanation that, amusingly for a film set in college, makes zero mathematical sense.

Nonetheless, it drops in an eerie twist in a post-credits sequence that might have thrilled viewers earlier on in the film because it actually pays off nicely on a red herring.

But in the end, with its pervy photography and dull plot that hits all the basic notes used in past genre efforts – including the one where seemingly out of nowhere Couture finally puts it all together just in the nick of time – when it comes to serving up scares, it's all Greek to The Row.


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: Freaky Friday (2018)


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At a crossroads in their relationship, a mother (Heidi Blickenstaff) and her teenage daughter (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) magically switch places in this, the fourth adaptation of the timeless 1972 children's book Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers.

From the 1976 Disney classic with Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris (and its well-received 2003 remake starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan) to the 1995 small screen cult favorite featuring Shelley Long and Gabby Hoffmann, while the other three Freaky Friday movies played things relatively safely, this translation decided to swing for the creative fences.


Based not only on the Rodgers classic and its previous film incarnations but also the 2016 Disney stage musical Freaky Friday, which was written by Bridget Carpenter (who also scripted this version) as well as music and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize winners Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, the Disney Channel's newest original movie is arriving on disc just one month after its premiere.

Heightening the emotional disagreements between the two women with the film's at times epically staged musical numbers, the over caffeinated energy and fast pacing also helps disguise the fact that, with so much going on, Friday is far too chaotic for its own good.

Namely, it's that rarest of occasions when a film suffers not from not enough but rather too much plot, especially given its mere ninety minute running time vs. the length of the original theatrical production.


In addition to the main storyline where the two swap bodies after breaking a collectible hourglass given to them by the family's late husband and father on one of the most challenging days of their lives, the film opts to supersize the action even more.

Having mortgaged their home to start her own catering business, hardworking Katherine Blake (played by Blickenstaff, who originated the role onstage) is being shadowed by a bridal magazine for a cover story about her wedding she planned entirely on her own to the ever supportive Mike (Alex Désert) that's scheduled for the very next day.

Like mother like daughter, Carpenter opts to see and raise the stakes when it comes to Katherine's daughter Ellie's (Zuehlsdorff) plotline as well.


A dramatic sixteen year old sophomore, Ellie is eager to win a competition called The Hunt (which seems to be a cross between a scavenger hunt and the "dare" side of Truth or Dare) in order to, as she explains, "break free of the draconian caste system" of high school.

Set on it, she promises her two best friends that she'll be able to change her mom's mind about the no holds barred overnight game scheduled on the very same night of her mom's rehearsal dinner.

Worried about more than just the game (which turns out to be one of the weakest parts of the film in terms of plot), just like her mom, Ellie's dealing with challenges all her own.


From a younger brother who never fails to get on her nerves (Jason Maybaum) to concerns that Mike is trying to replace her father, as well as an adorably awkward crush on Adam (Ricky He), and the very real possibility that she might fail tenth grade if she's absent one more day, once the switch occurs and these plots collide, things get both increasingly convoluted and confusing.

While some of these plot points wind up making very little sense by the end of Friday and it suffers from an offbeat tone including occasional and out-of-character moments of scatological humor that don't fit in with the rest of the movie, thankfully the film's jubilant choreography (by John Carrafa) and infectious musical numbers distract us enough from having to make heads or tails of it all.

Needless to say, it's a lot for what some might assume is a "little" movie and as over ambitious beats under any day of the week, a great deal of credit is owed to Friday director Steve Carr for its success.


A former music video director and Def Jam album designer turned Paul Blart: Mall Cop helmer, in the film's bravura wedding sequence, Carr seems to be auditioning to direct Mamma Mia 3.

Though hinging the entire film on a weak hourglass gimmick wasn't perhaps the best way for the two to switch places in 2018, Freaky is still sure to delight those willing to look past the film's house of cards like myriad of plot problems that feel like they could collapse at any moment under Friday's weight.


While complexity doesn't seem to appeal as well to fans of simple but fun Disney Channel original movie musicals like The Teen Beach Movie or High School Musical, between this and Disney's Zombies, it's nice to see them try to branch out to works that deal – however briefly – with topical issues ranging from mortgages to remarriage after loss of a parent in Friday.

And even though there's no replacing the original Freaky feature with Jodie Foster, with this movie's first burst of music and lyrics, you realize that – like mother and daughter – they're different yet similar enough to appreciate on their own.


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.

10/05/2018

Movie Review – CinemAbility: The Art of Inclusion


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From the saintly, asexual disabled women who get rewarded with a medical cure by the end of the movie (as in City Lights) to the vengeful, recently disabled, villainous men who want to take their anger out on the world (like Dennis Hopper's cop turned bus bomber in Speed), disability stereotypes have become ingrained in our culture throughout film history.

And while that doesn't of course prevent any of the films mentioned from being classics in their own right, when these and other stereotypes – whether coded or more overt – are returned to again and again on the big or small screen, the idea that they're true gets reinforced in people's minds, even if the viewer isn't fully aware of it.


A subject close to my heart, not only as a disabled woman but also as a film major who intended to make it my thesis in graduate school, in this eye-opening documentary (which should be mandatory viewing for those pursuing a degree in Media Studies), director Jenni Gold gives a fascinating overview of the subject of disability onscreen.

Chronicling the evolution of disabled character driven storytelling over roughly 120 years of cinema (and later, television), we discover how much has changed as well as how much remains the same. Additionally, Gold looks at the role that representation plays in legislation as – with the increase of more positive and diverse portrayals post-Vietnam – the Americans With Disabilities Act was finally signed into law by President Bush in 1990.

Reminiscent of a terrific small screen documentary that wouldn't be out of place on TCM, given not only its subject matter but also its slightly retro approach, CinemAbility: The Art of Inclusion is hosted and narrated by one of the film's producers, Jane Seymour and features interviews with a number of famous faces such as Geena Davis, Ben Affleck, Jamie Foxx, and William H. Macy.


Boasting a fascinating selection of film clips and some great analysis by Martin F. Norden, the author of a book I'd highly recommend on the subject (The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies), the Emmy winning Gold covers a lot of ground, especially in CinemAbility's powerful look at pre-World War II cinema.

From Thomas Edison's The Fake Beggar (which Eddie Murphy paid homage to in Trading Places) and Tod Browning's ouevre from his campy Lon Chaney collaborations to Freaks as well as the complex Golden Rule coded metaphorical morality of Frankenstein up through The Wizard of Oz, there's a lot to process.

And much like the strides made in portrayals post Vietnam, we received what is perhaps our earliest fully three-dimensional disabled character in the form of a WWII vet (played by real WWII vet Harold Russell) in director William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives.


Receiving both an honorary Oscar "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans" as well as a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for the role, Russell's earnest portrayal in the film (which is not without some controversy given Wyler's decision to limit Russell's offscreen independence onscreen) helped usher in decades of new disabled characters on screens both big and small.

From The Miracle Worker to Wait Until Dark at the movies as well as Miss Susan and Ironside on television, viewers were finally starting to see characters whose disabilities were just one aspect of who they were vs. their sole definition in the '50s and '60s.

And although Russell's Oscar success might've also inadvertently led to the ongoing debate surrounding disabled characters being especially attractive for able-bodied actors to play due to their awards bait potential (considering how many bring home Oscars in films from Coming Home to Ray), it still remains that exceptionally rare instance when a disabled actor was cast in a disabled part.


However, there is a heartbreaking follow-up to the universal acclaim for Russell when Marlee Matlin's well-deserved Academy Award win for her powerful turn in Children of a Lesser God was dismissed in the press in 1987 as “a sympathy vote.” Adding insult to injury, when she worked hard to speak the names of the Best Actor nominees the following year while presenting the award to its ultimate winner Michael Douglas, she was accused of betraying the deaf community.

While the sympathy vote write-off is perhaps indicative of a gender double standard, this isn't explored in the film, which already has so much to cover given the complexity, intertextuality, and intersectionality of its subject that it could've led to a multi-part Ken Burns style documentary series.


And with so much on its mind from not only the depiction of disabled characters on film and TV as well as by disabled performers – before delving into the need for more opportunities behind the scenes as well as working in civil rights issues and comparisons to the strides made by African-Americans and the LGBTQ community – the otherwise outstanding doc begins to lose focus.

Jumping around in topic and tone in its last half hour, CinemAbility's talking heads discuss various aspects of on and offscreen portrayals and their reactions to everything from Million Dollar Baby to the depiction of disability based humor.

Needless to say, this doesn't flow very well and while it's all very interesting, the meandering final section of the documentary isn't nearly as solid as the stellar, film school worthy tour of disability onscreen in the first half of the twentieth century which opened Gold's work.


Ambitious, necessary, and long overdue in our cultural conversation, in the end, having too much to say is always preferable to too little. However, because of the limited format of a feature length film (as opposed to say, a five part series on issues such as: stereotypes and depictions, genre approaches, approaching role as an actor, TV vs film, and inclusion in the industry), I think Gold's subject is better served with more analysis and cinematic examples than occasionally repetitive opinions from the interviewees.

Yet, despite that, by covering so much territory, it's bound to not only inspire vital post-film discussion but also cause viewers – both disabled and able-bodied alike – to consider some of their favorite films in a new light.


A crucial jumping off point to greater study, CinemAbility is a fast-moving, funny, and frequently surprising documentary that illustrates in both its examples and interviews, how much our culture benefits when we see people from all different walks of life represented onscreen, including those that might not walk but don't have to be psychopaths, helpless, or superheroes to be fascinating in their own right.


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