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L'argent de poche (1976)
Moments of Childhood Closely Observed
Small Change unfolds like a poem - it's a collection of moments, thoughts and experiences, all clustered together, adding up to a very significant outcome. What it amounts to is the most thoughtful reflections of childhood I've ever seen, given from the perspective of many different age groups.
The film has many scenes that are used as a vehicle to illustrate the differences between children and adults - usually comparing the former favorably to the latter. This is clear in a scene where a girl and her father watch two seemingly identical goldfish swimming around in a fishbowl. "That's Plic" says the girl. "And that's Ploc." But her father can't see the difference. A child's superior eye for detail has rarely been so clearly exposed on film.
Most of the vignettes are funny. Some demonstrate childhood resilience, such as a scene where a toddler falls nine stories but is uninjured. Another shows children's uncanny ability to make the best of a bad situation, when a girl left alone at home thinks of an interesting way to draw attention to herself.
But among these funny episodes a more serious situation develops. The movie slowly but sharply draws a contrast between the children who come from loving families, and one child, a youth of about 13, who does not. Moments of this abused child's life are also closely observed - the pain of rejection, the joy of finding coins on the ground at an amusement park, and the innovative schemes to get by and survive. Julien's childhood is shown as a painful period, but an occasionally magical one nonetheless.
What is so pleasurable about viewing Small Change is its simplicity - it's rarely a film where you constantly need to grope your mind for implications or deeper meaning. Most of the scenes are remarkably uncluttered, just like childhood itself.
Unbelievably, this film was rated R upon its original release, then rightfully changed to a PG upon public outcry. A PG-13 would probably be the most appropriate rating, but this classification wouldn't come into effect for another 7 years. It is completely appropriate for children, but does seem geared primarily towards adults. Because the language is quite simple, it could also be viewed as an ideal movie in second or third year French. Not just for fans of Truffaut, I couldn't recommend this remarkable movie more.
Occasionally interesting TV movie
The first scene of this movie is the best: A young teen-ager stares into the mirror after an inventive makeup job that makes it look like her lips have been sewn shut. This image reflects the entire subject matter of the film - silence, repressed feelings and the inability to express emotions following a tragedy.
One thing that is unique about Speak is that while most films about high school rape are about seniors, this is about freshmen, with the assault taking place in grade 8. Such things must happen, and even if it is less likely to happen at fourteen than in the later teen years it's still refreshing to see the subject addressed.
Most of the acting is TV quality, although the narration was well done. I never had the feeling of an entire school year passing, despite efforts to show the seasons changing and various holidays passing by. Aside from the opening scene, nothing particularly grabbed my attention. This is a fairly standard TV movie with good intentions - and that's all it needs to be. It's an excellent film for any teen struggling to express their feelings about anything that's troubling them, whether it's rape or not.
A realistic portrayal of real evil coming back
This is the most mature Harry Potter film to date. The acting shows a new level of sophistication, darker themes are explored and the special effects are spectacular. As in the book, the climax effectively shows true evil coming back, making this movie a little too intense for some younger viewers. Some of the transitions from scene to scene seemed a little jarring, but all in all I think they did a pretty good job in condensing such a large book into just over 2.5 hours.
The only problem I had was the scene where Dumbledore starts shaking Harry after the goblet spits out his name as one of the champions. This is totally unlike his character as portrayed in the books. Does anyone remember how angry he was in Order of the Phoenix when Umbridge started shaking Marietta? Why would they have him do something so drastically out of character in this movie? I hope it wasn't just for shock value.
The Outsiders (1983)
Wonderful and Artsy Teen-age Drama
The Outsiders is an incredible book, one which could have been transmitted to the screen in very different ways. It could have been a low-budget, straightforward version with plenty of rawness and realism, or this artsy adaption by Coppula. The movie is basically true to the book, but so much attention is put into atmosphere that the plot sometimes takes a backseat to the images. Shadows talk into sunsets, and there are many atmospheric shots at night, like the rumble. A teen-aged world of greasers and socs is effectively created, but would have been more realistic without all the glamor. Some teen-agers might have preferred a more realistic approach. That was then, this is now, another bestseller by Hinton, was directed in such a fashion. But for lovers of cinema, the Outsiders is an art house delight.
Interesting take on the book
As a huge fan of both the book and original movie, it was with great anticipation that I entered the theater. I was a little bit disappointed, but to be honest this re-make does have some merits. The acting is great, as expected from Depp, and I thought the children were well chosen for their roles. The Oompa Loompa dances were amazing, much better than the pathetic attempts at cartwheels in the previous adaption. Another nice asset was the character of Violet Beaugrand. In the book her only vice was chewing too much gum, not really a significant enough fault to merit turning into a some sort of purple balloon. Here, she is also a type A perfectionist, always trying to win, an annoying and increasing trait in modern day children.
Now the bad news. Depp's Micheal Jackson approach to the character of Willy Wonka is interesting, but seemed a little out of place. The boat ride was a huge disappointment. In the original movie, it's one of the scariest scenes ever filmed, with rapid images of worms crawling over corpses and chickens being decapitated. I have even seen it on a list of the top 100 screen scares. This time around, however, it's really tame. The ending also bothered me, when we're introduced to Wonka's father. It destroys the mystery created in the book, where the lack of background information about Wonka made him more ominous, more exciting.
That said, I'd still recommend this movie for the great story and special effects, and fans of the original should also enjoy comparing the two very different versions of the classic novel.
Return to Oz (1985)
Quite a change from the first Oz movie
This enchanting sequel, which came out 46 years after the original, was a big surprise for me. Watching it, I kept thinking two things. The first was how full it was of an almost child-like innocence. This is traditional storytelling in the best sense, an escapist fantasy that is simply told but packed with exciting thrills. The second was how SCARY some parts were. I know this is a kids movie, and it's told from a child's perspective, but some scenes were frightening enough to be part of a horror film. There is a scene in a sanitarium where Dorothy is tied to her bed, and you can here someone groaning in the background, possibly from electric shock treatments. Another part involving heads displayed on a wall screaming Dorothy's name also gave me the chills. Nonetheless, the story unfolds like a fairy tale, and I'd still recommend it to children. They might be surprised how a scary a "family fairy tale" can be.
I was absolutely stunned while watching this fantasy/horror film. The original plot has Anna (an eleven year old girl with glandular fever) sketching the crude drawing of a house during the opening scene. As her fever worsens, she repetedly dreams of the same house on an open field. In her dreams, the house is brilliantly lit up and really looks like a child's drawing, which I found a rather frightening image. Anna dreams of adventures in the house with a boy named Marc, and these adventures turn more sinister as her illness becomes more serious. There seems to be a link between her illness and the evil she must face in the house, but like many things in the movie, this is only hinted at.
In many ways I found this movie better than the book, Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr. Although the book does contain some subtle horror, it is basically for children. However, the movie offers some real scares as well as an underlying atmosphere of suppressed horror. There is something unnerving in the scenes when Anna is exploring the empty house that is difficult to put your finger on.
Perhaps the reason this amazing film wasn't a huge commercial success was because it's difficult to determine it's intended audience. While the character of Anna might appeal to pre-teens, some scenes (in particular the one when the father tries to break into the house with a hammer) are far to intense for young children. Most adults may be put off by the plot, but if they're at all interested in child or dream psycology, or just want to see something different, I'd throughly reccomend it.
Jack the Bear (1993)
A brave film
Warning: Contains some spoilers
Although essentially a "coming of age" drama, few coming of age films show the degree of anger experienced by the title character of this movie. Jack is an adolescent who, as the movie opens, has just moved to a new neighborhood after the death of his mother. During the next few months, he faces some harsh life realities, such as a new school, his decaying opinion of his father, the abduction of his little brother and his fear of a dangerous neighbor. Most of all he faces the loss of his mother and deals with it the only way he can: by crying. None of these themes are new in a coming of age movie, but the emotions Jack goes through seem multiplied by 100 when compared to similar films. When he feels guilt, I was shocked by its intensity. And when he feels angry, I felt uneasy at the degree of rage shown by a basically mild mannered pre-teen.
The film is also not afraid to show its characters acting unpredictably. I came to care about them and was sometimes shocked by their behavior. But although disturbing, it was always realistic. All in all, I thought the film offered a bold example of how a family copes with big problems. I'd say that it's too intense for small children, but unfortunately adults may be put off by the story-line and the age of the main character. However, I'd recommend it to teens and adults who might have forgotten how rough adolescence can be.
I Am the Cheese (1983)
Not as good as the book
I'll admit that this movie, which was based on Robert Cormier's young adult novel, must have been difficult to make. The novel jumped through many time frames and had many scenes which would have been difficult to capture on film. But it simply lacks the subtle horror of the book, and the low budget really shows. Also, why change the ending? The ending of the novel might have been bleaker, but in the movie the ending left many questions unanswered.