Category Archives: Children

The Fault in Our Stars

What Jesse said:

So I get dragged out to watch a chickflick with the wife and as it turns out… not a bad movie. It’s called The Fault in Our Stars and it stars Shailene Woodley who I thought was fantastic in 2013’s The Spectacular Now. The movie has a decent balance of funny and sad moments and the performances are pretty tight. Go watch it.

Mike’s verdict:

Subsequent discussions have left me with the distinct impression that Jesse was not so much “dragged” to this movie, and he thinks more of it than the ‘not a bad movie’ comment suggests. I mostly agree with him – it’s not a bad movie. It’s not a great movie either.

Woodley does an ‘okay’ (you’ll get the pun later) job here, and she definitely fits better in this movie than in the universally mis-casted Divergent. (There’s no review of Divergent because Jesse still refuses to admit that he was first in line to see it.) But there’s nothing remarkable about this film. It’s the kind of movie that my mother recommends to me because she caught most of it on TV on a Sunday afternoon in between trips to the laundry room.  Some things happen to two kids who only know each other because they both picked the short straw when life was handing out healthy bodies. And those things teach the kids about life.

In one sentence: this movie is The Spectacular Now for kids with cancer. But where The Spectacular Now felt real, this one just feels like a movie. Yes, the kids are plain but everything else is Hollywood – every character is good or bad, every problem is simple or impossible. There’s not enough grayzone.

I really liked Willem Dafoe in this though – his character was by far the most interesting and he was completely believable as the cranky old man trying to escape humanity. I haven’t read the book, but I’m willing to bet that Peter Van Houten is better developed in it, and I’m disappointed the writers of the film didn’t take him further.

One thing that really bothered me was the poorly chosen ending. By about half way through the story you realize that there is exactly one way the story has to come to a close, and unfortunately director Josh Boone failed to notice it. Maybe he thought it would be too obvious. I think he just didn’t fully understand the message.

Either way, The Fault in Our Stars is adequately entertaining, non-controversial and benign, but you’re going to forget about it as soon you turn it off.

5/10

p.s. If you’re curious, Woodley didn’t let Miles Teller ride her coat-tails into this movie – they must have been having an off week.


Prisoners

What Jesse said:

It’s good. Watch it. And when you’re done you’re going to watch Enemy too.

Mike’s verdict:

Prisoners is a captivating thriller / mystery that manages to keep a decent pace and avoid over-done plot devices despite resting in a very crowded genre. The abducted child/helpless parent film has been done many times, but this one manages to present a mystery engaging enough to keep it interesting.  The pieces of the puzzle are laid out in a way that they keep you guessing and building theories all the way through, but they also do fit together to make a coherent picture at the end. It’s a ‘satisfying’ mystery in that once you have all the information the story makes sense.

The atmosphere is quite effective as well. Most of the film takes place in the rainy days of late November and the dreariness really adds to the sense of helplessness.

One aspect that I very much appreciated, but others may find to be a fault, is the very minor emphasis put on character development. The film isn’t about parental anguish or the struggle of a cop – it’s about the mystery of what happened to two little girls. For me the characters were as fully developed as they needed to be to get the story across, without wasting my time.

I like the title too – it’s unclear even to the end who it should refer to (the children, their parents, the abductors) and the ambiguity adds to the mystery.

However, there are a few aspects that I didn’t like. I think Hollywood has greatly overstated how easily the average family-man can be pulled by grief to the point of doing despicable things to another human being; and this film is an example of that.  Even worse, the torture scenes (admittedly tame by today’s standards) were entirely unnecessary as they didn’t really advance the plot. Perhaps the point was to show the uselessness of torture, but if that’s the case this is the wrong movie for making that statement.

Overall, it was an interesting and entertaining mystery. You won’t be talking about it for days, but it’s worth an evening on the couch.

7.5/10


Welcome to the Dollhouse

What Jesse said:

Welcome to the Dollhouse. Plenty of cringe-inducing  moments in this one, plus some really great performances from the young actors. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1996 Sundance.

Mike’s verdict:

Welcome to the Dollhouse is, quite simply, about how much it sucks to be a kid. Written entirely from the perspective of one unhappy girl, every scene is intentionally exaggerated to emphasize just how unfair her world is. Her parents don’t love her as much as her siblings, her teachers don’t appreciate her effort, and all the kids at school think she’s ugly. She’s every 12-year-old girl who ever lived.

The film actually does a good job of portraying the awkwardness, disappointment, and unfairness that, all combined, pretty much define the early teen years. The kids definitely give decent performances, and the atmosphere really is effective. Even the conflicted bully from a bad home is believable.

Unfortunately, the film’s intention is ambiguous because its aim is slightly off.  As an affirmation that all kids feel the world is unfair, Welcome to the Dollhouse would be a worthwhile lesson for most children. The problem is that the film isn’t actually meant for children – the message is delivered too subtly. It’s only recognizable through hindsight to someone who’s already lived it and survived well enough to look back rationally; only an adult is going to understand what the film is saying. On the other hand, the lesson is wasted on an older audience for exactly the same reason. If you can understand the message, you don’t need to learn the lesson.

Maybe I just have a thicker skin than Jesse, but I didn’t find much in the way of ‘cringe-inducing moments’ either. I could recognize that a character felt awkward, but it didn’t translate to me being uncomfortable for them. At most I felt sorry for the girl in a ‘don’t worry, you’ll understand when you’re older’ kind of way.

This one gets 5/10. I wasn’t bored, and the production was good all around. But it didn’t give me anything to think about.


Time Bandits

What Jesse said:

If you’re going to watch 12 Monkeys, you might as well watch Time Bandits too. They were both directed by the guy who wrote Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and they form a loose trilogy with Brazil. Don’t bother with Brazil though.

Mike’s Verdict:

I probably would have enjoyed this a little more if I had seen it 25 years ago. For most of the movie I felt like I was actually watching Holy Grail but with short people substituted for witty dialog. What can I say: it’s a children’s movie from the early 80s.

I did really like the undertone commentary on theology though, and I suppose I wouldn’t have caught any of it had I watched this when I was a kid.

6/10