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New Video presents
Angela: I dreamed I could fly.
DVD ReviewYou never know where you'll find an angel—they may be everywhere, even if you're not always on the lookout for them. Angela, Rebecca Miller's debut feature film as a writer/director, focuses on the spiritual quest of her title character, a ten-year-old girl played by Miranda Stuart Rhyne, consigned to looking after her six-year-old sister Ellie (Charlotte Blythe) as their parents try to sort out what seems like their mess of a life. The family are refugees from New York City, moving upstate to seek out some sort of psychological nourishment, or at least the fortifying boredom that rural life can bring. The quest begins of course on Sunday morning, when their parents take Angela and Ellie to services, not the thing for Mae, their mother: "I don't think I can do that church thing again." But Andrew, their father, finds unusual virtues in it: "I think it's good for the girls. It's bland." That's certainly insufficient, however, and Angela conjures up all sorts of her own ideas to ease the family's psychic burdens.
But your demons travel with you, wherever you go, and whatever it was that troubled this family before they made it to this part of the state comes back quickly. Mae wasn't made for country living, and despite Andrew's best efforts, he doesn't seem well suited to it, either; the emotional ramifications are profound for their daughters, who try to make sense of their difficult family life with bits and pieces of religion, psychology and wisdom picked up through hearsay, in church, from friends, or their own imagination.
Miller asks a lot of her two lead actors, and though they're pretty good child performers, they can't really sustain the weight they're supposed to carry. Miller seems to have a pretty keen sense of the behavior of little girls, but it's pushed a little far—precocity is one thing, and a child speaking with the voice of an adult (or more precisely, of a screenwriter) is quite another. And the subject matter makes it doubly rough on the girls: I don't know of many adults who are on this sort of dedicated spiritual quest, and it's hard to sustain credulity at times in this story of a ten-year-old girl seeking out a religious epiphany. The girls are a little too articulate about their emotions—it's a relief that they're not bland little screen kids in one dimension, but this kind of point of view is much more difficult to sustain on screen than it is on the page.
But the movie does have many successes, especially in the girls' relationship with their mother. Miller captures well the ways in which Mae's moods tyrannize her daughters—when Mama is happy, everything is sunshine and lollipops; when she's blue, it's the end of the world. And it's nice to see that Miller's visual sense is as sharp as her writing; she's a writer/director unafraid to let the pictures do the talking, in scenes without dialogue. This is also where she's most successful at illustrating the relationship between the sisters—when they move to a new house, one withering look from Angela lets Ellie know that her older sister and not she will be getting the bed by the window.
The two leads are well supported, and though it may be sort of mainstream and pedestrian to wish that the movie focused more on the parents than on the children, in terms of acting ability, that's where the action is. Anna Thomson has that there-but-not-there look about her that communicates volumes about Mae's troubles, and the woes she's causing for her daughters; and John Ventimiglia as Andrew has to keep a level head, given the difficulties of basically raising two girls on his own and hiding from the rough fact that his wife is in dire need of professional help. Ventimiglia is more familiar these days as Artie Bucco, Tony's favorite restaurateur on The Sopranos; it's a pleasure to see him in a role in which he doesn't have to recount tonight's specials.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: The budget for this project was evidently low, and here's where it shows—despite some fairly artful cinematography from Ellen Kuras, the resolution is poor and the color palette is sallow. The filmmakers also seem to favor rack focus shots, which on DVD only highlight the technical limitations with which they were faced. Also, the masking seems to have been lifted from the top and bottom of the 1.85 image, and hence there are many, many shots in which you can see a boom microphone at the top of the frame. This is just plain sloppy, aside from being ugly and throwing you out of the story.
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: The dialogue can be understood well enough, and the balance is adequate, but there's a heavy amount of buzz and ambient noise; they're the kind of things that can generally be forgiven in a film made on this scale.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
11 Other Trailer(s) featuring Regret to Inform. From Mao to Mozart,Speaking In Strings, Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back, Paul Taylor: Dancemaker, Fastpitch, Sound and Fury, Sophie B. Hawkins: The Cream Will Rise, Todd McFarlane: The Devil You Know,Go Tigers!,Keep The River On Your Right
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Rebecca Miller
Packaging: AGI Media Packaging
Extras Review: Writer/director Rebecca Miller provides a commentary track, and while she's clearly passionate and intelligent about her work, she doesn't really have a whole lot to contribute. She's content to let much of the movie go by without discussing it, and does a good amount of pointing out the obvious (recounting story points, making explicit things that didn't need to be verbalized in the film itself). She's best when talking about the movie on a metaphorical level, on the importance of the dream sequences, for instance, or on the overarching aspects of her characters' behavior.
Brief bios are provided for Miller, the cinematographer and two producers, but curiously, for none of the cast members. A healthy number of trailers from the New Video catalog round out the extras.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsAngela is pensive and smart about the ways of young girls, but it's not a terrifically coherent motion picture. It's a movie with some good things in it and provides food for thought, but as a whole it's not entirely satisfying.
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