Hero Whipped: Why This Spider-Man Amazed Me

In this series of posts I tend to discuss comic book characters and my unique relationship with them since my fairly recent return to reading them again and I usually find a way to connect them back to movies somehow. However, since I decided that my posts may be a little different from hereon in, these posts may have a slightly different vibe to them.

Sure enough after that post The Amazing Spider-Man was one of the first things I saw. Now, in spite of my recent tendency to like superhero movies either a lot as the case is with say The Avengers and X-Men: First Class or somewhat as is the case with Thor or Green Lantern, the new Spider-Man hearkens me back to the original trilogy which were all released during my hiatus. Thus, this will be a heavily filmic post but it’s perhaps the most unique perspective I’ve yet had on a character.

It may be possible that I knew less about Spider-Man going into that first movie than I’ve known about almost any superhero before seeing their film. It was released at a time where I was typically attending films in a group so the selection process was fairly democratic. Going alone or with at least one other person, I could take it or leave it. To give you a sense of my lack of knowledge, after having seen it I was informed that in the books Peter created a web-shooter and it wasn’t a biological side-effect of the bite. So that frames it a bit.

However, I was a fairly blank slate. I didn’t have expectations I was just reacting to what I saw on the screen and what I saw there was something I didn’t care for much at all. In the post-film powwow I was the only dissenting opinion who chimed in “Well, I thought it really sucked.” I’ve never really had the urge to revisit it and the bad taste in my mouth kept me from seeing the other two.

I could identify easily enough with the elements of the story. Few and far between are the heroes whose archetypes that have a major variable. It was really a letdown in my eyes aesthetically, technically and viscerally. With regards to the viscera a lot of that boiled down to the casting of the leads. There is a certain alchemy in all of filmmaking but perhaps where it’s most present is in acting. Yes, there is a lot of technique and things that are good acting and bad acting just like in any aspect of filmmaking, however, an effective performer who doesn’t excite you in anyway is likely to be less engaging than a less technically skilled actor who is gripping, who has a presence. Tobey Maguire is not a bad actor and neither is Kirsten Dunst. I don’t find them interesting in any way, shape or form though. They bore me more often than not. It’s really a casting issue. Maguire is going to be seen in The Great Gatsby next. That’s great casting. He belongs in that film, here I didn’t care for it.

The casting and the actors get no help in the story department I remembered feeling it tepid and trite, nothing out of the ordinary, and getting back to the alchemy thing you have actors I felt were miscast, not particularly dynamic and then no chemistry too? Brilliant.

I was also not in the camp that ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the CG. Good effects work, truly good effects work is timeless. I doesn’t just stand up against contemporary expectations but stands the test of time too. I felt they were lacking in 2002, much less now. Whereas there are shots in Jurassic Park that are still astounding almost 20 years later.

It really seems in superhero cinema that much of it boils down to character, in the better ones performance, and spectacle. Very few are those films that will also make you legitimately, consistently, and even spontaneously, feel strong pangs of genuine emotion (Teaser: I got a lot of that in the new Batman and that’s the next in this series!).

Perhaps one of the most vivid memories I have of watching any movie ever was the first time I saw Batman. You know the 1989 one, back when Tim Burton was Tim Burton.

“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” And thus, the crap was scared out of me and I was in love with that movie.

With Spider-Man you do have a basis for many emotions in the construction of his origin. As superhero films proliferate there will be more and more merit to the arguments about the viability of origin stories, however, in rebooting a series I have no problem with retelling. Similarity by itself is not cause enough for ridicule. Take the Psycho remake for instance (please?), if Van Sant had merely done the story over again: same place, same time, same characters, names; that probably would’ve been fine. However, he took it a step further into cinematic photocopying, which just felt flat.

I can stand a retelling, as I think I’ve stated before: I am fine with multiple versions of stories existing (and when I like the story I seek them out). I clearly wanted to be re-told this story based on my reaction to the first film. So, what was it in this new Spider-Man that worked for me? In short, practically everything.

However, as you may have guessed, it starts with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Just by looking at Andrew Garfield you may not imagine he’s the dynamic performer, but if you watch him you soon find out. I first saw him in The Red Riding Trilogy and I was a fan. There are quite a few things that perturbed me about The Social Network, but he wasn’t one of them, at all. Robbed of an Oscar nomination, is what he was.

Then there’s Emma Stone. I think everybody loves Emma Stone at this point. If you don’t you probably aren’t watching that many movies.

There’s a certain quietness and introspection to this film that allows the emotion to be wrenched out of it. I spoke of spectacle above, spectacle is very external. In many of these films there is rarely introspection. This film manages to do that, build these characters but also steadily build the intrigue. The characters arc, you see what makes them tick, you see and understand their decisions and I felt for them.

Now, the dynamic was changed in this film by bringing Gwen Stacy into the mix rather than Mary Jane Watson. Now, in my return to comics I haven’t delved into Spider-Man really. I’ve only really gotten to know and like him from his teaming up with The Fantastic Four after The Human Torch’s temporary demise, so Gwen was new to me and I think involving her is a great story decision that just makes this film that much better and resonant.

On a technical level, not only do scenes tend to be intensified by occurring at night but the filmmakers figured out that the web-swinging looks better then. Another interesting aesthetic note to me was that the camera was very much controlled, not an over-abundance of motion. The shots look good and composed and it hearken back to earlier superhero films, but are made with newer toys.

All those proclivities aside here are the two true litmus tests for superhero movies as I see them: One, do I want to see the inevitable sequel? Two, does the film make me want to seek out the character in print? The answer to both those questions is a a resounding hell yes. And that is why this Spider-Man amazed me.

Don’t You Recognize Me: Chris Evans

Don’t You Recognize Me will be a sporadically posted theme wherein I briefly highlight an early role of a now well-known actor. Typically, it will be one where I didn’t immediately make the connection, hence the title.

Society has become a bit more instantaneous in the internet age, very preoccupied with what’s current and what’s next and not as much with what’s past. It’s a generalization but this does apply to the world of film a bit too. Therefore, career trajectories sometimes will sneak up on you. At times I’ll see a name in a casting announcement and only in the piece connect a name with a face. Evans’ case is not quite that, but it happens a lot.

The journey an actor takes from recognizable face to known name is still, in most cases, one that is many years in the making. As I hearkened back to Not Another Teen Movie I checked his IMDb and realized that I did see him since, even before his second more successful superhero incarnation, in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The Nanny Diaries but this is the one I always think about.

It’s a far cry from the kinds of roles that he’s playing now, but in a lot of ways Not Another Teen Movie is the last wholly successful parody I saw. Acting in a parody requires serious chops. You find yourself in the most ridiculous, outlandish and unrealistic situations placed on film and not only do you have to suspend your own disbelief as a performer and play scenes without commenting on them, but you have to sell the audience and make them suspend it too, at least to an extent. Evans is the love interest Jake Tyler, maybe the only highly-skilled high school back-up quarterback in the annals of teen filmdom (“Mr. Not First String Anymore is not first string anymore” as Austin, his rival, puts it). He’ll be the one who is at the epicenter of the broadcast, cheeky bet to turn the glasses-and-a-ponytail-paint-on-her-overalls Janie Briggs to be prom queen, and succeeds on every level.

Yet, as well as it works somehow this slipped my mind until after I saw Captain America and just before The Avengers. When it clicked it just made me smile and gave me a whole new level of respect both for what he did prior and with his latter roles. If you only know Evans now and like a good, ridiculous parody that is a bit raunchy at times check out Not Another Teen Movie. It has had high replay value for me.

Note: This film is Rated R by the MPAA for strong crude sexual content and humor, language and some drug content.

Review- Peace, Love & Misunderstanding

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding has a simple enough set-up: in the very first scene a husband (Kyle McLaughlin) asks his wife, Diane (Catherine Keener), seemingly out of nowhere for a divorce. The second scene is the dinner party they were planning for and he seems his normal petulant, pedantic, socialite self and she’s affected. While the legalities are being straightened she decides to take her kids; college-aged Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and high school student Jake (Nat Wolff) to Woodstock to stay with her long-estranged mother. As they stay their the difficulties of reuniting and illustrations of why Diane left become readily apparent.

So the foil is established early inasmuch as you have in this tale a hippie mother (Jane Fonda), who still very much embodies that lifestyle and a conservative, attorney daughter. The film does well to arc a majority of its characters. This film is a bit like Boy because it’s not so much about all of its characters changing, but more about accepting your family for what it is. Fonda’s character won’t change, as adventurous as Diane gets on the odd occasion she fundamentally will not either, it’s really a progression of learning to accept and live and let live on the other side of the mother-daughter relationship. Zoe is an interestingly drawn character; seeing as how she’s a college student she is open-minded and politically aware, at least in theory, but meets people who challenge her preconceived notions in a very creative way. She is at a crossroads more than once in the film, and must decide if she’ll be more laissez-faire or more rigid, seeing as how she’s torn. Then there’s Jake who is perhaps the most deftly written character because he is awkward around girls he likes, tells mostly inappropriate jokes with his sister and takes his documentarian ethos wherever he goes (and sometimes makes mistakes in that regard). However, it is he that makes the most incisive observations in the film but he doesn’t express them verbally.

He expresses them through his free form poetic short film that debuts at a short film festival in the story. We see the entirety of the film and many of the scenes are spliced back creatively in juxtapositions that seem apropos of nothing when looking at just one pair of joined images, but as a whole the short serves to illustrate that in spite of the lunacy and at times chaos that transpired between the family members during their time away it was evident all the way there was affection amongst all members of the family there was just difficulty in expressing it.

So while having a few characters not fundamentally change, at least not yet, makes the rendering of drama a bit more difficult the relationships do work as a whole. What was not even a family per se before this film started; now is one. While the nuclear family fractures, the extended family starts to re-solidify and working a number of characters together, leaving them at peace with one another is something and quite true: their may be a truce but each individual will still have his or her own baggage.

The progressions aren’t instant, or in a bee-line, a bit like reality it’s two steps forward and one step back. However, there are gaps being bridged throughout the course of the film.

Of course, these relational dynamic would hold no interest, and would not be allowed to build as they do, if it were not for the performers inhabiting the roles. If the actors inhabiting these parts are not sufficiently interesting then the struggles they’re in will not be either, and each player in this film excels in their part. Jane Fonda has been infrequently on the big screen in the past few years, alas this is a role and a narrative truly worthy of her talents and she truly shines in the film. For her part Keener seems a bit too perfectly suited but she does do well and plays brilliantly off of Fonda, which is half the battle. It’s not Elizabeth Olsen’s best role, partially due to her screen time, but there are no small roles and having an actor so gifted in a supporting part is truly a blessing for any film. The male performers in this film for the most part take a backseat to the ladies, which is rare but that is not to say they are insignificant. I discussed Jake’s character above but the interpretation by Nat Wolff is quite natural and adept. Some young actors don’t have the reflexivity to play the inherent awkwardness of certain situations that come with the teen years for whatever reason be it range, their type, direction. Yet, everything he does works whether it be his flippant innuendos, self-deprecating humor, aloof artist mode or being painfully shy around a girl. Jeffrey Dean Morgan has a charm and confidence that is just enough to be very convincing as the free spirit who could get to someone like Diane. Some actors, or some other casting decisions, might place too strong a personality opposite here. He is winning but subtly so, not forcefully persuasive, which makes him harder for Diane to resist. Now, Chace Crawford does have to be an equal to Zoe as Cole, for nothing else would be so disconcerting to Zoe as someone who not only challenges her beliefs, but is as strong a personality as she is; and he succeeds most easily.

Peace, Love and Misunderstanding is most definitely a character study. However, it’s not a talking heads drama. There is visual interest and the short film does add some artistry in the edit. It’s a film that will have you think on it a bit and the kind that got a little better as I wrote this. It’s definitely worth a shot.


Review- Chernobyl Diaries

The nuclear incident in Chernobyl is one of the most unfortunate events in modern human history. It’s effects are far-reaching in terms of both distance and time, as the illnesses caused by radiation spread far and wide. Lest you confuse this with a Wikipedia entry that’s about as much as I need to say up front save that the Chernobyl incident is one I learned a great deal about and have a tremendous amount of sympathy for. Therefore, despite the fact that it’s rare, this was a film I was likely to be sensitive to in the horror genre. However, I went in hopefully, as horror cannot play it safe and I was rather surprised that this angle hadn’t yet been taken.

One of the few things I can happily report is that the film is not overly-exploitative. The deliberate pacing of it, the restraint it shows and the fact that it takes the point of view of a group of American tourists looking for an extreme locale make it much more palatable.

However, that is not to say it works entirely. The film works to about its midway point and then it starts to seriously degenerate into typically silly, dumb tropes that are only half-baked and highly illogical. Granted Hitchcock had a very valid point about feasibility, and it usually doesn’t come into play in horror, but what I mean is it seems the consequences of the exploration could’ve been greater and more logical simultaneously, so why not do that?

The set-up works very well and what’s more the acting is quite good. I speak frequently of acting when it comes to horror films because quite often it is not a prerequisite for this kind of film, or many actually, to have exceptional thespians to work on a narrative and technical level. However, this film has no weak-link that stands out in that regard. Particularly effective is Jesse McCartney, who not only plays the requisite Doubting Thomas but also spends a good deal of time injured. He is a talented actor who should be getting many more chances to show what he can do aside from being my favorite Chipmunk.

The film thankfully doesn’t take the found footage approach but there are a few unusual decisions visually. Some of them work well, some of them not so well. When the tour group is first threatened we watch the first search part go out from afar, see muzzle flashes, hear off screen noises but we eventually lose them. In a vacuum it’s an effective tactic, however, combining it with how minimal the rest of the film is it’s regrettable in hindsight. Towards the end there looks like there’s an incredible fight and struggle. The shame of it is I can’t see it because of the crazy handheld swish-pans and frenetic editing. The handheld camera in modern cinema is perhaps the biggest double-edged sword. Much vitality is added to action shots with the jostling that goes on, with the proximity that we get to the subject, but the pace of the edit needn’t be as frantic as the framing if we need to see something.

The climax of the film and the conclusion is so unsatisfying it nearly taints all that preceded it. Now, it’s is by no means The Devil Inside but perhaps this would’ve been a case where a few more incidents and a little less explanation would’ve made a bigger impact. The film falls close to over-explication than under and perhaps less truly would’ve been more here.

The Chernobyl Diaries
simmers for a while and never really comes to a full boil, which in the end leaves it tepid and a bad taste in your mouth.


The 5 Most Invalid Star Wars Complaints

With the recent release of Star Wars: Episode 1- The Phantom Menace in one additional D that has never before been seen there were bound to be many new articles that wrote upon the first film (chronologically) all over again.

Now, it’s been well-documented that fans and critics alike didn’t have much regard for Jake Lloyd’s interpretation of Anakin Skywalker and this was reiterated in the new articles. However, what struck me as a I read a new piece on old news was that, even in Episode One, much less the entire series, there are far more bothersome things that those of us who are fans can nitpick about. So, since fandom breeds nit-pickery whether one likes it or not, I have decided that there needs to be some priority set to this nitpicking. Namely, the focus will be on things ought not be nitpicked when you think about it.

I have asked Joey Esposito and Tom Sanford V to contribute their own lists as they are bigger die-hards than I, I’ll link to those when they’re up. I provide a sort of detached-weirdo perspective as the first time I truly saw the trilogy was in order in 2005 after I had seen Episode 3.

So enjoy (or become enraged by) my opinions below.

5. The Alternate Versions

This one is the last on my list because I agree with the fans right to complain about the alternate edits with new effects and the like with a caveat: namely, and this is a theme with me, if it really enrages you that much don’t buy them. I know I’m sticking with my DVDs for the time being. While I agree with the director’s right to change his film if he so pleases, I would prefer it if Lucas treated Star Wars like Spielberg treated E.T., meaning the original, unaltered version was always available and the new stuff was optional. I went to see the new E.T. but that was the only time, every other time the original has been just fine by me. So, yes, you have a right to complain about this switch, however, if you keep buying every release it’s falling on deaf ears. Therefore your options are one of two: hold out or get over it. None are great I grant you, but it’s the sad truth.

4. Midi-Chlorians

Here’s where my watching the series knowingly in chronological, so far as the narrative goes, order starts to factor in. This is one of the most over-debated and over-analyzed aspects of the entire saga. You can like or dislike it as you please, but I really don’t see the point in getting all up in arms about this point, when you have so many you could possibly choose from. Granted you implement things in the prequel trilogy that don’t follow through to the original and it removes an element of mystery but how much does it really detract? Furthermore, to parlay the filmmaker point above, it was introduced when the prequels were very much Lucas’s design, as concessions may have been made later on, so clearly he had it in mind. So it may not fit your vision but it fit his. Essentially, if one if offended by the very notion of the prequels they ought not waste time on this factoid. Conversely, if this is your biggest issue with the series that’s not so bad or you’ve blown it way out of proportion.

3. The Prequels In General

I alluded to this above but there are some who never got over the prequels happening in the first place. That’s fine. The original films are still there and if you watch those on an endless loop for all of eternity and never watch the prequels, would you still feel dirty knowing they exist? I wouldn’t. Now, even having seen the prequels first and then racing home to finish the series that night I won’t say the prequels are better, however, the concept was new to me when I first heard of it so I figured: “Why not watch it in order?” Today I think my appreciation for the saga and for prequels in general are heightened for it. Yes, I saw the prequels first, and yes, The Empire Strikes back is my favorite, and yes, The Phantom Menace is my least favorite, but in a lot of ways it functions like A New Hope does as a prelude to what’s to come.

2. Writing

People started to pile on to Lucas’ screenwriting seemingly only from 1999 to 2005 when seeing the new ones and then retroactively casting aspersions on his prior works. I can’t defend him in some areas but he knows his style and he jokes about being the “master of wooden dialogue.” He’s not Woody Allen or Joseph Mankiewicz or any of the greats, he knows that but he also typically writes his script in milieus he knows and where his style can flourish: Sci-Fi and adventure tales structured like serials, at least 10 films he had a hand in creating are in this vain (Star Wars and Indiana Jones) they emulate the style down to visual transitions and what I prefer to refer to as functional dialogue. However, suddenly when there are movies of his forthcoming some are not excited to see he is to be mocked and ridiculed? It’s exactly the same as what he’s always done. It worked then and it worked when the films rolled around again, the difference was in the receptiveness of the audience more so than the prowess of the artist.

1. Acting

Star Wars ain’t Shakespeare. Some actors will flail about. I don’t usually excuse actors I know to be talented from struggling with flat roles they seem uninterested in but it does happen. The fact of the matter is, I can ignore sub-par acting if I like the story enough. It will detract from it sure but rarely does it single-handedly ruin a film. Furthermore, as implied above, the saga might not embolden every actor. Sure, Harrison Ford did great things as Han, however, it’s right in his wheelhouse and his range is not the most vast to be honest. When dialogue has always been functional (I think we all know the story of the argument Ford and Lucas had on the set of the original about writing and saying things) and some actors can’t find themselves as well in that world, suddenly in the fourth film you’re going to pile on to a kid? I’m not going to say Jake Lloyd was the greatest thing since sliced bread but he did become the whipping boy for all that ailed The Phantom Menace in the eyes of many. Even I, who marginally liked the film, can pick many issues with that one and Lloyd is nowhere to be found on my list.

Essentially, due to fan outrage about the concept of the prequels existing and their dissatisfaction with the end result a child’s life was ruined, and yes I will go so far as to say potential was thwarted. You can’t tell me that Portman and Christiansen were always on point or that it ranks amongst Sam Jackson’s best works. As much as I’d like him you’d rattle off a bunch of Ewen MacGregor films before getting to the prequels. And if nothing else convinces you to absolve Jake Lloyd maybe this will: Did you like The Sixth Sense? I am assuming that you are a human being reading this and the answer is yes. Well, Haley Joel Osment is just one of those who auditioned for the role of Anakin but was not selected. So you can thank Jake Lloyd for The Sixth Sense if nothing else. Then feel free to troll on elsewhere, if you so please.

Rewind Review- Little Indi

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Little Indi is a film that is playing as part of a new series called New Spanish Cinema at the Film Society at Lincoln Center. It tells the tale of a boy named Arnau, nicknamed “Little Indian” for reasons unknown to us (one can assume it’s based on his appearance but it is not confirmed), who is desperately trying to earn himself money to pay a lawyer to assist his mom who is incarcerated.

Most of the quiet, sparsely-dialogued film involves Arnau, played by Marc Soto, looking for extra work, going to a dog track or debating whether to sell his prize-winning goldfinch. He is mostly on his own and in many ways caught between adulthood and childhood. One minute he is pounding the backroads seeking more hours of work anywhere he can find them, but he is tending to a wounded fox the next.

The scoring of this film is very distinctive and it never overpowers or sentimentalizes anything but it does help push the story about and also keeps the correct middling tone. A tone believed to be desired because there is little seen of this incarcerated mother, she is seen briefly and it is understood. It is in essence a very observational film. It’s a window into a world.

There are many hurdles and many disappointments which take this film to its conclusion. The ending is open so divulging too many plot details would allow one to know exactly how it stays open.
It is a film that ultimately stays visual so bear with it and eventually you will understand what competition he enters the finch into and to an extent what the judging criteria is. Other things within the film which might also seem foreign but eventually do come to make sense.

Marc Soto is described in the writings accompanying this film as a newcomer, however, the pedigree of a film actor can be gauged more so when they say nothing than when they speak and Soto’s pedigree seems to belie his experience. Words are the domain of the theatre actor; a film actor has to be able to hold our interest in quiet moments of which this film has many. Will we watch him behave and not just speak? Yes. Do you see him thinking? For as much interaction as Soto has yes there is definitely potential for a new star of Spanish cinema to have been born in this part.

When minimalism in a minimal environment occurs it can be much easier to accept. When minimalism occurs in an urban/suburban environment, as it does in this film, it is asking for a bit more patience from its audience. Does the film reward the audience for its patience? Ultimately, I believe that answer to be yes. It’s not a tremendous reward but it is also not a shortchanging experience. It is the type of film that may even go up a rating point or two upon a second viewing as you examine how it works but it does involve you in the avenues that Arnau investigates to try and earn more money and also involves you in how he tries to go about rectifying his missteps.

Also, if you are a fan of Spanish cinema you might recognize the cameo by Agustí Villaronga, director of such disturbing thrillers as El Mar and In A Glass Cage, as the mysterious The Man in White Shoes. Ultimately, it is an enjoyable film that this critic will want to re-examine.


Review- The Kid with a Bike

The Kid with A Bike is the latest film by the acclaimed Dardenne brothers, a tandem whose films I do have to see more of, however, in seeing this film one can see why it is they are acclaimed for it does some truly special things indeed. The overwhelming quality of it all is that it makes its world small such that is story will be big and can be seen and appreciated by all, which plays to the fairy tale aspect they discuss in a Film Comment interview but I’ll touch on that again later.

To illustrate how it keeps things small and fairly naturalistic, one of the key scenes is one wherein Cyril (Thomas Doret) is playing with a faucet in Samantha’s hair salon, he allows it to continuously run avoiding her questions and refusing to talk or stop. The first thing that strikes me is one axiom I heard about acting really is true: having business immediately connects an actor more strongly to a scene. Doret is transfixed by the water, being defiant, yes, but also avoiding reality and losing himself because it’s too much. The business also fascinating how small a thing is necessary. It also factors in later as he is burdened by a secret that perhaps he wants to tell; he messes with a refrigerator handle but Samantha doesn’t really notice, only tells him to stop and makes no attempt to coax information out of him.

Much of the tale is concerned with Cyril trying to locate his father and gain his acceptance; his father on the other hand wants to wash his hand of the child. Samantha (Cécile De France) is a woman he comes upon by chance as he’s chased on one of his investigations but runs into her, he holds on to her for dear life and she protects him, not knowing anything and with little other information offers to put him up on the weekend when the home can’t have him there. The film is rather isolated and insular, as such we remain focused entirely on the situation the characters are in and how they behave in their environment and it begins to lend gravitas to all of their actions.

There is a nearly musical quality to the way this film flows, several key sequences are punctuated by pieces of source music (all cues are classical arrangements not original compositions and they fit perfectly).

Cyril himself is in motion a lot, chasing or being chased, riding his bike or running seeking information or acceptance. Despite all that happens he longs for his father’s acceptance to a fault. If you see the trailer you’ll note what one of the major plot points is and the sequence wherein the antagonist/corrupter recruits him is rather convincingly done. There is a longing in Cyril but there is also one in Samantha.

Samantha becomes the mother figure as Cyril’s father is not only and absentee but uncaring. She gets no history, the only facts in the film relate to Cyril’s case. It’s noted and it’s absolutely fine. She still has her reason and her motivations and makes a dramatic choice but she knows and I as an audience member knew she knew. This speaks to the subtlety of the film, which doesn’t try to over-explain. Some things we understand later and some things need not be addressed at all. This one of the former and the film is stronger for it.

The film nearly plays like a fairy tale sometimes or like a tragedy at others but always within a real and small realm and always refusing to be entirely the aforementioned things and stays rather true, yet towards the end still built a fair bit of suspense.

It’s a film carried by two actors Cécile De France and Thomas Doret, who has a most impressive debut, which also was discussed in the New York Times piece on outstanding child performers. His performance is one of physical commitment to all moments and not a dialogue-driven one, whereas Cécile De France is one of presence and aura and at one point heartbreaking empathy.

The Kid with a Bike for all its tough and dramatic moments is a one that is about needing to be loved and needing a chance for redemption. It’s ultimately an uplifting film, made more so for all the obstacles that need to be overcome to reach that point.


For the Return of the Juvenile Award

This can be considered a general call to attention for several entities. Firstly, to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, you will be asked in the course of this article to un-retire an award. Now several categories have been scratched from the list of Oscars handed out annually many of them with reason. For example, there used to be separate color and black & white cinematography awards. This was logical because there is an inherent and obvious difference in shooting black & white versus color. It was also logical because for many years there was a fair split between films shooting in either medium. Now the question “Color or black and white?” is hardly asked and the award no longer is qualified.

That is an example of an award that has been retired and should be. An award that should be un-retired and become a staple is the Juvenile Award. The Juvenile Award was presented 10 times between 1935 and 1960. It was a category where there were never nominees but on occasion the academy would feel a performer was worthy of honoring.

Now the nomenclature is a little dated and if the Academy were willing to update the name that’d be fine. The fact of the matter is that due to the outstanding and consistent achievement by young performers year after year there should be a category to recognize these achievements. We’ve reached a point where the occasional young nominee as an honoree and as a pseudo-stunt is old.

This will allow proper credit to be bestowed upon young talent and thus Keisha Castle-Hughes would have her statuette and so would Haley Joel Osment and he would’ve been nominated appropriately as a lead amongst the youths anyway.

There is precedent for honorary statuettes becoming standardized categories, for example, honorary awards were bestowed upon foreign releases before the creation of a fully-nominated category in 1957.

The second intended audience for this piece is the studios and distributors who are sitting on Oscar-winning performances which are pieces of history that are unknown to the public.

Typically, the Juvenile Award was cited for the actor’s body of work as the best of his age group in Hollywood during the given year. However, examining filmographies one can easily see the specific projects that garnered the honor.

Juvenile Awards were Awarded to:

Hayley Mills

Hayley Mills in Pollyanna (Disney)

“For Most outstanding juvenile performance during 1960.”

Pollyanna is a Disney classic title and readily available.

Vincent Winter and Jon Whiteley

Jon Whietely and Vincent Winter in The Little Kidnappers (United Artists)

For his outstanding performance in The Little Kidnappers.

This title seems to be out of print and it shouldn’t be it’s a shared award for one film, which is rare. I had also never heard of this film or these last two winners until I was updating this post so I’m glad I did.

Bobby Driscoll

Ruth Roman, Bobby Driscoll and Paul Stewart in The Window (RKO)

“For the outstanding juvenile actor of 1949.” 

This was mostly for the The Window, a film noir where Driscoll plays a modern incarnation of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” So Dear to My Heart, a Disney film, went wide in January of that year but premiered in 1948. It is typically drama that’ll have influence on such an award and The Window is available from The Warner Archive Collection but streams on Amazon.

Ivan Jandl

Ivan Jandl

“For the outstanding juvenile performance of 1948 in The Search .”

This film is available from Warner Archive. It’s the tale of an American soldier helping a Czech boy find his mother.

Claude Jarman, Jr.

Claude Jarman, Jr. in The Yearling (MGM)

“For the outstanding child actor of 1946.”

This award is truly for The Yearling which was Jarman’s debut. It is still readily available on DVD and is well worth seeing. Be sure to have Kleenex on hand for this tear-jerker.

Peggy Ann Garner

Ted Donaldson, Joan Blondell and Peggy Ann Garner in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (20th Century Fox)

“For the outstanding child actress of 1945.”

While her notable performances from 1944 (Jane Eyre and Keys to the Kingdom) are available and her most famous 1945 role (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) the other two parts in 1945 that earned her a general citation for excellence (Nob Hill and Junior Miss) are out of print.

Margaret O’Brien

“For outstanding child actress of 1944.”

O’Brien earned her award for four performances. Only Meet Me in St. Louis is on DVD. The Canterville Ghost is on VHS, if you like that sort of thing.  
Judy Garland 

Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz (MGM)

“For her outstanding performance as a screen juvenile during the past year [1939].”

Judy Garland’s performances in both Babes in Arms and The Wizard of Oz which won her the award in 1940 are both readily available. The first is part of a Rooney-Garland Box Set released by Warner Brothers Home Video.

 Mickey Rooney and Deanna Durbin


“For their (Durbin/Rooney) significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement.”

Rooney’s Andy Hardy films are still readily available.

Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple

“In grateful recognition of her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during the year 1934.”

Most of Shirley Temple’s filmography is still readily available.

Any gaps in the availability of a performance in the history of this unique and short-lived award should be rectified. Likewise, the award should return. The Academy can name the award after Ms. Temple if they like and honor young actors every year.

For even missing from this list are the likes of Freddie Bartholomew, Jackie Cooper, Roddy MacDowell, Dean Stockwell, Elizabeth Taylor, Patty McCormack, Anne Rutherford, Debbie Reynolds and more, so even in an era when the award existed not everyone worthy won the award. Not that trophies need to be handed out in hindsight or to those who have left us but the award should definitely make its presence known again both on video and in the ceremony.

Thankful for World Cinema- The Passion of Joan of Arc

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc (Gaumont)

The first thing that needs to be said about The Passion of Joan of Arc in the state it currently exists is that it’s a miracle we have it at all. Several cuts vanished through the years and this one suddenly surfaces in a Norwegian mental hospital 25 years ago. Truly, the salvaging of some of these older films is at times miraculous and lends even more credence to the importance of film preservation. These works of art shouldn’t be lost and we can’t leave it to chance to find wonderful cuts such as these.

Second, is if you’re watching the Criterion collection version of this film opt for the Voices of Light soundtrack. Again an interesting note is that even though music clearly, according to all the records, was played when this film was screened Dreyer has nothing in his notes to indicate what that music should be, which is odd if you see his other work you know how exacting and precise he could be. So this is as close to an “official” score as you get and it is truly wonderfully done and moving and while it claims not to be a score it syncs beautifully with the images and story.

This film should be viewed for the performance of Maria Falconetti alone. It is often cited as one of the greatest in the history of film a fact which is also unique to this film considering how infrequently Falconetti acted on camera, however, this is no rote repetition of consensus. She is marvelous. It can truly be said this performance is well ahead of its time and reads like one of the greats of the 40s who had the benefit of sound. Falconetti needed no sound, no words and carries this film single-handedly in the rare performance that can be called a tour-de-force.

Lastly, there is the story itself and how it unfolds. I think it is likely one that transcends religion. Whether you’re inclined to believe Joan or Arc’s claims or not you see someone being horribly mistreated, you see one of the judges hurting because he believes her and you witness the tragic outcome of the tale.

This film is a masterpiece of silent film. You’ll note as you watch very few titles are actually needed. It manages through it’s unique visual style to communicate its tale very effectively. It is a must see.


61 Days of Halloween- Top Evil Kids in the Children of the Corn Series

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Top Evil Kids in the Children of the Corn Series

Below you will find a ranking of the featured evil children in the Franchise to date. Apologies to Robbie Kiger and AnneMarie McEoy and the other actors portraying the good kids of Gatlin and the surrounding communities throughout the series but this is the bread and butter of it after all.

12. Adam Wylie in Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror

Adam Wylie in Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (Dimension)

As I indicated in the review of Fields of Terror this ranking isn’t a reflection of Wylie’s abilities as a performer so much as they are a function of his being miscast for this role. Despite his conviction and acumen in delivery he is rarely believable and never intimidating.

11. Dusty Burwell in Children of the Corn: Genesis

Dusty Burwell in Children of the Corn: Genesis (Dimension)

OK, confession time: Burwell does kind of get a pass based on his age and the fact that the script demanded very little of him. He’s constrained by a small amount of activity he’s asked to do and no dialogue. Due to most of the faults being that of the film and not the actor I can bump him up slightly, however, his character was the least involved of all the evil children in this series thus far.

10. Daniel Newman in Stephen King’s Children of the Corn

Daniel Newman in Stephen King's Children of the Corn (SyFy)

Newman is given the unenviable task of reprising the role of Malachai which was made iconic by Courtney Gains in the original film. Granted the character in the story and this script is much less involved and demanding, however, nary does Newman really engender fear based on a look or a line. The tension of the film is purely situational.

9. Preston Bailey in Stephen King’s Children of the Corn

Having recently seen him in Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer I can say he has become a stronger actor. Which is not to say that he’s weak in this film. He does admirably with his dialogue and is always as imposing as he can be he may just have been a bit young for the part, however, he does have his moments.

8. Brandon Kleyla in Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering

Brandon Kleyla in Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (Dimension)

Many of the actors in this part of the list are in similar boats: they were in roles that were larger in significance than size. Kleyla is one of the more under-involved having said that he doesn’t capitalize much on it and is somewhat forgettable aside from some good kills and nasty appearance.

7. Ryan Bollman in Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice

Ryan Bollman in Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (Dimension Films)

At least Bollman is in a cast where the cabal is large so he has support. He is good for an occasional evil stare that is effective but not as strong with dialogue. If they were on even par he might be higher up.

6. Sean Smith in Children of the Corn: Revelation

Sean Smith in Children of the Corn: Revelation (Dimension)

Sean Smith sadly can’t claim top billing amongst the evil kids in his own film, however, a lot of that is due to the design of it where minion ghosts bear more of the brunt than the boy preacher does. In his limited time he is rather formidable both as a personage and as an actor. He has chilling glares from cold eyes and puts quite the assault on the protagonist.

5. Jeff Ballard & Taylor Hobbs in Children of the Corn: Revelation

Jeff Ballard and Taylor Hobbs in Children of the Corn: Revelation (Dimension)

Here’s a rare case where the effectiveness of the kids and the quality of the film don’t quite match up. The film in terms of premise and execution is sad. This pair also don’t talk much but overcome that because they fit the parts so well and are committed to their actions with demented glee.

4. Robert Gerdisch in Stephen King’s Children of the Corn

Robert Gerdisch in Stephen King's Children of the Corn (SyFy)

This is the standout of the King remake both in terms of writing and performance by a juvenile. As I’ve stated before a great teaser scene can be a good thin or a bad thing. Here it’s a great thing. Gerdisch’s preaching is a chilling tone-setter that is wonderfully delivered and one of the highlights of the film.

3. Daniel Cerny in Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest

Daniel Cerny in Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (Dimension)

Here’s a prime example of how heavy involvement by the preacher kid in this film can be a boon to it. Cerny shoulders more of a load in this film than any other young actor in the series and has some of the better material and moments. For the most part all are used to his advantage and he also has the intangible that just is scary.

2. John Franklin in Children of the Corn

John Franklin in Children of the Corn (New World Pictures)

I think appropriate that I state that the top two could easily be reversed. The top two are, as one might expect, in the first film. Franklin’s casting, in the original, is inspired. He was playing a character younger than he was at the time and was easily convincing and also quite unnerving. No preacher had more verve and downright zealotry. His return in the original is perhaps the pinnacle of the film. It’s truly difficult to separate this team. Their strengths are enhanced by the fact that they share the same film.

1. Courtney Gains in Children of the Corn

Courney Gains in Children of the Corn (New World Pictures)

Why does Gains get top spot? First, there’s a question of his character. He is the wildcard enforcer and in a moment revealed as the more feared amongst the children. He makes simple lines emphatic and shocking. He has an intimidating glare and makes his onscreen time count, every second of it.