Review: The River Thief (2016)

The River Thief is a film that tells the story of Diz (Joel Courtney), a street urchin for as long as he can remember, who was abandoned by his mother and has long since lost touch with his father. Diz is the kind of character one could see as irredeemable, as he steals to survive and has no qualms about it. His solitude and lack of upbringing make him socially maladjusted to say the least. His worldview is challenged when he meets Selah (Raleigh Cain) whom is the first person he he’s longed to be closer to and ingratiate himself to.

N.D. Wilson helms this, his debut feature, in fairly assured manner with missteps few and far between, as he builds a somewhat unconventional tale methodically that manages to surprise without cheating and with a minimum of tonal dissonance. Wilson is a best-selling author whose previous directing experience include book trailers for his own titles, and short films.

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There are large portions of the second act where there is a sustained betterment of the film, which is almost entirely unlikely considering some of the hiccups of the first act. This crescendoing leads to a powerful, unexpected climax that fulfills the allegory, message, and meaning that was merely alluded to at the start. Much of the cohesion to be found among at first seemingly ill-fitting tropes and narrative facets is created through the scoring by Eli Beaird and music by Tommy Cash, whose musical aplomb is on display in one of the films more heart-rending scenes; and the rest is tied together by the lovingly sumptuous cinematography of Andy Patch.

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Joel Courtney assuredly turns in his best performance since Super 8, due in equal parts to his maturation as an actor, the material, and his rapport with Wilson. Raleigh Crane matches Courtney with a vibrant breakout performance as an average girl equally struggling to understand her enigmatic new admirer and her grandfather’s willingness to forgive and reach out to Diz.

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The River Thief is a film that is akin to Diz’s namesake, St. Dismas –the Penitent Thief of the Cross, so named in the Apocrypha- any of its sins either of omission or execution can be forgiven because of the way it ends, its earnestness, and persistence in reaching its final poignant moments. The River Thief has not been rated by the MPAA but I would recommend it for older teens due to certain themes and scenes.

It is available on VOD starting on Friday, October 14 on iTunes and in select theatres.

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Review: Mercy

Mercy was a film that I had on my radar for quite some time. It was a film announced a while ago. It was one of a rash of projects that Joel Courtney got involved with on the heels of his outstanding performance in J.J. Abrams’ Spielbergian Super 8. Combine that with the fact that it is a Stephen King adaptation, the signing of Chandler Riggs (The Walking Dead), the involvement of Blumhouse and Universal and there were plenty of reasons to look forward to this film. Eventually though, without and fanfare (as there usually isn’t), this film kind of vanished from consciousness as all involved moved on to the next job.

Then with just as little fanfare the film plopped up available as a digital first download on Amazon ahead of its DVD release.

Mercy mainly concerns a young boy, George (Chandler Riggs), who with his grandmother (Shirley Knight) bedridden starts to wonder about and discover her true nature and family secrets buried in their past.

The difficulty of divorcing one’s fanboy self from an objective film-viewer is epitomized by the fact that this film could have harvested an intriguing internalized tale from the prose, but instead it perhaps over-externalized it. One of the pitfalls it faces is also expanding a short and building out characters because it only does so part of the way. More dimensions are added to characters but it only goes part of the way. Mark Duplass, plays an uncle, he comes to George (Riggs) to disavow him of his notions because he idealizes her. However, this has to be assumed. He’s barely introduced when he makes this leap, and knowing how jaded he is, why not try and talk to Buddy instead (Courtney)?

The aforementioned facets of the film nits; smaller quibbles. There are things that occur that in some ways make you wonder about the production, and in general questionable decisions. The very first scene in the film cuts awkwardly. Riggs and Courtney overall do fine jobs, but in the early scenes they seem a bit ill at ease in their roles, Courtney especially; as they get caught up then the stakes go up. Unfortunately, CG plays a hug role in the latter third and it doesn’t really work that well at all.

I think to convey it best to King fans I can frame it this way: the CG-heavy climactic portions of this film remind me of a 21st Century Langoliers, only this film isn’t anywhere near as compelling as The Langoliers is before being heinously under-served by the effects work.

Up until then the film is passable, and there are things worth watching it for, Shirley Knight is another. In a film whose running time is less than 80 minutes it tries to spread the tale between too many inconsequential supporting characters, and doesn’t move as quick as it should.


When Mercy is available on rental platforms it’s worth it if you’re curious enough, but in this case sadly the whole is far less than the sum of the parts.

5/10

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 Actor 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. After adding an Ensemble Award the next logical step was to end the unisex nature of the Youth Lead Categories. The final step was complete this year with the inclusion of Supporting categories for young actors. The Lead Youth Acting winners from 1996-2010 can be found in a separate post.

2016 Daniel Huddlestone London Town

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2015 Kodi Smit-McPhee All the Wilderness

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2014 Antoine L’Écuyer The Custody

The Custody (2014, Attraction Media)

2013 Asa Butterfield Ender’s Game

Ender's Game (2013, LionsGate)

2012 Rick Lens Kauwboy

Kauwboy (2012, Waterland Film)

2011 Joel Courtney 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

The Importance of Being Joel Courtney

Joel Courtney (Photo: Mark Brennan)

The way Variety tells it Joel Courtney headed to Los Angeles seeking to take some acting lessons and maybe land some commercial work if he was lucky. However, he not only landed a lead in a major motion picture but has also parlayed it into three more jobs within a month of his screen debut’s release.

Things worked out much better for him than he could’ve expected as he got into the Super 8 after an extended, elaborate and at times secretive casting process. One in which Spielberg and Abrams gambled on a few newcomers (and won big time) likely in spite of studio pressure to err on the side of experience.

The casting process started with an open call.
and what can be learned on both sides of the camera in this portion of the story is that open calls can lead to something good.

Courtney’s case is one of a natural talent being discovered and it benefited not only the film but, as recent stories have shown, Courtney as well.

While some were getting tired of the glut of Taylor Lautner news a while back, as he seemed to be signing deals at a record pace, I saw it as expected and good for him. It’s always been my contention that an actor has to strike while the iron is hot especially if he/she is being offered work they want to do. Fear of over-exposure ought not be a deterrent as it is a high class problem to have. Talent will win out over perception in most cases especially when an actor fits a part perfectly.

Courtney had already shot a two-episode stint on R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour, a series on The Hub Network, when it was announced that he was attached not only to a new Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn film but also to an indie horror/sci-fi tale called The Healer. The films’ principal photography will occur in consecutive months (August & September) and shoot in Bulgaria and North Carolina respectively.

From being a cinematic debutant to suddenly in demand has taken about a month. Of course, as with most overnight successes, it hasn’t truly been that fast. There was a long audition process, principal photography and the worldwide press junkets and after all that one might expect Joel and the kids of Super 8 to be wary of taking on new commitments, however, many of them seem to think as I do and are seeking to keep working while there’s demand. Gabriel Basso is still a regular on The Big C and Zach Mills has signed on to be a regular on The Hub Network’s new series Clue.

In closing, I just want to address the fact that Joel is a child actor, which is for the most part virtually irrelevant. The bottom line is he’s a working actor who’s taking advantage of opportunities earned and should serve as a template for future actors who knock it out of the park upon getting their big break and that’s the importance of being Joel Courtney: not being content with or being disoriented by newfound stature but immediately seizing other great opportunities as they come along.