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Friday, December 26, 2014

Sand Castles 2014 * * * Stars-(Reissue) Goshen, Indiana Premiere

Director: Clenet Verdi-Rose
Year: 2014
Rated NR
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Jordon Hodges, Anne Winters, Randy Spence, Clint Howard

Ah Goshen, Indiana. Home to the second largest county fair in the U.S., nicknamed "The Maple City," and having the distinction of being the birthplace of legendary film director Howard Hawks. It was also the main shooting location for the top featured selection in last year's River Bend Film Festival.

Sand Castles is said selection and it's every bit worth the hype. I mean, it's about as personal as a movie can get. After all, star, writer, and producer Jordon Hodges grew up in Goshen and believe me, he shows us the audience, that he never forgot where he came from. Now to be honest, this is a picture that starts out slow and really sneaks up on you. After a viewing, I declared it to be Prisoners meets Mystic River meets independent film making. That's another way of saying that it's part crime drama, part vigilante escapade, and part acting showcase. In terms of location, it is Northern Indiana personified. There's an earthy and grainy look coupled with low camera angles and dreary landscapes. Basically the town depicted, becomes one of the stars as well as its source of recognition. In fact, I haven't been reminded of a small Midwestern venue feeling a lot like the movie's primary voice since Three Oaks, Michigan took over the scenery for 1989's Prancer.

Set to be available for purchase on DVD in 2015 (as voiced by two of the film's producers) and showcasing flashback kidnapping scenes via my hometown of St. Joseph, Michigan (Silver Beach to be exact), Sand Castles tackles the terrifying aspect of child abduction. The film begins with a young Lauren Daly (played by Anne Winters). She is abducted and I guess, sexual assaulted by an unknown assailant. After years of her family searching for her, she manages to escape and eventually returns to them. Lauren is traumatized, doesn't speak, and is in a state of shock. Her alcoholic mother (Marie Daly played by Saxon Trainor), her older brother (Jordon Hodges as Noah Daly), and her uncle (the veritable Randy Spence as Tommy Daly) are happy that she has come back and is safe. However, they want to find out who committed this horrible act. Tommy Daly takes on the role of unannounced detective by interviewing a car mechanic (Clint Howard) and stealing the badge number of a police officer (to get information on area sex offenders). This series of events is what kicks Sand Castles into high gear. The proceedings become more involving, more absorbing, and to a fault, more catastrophic.

As for the performances, I had the pleasure of chatting with one of the stars of Sand Castles being the legendary Clint Howard. A self-proclaimed character actor, he told me about how neat it was to climb out of his Hollywood environment and fly down to the Hoosier state to make quote unquote, "a small independent film." His screen time is short lived but that's what he does (as does so well). He shows up in "Castles" for a couple of scenes, makes a swift impression, and is never heard from again. That's what you get from a Howard performance and that's okay with me. Then there's the star of Sand Castles being an up and comer named Jordon Hodges. As Noah Daly, he underplays his role a bit too much but relegates a strong amount of screen presence. He reminds me of a young Casey Affleck with the swagger of Aaron Paul. His screenplay is impressive and it gives "Castles" a lot of bite. The actors get a chance to spout off some unabashed, juicy free fall dialogue. And the top recipient for the strongest dose of this dialogue, is Randy Spence bringing to life the revenge minded Tommy Daly. He plays to perfection, a drug addicted, alcohol minded bad boy who takes the law into his own hands without any sense of just or justice. His rawness, confidence, and devil-may-care attitude only add to the spice of this powerful film. 

Overall, Sand Castles with a small budget, a small town feel, and an anti-Hollywood approach, teeters on the edge of amateurism. Thankfully, director Clenet Verdi-Rose avoids this notion for almost 90% of the running time. He channels a little bit of Steven Soderbergh with his camerawork all the while building tension with every careful inch. The film currently doesn't have a MPAA rating but believe me, after seeing the finished product, I garner it a hard R saddled with adult themes, adult situations, rough language, and some violent images. And to truly decipher the film's heart wrenching conclusion, you have to stay through the closing credits.

To put it mildly, Sand Castles only falters when it goes off into tangents with certain scenes. When it's focused and heavy handed, watch out. You've got a fairly effective, hard boiled thriller on your hands. Thumbs up!

Written by Jesse Burleson

5 comments:

  1. I found Sand Castles to be one of the best independent films seen on the big screen in many years. Talented acting, engrossing story, and expert production values make Sand Castles one to catch.

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  2. I agree wholeheartedly. As I watched Sand Castles, I realized all the hard work and authenticity that went into it. It reminded me of some great crime dramas from the past. A personal triumph for the director, the stars, and just about everyone involved. Kudos to some great photography from star Jordon Hodges brother, Ryan Hodges.

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  3. I have to disagree, the entire project came off as amateurish and sloppy. Hodges' performance and writing were mediocre at best, awful at worst, and that ending (I won't spoil it) had to be one of the most forced uses of dramatic cliche's I've ever seen.
    There were a number of truly great independent films out this year, but this wasn't it.

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    1. I respect your opinion. I think of Sand Castles as a solid three star film
      nothing more, nothing less. I don't think the ending is forced. If you watch an early scene taking place at a movie theater, it makes sense. Hodges' performance was kinda underplayed but his writing is pretty solid. I think this is one of those movies that gets better as you watch it. Its direction wasn't sloppy, it was inspired by other directors (in my review, I state Steven Soderbergh). Overall, a pretty good drama/crime thriller.

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    2. Hodges won Best Lead Actor here in NYC within a really talented group, having just come off a respectable nomination for Best Actor in Milan… Maybe his performance isn’t for everyone. We and others thought it was award-worthy. Subtle & raw.

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