42 posts categorized "Children's Cinema"

January 14, 2019

A BOY CALLED SAILBOAT

ColeSmithey.comAustralian actor-turned-director Cameron Nugent’s debut feature is an inept magical realist story infused with a tone-deaf sense of humor and a vague sense of thematic direction. This film’s rudderless political subtext, involving an immigrant Mexican family living in an unnamed dusty American border town, gives way to bizarre sexual content (witness Jake Busey’s cock-show as an elementary school teacher in tight sweat pants with no underwear). A pro-Big-Tobacco message gets smuggled in for good measure. Shooting guns into the air for no reason also happens out of context. Nothing adds up.

Noel Gugliemi plays Jose, a face-tattooed Chicano family man with Meyo (Elizabeth De Razzo), his loyal housekeeping wife, and their six-year-old son Sailboat (Julian Atocani Sanchez). Jose supports his family’s leaning ramshackle house with a single wood beam that prevents the structure from collapsing on its occupants, ostensibly killing them. Jose drives around in a homie-not-approved four door ‘50s Oldsmobile missing its backseat doors.

There might be some arcane political commentary the filmmakers are attempting to make with the collapsing-house metaphor, but it doesn’t come across. 

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The child actor Sanchez delivers monotone voice over narration that upends the movie before it gets started.

“You find the most important things when you’re not looking.” Sailboat finds a ukulele that every character inexplicably calls a guitar.

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This “important thing” enables our young musical prodigy to write a song that casts a spell over anyone who hears it. The problem is that the filmmakers didn’t go to the trouble of creating a piece of music to fill the bill. They instead play a single tone akin to a honking car horn whenever Sailboat performs his soul-quenching sonic creation. This is just lazy filmmaking. It’s infuriating for an audience to feel so openly insulted by irresponsible filmmakers.

Without irony, a repeating guitar motif arrives in the guise of “The Sound of Silence.”

JK Simmons

J.K. Simmons’s presence seemingly endorses “A Boy Called Sailboat,” although the A-List actor probably shot his scenes in a single day, and didn’t know much about the movie beyond his isolated bit as a used vehicle salesman in the middle of nowhere.

The people who come from miles around to hear Sailboat play his (silent) song sure do enjoy Meyo’s spicy meatballs. There are a lot of things not right about “A Boy Called Sailboat,” not the least of which are the mixed messages the film sends to kids. This is not a movie to leave laying around for your children to watch alone or even with parental guidance.

Not Rated. 92 mins.

One Star

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free 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. Thanks a lot pal! Every bit helps keep the reviews coming.

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January 16, 2016

STAR WARS: EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS

Star-wars-the-force-awakens-leia

The magic is gone from the “Star Wars” franchise. It has been for a very long time. The franchise started its decline when “Return of the Jedi” fell short of its predecessor (“The Empire Strikes Back”) way back in 1983. Every sequel or (ill conceived) prequel that has arrived since “The Empire Strikes Back” has possessed ever-less panache. If you think otherwise, go back and watch the films in the order that they were made.

You’ll never hear a Star Wars fan criticize George Lucas’s decision to abandon a linear approach to the storyline by inverting the series to break up the narrative into an abstract puzzle. Still, the overall effect is annoying to the point of distraction. No audience member should feel impelled to do a refresher course to figure out where the latest film of a franchise falls into its grand scheme. Faulty logic. This is one of a myriad of reasons that the James Bond franchise far outweighs Star Wars.  

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This latest installment of fandom’s favorite mongrel pet is a poorly paced MacGuffin-chase plot, ginned up with groan-inducing spoonful doses of pro-war imagery and its attendant rudimentary vocabulary.

“We blow up the big gun.” “Keep the target hard.”

I kid you not.

Such dumbed down dialogue flows like so much toxic water in Flint, Michigan throughout this movie.

Yes, yes, yes, and amen. This is war fantasy cinema propaganda for kids. Barf.

Star-wars-force-awakens

This film’s pro-war indoctrination warms kids up to the idea of killing faceless victims (as always the soulless storm troopers, who it’s hinted at might be an army of black slaves).

No one ever said “Star Wars” was highbrow entertainment. If you doubt that this film’s core genre is children’s cinema, just look for its corollary toy merchandising. The bloated, overworked, storyline is all bubblegum gobbledygook about a map that leads to Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill, looking oddly similar to a late era Oliver Reed).   

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The franchise’s culturally malnourished formula is to blame. “The Force Awakens” has none of the political commentary of “The Legos Movie,” but it does possess a political agenda, however oblique, aimed at its intended pre-teen audience.

The narrative surface is shallow and brittle. It’s all recycled style with accidental war propaganda thrown in as subtextual substance. George Lucas might believe in socialist ideas in his private life, but that’s never on display in the Star Wars films. Such potential complexity is a moot point considering that co-writer/director J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek — 2009) oversees this film’s production.

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Rejiggering the same formulaic storyline results in an awkward cast of bland character prototypes reused though another sluggish round of children’s soap opera cinema parading as sci-fi. This is not the science fiction of social satire that Paul Verhoeven or Neil Blomkamp brings to the sci-fi genre.

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The filmmakers here avoid an obvious opportunity for social subtext by not taking advantage of interracial romance between Daisy Ridley (as Rey, a junkyard salvager) and John Boyega (as Finn, an AWOL stormtrooper). Daisy Ridley is a spot-on cross between Emma Watson and a young Keira Knightley. That might sound like a compliment, but it’s not. If ham acting is your thing, then you’ll love watching Ridley mugging and pulling faces like a community theater actress playing to the last row.

What could have provided the movie with some much-needed heart merely gets blended through the Star Wars machine recipe. The writers go out of their way to renege on Finn’s potential as a renegade freedom fighter for the resistance. Finn describes himself as a member of the resistance when it suits him in the moment, but is quick to privately reveal that he holds no such allegiance. The character’s lack of integrity speaks to the film’s unwillingness to make any meaningful allegories, ever. The film’s ostensibly mindless viewer is invited to shut up and eat his or her freaking popcorn.

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Sure the filmmakers make sure to tug at nostalgic heartstrings to induce a tear wherever possible, but that isn’t enough to redeem this undeniable snooze of a film. The movie could loose 25 minutes and still feel too long. As if that weren’t enough, this picture’s lame use of 3D is a final insult to make you wish you’d spent your money and time on “The Hateful Eight” instead.

Rated PG-13 135 mins.

1 Star

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free 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. Thanks a lot pal! Every bit helps keep the reviews coming.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

March 26, 2012

MIRROR MIRROR

Mirror_Mirror_Lily_CollinsForever Young:
Snow White Makes a Comeback
By Cole Smithey

Director Tarsem Singh takes ample advantage of the chance to reinvigorate the Grimm Brothers’ popular fairy tale “Snow White” with a visually lush live-action adaptation that brilliantly captures the imagination. These images sing.

Lilly Collins (daughter of musician Phil Collins) embodies Snow White, who watches her 18th birthday pass without a celebration. Collins’s poised performance is a revelation. With Julia Roberts’s gleefully cunning Evil Queen Clementianna in charge of the castle, Snow White needs all the help she can get from a band of midget bandits.

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The helpful brigands live in the forest between the castle and an impoverished town the Evil Queen has bilked of its economic recourses. Screenwriters Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller make no bones about smuggling their topical social message into the text. Discontent among the peasants percolates with rebellion.

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Visual fascination gives way to episodes of slapstick humor—some involving the wicked Queen’s foolish servant Brighton (Nathan Lane). Armie Hammer’s Prince Alcott is an affable fall guy for the film’s carefully crafted jokes, which focus upon him as an object of desire to be fought over between the Evil Queen and Snow White — the kingdom’s lawful Queen.

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Energized by Tarsem Singh’s signature eye for fantasy landscapes (see “The Cell”), “Mirror Mirror” lights up like the Aurora Borealis: the castle and its surroundings are breathtaking. Elko Ishioka’s masterful costume designs go a long way toward fulfilling the sense of grandeur Singh incorporates into his regal interpretation. Such dynamic sophistication for an adaptation of a childhood fantasy might sound like an iconoclastic idea, but it works like a charm. Similarly, if a Bollywood-styled ensemble song-and-dance celebration seems an unlikely coda, stay through the closing credits.

Mirror mirror

Over the course of 11 years, and just four films, Tarsem Singh has created a cinematic vernacular as fertile as fantasy maestro Guillermo del Toro. While not as prolific as del Toro, the India-born Singh is equally predisposed to thickly layered tales of provocative fantasy. Singh’s 2006 adaptation of Valeri Petrov’s “The Fall” has earned a loyal cult following for its surrealist landscapes, inventive costumes, and bold compositions. Most recently, Singh liberated “Immortals” from the camp confines of its dubious predecessor “300.”

Mirror

At a time when animation rules children’s cinema, it’s refreshing to see a live-action fantasy film imbued with such vibrant imagination. Kids’ fantasy movies have to stand up to many repeated viewings without indoctrinating young ones into questionable behavior. Indeed, “Mirror Mirror” goes to great pains to keep every plot movement and line of dialogue true to an ethical backbone. Lily Collins crafts a graceful portrayal of a postmodern feminist heroine. Delicate but not frail by any means, Collins’s Snow White is a redoubtable icon for little ones to marvel at.

Rated PG. 95 mins.

4 Stars

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free 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. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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