Film Thought: Train Wrecks of Nostalgia, or News Film Fans Aren’t Owed

On the Internet, I do not believe timing is everything. Quite frankly I found it emotionally exhausting to keep my ear pinned to the proverbial ground waiting to hear the next thing I “had” to have an opinion about when my postings needed to be more current event based on the Site That Shall Not Be Named.

Due to this, when I first heard of Jake Lloyd’s arrest following a high-speed chase in South Carolina I didn’t comment on it in any way, shape, or form.

That brings me around to the most recent time he made the news. Nearly a month ago (4/10), after almost 10 months in prison, he was transferred to a psychiatric ward to better treat his schizophrenia.

Episode 1 Teaser

The reason I’ve taken my time both in winding my way to the meat of this story, and also in terms of time elapsed since having heard it are as follows:

  • This is by no means intended to be yet another morbid “Where are they now?” piece.
  • Nor is this attempting to pin the ills of society or individuals on what some refer to as the necessary evil of child actors in film and television

Instead the three points I want to make citing this and a more recent story are:

  1. The need to make correctional institutes as rehabilitative as they were once intended to be rather than merely punitive money pits that either re-release criminals or breed career criminals.
  2. What should occur instead is: if there is a clear diagnosis that needs medicating, and in some extreme cases relocation, that must occur. It’s bad enough that stigma contributes to too many people with mental illnesses being unaware, undiagnosed or unmedicated in society.
  3. For prison officials to be dubious of, or callous to, inmates’ needs while they’re incarcerated can only result in their continued mental degradation and possibly those around them, both on the inside and on the outside.

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As for the ills of society or individuals:

There are a vast array of mental illnesses. Even with schizophrenia being one of the most difficult to diagnose, and even though some attribute environmental and substance abuse factors into its development or accelerated onset, there is still a genetic component in it as well, just as there is with things as common as depression or more severe like bipolar disorder.

It is far to simplistic to state things like: “This never would have happened if he wasn’t Anakin.” Episode I was released 17 years by now. If you were making a biopic it’d be jarring to cut from behind the scenes on a film set to that individual’s low-point in life. A narrative feature would also then work to fill in those gaps and then “explain” everything.

Sometimes there is no explaining something because as Forrest Gump famously insinuated “Shit happens.”

Stuff-Happens

That’s where cognitive dissonance comes in, and the recent news that Joey Cramer, of Flight of the Navigator fame, was arrested after a series of bank robberies. Basically, you can’t have seen this story reported without his mugshot being spliced next to a still from the 1986 film.

It’s understandable since that film has more of a cult following, and a few passionate fans who have been vocally anti-remake (at the moment that project remains in development), as opposed to Lloyd whose breakout role was in a film that was the first virtually guaranteed to gross one billion dollars. However, the cognitive dissonance that’s being implied is the same: that can’t be him. He’s still 12 years old not in in his forties, and much less in his forties with a rap sheet. That dissonance is further exacerbated by the fact that relative time travel plays a factor in the plot of that film.

diablo

However, that shock one can feel is because their limited frame of reference in that story is an A to Z view and not the A to B straight line many people see. Which is how media reports many stories. Consider for example how simultaneous the media made Diablo Cody’s work as an exotic dancer and as a screenwriter.

Crime stories are bound to make the news anyway whether the perpetrator is mentally ill or not, had a three-year-acting-career or not. But the amount of attention it gets makes me wonder the following:

  • Is the schadenfreude that rewarding?

and

  • Is the aching nostalgia of childhood “dying” among the hottest commodities on the Internet?

In the end, in either scenario, all I end up feeling is empathy and sadness, and a wish not to see the stories going viral lest they can do some good. Reporting Lloyd’s transfer may give a slight push to criminal justice reform, may highlight mental illness just a little more during Mental Health Month. On the other hand photos of Macaulay Culkin while he’s just wandering down the streets of New York designed only to create “is he or isn’t he on drugs?” speculation is the kind of frivolous invasion of privacy that anti-paparazzi laws are for.

macaulay-culkin-zoom-b2c07d06-55ec-479f-9160-6df33eb4be87

The lines between celebrity and anonymity, reality and fiction, are constantly being blurred now, when they ought not be. These people are not their characters or personae, they’re only human. One should not take into consideration a person’s life in evaluating their art, and one’s art should never be an indicator that their life will or will not go according to plan. Fame or failure as a young person onscreen is not an oracle of future good fortune, unfortunate circumstances, mental illness or poor decision-making.

My advice on these child actor crime stories can be summed up in a callously succinct New York compound phrase: It is what it is, so fughettaboutit. By which I mean, just because you spent umpteen hours watching someone on the silver screen or TV when you were a kid doesn’t mean you are entitled to:

  • Excruciating minutia in regards to their low point.
  • An explanation of how they got there.
  • To incessantly assault them with your miniscule-in-the-grander-scheme vile opinion of what they “did” to a property you profess to love.

Just as mental illness is not something catching or to be scoffed at nor is excessive information on one’s downfall owed to anyone because they had the gall to audition for, and land, a role when they were merely a child, as you once were.

In Memoriam- Corey Haim

Granted train wrecks of nostalgia are jarring because images on film are eternal and crystallized whereas time goes on and we all age and things change. Sometimes in the glacial moments of life it can seem like things don’t change but then stories like this remind us time does move along, at times cruelly.

However, the sense of ownership we seem to feel over such stories is a fallacy. Jake Lloyd is hopefully getting his help now. Hopefully, Joey Cramer can too, whatever help that may be. Internet trolling doesn’t breed mental illness, but one has to wonder what it says about humanity that even in light of that news some still feel the need to pile on.

The Internet and social media can make things that once would have been mere footnotes bigger than they once would have been. One person thinking “This story matters,” sharing it, without comment, is, in terms of pixels and space on a feed, much larger than a small column in a traditional newspaper. If we feel the need to feel an excess of emotion for people we never met because they’ve died because they marked a significant moment in our childhood or life, then perhaps it’s time to show a bit of empathy for those who may have made a mark on us whom are still here but have fallen on hard times.

Still-of-joey-cramer-and-randal-kleiser-in-flight-of-the-navigator-large-picture

Having been in some films a decade or more ago and then going on to try to live a normal existence after you move on for whatever reason does not mean you’re in the public eye anymore. Those in entertainment at current know that’s part of the deal. Those who have tried to move on to a new phase who may have not been entirely successful deserve a bit more consideration and a chance to rehabilitate without public scrutiny.

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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*

Hero Whipped: Richie Rich

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Hero Whipped piece and I was considering this idea and several others to liven things up. If you’ve not read one of these posts before. Since the introduction the focus has been on one character, one who appears in comics but usually in many kinds of media, including films, of course.

With regards to Richie Rich there are really quite a few avenues of my return to comics, not to mention that but also the relationship between comics and film, which I can touch upon here. Before getting to a specific case study, which is where this post will differentiate itself. I’ll go through a bit of character history, as well as personal history with the character.

Histories

Richie Rich (Classic Media)

Richie Rich is one of the characters I grew up with when I was first reading comics before I abandoned them. The fate of his character and Harvey Comics was one of the hard truths I had to come to terms with upon returning to enjoying the medium after about a decade and a half hiatus.

Now, he and other Harvey creations aren’t exactly dead in the water. Harvey Comics met its demise not too long after the release of the Richie Rich film. It was second major film project based on their characters and ironically, the single-issue adaptation of the film’s story was actually released by Marvel, and that’s where the case study will come in.

Since Harvey went under the characters of their universe have undergone quite a journey. They were reprinted in a series of collections, most of which are now hard-to-find, by Dark Horse Comics.

Richie Rich: Rich Rescue (Ape Entertainment)

However, that didn’t last long, but Richie Rich has been revitalized through Ape Entertainment’s Kidzoic label. What Ape, with aid of the old hands that are still with us, have managed to do is that they’ve modernized the character in appearance, behavior and plot, but kept Richie’s essence the same. Through Rich Rescue he still gets into capers but the tales are more formalized and less random. He rings a bit more true but is still essentially a good kid, and not the spoiled silver spoon baby one would expect. Reggie, his antagonistic cousin, is a bit more rounded. The art is also more malleable inasmuch as there are reprints/recolorings of old tales as well as new stories with classical design of the characters.

Richie Rich (Classic Media)

Then last year, Classic Media, which is the company that took control of the intellectual property of Harvey and a couple of other companies was purchased by DreamWorks. This development is great for the future of these characters. Firstly, it doesn’t seem like right now it’ll endanger rekindled comic adaptations (while Star Wars comics will migrate to Marvel, comics based on Disney’s characters remain entrenched at Boom Studios, and Disney has never really had a proprietary brand) I don’t foresee DreamWorks or Classic Media entering the fray either, but do believe Spielberg/DreamWorks will try and build upon his investment, and considering he was executive producer on the first Casper cinematic incarnation, other films may be in the offing.

The Harvey Universe would be a prime candidate (and this could be a list at some point) for a motion capture treatment in the future.

Which brings me to the specific.

Case Study

Richie Rich (Warner Bros./Marvel)

Before I revisited, and read Richie Rich more voraciously than I ever had before my departure from comics, I hovered around what was in part wrong with the film version. I think if I saw the film again, I’d still like it but there’d be similar issues for me.

Culkin (and here may be another list ranking his films) was not necessarily the wrong choice for the part, but the part was written more to suit him than the character, there’s the occasional precociousness and snark that’s really not Richie. There’s that origin of meeting his friends where the trite envy is built in where the greedy adult world is really what’s supposed to be the enemy. Richie, his father and mother are fictitious, altruistic billionaires that are all childlike counter-capitalists in their desire to always do right over what’s profitable, yet, due to their virtue always come out swimming in money. This nuanced tonality, even with some similar dialogue and plot points comes through a lot better in a comic version of the film tale because the performances are my interpretations through reading rather than being presented a concrete interpretation onscreen.

Richie Rich (1994, Warner Bros.)

Granted some of this commentary runs counter to some of my fanboy advice, but it’s a lot easier to avoid these pitfalls when there are multiple cinematic versions to fall back on. With Richie Rich there’s just this one major film and the TV show. It’s still a better more complete film than the latter TV project Richie Rich’s Christmas with David Gallagher, but a more creative dynamic with thew friends and perhaps someone like Elijah Wood in the lead would’ve worked better.

With recent sociopolitical developments the atmosphere’s right for a new, more mature, dare I even say deep, handling of this character. The time has definitely come I think for a screen return of some kind and a continued proliferation in comics for Richie Rich.

Cinematic Battle of the Nutcrackers

Every year for the past 5 years Ovation TV has a Battle of the Nutcracker’s wherein they play 5 different versions (rotating some out annually) of the ballet based on Tchaikovsky’s most renowned work. While I definitely qualify myself as an enthusiast rather than a savant of dance, this is a piece I know well enough such that I find it interesting to watch the different versions and pick a favorite.

Now within the ballet there are many variations for while Tchaikovsky’s music is the standard each choreographer has their signature while it was Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov who originally choreographed it, it’s perhaps Balanchine’s that’s most well known.

What’s most interesting to me about this “competition” where the viewers are invited to vote for their favorites is that it gets me thinking about adaptation. One could do quite a lengthy case study on The Nutcracker alone. While there are many either “filmed ballets” or cinematic versions based on Tchaikovsky there are many based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Just the fact that you have these two available sources available to freely adapt makes this quite a notable story.

However, a narrative as flexible as this wouldn’t suffice for a post for one could argue that “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James and “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft are more malleable pieces of fiction based on the films they’ve spurned. What makes The Nutcracker a unique tale, is not only the fact that I personally would put it on a list of ‘The Great Stories’ meaning classic narratives I could watch re-interpreted any number of ways but also the fact that it does have two potential origins as a source material either in literature or in dance.

In honor of this great story and the novel idea by Ovation I thought it’d be good to have some suggested Nutcracker-related film viewing for the holiday season.

Here are perhaps the three most well-known (the ones I’ve seen) cinematic versions to get you started.

The Nutcracker in 3D (2010)

The Nutcracker in 3D (2009, Freestyle Releasing)

During its all too brief cinematic run it was referred to as The Nutcracker in 3D. Now with 3D being the cinematic boogeyman du jour home video is the way to check this film out. I won’t give too much away but this version is most definitely different and based on the story rather than the ballet. This allows the storytellers to have a lot of latitude and there are few if any safe decisions and this film will likely cause divisive reactions all around. Partially musical and very allegorical it’s a film that refuses to be ignored. It also features Elle Fanning (Super 8, We Bought a Zoo) and Charlie Rowe (Neverland).

Fantasia (1940)

Fantasia (Disney)

If you’re one who prefers your references and adaptations a bit more oblique then you need look no further than Disney’s pet project Fantasia. Along with many numbers from The Nutcracker you will of course see interpretations of may other classical pieces. This film is definitely all about Tchaikovsky’s music rather than the ballet though there is dancing too as you may well know.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (1993)

Macaulay Culkin and Jessica Lynn Cohen in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker (Warner Bros.)

This was the first place I was able to complete viewing the complete story of The Nutcracker ballet. My first attempt to view it live at Lincoln Center was interrupted halfway through. There are a few things that are interesting about this film not the least of which is that you have within it an encapsulation of George Balanchine’s choreography. You also have the fine narration of Kevin Kline. However, of course, what most will note is that it features Macaulay Culkin in the lead. The only major alteration is that the choreography, which for the nephew/nutcracker is rather minimal is diminished further here. While some may not even know this film even exists you might be further surprised to learn that this film is really perhaps the biggest power play Kit Culkin, Macaulay’s father and perhaps the most notorious stage parent in modern times, ever pulled off. Macaulay’s participation in The Nutcracker was really a case of living vicariously through your child. Though he speaks of it earnestly now of his distaste for the project it really doesn’t translate very much on film. Furthermore, Kit tried to influence the final cut of the film removing said narration and when it wouldn’t happen Culkin didn’t publicize the film so it was another Nutcracker box office bomb.

The Ovation block certainly made me want to look for other versions on film and I hope you enjoy these as well as seeking out others.

In Memoriam- John Hughes

John Hughes

Often times an era in which one excelled, and the fact that an artist was wildly prolific within a time period greatly influences our opinion of him. Simply calling John Hughes the “Bard of Teen Angst” is not praise enough for not all of his work was a teen movie or a brat pack film.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles was not only an uproariously funny film, which was John Candy and Steve Martin’s only onscreen meeting, but a heartwarming film in the end. The revelation that Candy’s character was homeless became a 1980s template for sitcom episodes as did the plots of The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Sixteen Candles.

Hughes then put Candy in The Great Outdoors in a similar brand of comedy but fewer social ramifications.

This was the man who penned the Vacation films to greatness and those were hardly angst-ridden just downright funny.

Hughes also showed his more dramatic side with titles like Curly Sue – a film whose perception in my mind is likely skewed due to my sister’s incessant watching of it. The heartfelt, sincere, coyly funny, at times dramatic She’s Having a Baby.

He was a star launcher from propelling Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom, and also John Candy, Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald and Macaulay Culkin.

Even his greatest hits: The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off show more diversity than Hughes is typically given credit for having.

The screenwriter is a largely anonymous figure in the Hollywood game and in the American consciousness, even more so when said writer chooses to leave Hollywood behind. Even with one of the longest string of hits in the history of film there was a fade, yet even while fading Hughes put his name on big scripts.

In the 90s Hughes was hired to write a series of remakes: 101 Dalmatians, Flubber, Miracle on 34th Street and Dennis the Menace.

He also wrote Beethoven which was good in its first installment and he has continued the series under his pen name scripting it or lending his characters.

The decade of course began with Home Alone, which has been tarnished in hindsight due to many things unrelated to the film. It is a classic comedy and at the end of its theatrical run was the 4th highest grossing film of all-time and the #1 comedy. It is still in the mid-20s of the all-time rank 19 years later, with no inflated ticket prices there to boost it. Hughes went on to pen the next two in the series.

Home Alone was inspired by one short scene in Uncle Buck where Macaulay interviewed Buck’s girlfriend through the mail slot. Which is another tremendous example of his artistry: one, because such a short exchange spun off into another film and that he found inspiration in that. It’s also great because the two films complement each other.

The remainder of his credits he had attributed to him where written under his pen name Edmond Dantès, he did have few indie attempts like a TV series called New Port South and a hard to find film called Reach the Rock.

Which were followed by story credits such as Maid in Manhattan– nothing special but as good as a Cinderella update can be. Lastly, Drillbit Taylor which reportedly was a tale optioned in the 1980s and untouched ’til last year.

So a lot of that body of work had little to do with angst and a lot to do with fantasy and laughter and things that would get us through angst. The label likely has to do with his magnum opus, the masterpiece whose first draft was written over the course of one weekend: The Breakfast Club.

This is the kind of film that strikes a big time nerve not just for teenagers but for those who were teenagers, I myself was in college when I first saw it and likely connected with it more because of it. It examines its characters with surgical precision, and they all understand each other more they are by no means fixed or better for the experience just changed and more aware. They stand united against a common enemy – their parents and the principal. 

Part of what made Hughes great was that he had an unwavering view of the world best exemplified by a quote of his: “I don’t think of kids as a lower form of the human species.”

Hughes practiced what he preached and will not be forgotten by any of us who are young or merely young at heart. Whether we just sought escape or seek to create characters as honest and true as he did we will not forget his words.