Beach Party Blogathon: Flipper’s Good Ol’ Retcon!

Introduction

Note: There is within a discussion of plot points, which can be considered spoilers.
I must say when I offered to cover Flipper (1963) and Flipper’s New Adventure (1964) for the Beach Party Blogathon (co-hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings) I believed that it would only fit the premise in a very superficial way. Neither are a literal beach party movie after all. Yes, there’s water, sand, even a boy named Sandy; but it’s not really about 1960s beach culture. However, there was something that caught me by surprise that does fit very well in the come as you are nature of this blogathon with no assigned days and things like that.

What came to mind to write about was not something one can really only notice by going from the first film to the next film and then into the series. That surprise is the bit of a retcon that occurs in the stories. For the uninitiated this is a phrase that is short for retroactive continuity. What this refers to are story changes in a follow-up that not only add a new wrinkle, but in many ways imply that the current state of affairs has always been true. While either the main term or the abbreviation were vernacular in the 1960s there are citations of this having happened in fiction dating back to the late 19th century with the death, and subsequent return of Sherlock Holmes. More specifically about the term can be found here.

I’m sure at this point you’re saying “That’s fine but what does that have to do with Flipper of all things?” Well, I kind of had to introduce the term in general simply because it seems like something so silly to have happen with as straight-forward a tale as family and their smarter-than-your-average dolphin friend/helper that I kept waiting for simpler explanations for certain things, and usually they didn’t come in overly-diegetic (story-based) ways.

To be clearer I’ll provide some context both with regards to myself, these films, and the show. I’ll begin with a bit of a personal history.

Flipper and Me

Flipper (1965. MGM)

I saw the TV show first. It was one of many shows I discovered on Nick at Night when young, this fact makes it ideally suited to a true cinematic episodes treatment. Later on, I went to see the movie in the mid-‘90s. Being a fan of both the old show and Elijah Wood, I wasn’t too thrilled with how that movie went down. As cheesy as it can be,  with too much filler at times, I do enjoy it taking it for what it is. Clearly, it’s a concept well-suited for TV and also for kids. You’re living vicariously through Sandy and Bud indulging in what adventures you’d likely have with a dolphin as best friend/pet living on a marine preserve. It has its place and serves its purpose. I say this because I don’t want this piece’s tone misconstrued. I believe in treating all titles seriously but not too seriously. What that means is: sure I’ll talk about narrative liberties taken, while I’m not excusing them entirely, I’m also not yelling “HOW DARE YOU!?” either. The point of demarcation between those two is debatable, and can be discussed elsewhere. Here, I’m just pointing out some interesting things I noticed, this is a beach party after all.

Clearly, the time period accounts for some of these liberties in part. In the 1960s movies and TV were still very much in competition so a network may not have cared to keep continuity, and it could be assumed that you’d never have exactly the same audience for your film and television show. Even if you did, and though things started to go from movies to TV, there wasn’t the interplay then that the two enjoy now, such as when Marvel weaves its universe on big and small screen alike and projects are discussed as having both feature and miniseries components. So there was a clear line of delineation These things may have happened in a movie, but now this is a TV show. Usually these were treated as very different things, not as much here, you’ll see how so soon.

Another example not too long after this is that Maya was a film starring Jay North that was followed up by a one-season series. The series rebooted the story though. In the series Jay’s character in constantly searching for his presumed-dead father, in the movie they are together then separated.

So what are the changes in between these movies, and then leading to the series?

Flipper (1963)

Flipper_1963_movie_poster

What Flipper ends up being is a boy-and-his-dolphin movie, as opposed to a boy and his dog.

The synopsis as seen on the IMDb appears as follows:

Sandy is distraught when, having saved Flipper by pulling out a spear, his father insists the dolphin be released. A grateful Flipper, however, returns the favor when Sandy is threatened by Sharks.

There’s some left out, some glossed over, but that’s the bones of it. It starts with a storm rolling in, a struggle to bear the brunt, then in recovery Flipper acts as the impetus for Act II. Flipper distracts Sandy and keeps him from his chores as his father’s away seeking a neighbor set adrift during the storm. There’s the classic father-son struggle about responsibilities. Needless to say its a little surprising to see Chuck Connors in this film lending name recognition as well as being a stern, but not overly-stoic when it matters, father.

Flipper (1963, MGM)

In one regard it acts as the origin of how Sandy and Flipper meet, how Flipper becomes his de facto despite the fact in most regards Flipper is not really held captive. In a rather forward-thinking way he’s only really penned when injured and a short while after that. Beyond that her stays fairly free-roaming and seems to seek human companionship almost more than they seek him.

Flipper’s New Adventure (1964)

Flipper's New Adventure (1964, MGM)

With a second film is where things either become established parts of mythology or start to shift almost uncontrollably. The theme song, which debuted in the first film, here returns. (it was altered for season two). More original songs, that are about as forgettable and maybe worse, than the additional tunes in the first film come along for the fun too.

The next few changes are a combination or writing and casting concerns.

Kathleen Maguire, who played Martha Ricks, does not return. Instead of recasting her, as they did with Porter Ricks replacing Chuck Connors with Brian Kelly, who would proceed to the television show in in the role; she was written out of the story having tragically and inexplicably died (at least at this point) between the end of the first film and beginning of this one.

Flipper's New Adventure (1964. MGM)

Granted recasting will never be addressed with dialogue like “My father what strange plastic surgery you’ve had,” unless the intent is highly farcical. Deaths of parents were intimated, but not as often seen or discussed in children’s fare in earlier eras. This is just one reason Bambi stands out. However, it’s fairly rare for such a thing to occur between films.

Usually the writing accommodates a higher focus on one character through casting concerns by having that focus be integral. Both films in essence represent a coming-of-age or milestone for Sandy. In the first film he’s finding a pet and learning to care for it and balance his responsibilities. In the next film his father is again away through much of it; this time studying to be a Ranger, feeling a change is needed to be able to support his son. This allows the focus to be more on Sandy again as well as to distract the audience from the new actor playing Porter Ricks and making the change easier since it’s a small dosage. Sandy’s maturation here comes in helping a stranded family who are separated from their father, who was taken hostage on his own boat by escaped convicts. This allows him to see a family come together in real crisis and he copes with balancing wanting to help them and wanting not to be found himself. Clearly, he makes mistakes along the way but eventually does what he can to help with Flipper’s help.

All’s well that ends well here…

Television Series (1964-1967)

Flipper (1965, MGM)

Now, as of the last film things are set perfectly in place for an episodic run: Porter Ricks (still Brian Kelly) is now a full-fledged ranger assigned to Coral Key Park and Marine Preserve, he’s going to live there with his son Sandy (still Luke Halpin), Flipper is going there too after getting a clean bill of health. A single-father, a kid, an animal usually quicker on the uptake than human characters, all kinds of nefarious types doing who knows what on the waterways, threats to Flipper, threats to the main characters; plenty of fodder for show, sure. With frequent quests, guests, and usually minimal cutting to a B-plot from the A-Plot, or at the very least the B-plot wasn’t usually as detached from the A- as it is say on some sitcoms. So what’s missing?

Well, what if Sandy had a brother? Where’s Bud you say? Well, that’s what I was wondering as I had never seen these movies. I quickly got the feeling that Bud was quickly going to be the biggest, truest retcon in the series going from films to TV.

Any show will add supporting characters later that make their presence known. The beginning of season two establishes that Ulla (Ulla Störmstedt) will be “around all summer,” but a second sibling invariably adds potential conflict and plot-lines: differing ages and interests, sibling rivalry, different interactions, etc. That’s all well and good, especially considering that each episode of Flipper has a tendency to be so self-contained such that their order rarely matters; in fact, the episode shot as the pilot aired third after the show was picked up. However, you must accept that Bud (Tommy Norden) just exists there as Sandy’s younger brother with no precedent whatsoever. He was always there, he lost his mother too, he was just never seen before.

Conclusion

Flipper (1963, MGM)

As I mention above this is only really a concern if you’re going from one to another to another expecting seamless continuity. Being such a simple story I have to say, why wouldn’t I? However, I do say that for as much stasis as the show seemed to thrive on, being far more interested in situations for its characters to be in than in developing them; the films proved a pleasant surprise in those regards. Each had a sort of evolution from an unexpected kinds of adventure tale, to a quieter conflict and narrative demands. Sure, there are escaped convicts and a kidnapping plot and your usual action beats, but both have their smaller times as well as bigger character moments, which are an interesting contrast. It’s the movies that make Halpin’s theatre background and his appearance in Waiting for Godot on Play of the Week in 1961, which surprised me when I saw it on the IMDb, seem like less of an outlier.

Retcons aren’t new, nor are they necessarily going away, though they are certainly less than desirable. The invention of a character from one project to the next, especially when they were shot so close to one another that even some of the costuming is the same, is kind of crazy. Having said that the show would’ve had more struggles with fewer main characters, I just wish more thought had been give to how to introduce Bud. Regardless, it contributes a final odd chapter to the way these tales morphed from the silver to small screen that I thought was noteworthy.

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Make Your Own Film Festival: Macaulay Culkin

Introduction

I’ve been planning this post for a while. It’s been put off a few times due to timing. I, unlike many, am not interested in poaching traffic when the tabloids create a story based on the latest candid shot of Culkin replete with speculation on his health, state-of-mind and the like. Therefore, the only logical date upon which to post such a festival/retrospective list would be on his birthday.

One reason Culkin’s birthday always stuck in my head is because he’s precisely 366 days older than I am. So aside from being the matinee idol of my generation, I always felt a certain kinship due in part to that fact.

In assembling this list, or a list of any actor’s work, there will be hits-and-misses, the order of this list is based on a combination of the the quality of the film and the quality of his performance.

Without further ado the list. Happy viewing, and happy birthday, Macaulay!

10. Saved! (2004)

Saved! (2004, United Artists)

I had no issue with the intent of the satire, but it just didn’t work for me; it’s been done so you better be damn good at it and it wasn’t . It wasn’t righteous indignation so much as self-righteous indignation. It was good to see Macaulay with a cast of his peers for a change, it just seemed like stretching for stretching’s sake. Ironically, it was his younger brother Rory who became better at post-adolescent snarkiness.

9. Party Monster (2003)

Party Monster (2003, Strand Releasing)

If this list was predicated solely on the quality of his performance this one lands much higher. It slips based on the film. I thought he really kicked ass and was on the comeback trail. Maybe others thought there wasn’t a lot of acting going on and that was the persona he’d grown into, I disagree.

8. Rocket Gibraltar (1988)

Rocket Gibraltar (1988, Columbia Pictures)

This one is not omitted and sneaks on to the list for two reasons: First, it’s a larger, in terms of screen time, and less well-known pre-Home Alone appearance than Jacob’s Ladder. Secondly, it’s a late-career appearance by Burt Lancaster. Those are both qualities that make it worthy of some note. And, frankly, if you haven’t seen Jacob’s Ladder get off the Internet and get to it already.

7. Getting Even with Dad (1994)

Getting Even with Dad (1994, MGM)

At least in this film Culkin seemed to draw on his personal experience to make the movie a modicum better than it would’ve been otherwise. There was a bit more press about behind-the-scenes aspects than onscreen about this one, such as Culkin’s salary. Kit’s dealings and negotiating tactics were beyond infamous at this point. One thing that made its presence felt in the film was this as reported by Lehigh Valley’s Morning Call:

Macaulay Culkin’s character was supposed to have a short haircut in this movie, but Culkin, who had let his hair grow at the time, liked his looks and did not
want to cut it. His father, Kit Culkin, demanded on behalf of his son that he be allowed to keep his hair the way it was, pointing out that his character was
more a rough around the edges, working class boy and not a clean-cut, prep school one. He got to keep his long hair.

Quite honestly, it was these few bits of truth that made and otherwise milquetoast film tolerable.

6. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992, 20th Century Fox)

This film is, as many have noted, a mirror image of the original. He’s not actually home, nor is he really alone. It’s a good imitation by him and the film. The wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing aspect made me backlash against it when I realized it. I almost tried to keep it off this list, but it was the first time I ever laughed so hard I cried so that’s why it’s here.

5. Richie Rich (1994)

Richie Rich (1994, Warner Bros.)

Rather than readdress reservations discussed in the aforementioned link, I think this could’ve been a more chameleon-like turn. Culkin by this point just seemed like he was going through the motions, so the character had to be more him than the other way around.

It is, however, a frightening simulacrum also when you extrapolate to his real life at the time “poor little rich boy.”

So there is some ambivalence but I still like it…though maybe not as much as I did then.

4. The Nutcracker (1993)

George Balanchine's The Nutcracker (1993, Warner Bros.)

Again, in the above-linked post I discussed this film. This is his father/manager’s ultimate triumph. This film was his wish-fulfillment not Macaulay’s. He looked the part, and they didn’t ask him to dance it; so as a hybrid it’s a better film than a ballet. I’m surprised it maintained Balanchine’s name on it for that reason now that I think of it

3. The Good Son (1993)

The Good Son (1993, 20th Century Fox)

There are actually a lot of good talking points to this film I find. It seems like a film that was too easily dismissed at the time due to its cliffhanger. I think the scripting, credited to Ian McEwan (a writer not yet on my ‘Essentials’ list, but who I have read a bit of), is underrated; and the tension is quite palpable throughout. While it does take a Bad Seed-style approach things never get too outlandish.

Again, if you dig, there are behind-the-scenes dramas, namely Fox’s initial desire to cast an unknown and Kit’s power-playing for Macaulay’s inclusion. In the end, it created one of the best young tandems I’ve seen: Culkin and Elijah Wood.

2. Home Alone

Home Alone (1990, 20th Century Fox)

Perhaps what has not been said about the original Home Alone is that it is yet another example of John Hughes’ prophetic casting genius. I heard many such stories at a screening of The Breakfast Club, however, this was one too. Culkin’s character interrogates his uncle’s girlfriend through the mail slot in a door in Uncle Buck, (omitted from this list) and that was the spark for this film.

Aside from that, you probably have heard it all: it’s an actually-deserved Golden Globe nominated turn and a new-age Christmas staple, hilarious, rewatchable and memorable film.

1. My Girl (1991)

My Girl (1991, Columbia Pictures)

However, this was once upon a time my all-time favorite film and, of course, still holds a special place in my heart. Specifically to this list, My Girl was awesome for him because it really wasn’t his persona before or after. It’s probably his best performance to date because of that. In light of that fact and his clout it was also amazing he was attached to it considering the fate of his character.

Honorable Mentions

Wish Kid (1991, DiC Enterprises)

As noted in the body of this piece, a few titles were left out, and rare ones remain unseen. You can view his complete filmography here.

I already mentioned Jacob’s Ladder above.

Macaulay Culkin also took over a part of my Saturday morning cartoon line-up in the twilight of my obsessively watching whatever cartoon offerings were available; so if you feel like looking out for his 13-episode series called Wish Kid it is out there.

Lastly, the Michael Jackson’s Black or White was a big deal at the time, both its premiere and its groundbreaking artistry and he kicks things off there too.

Children in Films Blogathon: A Revisionist Look at the Juvenile Award

When I learned of the Child Actor Blogathon at Comet Over Hollywood, I had two ideas for it almost right away: the Jackie Searl spotlight and this one. Not too long ago I argued for why the Juvenile Award should be re-instated. In this post I will follow up on that notion to augment my case. It’s one thing to quickly cite who won while it was around and state it never should have left, it’s quite another to show you who would have had they never gotten rid of it. Now I have decided to illustrate that in three ways, including some omissions found when it was instated (it’ll make more sense when we get there, trust me). First, I will list the young actors who since the end of the award (after 1961) were nominated for an Academy Award.

These actors obviously, had there still been a Juvenile Award, would have won that. While on occasion they were awarded the prize, more often than not they didn’t have a realistic chance. Regardless, their nomination was deemed prize enough it would seem, but I disagree and as you will see there have been plenty of instances where the Juvenile award could have been handed out either in addition to or in place of the nomination.

Based on Academy Award nominations from 1961-Present:

Little Miss Sunshine (2006, Fox Searchlight)

2012 Quvenzhané Wallis Beasts of the Southern Wild
2010 Hailee Steinfeld True Grit
2007 Saoirse Ronan Atonement
2006 Abigail Breslin Little Miss Sunshine
2002 Keisha Castle-Hughes Whale Rider
1999 Haley Joel Osment The Sixth Sense
1993 Anna Paquin The Piano
1979 Justin Henry Kramer vs. Kramer
1977 Quinn Cummings The Goodbye Girl
1976 Jodie Foster Taxi Driver
1973 Tatum O’ Neal Paper Moon
1968 Jack Wild Oliver!
1962 Patty Duke The Miracle Worker
Mary Badham To Kill a Mockingbird

Personal Selections

Super 8 (2011, Paramount)

In 1996, when I was 15 and the young actors of the day where my contemporaries, I started making my own award lists. Being young myself at the time I wanted to recognize young actors where most awards excluded them more often than not. These selections reflect those that were my among my BAM award selections that were eligible and the Academy bypassed. Prior to 1996, I thought of significant performances that were worthy of noting and would’ve had a strong case for the Juvenile Award had it been around.

2012 Rick Lens Kauwboy

This one is highly unlikely as Kauwboy wasn’t shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film prize. However, the fact that it was the official selection for The Netherlands did make it eligible.

My young actress choice last year, Sophie Nélisse, was a year off from the Oscar calendar but also a strong possibility for Monsieur Lazhar.

2011 Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Ryan Lee, Riley Giffiths Zach Mills, Gabe Basso Super 8

It figures that both the best young ensemble, and perhaps individual performance, of the past 25 years got overlooked. So they are all honored here.

2009 Bill Milner Is Anybody There?

2008 Bill Milner and Will Poulter Son of Rambow

A slight wrinkle here from my original selection. Since the Academy set precedent of awarding tandems, why not do so here as well?

2005 Dakota Fanning War of the Worlds

2004 Freddie Highmore Finding Neverland

My 2004 winner was one where I was awarding a film from 2003, due to my stand on release dates, which is different than the Academy’s. Having said that I then had to factor in both my nominees and who the Academy would be more likely to pick and decided if they chose anyone it would have been Highmore.

2003 Jeremy Sumpter Peter Pan

2001 Haley Joel Osment Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

2000 Haley Joel Osment Pay It Forward

1998 Vinicius de Oliveira Central Station

1997 Joseph Ashton The Education of Little Tree

Here’s another interesting case: my winner was in a TV film which the Academy would never honor. Then two more nominees were either shifted due to my interpretation of release date rules and one erroneously in my revisionist phase. That leaves two eligible: Dominic Zamprogna in The Boy’s Club and Joseph Ashton in The Education of Little Tree. Some people besides me actually saw the latter so I’d put that one up as a winner.

1996 Michelle Trachtenberg Harriet the Spy
Lucas Black Sling Blade

Michelle was my actual winner in 1996. Sling Blade in my awards was shifted to 1997 due to its release date. It being an Oscar nominated film make it a more likely retrospective candidate.

My Girl (1991, Columbia Pictures)

This section marks personal selections prior to my picking extemporaneous year-end awards.

1994 Elijah Wood The War

I recall watching E! and hearing there was some buzz being stirred by the cast/studio for Elijah. I knew it would never happen, but it was deserved buzz.

1992 Maxime Collin Leolo

I have since expunged them but for a time I did backtrack BAM Award to back before they started. Some of these picks reflect those findings.

1991 Anna Chlumsky My Girl

1990 Macaulay Culkin Home Alone

Say what you will, but you know if the award was around that this would have happened.

1988 Pelle Hvengaard Pelle the Conqueror

1987 Christian Bale Empire of the Sun

1986 River Phoenix Stand by Me

1983 Bertil Guve Fanny and Alexander

1982 Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

1979 Ricky Schroeder The Champ
David Bennent The Tin Drum

1972 Nell Potts The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

Who Should Have Gotten One But Didn’t

No Greater Glory (1934, Columbia Pictures)

I honestly almost scrapped this section. However, looking back through young nominees I noticed the discrepancy that some young nominees did not get a Juvenile Award while there was one. So I figured while I was at it I’d list a few notable performances that didn’t get recognized. Those that “didn’t need one” since they were nominated as in their respective categories against adult competition have denoted those with an asterisk.

1956 Patty McCormack The Bad Seed*
1953 Brandon deWilde Shane*
1952 Georges Poujouly Forbidden Games
1941 Roddy McDowall How Green Was My Valley
1936 Freddie Bartholomew Little Lord Fauntleroy
1934 George Breakston No Greater Glory
1931 Jackie Cooper Skippy*

Film Thought: Who Would Play You in a Movie?

How many of you have thought of the hypothetical question of who would play you in a movie of your life? It’s not the most unique query in the world. I assume there are a few. I gave it the occasional thought when I was younger, but never thought about it again until recently when asked.

More often than not I will admit I’ve considered what my life would be rated by the MPAA (can anyone get away without and R or higher knowing them?). I’ve also considered the end credits. Which are both very hypothetical and nearly metaphysical considerations. Who’s watching said movie to rate it or see the credits, is akin to the Theory of Size questions or other existential ponderings usually reserved for the very young.

Theoretically, someone making a movie about your life is a more feasible concept. What’s funny is that I have thought about this question more for people in my life than myself. Maybe the reason for that is how we all view ourselves, but I’ve had certain actors pinned down as certain family members for a long time: Melanie Griffith, Julia Roberts, Steve Martin and so on.

Casting a story based on my family is much easier. Myself? Not as much. If you want a reference point as to what I look like you can check out a photo on my Twitter. Let’s look through some of the ideas. One way to look at it is: who have people told me I remind them of? I can only readily recall two. When I was younger people used to say I reminded them of Fred Savage on The Wonder Years. However, I have a feeling a lot of kids got that around that time. Even if we did look like each other once upon a time, we no longer do.

A few people have told me I seem to resemble Roger Federer. I contest this notion, but even if I do, unless I wrote myself into some weird biopic/Tennis version of Space Jam that wouldn’t make sense anyway. The only actor that ever really came to mind is one I haven’t watched that much of recently, but was one of my favorites growing up, and one I’m looking forward to seeing in Maniac; Elijah Wood.

Now, to state the painfully obvious, I do not look like Elijah Wood. If this hypothetical film were to exist I’d be getting upgraded. If you’ve ever been introduced to a historical figure in a film typically the Hollywood edition is a bit of an upgrade to the original when you discover what they look like. My case would be that to the nth degree. However, another factor would be that we’re very nearly the same age. Yes, actors often stretch their range by a number of years, but since I have no obvious doppleganger I’ll limit it to people around my age. Second, his onscreen persona has always seemed somewhat similar to mine in life I feel. When he angers he may need to get louder, but I’m sure he can manage. Lastly, since he’s become a mature actor and gotten into social media Elijah has proven himself to be quite a film enthusiast. So there’s another reason.

Yeah, my choice isn’t a dead ringer, but it’s one I’d be pleased with. How about you? Who would play you in a movie?

Americanization: How Le Grand Chemin Became Paradise- Paradise (Part 2 of 3)

Paradise

Directed by Mary Agnes Donoghue 
Touchstone Pictures   Jean Francois Lepetit

Paradise begins at a private school where Willard (Elijah Wood) meets Clay and they talk about where they’re going for the summer. Clay is going to his summer home in Colorado. Willard lies and says he’s going to Africa. We then follow Willard home and see a very conventional scene establishing him as unpopular and lonely when he passes a pick up baseball game and is harassed by bullies. This scene is so common in American cinema (i.e. sports as a proving ground of childhood acceptance) that it fails to achieve its goal: creating sympathy for the protagonist. 
    


We are introduced to Willard’s mother and instantly pass judgment on her. Willard comes home and she is on the phone. She closes the door in his face because she is talking about a private matter. Later, we find Willard is being sent off to the country to stay with her friends as she gives birth to a new baby and can’t take care of him. As we will find later, the American version of the film will become overly-obsessed with justifying why a mother would send her only child to stay with her friends for a few weeks. Ironically, this justification is needed because this version of the film takes place in the present where childbirth is less difficult, thus making it more implausible than in Le Grand chemin.
   


Willard pleads with his mother that his friend’s mother gave birth and he didn’t have to leave but to no avail. The absolute lack of subtlety, which is another problem many American films face because commercial appeal is so crucial, creates some of the worst lines in this film. When the bus arrives at their destination Willard’s mother says ‘We’re here?’ Willard says ‘Where?’ and the response is ‘Paradise.’ This is the reason so many people joke ‘That’s where they got the title from!’ with mock-enthusiasm. Le Grand chemin is not as heavy handed in revealing its title as it’s the bus driver who yells out the stop their making. 
 

Upon leaving the bus Elijah Wood uses quite a good facial expression to show his disappointment with his surroundings. Wood was one of the most talented child actors to ever grace the silver screen, he and Melanie Griffith’s talents were utterly wasted in this poorly directed adaptation, whether or not Wood’s adult career will be as spectacular is yet to be seen. He will be in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and I found the first film overrated, which means in my opinion, his last great film was Black and White, an ensemble piece in 1999. [Clearly all of this is accurate as of this writing. Since the completion of the trilogy he has done little to live up the promise he showed as a youth, Maniac may change that.] 
   


Willard then meets Ben, played by Don Johnson, who pretty much only knows two emotions (straight and angry) and can’t act in either of them. And we get the same game of deception as we did in the French version. Remaking a film is truly a catch-22. When scenes were simply translated from the French I wanted new material and where there were new wrinkles added I thought they were covering the wrong ground. A perfect example is when we are introduced to Sally Pike (Sheila McCarthy) who is a waitress in a local dinner who is talking to Lily (Melanie Griffith) about how she has decided to get married. Sally’s marriage proposition will be one of two flimsy, underdeveloped and unnecessary subplots that Donoghue thrusts upon this once simple and beautiful film.
 

At the Reed home, we see Lily chop the head off a dead chicken. This scene is a microcosm of the difficulty in remaking a film that was originally the product of another culture. In Le Grand chemin Marcelle (Anémone) skins a rabbit which shocks the young Louis. Here it’s a chicken getting its head chopped off, while animal rights activists might not allow for an animal to be skinned French audiences wouldn’t be as queasy as to disallow even a simulation of the event. The context in which the action occurs justifies it whether you agree with it or not. They live in the country, thus, don’t buy clean pre-prepared chicken. However, just that little change when having the original niggling at the back of your head makes it an annoying occurrence. It makes you realize this movie is French. It was told from a French perspective yet something about that experience made it universal, by transplanting and Americanizing it we are ruining what made it wonderful. While certain cinematic experiences are ‘indigenous,’ meaning they have a greater significance to the culture that created it (i.e. Central do Brasil [Central Station]) there is still something about the film that made it renowned worldwide. The formulizing and studiofication of Le Grand chemin is sadly not the worst English translation but the fact that it was made at all is bad enough. Why couldn’t the general public just go to see the original? It makes Americans seem not only elitist but ignorant that we can’t go en masse to hear a new language and read while at the theatre. Read in the movies? God forbid!
   

The lack of subtlety strikes again when Willard meets Billie Pike (Thora Birch). Her first line is ‘Have you ever seen a dead body?’ This is a blunt insertion of the theme of death that runs throughout this and the original, again Jean-Loup Hubert handled the subject with much more delicacy than did Donoghue. We also then get the introduction of love and sex as themes in an equally amateur way when Billie asks if Willard would like to see her sister with ‘her clothes… off’ (Emphasis from film). This line shows the director’s fault in so many ways. First, this is terrible acting on Birch’s part (She would go on to be decent in her later films such as Now and Then and American Beauty). Second, this is obviously in the director’s opinion the best take of the line which I don’t find in the least bit amusing. Thus, Donoghue is also at fault for having emphasis added in the script. It might have worked on paper but when she realized what she was dealing with the line should’ve been re-written. 

And lastly, this also tends to point out the glaring yet unexplainable phenomena that many American directors have such a difficult time getting quality performances out of child actors whereas we see many fine performances by youths from all around the world. I believe part of the problem is that we as Americans coddle the child actor and view them as inferior giving them stupid and/or annoying roles and the directors seldom have enough understanding of these performers to guide them when a role does require more out of them.
   

Rosemary (Eve Gordon) is talking to Lily on the stairs about how her husband has left her and she doesn’t know how to tell Willard. This is implied in the original and its insertion here further divides our attention away from what the two main storylines really are and they are the relationship between Lily and Ben and between Billie and Willard. We do then switch to them and hear another gem (For some reason most of the poor dialogue in the film, if not all, is reserved for Billie). They are up in the tree and she says ‘I come here when I’m mad which, is most of the time.’ This is such lazy writing we get two major pieces of information which can be conveyed, and is conveyed, through the action of the film at various points. We understand this very quickly in Le Grand chemin mostly because Vanessa Guedj’s performance is much better than Thora Birch’s; the casting director of the French version also deserves kudos for a wise decision.    
 

In this version of the film we also get Billie being somewhat more ignorant than Willard on matters of sex. This coming from the use of a modern setting combined with the switch in what kids from the country and city know depending on country and on time period. We then go to a somewhat of a bonding moment between Willard and Lily in which they are picking string beans and preparing them for dinner. When Ben comes home he utters dialogue that is transplanted and meaningless given the context and Johnson’s lack of talent. His being cast makes me start to wonder if the casting was a marketing gimmick pairing real life spouses at the time (Johnson & Griffith). Ironically, on screen they were as mismatched as in real life.

What we then get is perhaps the biggest fumble of this film which is the exposition of the Reed’s dead child. One of the problems that haunt this version is that in the American version we find this information out too early in the film. This comes from our cultural imperative that films must be about ‘something’ right away. While there’s nothing wrong with that in theory, in this instance we ruin the simplicity of the film and also create a paltry melodrama by making Lily go into the baby’s room to hold things and cry. This makes all the emotions we feel in this film absolutely manipulated and contrived. Whereas in the French version all we see is Pello going into the room after a fight to destroy it. This is our first exposure to the room and we instantly see that is a museum of sorts for their dead child. The emotions elicited by his actions are real because as soon as we see it: 1) We know why Marcelle kept it unchanged. 2) we see Pello trying to destroy it to hurt her. This is the fault of the American studio because they underestimated the audience’s intelligence, which is always a sinful act by a filmmaker which sadly is committed all too often.
 

Billie at one point insists on finding her father who it turns out works at a roller skating rink. She goes there and is rejected. Paradise also on a few occasions tries to make Billie’s mother, the waitress, a central character. These are two inventions of the American version of this film which water down and show weakness in their filmmaking. Not only are the makers of Paradise unwilling to tell a simple story but they cannot even be subtle and they throw in unnecessary scenes of expositions amongst newly created adult characters who have never existed in the framework of this story. Even when a child actor is given a large role in an American film here we still find reticence to let the weight of the film rest on his/her shoulders. Something the French are extremely adept at doing. 
   

Paradise is not a bad film. Considering it is a remake of a French film I saw prior, it’s decent. It is, however, nothing to write home about. It misses the elusive magic and perhaps indigenous uniqueness that Le Grand chemin had. And it was doomed to be inferior from the start taking that into account which makes me wonder why a remake was allowed to happen in the first place.

My Year in Film: 1994

First, a tip of the hat to @bobfreelander who was the first I saw doing retroactive year-in-review posts and why I will do a few. Now, while I will be able to contextualize my picks to an extent I cannot be as anal retentive as I wanted to. Ideally, I would’ve loved to say I saw these movies in the year in question and these later, but I cannot with any degree of accuracy. The reason this matters to me is that I was 13 to 14 when these films were being released. Now I, unlike many students around me when I was in school, have been able to exonerate many films I saw before studying films formally from over-analysis. So while many are getting a pass or some sentimental value attached to them I shall not disown them, they are still me. Much in the way I am no longer making BAM Awards for years where I didn’t actively track releases, I am also not changing winners as I did on rare occasions in my teens. This list like those awards are a snapshot, time can reshape one affection for a film, whether heightening or lessening it but the films that mark that year for you mentally remain pretty much identical.

I start with 1994 in part because it was a great year for me in general, I was out of sixth grade and into 7th and 8th and I rather enjoyed Junior High where using your mental faculties to achieve a heightened sense of immaturity was rewarded, at least amongst my circle of friends. Sports-wise it was a great year as my faith in my beloved New York Rangers was rewarded, I knew it’d be a championship season in pre-season and it was. Then not too long after I saw Brazil win its 3rd World Cup while visiting my family.

Not that movies lagged that far behind, if at all. Many of these films, whether I saw them during the calendar year or soon thereafter, have been favorites for many years.

The films are in no particular order.

1. Satantango

Sátántangó (Kino Lorber)

I’ve been meaning to give this film an annual viewing but at 7+ hours in length it is very hard to schedule. I first heard about this film in college when it wasn’t readily available on DVD but I hunted it down. Having it was like having gold such that I even loaned it to a professor once. It’s an impressive example of story-telling muscle-flexing as it goes back and forth in time with many events repeating at intersecting points of perspective, as we follow characters and see certain events over through their eyes. Its ending is a shocking as such a minimalist ending can be and gives me goosebumps every time.

2. Milk Money

Milk Money (Paramount)

Here’s one I could’ve seen in ’94 but didn’t. In a world where I didn’t have a computer or access to the IMDb I couldn’t confirm my casting misconceptions, namely at the time I confused one of the girls in a quick shot in the trailer with Anna Chlumsky. I did eventually see it on HBO and this was where my admiration for Melanie Griffith originated and I hunted down practically everything she did after seeing it. Now hooker with a heart of gold stories weren’t new to me even then but the context and the slightly verboten yet laissez-fair handling of this one along with its outcome are a major part of what won me over.

3. Once Were Warriors

Once Were Warriors (Fine Line Features)

When the Independent Film Channel (IFC) first hit the airwaves I watched it practically every night for a week, and as an atypical teen movie fan I craved something different and I got it. This is a harrowing tale of a Maori family in New Zealand. I’m not even sure if I’ve even revisited it. Even if I have it could surely qualify as a film you only need to see once.

4. Disclosure

Disclosure (Warner Bros.)

This is a great film. Yes, it’s true Michael Douglas gets Michael Douglas-ed in it, if you’ve seen enough of his films you get what I mean, but sexual harassment was a hot button issue in the country as there was a politically correct renaissance about and to flip expectations to have an actress like Demi Moore, in likely her best role, in that position make it a compelling drama.

5. The War

The War (Universal)

For those of you who may have been asleep during the 90s and didn’t know, Elijah Wood was one of the most prodigious child actors who ever graced the silver screen. This film of his is his most criminally under-seen. It’s a great allegorical tale wherein Wood does his most serious work as a youth but he’s supported by Kevin Costner, Mare Winningham and Lexi Randall. If you’ve never seen this film do yourself the favor.

6. Little Giants

Little Giants (Warner Bros.)

G-Men! OK, if you read my intro you probably surmised I’m a native New Yorker, however, that’s not the only reason that this film makes the list, there are some others. It is smart that this film does play into actual NFL rivalries and takes the Bad News Bears motif to football but there’s some more to it. Part of it has to do with seeing Ed O’Neill in a movie and perfectly cast, it being one of Rick Moranis’ last theatrically released films plays into it some. Yet it’s also about the team, which plays into the appeal of any underdog story, and also it may be the most effective rivalries in terms of having certain off-the-field relationships with the opposition.

7. A Feast at Midnight

A Feast at Midnight (Live Entertainment)

This is a film that I found a few years later. One thing that’s refreshing about it is that it’s a tale of boarding school mischief that doesn’t get too dark. Essentially the boys at this school are tired of their crap food. They learn to cook and bake and sneak about in the dead of night to have proper feasts. More comedy and tension are added by Christopher Lee who plays the headmaster who they refer to as a dinosaur and many scenes play out as homages to Jurassic Park, which are just brilliantly done.

8. Vanya on 42nd Street

Vanya on 42nd Street (Sony Pictures Classics)

If I recall correctly this was an impromptu purchase. I typically used my weekend allowance to take a bus to the multiplex and then to the mall after to pick up another film. This was likely one of them. It didn’t lead me to instantly pursue more Chekhov but it was the spark that opened the door for my appreciation of his work.

9. The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption (Columbia Pictures)

What could I possibly say about this film that hasn’t been said before? I didn’t see it in 1994 as it was slightly before I discovered Stephen King, and my life forever changed. I saw it later and I saw it before I read it, and I learned Frank Darabont is a King adaptation master, and this is his best work.

10. North

North (Columbia Pictures)

Here’s the section of the list where I’ll place a couple of movies you likely hate and I hope you’ll do me the kindness of scrolling past them if you do hate them rather than closing your browser window. For those of you who are still with me, I can even understand how you can dislike North and It’s Pat, the latter much more than the former. However, with this one I really don’t get how some claim its one of the worst things ever. Yes, it’s another Elijah Wood title and while here he’s more comedic this one really does have more to do with the concept than him or the supporting all-star cast. It’s a wish-fulfillment story and yes, based on the tale you know where it’ll likely end up, but that doesn’t stop it from being a very effective fantasy in my estimation.

11. It’s Pat

It's Pat (Touchstone Pictures)

I get it on this one, OK? Pat is gross, that’s what makes the sketch funny for those who do think it’s funny. I’d say this is likely the most avoided and reviled SNL-sketch based feature of them all, I will not claim that it’s the best, but I do like it. Julia Sweeney is a very underrated comedienne and this is her best character.

12. The Little Rascals

The Little Rascals (Universal Pictures)

I can’t remember if I ever consciously wanted to see this movie but having younger siblings it was acquired on home video and I ended up watching it many times and I ended up liking it quite a bit also. Looking back you could almost draw a parallel between this and The Three Stooges in as much as those actors were The Little Rascals, so theoretically a remake shouldn’t work but it was cast so well and the story was very much in the spirit of the original with minor updates such that it works very well.

13. Airheads

Airheads (20th Century Fox)

When you rely on cable television for your viewing you can end up watching things over and over whether you want to or not. An example or not would be Empire Records, I have no idea what convinced me that seeing it over and over would change my opinion of it. It just kept getting suckier. This I liked right away and wanted to see many times over, it’s just a hilarious and well executed premise.

14. The Client

The Client (Warner Bros.)

Joel Schumacher can be very divisive and I certainly cannot defend all of his films. However, those that I can I will tooth and nail. This is one of them. I watched The Client many years later and it has in it perhaps one of the tensest first acts I can recall. It doesn’t let up much from there.

15. Speed

Speed (20th Century Fox)

Here’s a film that’s become a bit of a punching bag in hindsight. I will grant there is a level of silliness to it, however, if you get past the whole 50 MPH thing, (which I have) it rather works. Also, one must bear in mind that this was really Sandra Bullock’s breakout role so she was new to us and about to be beloved by many. Also, this is Keanu many roles before we saw that being Keanu is about the extent of his range.

16. Trading Mom

Trading Mom (Trimark Pictures)

This is a film that it took me a while to track down, eventually it debuted on cable. My willingness to see it was mostly due to Anna Chlumsky’s involvement. It would be a great double-feature with North as there are similar themes to it, Wanting to Change Parents but Realizing Yours Are the Best, however, it also features a great performance by Sissy Spacek in many incarnations. Its a more down-to-earth and stripped-down version of the aforementioned premise that still works rather well.

17. Serial Mom

Serial Mom (Savoy Pictures)

I’ve seen this movie a lot of times but none very recently. This could be John Waters at his demented best. This is where I not only learned a rule of fashion but also got “Day Break” stuck in my head for life. Kathleen Turner is incredible in this.

18. The Hudsucker Proxy

The Hudsucker Proxy (PolyGram)

I avoided this film for a long time for a number of reasons. I like Coens films when I watch them but my viewership of their filmography is very incomplete, the title and description also made it seem like it couldn’t be that interesting. It’s perhaps the best argument for just watching the movie. I love it.

19. Major League II

Major League II (Warner Bros.)

As opposed to the sequel later in this list this is one that I think I like more than the original. It’s sillier, funnier and doesn’t take the high road in the ending but those are all things I like about it. Plus, taking the approach that this team overachieved and now rests on its laurels and struggles is pretty smart and true to life.

20. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (Warner Bros.)

It’s a very simple discussion when dealing with Jim Carrey: Either you love the over-the-top end of his comedic repertoire or you hate it. I love it and Ace Ventura is the prime example of this facet of his gifts.

21. Trevor

Trevor

This film I first saw only last year. It’s the only short on this list. It’s almost more important for its significance than the film itself for this film is what spawned The Trevor Project. Perhaps what’s most impressive is that it really was ahead of the zeitgeist in terms of a hot button issue. It deals with a youth struggling with his sexuality and is suicidal. It won an Oscar after it was made and was re-introduced in a TV special hosted by Ellen DeGeneres but now it has a third incarnation as The Trevor Project is one of the most notable and active NGOs in the nation right now. Granted its a film buoyed by its message and its significance but few films, especially shorts, have this kind of track record so far as reemergence and staying power are concerned.

22. Menino Maluquinho- O Filme

Menino Maluquinho - O Filme (Filmes Europa)

Below you will see another comic character that I love come to life. I saw this a few years after the release of the film. This film benefits from the fact that though this character is featured in Brazilian comic strips he originated in graphic novels and this film tackles the story told in the first of those books for the most part and that streamlines things and makes the interpretation very pure.

23. Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump (Paramount)

This is another film that has become somewhat of a punching bag over the years. Taking the visceral arguments out of the equation (for I do like and connect to the film) the significance of this film in certain cinematic is in fact that it breaks rules about a passive protagonist, in that it employs one, and it works very, very well. You’d be hard pressed to find many other situations where it would but here no doubt it does. I predicted Tom Hanks would win the Oscar on the eve of the show when asked, and not only was I right but I was pleased. It’s another question of time. Hanks has become more interested in producing and has become an Oscar ceremony staple but I’d never question his merits in the roles that won him statues.

24. Little Odessa

Little Odessa (Fine Line Features)

Here is another IFC special. I did revisit this one at least once. It’s a tremendously underrated film and features a great turn by Edward Furlong before his depressing decline.

25. Richie Rich

Richie Rich (Warner Bros.)

Macaulay Culkin is precisely 364 days older than I am, so his stardom was kind of a big deal for me growing up for he was, and is, essentially my age. Furthermore, add the fact that here he was interpreting one of my favorite comics characters of all time and this was going to be a must see for me. Now, here’s an example similar to one you’ll see below where the star and the involvement in a project is more significant to than the film, for I definitely nitpick this one and the follow ups (though they be Culkin-less) it wasn’t an interpretation completely without merit, I did like a lot of it.

26. Blue Chips

Blue Chips (Paramount)

Another cable special and another I’ve given many viewings. Nick Nolte is, as he tends to be, brilliant in this film. However, what really elevates this film for me is the great examination of the moralistic quagmire that amateur athletics are. Nolte’s confession speech while rather unrealistic in a real context, as sports fans know all too well, allow for the film to really expose the inevitability of star athletes getting perks and incentives to go to certain colleges.

27. My Girl 2

My Girl 2 (Columbia Pictures)

Alright, no My Girl 2 is not a great film, there are a few entries on this list I wouldn’t call great. As I mentioned in my introduction that’s not quite the point of this post. It was a film that was overly delayed, in my estimation, and brought a new writer into the fold but the fact of the matter is it’s the sequel to what was at the time my favorite movie ever, and a film I still have a great affection for, so that makes this notable. It’s a film I do pick nits with endlessly but the fact that it matters to me cannot be denied.