Rewind Review: The Nutcracker in 3D

The Nutcracker in 3D as conceptualized by Andrey Konchaloskiy is a rather strange beast indeed. It’s the kind of film that is impossible to stop watching because despite all that you might have to say against it there is some element of charm, ambition, and brashness that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. Perhaps it is a symptom of the era of filmmaking we are currently living in, there are far too many “play it safe” moves made in film today from sequels, to remakes and generic storytelling. Now granted The Nutcracker has been told over and over again, however, none of them ever quite like this and that’s what you end up taking away from this film, like it or not, is a bold attempt at doing something truly unique and different.

What makes this story, or this retelling thereof, so unique? It is the spin placed on everything in this tale. It becomes a historical mishmash in which suddenly Albert Einstein is the children’s uncle, there is talk of Freudian psychology and of course the Rat King and his Kingdom are none other than the Nazis. Yet flying in this face of this seemingly are exotic flying machines and other-worldly motorcycles. Just to have the audacity to go and mix things that ought not necessarily mix is one thing but it goes further.

To use Tchaikovsky’s music extensively is to be expected and nearly mandatory. Whether or not your interpretation involves any form of dance or not his music has become much more synonymous with this story than E.T.A. Hoffman’s writing ever was. However, to add lyrics to his music is a decision that is dubious at best. Hearing that it is Tim Rice writing those lyrics gives you some hope but sadly they are some of the poorest most trite I’ve heard him compose and furthermore they rarely really work. It’s difficult to shoehorn lyrics into a symphonic score and this proves it. What makes the musical experience of this film even more frustrating is that there are parts in which you see songs that do kind of work and you wonder why all can’t but what makes it more frustrating is it needn’t be. There’s just something about this story, told as it is, that doesn’t make it conducive to music.

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The performances show the kind of inconsistency that marks this film. There are those who leave you scratching your head and those that make it worth it. Amongst the head-scratchers is Nathan Lane. Why he was needed to barely sing in in one of the worst accents I’ve ever heard is beyond me. In the middle of the road is Frances de la Tour as the Rat Queen, her over-the-top insanity does grow on you as the tone of this film makes itself known. Making the film stay afloat are Elle Fanning as Mary and Charlie Rowe as The Prince, who is all too frequently absent because as the Nutcracker he is replaced by the voice of Shirley Henderson, who is incapable of sounding like anything other than Moaning Myrtle frrom the Harry Potter films. Her inability to mimic a boy’s voice not only brings this casting decision in question but made those portions of the film hard to bear.

What must be pointed out is that in terms of practicality this film is fantastic meaning in as many places where it could get shot practically it is. The rat-people wore prosthetics, there were many sets built and extras. The only things which were computer generated was what absolutely had to be which was nice to see.
The CGI when used is very effective because it is given more of chance to thrive by being surrounded by mostly real elements, making blending easier. To continue the art direction theme the costuming was also great at being both historically accurate but creative where they were allowed to be which is a nice and rare mix.

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It is not only the technical that works in this film, that is merely the most consistent element. As odd as the story is, even being rife with Nazi-symbolism, it does find an odd consistency in symbols and narrative flow such that production concerns and decisions in casting can be temporarily ignored and the story can hit you.

Perhaps the best example of this a scene where Max (Aaron Michael Drozin), the younger brother, discovers that despite being recruited by the Rat King (John  Turturro) he doesn’t want to destroy toys anymore. He lets out one of the better and realistic cries you’re likely to hear. It’s like something out of Disney’s Robin Hood in its authenticity.

As for the 3D it falls this far down in the pecking order because it truly is one of the more ineffectual jobs I’ve seen since it came back in vogue. There is little to no value added due to the fact that it’s in 3D. The image is clearer and sharper than many but the trade off is that there isn’t a tremendous amount of depth outward or inward added.

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It’s a film that always has a sense of humor about it despite that you can call some of its decisions into question. It is a film that absolutely screams to be seen because it refuses to conform and it is likely to leave very few on the fence and that’s the most we can ask for, and the best kind of movie whether you like it or not, and for that I thank the makers of The Nutcracker in 3D.

5/10

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Mini-Review Round-Up July 2013

Here’s my standard intro to this post:

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases, regardless of how they are seen whether in an auditorium or on VOD, will get full reviews [That is when deemed necessary. As I wrote here I do want to focus more on non-review writing wherever possible].

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

Into the White

Into the White (2012, Magnolia Releasing)

Here’s another case where I had a little inadvertent crossover between months. I saw this film towards the end of June and included it in the BAM Considerations there, then I stalled on writing the review until now so it kicks off July.

This film does a few things that are a little out of the norm that I feel work for it every well: first, though it is a wartime tale it’s not really concerned with battle sequences, but rather with human nature and survival. Two World War II fighter planes, one British and one German, are downed in Norway. The crews of both find refuge in the same abandoned hunting cabin and seek to survive the harsh winter. Second, while there is some of the expected banter, power struggles and a effective chamber drama setpieces; the film is the latest in a gray-area treatment of World War II inasmuch as it tell not a black-and-white tale but a more involved human character study and psychological approach to those involved. In short, these are people, not types.

With a common goal of survival this film studies its individual characters both on their own and in relation to one another. Eventually façade come down and they are able to see each other as individuals. One of the pitfalls of a tale like this is that there could be the danger of going too far in the other direction. Things end too well and they get too chummy. The film walks that tightrope well. The performances all around are great by the five central figures particular standouts being Florian Lukas, David Kross and Rupert Grint.

7/10

A Place at the Table

A Place at the Table (2012, Magnolia Pictures)

When one discusses hunger in America there are a lot of seemingly disparate facts that need to be connected so that the roots of the problem are readily understood to all. When No Kid Hungry and other similar charities started to have more of a national presence the dots weren’t quite connecting. That’s not meant to downplay the quality of filmmaking here to one similar to a PSA. I merely mention that to illustrate that some issues have enough layers such that a film such as this one is a necessity. The economic restraints of having and applying for food stamps; concepts such as food deserts, food insecurity; the budgeting of school lunches; the link between poverty and obesity; the dated structure of food subsidies; are all things that cannot quickly be discussed and this film does well to correlate these facts and paint a picture.

However, the film is issue-centric only when needed. As much as it can, it dramatizes these political issues with tales of actual people that personify certain struggles. Thus, the issues are brought home more so than they would be otherwise. It’s yet another documentary that tackles a dangerously large scope but it does fairly well to rein in all the contributing factors. Any who see it will be made more aware and it will likely spur action by many.

8/10

The Iran Job

The Iran Job (2012, Film Movement)

This is a film that very interestingly finds a back door into being a precursor to the Arab Spring movements and a testimonial about how women in the Middle East feel about their current situation. You embark on a film expecting a fish-out-of-water tale about an American basketball player going overseas to earn a living. You get that and the basketball angle, but slowly as he’s there he makes friends. While he wisely tries to stay away from politics as much as he can knowing people starts to bring insights into the state of affairs. There is always a political undercurrent with the election of Barack Obama near the beginning of the film and the controversial Iranian elections coming towards the end.

The Iran Job has a balancing act to pull off and it does so fairly well. It’s a prime example of a documentary going where the footage starts to lead it. Surely, the film may have started out with only aspirations of political undercurrents, ones that may have been shoehorned in had events not conspired otherwise, alas they did and the film is better for it.

7/10

The Brass Teapot

The Brass Teapot (2013, Magnolia Releasing)

This is a film that tells a quirky, fairly originally-spun tale about unlimited riches being made available to a young, struggling couple and the toll that takes on their life. As funny as the film manages to be for a while, it does start to lose its bearings as it moves on. The rules seemingly change on a whim and it builds to a chaotic yet fairly anticlimactic finale.

The film has its moments and its laughs as well as good performances but it ultimately doesn’t keep itself in check and loses its chance to be a quirky charmer as it goes off the deep end.

5/10

Bad Kids Go to Hell

Bad Kids Go to Hell (2012, Phase 4)

This is a film, which in a similar vein to Detention you can’t knock because it’s not trying, but rather it’s the method in which the attempt is made where its issues come to play, and there are several. Namely one persistent issue that comes to the for is that the film never truly justifies my engaging in the stories or the characters. This isn’t a generic likability complaint, the film quite firmly states it’s not going to be a warm-and-fuzzy detention tale like The Breakfast Club (Though parts definitely echo it). However, the characters do have skeletons in their closets that are discussed, and while none of them are ever likable or well-drawn, they’re mostly uninteresting too.

It’s a film that goes down a rabbit hole, and flips the script on you a few times, but each concussant shift in the story makes it a more frustrating journey. It’s built on a flimsy pretext that gets eschewed, questioned, left vague, then gives us rather ridiculous renditions for the detainees punishment and a tangled, overly-contrived web that unravels itself out of the horror genre the film seems to be taking you into the whole time.

However, it is mainly the decisions, execution, casting, performances, characters and writing that are the culprits here and not the genre it plays in. The movie starts out poorly and spirals ever downward from there; the twists only serving to frustrate you as you are still not heading back in a desirable direction.

2/10

Venus and Serena

Venus and Serena (2012, Magnolia Releasing)

Whenever you’re dealing with a documentary about current athletes there is always a undercurrent of concern about the PR spin or publicity angle of the piece. However, Venus and Serena does manage to a bit more even-handed than anticipated in three notable instances once about an early coaching stint and two times about Serena’s more noteworthy on court outbursts. What is also fortunate is that the film was allowed to be a more human tale as for the most part it chronicled the 2011 season where they both dealt with their share of injuries so the film goes back and forth between the rehab process and personal information and their path to that point.

While the film does lack a bit in narrative thrust, it is a good portrait of their lives and career to that point.

6/10

La Sirga

La Sirga (2012, Film Movement)

This is a film where much happens beneath the surface. It’s a narrative wherein we also have few, if any, assurances of what occurred prior to the film beginning and what occurs after it is completed. In fact, what can be considered the climactic moment of the film isn’t visible, but rather takes place behind a closed door. There isn’t too much said, but what is said bears thinking about and reading between the lines; as nothing jumps out and screams “Hey, this is important!”

That’s not to say the film isn’t engaging, or that conflict is absent. It’s just that it’s not as engaging as it might be and the conflict is highly internalized. The cinematography of the film is quite spectacular especially in terms of framing. It features some of the most exacting frames I’ve seen since Found Memories. It’s definitely a film worth viewing and considering.

7/10

Teen Beach Movie

Teen Beach Movie (2013, Disney Channel)

I’ve discussed previously when DCOMs come up that all films are judged on their own and not in comparison to one other kinds of films. Having got that out of the way, save for a few issues, I was taken aback by Teen Beach Movie; inasmuch as there’s one hysterically funny song/commentary on the nature of the musical. Also enjoyable is the fact that it’s a tongue-in-cheek homage to teen subculture cinema of the ’60s spun forward to the present.

First and foremost among the issues is that you have to completely suspend disbelief and go with the concept that a surfboard with magic powers transports the leads into the film they’re stuck in. While it’s the need of the characters that gets it to act, but it’s not as mysterious or as clear as it could be. The second large one was the occasional temporal breaks in dialogue the film-within-film characters had saying things that didn’t feel true to their period.

However, it establishes early what the conflict that arises between the heroes is and there is a clarity throughout that they need to find a way out of the situation. Slowly, almost without they or us noticing, there are consequences of being stuck in the film. It’s less bombastically self-important than other DCOMs with even sillier premises and ultimately it comes back to the main characters and not the parody or the revisionist look at gender roles in the sixties. It’s far funnier and more enjoyable than it likely has any business being.

7/10

Paradise: Love

Paradise: Love (2012, Strand Releasing)

In a very naturalistic and non-sensationalist way Paradise: Love seeks to explore the sex tourism trade. It does so through the guise (and eyes) of a woman who is new to such things. She goes from Austria to Kenya in search of a new experience. Being new and not-yet-jaded she runs the gamut from being shy; falling for lies; falling in love; trying to deal with it coolly, heartlessly and feeling regret.

Where the film finds its difficulties is that it plays things so close to the vest, in a very authentic seeming way, at times, in spite of a great lead performance by Margarete Tiesel, it’s at times hard to decipher if she’s willingly being duped or just duped. The pace suffers a bit through act two despite being usually engaging.

The conclusion feels proper and earned but the climactic sequence, a birthday rent boy party attended by all her “friends” achieves what it seems to want (an uncomfortable ambivalence and tenuous balance between expose and exploitation), but it, too, lingers well after its point has been made.

This is one of the films where it’s about the journey not the destination. It is in the journey where it issues lie.

6/10

Post Tenebras Lux

Post Tenebras Lux (2013, Strand Releasing)

At some point while watching Post Tenebras Lux I paused to make sure I had an a correct understanding of what the title meant. I knew it was Latin, I had a notion of each individual word, but wanted to make sure that in context it meant “After Darkness, Light.”

Slowly after the film was complete I had a theory about what it was I had read as I crossed the terrain. In a fashion not dissimilar to when I first saw Holy Motors, where it has sections that I had to ferret out rather than an ultimate goal, or feeling; here it was a bit of both that needed to be ferreted out simultaneously. I believe I have those answers now. However, the overriding point of a film in the style of Post Tenebras Lux is not ultimately what is its “truth,” but how it weaves its mysterious web, what an audience’s level of engagement is and if you find a connection to it.

It’s almost disappointing to describe it in such an alchemical way, but what it boils down to is do its ellipses, its seeming impenetrability, repel or compel you; frustrate or fascinate; goad or gratify. In the end, I enjoyed the grapple more than I fought with it. I enjoyed parsing scenes, sequences and the whole based on what I perceived to be the perspective; whether I felt it reality or hallucination; past, present or future.

The impact I felt from it may not have been as big as the aforementioned Holy Motors, but it is quite nearly as fascinating, in a quieter, more introspective (just whose introspection it is, is debatable) rumination on life, culture and humanity.

8/10

Stoker

Stoker (2013, Fox Searchlight)

This is one of those films that grabs you from the first frame and scarcely ceases long enough to let go. It’s the kind of film that peels back layers of mystery and intrigue, slowly at first, but, then it escalates them until you find yourself in a delirious whirl of rapt tension and drama. All the while, as it slowly sets the foundation of the most basic facts, it’s setting up reveals of more precisely sinister revelations of motivation and past incidents.

The film is technically constructed to match this narrative drive employing montages, cross-cutting sequences, frames and L-cuts (cuts where audio lingers after a scene, or starts before an accompanying visual) to link what are at first seemingly disconnected events.

Stoker builds mystery regarding enough elements of its story, while keeping things simple, such that it easily achieves misdirection from one unanswered riddle to another. Thus, answers you had half-formed are forgotten briefly as you puzzle something else and when you’re confronted with confirmation of a fact it lands with the desired impact, whether you intuited the information or not.

Practically everything regarding Stoker is precise and stylized to the utmost for impact, yet scarcely ever feels forced when you consider all the pieces in the whole. It’s a mesmerizing portrait that is sure to rank among the best of the year.

10/10

The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia

The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia (2013, LionsGate)

I nearly did a commentary on the rise of, and you may even consider it to be a re-emergence; of nonsensical, paradoxical film titles such as this one. Essentially, I made peace with this silly title by likening it to Halloween III. The fact that a disconnected narrative was lumped into a series should not influence my opinion of the title. Sadly, this film is not quite of the caliber of Season of the Witch.

While I can’t knock it entirely, I can’t say I came away from it liking it. What the film does have going for it are the occasional good scare and an interesting mythology and themes it plays upon. Southern gothic tales seem like they’re the latest milieu ripe for the picking in horror, and this film at least starts the conversation. However, the build is a bit staggered such that the climax is drained of some of its tension by flashing back to fill in blanks that have already mostly been filled in by us being allowed time to reflect.

Unnecessary doubt can always be a bothersome aspect in horror and this film eschews most of that and almost reverses it to be too willing to believe visions, but it works. Thus, there’s not quite balance: there’s a doubter you know is in denial, a fairly silent skeptic and a vocal prodder. Ultimately it is the construction of the myth from near the mid-point in act two into act three which cause issues, and could very well be an editing issue as opposed to a writing one.

It’s not a film I would not be averse to revisiting, and it doesn’t feel like a wasted experience, but also doesn’t feel like it’s quite up to what it could’ve achieved. A lot of what does buoy it is the performances of mother and daughter, Abigail Spencer and Emily Alyn Lind.

5/10

Let Them Wear Towels

Let Them Wear Towels (2013, ESPN Films)

I have been a bit behind but have wanted to start up on the Nine for IX series by ESPN Films. What Nine for IX is is a companion series of documentaries to ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series. The difference in the two is that this series of films is that this series started to commemorate the passing of title IX, which assured equality of opportunity between the sexes in college sports; and therefore, focuses on stories about female athletes or women in sports in general.

The first tale I took in was the corollary-to-women’s-liberation tale of the struggle for female sports writers to be allowed into pro locker rooms so that they could do their jobs. In factual terms it’s an interesting, incisive survey of the battle in three of the major sports leagues in the US (MLB, NFL and NHL). The NBA is conspicuously absent and why that is so is never mentioned. Another thing is that while it’s effective didactically it’s not as strong dramatically. Its briskness absolves its slightly repetitive nature. It’s an important story that needed telling and deserved being told in a somewhat more compelling way.

6/10

The Deflowering of Eva Van End

The Deflowering of Eva Van End (2012, Film Movement)

I’ve discussed the fact that I quite enjoy the Film Movement film-of-the-month club. One aspect I’ve mentioned less frequently than the included short films on each DVD release, is the fact that on the inside cover there is usually a statement about the film from both the company and the director of the film. I make it a point to not read either until after I’m done watching the feature. The reason I mention that is because what struck me from the first frame is what Eva’s (Vivian Dierickx) look, her persona; reminded me of was Dawn Wiener, the protagonist of Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse, and as the opening scene played out that notion was reinforced. Those sentiments were echoed in the statement. However, I agree this is its own film because it’s not a myopic view of a world but rather a portrait of an entire family.

Eva is our entry into their world. She gives us our first glimpse of them and thus we see them in a very broad stroke. As Veit (Rafael Gareisen), the German exchange student who turns their world upside down, changes their behavior we learn about them, what their insecurities were and what they try to do to take control of an alter their lives.

It’s a very funny film in both its exaggerated renditions of reality, but also a very real one with dramatic consequences. The characters progress but are not perfect; they remain flawed in the end, but better for the experience. Veit could be the only one who walks through it unchanged. He is what he always is, it’s what the family projects him to be that alters.

Through artful cinematography, editorial finesse and music that enchantingly encapsulates this odd world, there are well-executed tonal shifts and visceral impact that far overcome any minor quibbles I may have. The Deflowering of Eva Van End is a film that paints the portrait of a family far more fully than its title suggest and is recommended viewing if you see it about.

9/10

56 Up

56 Up (2012, First Run Features)

It’s a bit difficult to discuss 56 Up in a vacuum. Most of the reason behind that is that it is the 8th installment in a series that ought not be viewed in before the prior films. Starting on the UK’s Granada Television in 1964 the series has revisited its subject every seven years. Starting under director Paul Almond it has since been taken over by renowned director Michael Apted.

As this film touches on, it seems the initial these of the series stated first that the child at seven was a forerunner of the adult, but the more overriding theme of the initial installment was a commentary on the class society in England. I re-introduce the initial concepts because they are touched on by the subjects anew. In fact, of all prior installments this is without question the film that most fully, totally and maturely (with respect to the subjects’ comments) deals with the nature of the series both in terms of the class question and in terms of the odd life of its own that the series has developed over the years, the paradoxical attachment that some subjects have with it no matter how much they may dislike it.

As a follow-up to 49 Up, it’s quite the impressive installment. As always, it’s next to impossible to predict the changes life brings to people, but on the filmmaking end it has perhaps the best order and compartmentalization of subjects yet.

Released in the UK last year it remains to be seen if Apted and the “cast,” a few of whom come and go (look out for a surprising return here),will be back in 2019 with 63 Up, but one can only hope. If only conception, it’s perhaps the most fascinating long-term documentary project in history. However, many of the installments are about as good as documentaries get. I may take a bit of time to see just how this one stacks up.

8/10

Hayride

Hayride (2012, Uncork'd Entertainment)

About the only thing Hayride does in something akin to a proper fashion is create a legend. However, that legend is lodged a bit too deep into the story, nearly usurped by others and leads up to quite a clunker of a climax.

The film spends a bit of time with its characters, which is fine as an isolated fact, but it’s less desirable when they are so simply drawn and so unconvincingly interpreted. There is a supposed hayride attraction that is incredibly poorly staged in both filmic and hayride terms. Lastly, there is the open ending which is not only expected but is quite nearly an anti-jolt. There are very small patches that show promise, but overall it’s quite a wasted effort.

2/10

No Limits

No Limits (2012, ESPN Films)

Here is the second Nine for IX title that I got to in the course of the month, you can find the other above. This film deals both with a sport and an event that I had no familiarity with. In the case of some documentaries that could be a hinderance, in the case of this film it is most certainly not.

The precepts of no limits free-driving are simply told enough and the film dramatically, both through recounting of facts, various interviews and use of split-screens and incredibly harrowing footage that audiences do need to be warned of, recreates events such that as a film it overcomes the lack of cooperation in interviews by the key figure in question.

No Limits conveys this terribly tragic event in jaw-clenching fashion, is not recommended for the feint of heart or weak of stomach, but is an excellent documentary nonetheless.

10/10

The Depraved

The Depraved (2011, Uncork'd Entertainment)

Using the concept of urban explorers this film follows five tourists who seek to look about the tunnels underneath Berlin. It’s hard to say what’s most interesting about this film whether it be the proper execution of an extreme tourism concept that The Chernobyl Diaries failed with, or the fact that it combines in a horror film both tropes of Nazi Germany and the Cold War mindset of postbellum Germany.

The film not only has a strong sense of locale and finds one with tremendous visual appeal but there are also some brilliant practical effects work and strong performances all around, most especially by Nick Eversman and Klaus Stiglmeier.

8/10

Ginger & Rosa

Ginger & Rosa (2012, A24)

One cannot summarily dismiss this film if only for the performances of Elle Fanning and Alice Englert if nothing else. It starts out on a very visual note, it doesn’t quite persist in that regard. In many ways many of its failings can be perceived through the lens of persisting: persisting in an overly-minimal tale and lacking persistence in narrative progression.

The first act seems most concerned with establishing character, the second with slowly unraveling the superficial and actual causes of angst that Ginger feels. This all builds to very subdued if real climax. It’s a climax that could be earned if there was sufficient forward momentum prior, but there is not.

5/10

Byzantium

Byzantium (2013, IFC Films)

If one were to just look at the surface of Byzantium you might think it rings a bit too familiar as compared to other vampire-related films of recent vintage. However, when you consider the fact that this film has Neil Jordan at the helm, or if you just simply watch it then you see that surface similarities are merely what the name suggests: superficial. For what Byzantium has in spades are what other vampire narratives all too often lack: backstory, character, emotion, depth, conflict and humanity.

To put it quite simply, the only thing Byzantium does that is a little tiresome is something that’s true to a teenage character, it’s that it rehashes the same conflict over a few times without true progression of the struggle. However, it does move forward and unravel more of the web that these characters find themselves in.

The film is spearheaded by another brilliant turn by Saoirse Ronan and by far the best performance I’ve seen by Gemma Arterton to date. It’s another film that epitomizes the fact that drama is the foundation of all other genres and is intrinsic to building a good horror tale, and this is a great one.

9/10

Come Out and Play

Come Out and Play (2012, Cinedigm/Cinetic)

Whenever possible I try to give those who may be reading these reviews a frame of reference of where I’m coming from with a particular title. That can in large part become relevant when one discusses a remake. I believe I viewed Who Can Kill a Child? last year and I was not a fan in the slightest. When dealing with a remake, you want to try to have a clean slate, but I realize this can be difficult as certain things are expected. I liked this version just marginally and here’s why:

The biggest faults the film has are in the beginning and the end, there’s far too much unspoken and not enough urgency as the weird situations start to present themselves. I’ve not read the book, but so far as I’m concerned there’s not yet the perfect rendition of this tale, regardless of how faithful each may or may not be to the book.

As the film progresses further from the overly-coy beginning, it does start to address some concerns, seriously up the stakes and after some missteps in the suspense department early playing that up. The score is consistently effective, and the all-too-ghostly children start to have presence, a bit of information to them, which makes them more dangerous, and in turn makes the audience engage further. It creates some mystery and makes you interpret events after a minimal mandatory amount of information is handed out.

Where I feel the film could’ve further excelled was at the very, very end. However, what it manages to do after being a fairly ineffectual carbon copy elevates it oh-so-slightly from its predecessor.

6/10

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*

BAM Award Winners: Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Here is another post siphoned-off from the catch-all Young Actors post, which was getting a bit cumbersome to read. The diversification of the categories started in 2010 when Lead and Supporting categories were split. They were unisex for that year then divided by gender in 2011.

2016 Alexa Nisenson Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

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2015 Isabelle Fuhrman All the Wilderness

All the Wilderness (2014, Screen Media Films)

2014 Emma Verlinden Labyrinthus

Labyrinthus (2014, Attraction Media)

2013 Mariam Bokeria In Bloom

In Bloom (2013, Big World Pictures)

2012 Jeanne Disson Holy Motors

Holy Motors (2012, Indomina)

2011 Elle Fanning We Bought a Zoo

Best Performance by a Child Actor in a Supporting Role

2010 Janina Fautz The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon (2009, Sony Pictures Classics)

BAM Award Winners: Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

This is a newly-siphoned off post from the original Young Actors post. This category came into being in the 2011 BAM Awards as part of the start of the diversification of the Youth Categories. This division of the category was necessary because while there were female winners, most of the time that was not the case and even nominations were hard to come by. This year’s nominees not only validated this decision, while hard to find as many titles the quality was high, the Supporting categories, which was a gamble, also provided great candidates.

2016 Madison Wolfe The Conjuring 2

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2015 Olivia Dejonge The Visit

The Visit (2015, Universal)

2014 Giulia Salerno Misunderstood

Misunderstood (2014, Good Films)

2013 Lika Babulani In Bloom

In Bloom (2013, Big World Pictures)

2012 Sophie Nélisse Monsieur Lazhar

Monsieur Lazhar (2011, Music Box Films)

2011 Elle Fanning Super 8

BAM Award Winners: Young Actors

From 19962009 I had been satisfied with having but one category in which to honor the talented youths on film. This was one of the only places to honor them alongside their counterparts who are of age. In 2011, and perhaps more so in 2012, the nominating process became more difficult than ever as the talent pool seemed to be, if not the deepest ever, then one of them. Suddenly, I realized that I would have been eliminating people based on the size of their role and not on the quality of their performance. People like Janina Fautz in The White Ribbon and Billy Unger in You Again would be shutout of the nominating process. One of the benefits of creating your own awards is the ability to improvise.

Looking at the films and performances I’d seen I was able to create two new categories: I was able to make unisex categories for lead and supporting performances and one for ensemble work by youths, which seemed equally overdue. The goal in the 2011 awards was parity, meaning male and female lead and supporting categories and ensemble. This was achieved.

These categories have always been of great importance to me, not just because I was 15 when I started picking these awards but because youth performers are and have been greatly overlooked and under-appreciated and deserve some recognition. Especially when you consider that the Academy used to have a Juvenile Award and stopped awarding it.

UPDATE 2012: To venture even further away from negative connotations, I have decided to rename this post to remove the ‘child actor’ moniker, which to some can be seen as a slight. It’s a symbolic and semantical gesture, but no less significant for that. The group of categories and individual category names will be adjusted as necessary in the 2012 awards. Previous year will retain the same verbiage, but this post and future winners will not.

UPDATE 2013: To give each of the Youth Categories their due and for browsing convenience this post will act as a jump station to the new posts created for each of five youth categories, plus an additional post for the 1996-2009 winners.

Best Youth Ensemble

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role

Best Performance by a Child Actor 1996-2010

Review- Super 8

Gabriel Basso, Ryan Lee, Joel Courtney and Riley Griffiths in Super 8 (Paramount)

What I really want to know is what kind of alchemy is this? What sort of magic have Spielberg and Abrams been able to muster? A magic so mind-boggling that I’ve hardly been able to make sense of it until now. What I speak of is the fact that in Super 8 they’ve managed a seemingly innumerable amount of tricks that are baffling.

Firstly, watching this film is almost like being in a dreamlike state, the truest definition of mesmerizing because it’s as if it plays in a seemingly endless and consistent flow that’s always operating at the right speed. It’s the rare period film that actually feels like a film from the period it’s representing and it also so seamlessly and with no fuss whatsoever incorporates us in the world of the narrative such that it almost feels like a film you’ve seen before. Rest assured I’m not describing something that can be construed as being derivative (I’ll address that) it feels like an old favorite just minutes in.

There are few ideas that can be described as startlingly original, so everything boils down to execution and choices. In short, you can compare almost any film to a handful of others and this film will conjure the images of others, however, there is something to be said for what films you’re being compared to. Super 8 is garnering comparisons to The Goonies, The Monster Squad and Stand by Me and it’s better than the first two and as for the last one, there’s such a genre difference it’s really all about what’s your cup of tea.

One startling similarity it does share with Stand by Me is a bit more intangible in nature and it’s this: rarely do you see kids portrayed on screen not only so well as characters but also as friends to the extent that you forget they’re actors at points and you see them as people. There’s a level of ease, naturalness and comfort this core have with one another that jumps off the screen and brings you into the story such that even though some may be recognizable you think of them as real kids. The easiest way to engage an audience of all ages to a story driven by kids is to get them to identify and think “Yeah, I would’ve been like that kid in this situation” and this film nails that.

Just the fact that this foursome, the main one as Preston (Zach Mills) is funny, well-portrayed and has his own quirks but doesn’t join the “adventure” portion, (Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee and Gabriel Basso) can call to mind Stand by Me when they have two actors (Courtney and Griffiths) amongst them earning his first credit is darn impressive (as opposed to one for Stand by Me [Jerry O’Connell]). The wealth being pretty evenly distributed for moments: Lee easily has the most laughs with his pyromaniac slant but one of Basso’s lines got spontaneous applause at my screening. Griffiths and Courtney both had their types to play and played them very well well and with dimension; both being rather expressive and showing a good range of emotion.

Not to mention this film has an additional facet which is that of Alice played by Elle Fanning. So it is a boys’ club to an extent and an adventurous film with wise-cracking and ribbing but there’s some romance and additional drama thrown into the mix when Alice is cast in their Super 8 film and she in essence becomes one of the gang after the train derailment. Fanning is one of the aforementioned familiar faces and she does much more than hold her own in this film but rather shines.

While I give J.J. Abrams all the credit he’s due for doing such an outstanding job on this film it does also have Spielberg’s indelible fingerprints all over it also and I think they found a story they were quite simpatico on and connected to make something outstanding. There were Spielbergian visual signatures throughout making it feel every bit as much his film as Abrams’.

One such Spielbergian trait at play was similar to Jaws in as much as the creature remained unseen or seen only in part for much of the film and the tension, drama and fright caused by an attack doesn’t dissipate due to this fact but rather is heightened. While the mystery of its intent is shrouded so is the creature itself.

The additional benefit that comes from hiding the creature is that it didn’t create a lot of additional animation for CG artists. When the creature does finally reveal itself in full I didn’t think of the CG work for a second. First, because it was so well done and second because I was so enraptured.

This enrapturing made possible more easily by the fact that the film, as mentioned before, is mesmerizing but what people fail to note when using that term is that when literally mesmerized, hypnotized, all sense of time escapes you and this film felt like it was done nearly in the blink of an eye. It’s not that the pace is breakneck, as I indicated earlier it’s always correct, but it’s enveloping.

Since I heard of this film, and with each subsequent ad (minus the viral video I heard about today), I’ve reiterated that I think all films should be advertised as this one is: Give me images, just enough to get me intrigued and have me say “Ooh, What’s that about? I want to see that!” Almost any film can be marketed that way such that you’re left thinking “Wow, that’s going to be so awesome!” but few and far between are those that really are that awesome, but Super 8 is.

10/10