39 posts categorized "Children's Cinema"

June 11, 2015


Tomorrowland Hollywood hastens its entropic slide with a dystopic children’s story that lacks cohesion, logic, and even style. Audiences believing George Clooney’s barely-seen presence in the movie will elevate it are in for a letdown. The same rule applies to director Brad Bird (“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”) who seems to have been asleep at the wheel. Even the film’s pro-ecology theme gets muddled beyond recognition due to a litany of plot, character, and dialogue failures. “Tomorrowland” is a poster-child for everything wrong about Hollywood in 2015. How its by-committee script (it was written by four screenwriters) ever got greenlit for production is a mystery. Heads will roll at Disney.

The Disney-brand-aggrandizing plot centers on a futuristic theme park (a la Space Mountain) whose cement-poured surfaces of curved lines create a hermetic atmosphere of cultish aspiration.

Tomorrowland2In flashback we see the child version of Clooney’s character Frank Walker attempting to impress the powers-that-be (namely Hugh Laurie) at the 1964 New York World’s Fair with his self-made jetpack. It doesn’t actually work, but it looks nice in a retro steampunk way. The seemingly good thing that comes of Frank’s experience is meeting Athena (Raffey Cassidy) a slightly older flirt who gives Frank a button pin with a “T” (you know, for “Tomorrowland). The button has special powers that transport Frank to (you guessed it) Tomorrowland, a place you could describe as a culture-vacuum.

The movie abruptly switches gears to follow Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a twentysomething girl who also came into possession of a Tomorrowland button at the hand of Athena. The method to Athena’s madness comes didactically clear in the film’s pasted-together climax involving some call-to-arms pap about young people rising up to repair the toxic sins of their predecessors that are killing the planet.

“Tomorrowland” is an ideal summer movie if you objective is to get an air-conditioned nap at a handy cinema. Sadly, the movie isn’t much good for anything else.

Rated PG. 130 mins. (D) (One Star - out of five/no halves)


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October 28, 2014


Little FugitiveIt is entirely possible that John Cassavetes would not have become an independent filmmaker were it not for “Little Fugitive.” François Truffaut credited this influential movie with paving the way for the French New Wave.

Made in 1953 by three confident filmmakers, “Little Fugitive” is as much an invaluable filmic document of postwar New York as it is an enchanting incipient work of independent cinema.

Equal parts child character study and social exposé, “Little Fugitive” is about a seven-year-old boy named Joey who “goes on the lam” in Coney Island after his older brother pulls a gun prank that makes Joey believe he accidentally killed another boy.

Little Fugitive (1953) | Film Capsule

The film’s screenwriter Ray Ashley taught in New York City public schools before working as the “education editor” for PM, a '30s-era leftist newspaper where photojournalist Morris Engel also worked before serving as a combat photographer in the Navy from 1941 to 1946. In 1952 Ashley, Engel and Engel’s soon-to-be-wife Ruth Orkin, also a photojournalist, turned their attention to making a movie that could compete with anything being produced in Hollywood. Independent cinema’s roots in socialist ideals were intrinsic to its origin.

Film Appreciation: Little Fugitive

The filmmakers utilized a cast of non-actors and shot the entire movie on a portable hand-held 35mm camera that Morris Engel designed and had built by Charlie Woodruff, a medical engineer. The trade-off was that the smaller camera was not outfitted to record sound. Only after filming did the filmmakers go back and loop in the audio, which the actors had to reproduce in a recording studio. Although the technique was popular at the time with Italian filmmakers, it was unheard of in Hollywood.

American Boy. Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin and Ray Ashley's Little Fugitive |  by Adam Bat | Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second. | Medium

Siblings Joey (Richie Andrusco) and 12-year-old Lennie Norton (Richard Brewster) are a couple of Brooklyn boys living in a small apartment with their single mother. Lennie’s mom (Winifred Cushing) has promised to let Lennie go to Coney Island for his upcoming birthday when she’s called away to care for her sick mother. With Lennie left in charge of babysitting his little brother, the boys take to the streets to play with a toy rifle. Joey begs the older boys to let him fire the gun. Some well-placed ketchup convinces Joey that he has committed murder.

Little Fugitive - Reeling Reviews

In a gleeful display of kid-logic Lennie tells Joey to run away until things “blow over.” Equipped with a few dollars in his pocket, Joey forgets his troubles when he gets to Coney Island and begins to sample everything the festive carnival beach atmosphere has to offer.

Little Fugitive – 60th Anniversary! | Morris Engel Archive

With his belt-holster and toy pistol, Joey rides the carousel, takes his tries in the batting cage, and eats his fill of sodas, cotton candy, and watermelon before discovering his true calling, riding on a pony led by a friendly cowboy. Down to his last dime, Joey discovers a capitalist solution to his dilemma of pressing poverty. He begins collecting deposit bottles to finance his newly discovered lifestyle. Happy crowds mill about. Lovers make out on the beach and make love under the boardwalk in an America lost in a dream of freedom. We are free to imagine the life-lessons that Joey will take away from his escapade as he is reunited with his mom and brother. Like the nature of the film, the theme here is wondrous independence.


Not Rated. 80 mins.

5 Stars

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March 08, 2013


Oz the Great and PowerfulWhile coming nowhere near the level of dynamic storytelling of the original 1939 “Wizard of Oz,” Sam Raimi’s prequel film has sufficient charms to temporarily rescue the ongoing draught of G and PG rated family films. James Franco is congenial, if not entirely suitable for the role of Oscar Diggs, a con man magician who gets spirited away by a tornado from his black-and-white earthbound reality to a magical (colorful) land in need of some leadership.


Seams show up early in the patchwork script — by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire. Although the writers try as they might to establish Oscar as a worthy protagonist during the film’s extended introduction, the character doesn’t quite take. All ambition and greed, Oscar doesn’t have a romantic bone in his body. Not even Michelle Williams’s local Kansas girl Annie can distract Oscar from his mission to be as “great” as Thomas Edison. Forget that Oscar doesn’t exhibit much skill at anything other than your basic huckster magician routines.


Once plopped down in Oz, Oscar meets up with Theodora, The Wicked Witch of the West (Mila Kunis). Theodora plays her dark cards close to the vest, making Oscar believe that it is her sister Glinda (Michelle Williams) who is the bad witch in need of some retribution for terrorizing the citizens of Oz. Theodora is happy to pin Oscar with the presaged role of folktale hero, if she can make him do her bidding. Theodora’s more evil sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) has her own twisted agenda for the newly anointed Oz. It doesn’t take Oscar a.k.a. “Oz” long to understand that Glinda is indeed the “good” witch in the equation.


“Oz the Great and Powerful” misses a wide-open opportunity for nuanced social commentary that the Depression era “Wizard of Oz” so eloquently seized. An auteur such as Guillermo del Toro would likely have been a better choice to script such a potentially rich fantasy as rooted in the global pressures of modern day existence. Don’t go looking too hard for any message beyond how it’s better to be “good” than “great.” The filmmakers didn’t set their sights high enough, and it shows. Still, “Oz the Great and Wonderful” serves its modest purpose of entertaining little ones.

Rated PG. 127 mins.

3 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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