New Video // Unrated // $24.95 // November 26, 2002
Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 23, 2002
E - M A I L
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The success of Personal Velocity at Sundance this past January, taking home the Grand Jury prize along with a Cinematography nod, had the name of filmmaker Rebecca Miller on a number of people's lips. Talented enough to be respected for her work rather than merely being thought of as the daughter of America's most famed playwright, Miller's debut as a writer/director is now being issued on DVD courtesy of New Video.

As Angela begins, the Levesque family is loading up their car, preparing to move into an older house in upstate New York. In an attempt to give his two daughters a taste of something bland, patriarch Andrew (John Ventimiglia) takes the family to a local church. Their single visit has the opposite effect of what Pops intended, inflaming the imagination of their older daughter Angela (Miranda Stuart Rhyne). She almost immediately goes about cobbling together her own complex, bizarre ideas and rituals about religion. Their mother Mae (Anna Thompson) is bipolar, cheerful one moment and in the next claiming that she no longer feels anything for her daughters. Angela convinces both herself and her younger sister Ellie (Charlotte Blythe) that sin holds the key to saving their mother. She and Ellie run away from home in search of spiritual cleansing, assisted by various "good angels" they encounter along the way and following what she believes to be signs from Heaven.

Much of the story of Angela unfolds visually, and the events are seen not from the objective perspective of a third-party but that of a ten year old girl. Angela's unique perspective of the world colors the film but doesn't unrecognizably distort it. Like the mind of a girl Angela's age, the movie isn't entirely coherent, and events unfold at a leisurely pace. The cast is fantastic, particularly Miranda Stuart Rhyne, who plays the titular Angela. Her performance is all the more remarkable considering that it was her first time in front of the camera. From simple blank stares to lengthy, non-sensical religious tirades, Rhyne remains convincing for the duration and is more than up to the weighty task of carrying so much of a 99 minute movie largely by herself. Angela doesn't ask as much of its younger co-star, Charlotte Blythe, but she's believable as a happy, unquestioning little girl. Anna Levine is another standout, perhaps putting in the most compelling performance as a washed-up singer who can't deal with the mundanity of being an impoverished housewife. John Ventimiglia is solid in the role as a tough but tender father. A number of members of the cast may look familiar to viewers. Levine has appeared in countless movies, including fairly prominent roles in Bad Boys, The Crow, and Unforgiven. Ventimiglia plays Arthur Bucco on The Sopranos, and actor/musician/director/writer/whatever Vincent Gallo has contributed his wide array of talents to movies like the critically acclaimed Buffalo '66. Angela also marks the first screen credit for Peter Facinelli, who plays Lucifer. This seems appropriate, based on the promos I've seen for his new series Fastlane.

New Video is releasing the 1995 film on DVD with a commentary track that makes sense out of some of Angela's more surreal moments. Unfortunately, they apparently didn't see fit to present the film in its theatrical aspect ratio.

Video: Apparently screened theatrically at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, New Video discarded the mattes for this full-frame DVD release. The altered framing isn't problematic for the most part, though there is an excessive amount of headroom in a number of shots. There are two instances I spotted where boom mics dropped into the frame -- once as Angela and Ellie strolled along a set of train tracks and again briefly during a baptism. Though Ellen Kuras' award-winning cinematography is impressive, colors seem to be rendered somewhat inconsistently and film grain rears its head with regularity. The source material is largely clean, and the handful of specks that appear are largely relegated to the film's final twenty minutes. The image is mostly well-defined, though scattered shots appear somewhat fuzzy. It's not a stunning presentation, and not having the film in its intended aspect ratio is highly questionable, but Angela is more than watchable.

Audio: The utilitarian Dolby Digital track suffers slightly from some background noise that crept in during filming, but the focus of Angela's audio, its dialogue, comes through relatively cleanly and crisply. The eclectic soundtrack is robust, roaring from the front speakers without overwhelming other elements in the mix. Neither subtitles nor closed captions are available on this disc.

Supplements: The featured extra on this DVD release of Angela is a commentary track with filmmaker Rebecca Miller. The less surreal portions of the movie are punctuated with comments about the cast and the characters, frequently just restating what's happening on-screen. Though a couple of cute stories are tossed out -- such as breaking into what she thought was an abandoned house only to later learn otherwise, and lead Miranda Stuart Rhyne wondering what to do in case the Virgin Mary dropped by the set -- but Miller is prone to lengthy gaps of silence, apparently falling into the trap of watching the movie rather than talking about it. Her presence is most welcome in the last forty minutes or so, acting as an anthropomorphic decoder ring, explaining the more unusual moments and pointing out things I wouldn't have had a clue about otherwise (the homosexuality of a minor character; Angela's love for a briefly glimpsed preacher). The last forty percent of the commentary makes it worthwhile, though some viewers may be tempted to skip past the first hour or so.

Also provided are biographies for Rebecca Miller, Ellen Kuras, Ron Kastner, and Lemore Syvan. Rounding out the extras are a set of DVD credits and information on eight other New Video releases, including trailers for Regret to Inform, Speaking in Strings, Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back (with commentary, no less), and Paul Taylor: Dance Maker.

Angela has been divided into twelve chapter stops, and the disc's menus are static.

Conclusion: Though its presentation leaves a bit to be desired, Angela is a beautiful, tender film and is well-worth seeking out. Recommended.

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