★★★★ / ★★★★
Writer-director Thomas Balmes took Alain Chabat’s idea of filming babies from four different corners of the world and documenting their journey from inside the womb up until they learned how to walk: Ponijao from Namibia, Bayar from Mongolia, Mari from Japan and Hattie from the United States. What I first noticed about this impressive documentary was its lack of narration. Balmes’ decision to not explain why parents were doing or not doing certain things for their children made us active participants because we had to come up with our own conclusions. The picture having no subtitles to translate the foreign languages was quite bold because then we feel like the child in its very early years–unable to discern what the parents were saying exactly so we rely on the tones of their voices to guess what kind of expression they wanted to portray toward their child. While the movie was undoubtedly cute (I love the scenes when the children would interact with animals, especially when Bayar was petting his cat), it went far beyond, “Aww, how cute!” Since I had a bit of experience studying child development and psychology, it was so much fun applying what I learned toward something I’m actually seeing. We literally see these children grow before our eyes as they change from being entertained solely by toys (or random things in the dirt if they didn’t have any toys) that made strange noises, to learning via simple imitation, to having a sense of self when they realized that their bodies can have a direct effect onto the world. We even had a chance to observe how the children attempted to talk via babbling and say their first word. Furthermore, the film wasn’t just about the babies. Secondary to the subjects were the parents’ child-rearing practices. Since I live in America, I’m used to seeing parents coddling their babies as often as they could. So, initially, I found it surprising that parents in Africa and Mongolia allow, if not highly encourage, to let their child roam in the dirt and explore his and her surroundings. They even let animals like goats, dogs and chickens get near their babies without worry. I guess what the director wanted to tell us was the fact that babies have high resilience physically and psychologically. They have the need to explore the world and experience a spectrum of emotions which includes pain, frustration and anger. What Balmes managed to capture on film was magic. I admired the way it was able to condense over a year of life into a breezy eighty minutes yet successfully highlight the most important elements.
★★★★ / ★★★★
Based on the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen, “Flipped” was about two young adults who never were quite on the same page when it came to romance. Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll) had a crush on Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) ever since his family moved into the neighborhood. She claimed it was because of his gorgeous eyes. She liked the way he looked at her so she tried to reciprocate. But Bryce was simply annoyed of her from the moment they met. Juli’s hugs in school and attempts at conversations while waiting for the school bus embarrassed him to the core. But their feelings toward each other started to change course in middle school. Directed by Rob Reiner, I found “Flipped” to be funny, heartbreaking, and adorable. It reminded me of television shows like “The Wonder Years” and “State of Grace” because of the plucky but flawed main characters and a different version of innocence of the 1960s. The film was essentially an exercise of perspectives yet it was refreshing to see and hear Juli and Bryce’s take on certain key events of their budding (but mostly dying) pupply love. Both characters were equally interesting. Juli came from a poor family (Aidan Quinn, Penelope Ann Miller) but she was smart. Her approach to winning Bryce’s heart was to shower him with affection that ranged from simple gestures such as giving his family free eggs (she raised chickens) to sniffing him when she sat behind him in class. She claimed he smelled like watermelon and it was her most recent obsession. Bryce’s approach couldn’t be any more different. He was raised in a relatively well-to-do family (Anthony Edwards, Rebecca De Mornay) so he was used to thinking that everything was about him. He constantly asked himself why everything had to happen to him, what he did to make Juli angry, and what he could do make Juli forgive him. It was uncommon for him to think outside of himself and consider the big picture. Yet I loved both in their own way because I found them completely relatable. In fact, I think all of us, one way or another, can see ourselves in both of them and laugh because we were all children at some point. There were some nicely executed subplots such as Bryce’s father being prejudiced toward the Bakers, the grandfather’s adoration for Juli but not for his own grandson, and Juli’s uncle (Kevin Weisman) who happened to have a mental disability. The film’s subject is budding adolescents but that does not mean that it sacrificed complexity for easy answers. It respected its subjects by allowing them to be flawed, self-conscious of their flaws, and eventually break out of their phases without the painfully typical grand gestures and overtures. Like in our childhood, the key moments are hidden in the uncomfortable silences and small details. They become memories we never forget because a specific moment in time, powerful and unstoppable, changed us. For better or worse, it doesn’t really matter as long as we are able to grow.
★★★★ / ★★★★
When twelve-year-old Josh (David Moscow) wished on a strange fortunetelling machine at a carnival that he wanted to be big, he woke up the next morning as a grown-up (Tom Hanks). With the help of his best friend (Jared Rushton), Josh moved to New York and ended up working for a toy company that really needed refreshment on what children really wanted and Josh fell in love with a much older woman (Elizabeth Perkins). In the meantime, his parents thought that he was kidnapped. I’ve seen a number of movies with pretty much the same premise so I must admit I wasn’t that excited to see the movie. But I decided to watch it anyway because I’ve heard great things about it and at the time I felt like watching something light and harmless. From the minute the movie started, it was consistently amusing, imaginative and touching without being too cheesy. The writing was confident and the combination with Hanks’ ability to embody a twelve-year-old’s innocence was very entertaining to watch. An absolute stand-out scene for me was when Hanks and his boss (Robert Loggia) who was a kid-at-heart played a giant piano in a children’s store. There was something so pure yet subtle about it and I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear throughout the performance. I also loved the fact that “Big,” being a children’s movie, proved that it could entertain kids as well as adults without having to result to slapstick humor. It was above trying to disgust audiences with bodily functions and I admired it for that. Instead, it took advantage of mistaken identities and fantastic elements to tell a story that commented on physically growing up not necessarily equating to maturity both intellectually or emotionally. It was sometimes character-driven but it was done in a fun way so that you never really notice it. I also enjoyed the picture that much more because I promised myself when I was in high school that I would try my hardest not to loose my childlike tendencies as I reached adulthood. I saw parts of myself in Hanks’ character as he worked in and around the company, more specifically how his enthusiasm inspired others to think outside the box and love what they do more. “Big,” directed by Penny Marshall, was ultimately a film for both children and adults that was intelligent, creative and highly enjoyable. It may have been released in the late ’80s but I haven’t yet seen a recent movie with essentially the same premise that was quite as strong.
The Little Rascals (1994)
★★★ / ★★★★
“The Little Rascals,” inspired by the “Our Gang” series back in the ’20s and ’30s, was one of those movies I kept encountering on cable on random weekends but never did get a chance to watch it from beginning to end. “The Little Rascals” was about a group of friends in a He-Man Womun Haters Club just being kids, but when Alfalfa (Bug Hall) fell in love with a girl (Brittany Ashton Holmes) who recently moved to the neighborhood, the rest of the gang, led by Spanky (Travis Tedford), tried to break them up in order to adhere to their tradition. I couldn’t help but think this movie was absolutely adorable because there was just something hilarious about children talking like much older adults. It was like watching “Kids Say the Darndest Things” on steroids. While some were disturbed by it, I thought it was very amusing. I thought the kids living in the ’90s but the way they spoke and dressed feeling so much older than they were was a nice constrast. I’ll be the first one to admit that the story wasn’t that great but the movie was really more about showcasing the cute kids and the energy it spent to consistently entertain. On that level, I think it was successful despite its lack of depth or complexity or character development. However, I haven’t seen the original television series so I can’t quite comment on how it managed to remain true to its source. I’m not a big fan of slapstick comedy but I think it worked here because everything about the picture was light and breezy (which reminded me of those “Beethoven” pictures with the St. Bernard in the ’90s). While watching it, I imagined myself as a child in order to evaluate whether the comedy was working. I’m a kid at heart so it wasn’t a stretch for me to change perspectives and I thought it could easily appeal to children. It also gave me a chance to look back on my childhood when things were simple so that was a definite plus. However, I wished that there were more scenes of the rivalry between Alfalfa and Waldo (Blake McIver Ewing) as the rich kid. Their interactions were a nice change from the cuteness (especially the scenes with Porky played by Zachary Mabry) and they showed why we should root for the lead character. I was happy to finally have seen the entire film after years of tuning in and out of it. If one takes the film for what it is and leaves the expectations at the door, one will most likely have a good time.
Porco Rosso (1992)
★★★ / ★★★★
I really enjoyed Hayao Miyazaki’s “Porco Rosso,” also known as “Kurenai no buta” and “Crimson Pig,” because it’s unlike the rest of his animated films that are more rooted in fantasy. Although the main character is half-man, half-pig, the movie does a good job commenting and exploring the fact that he’s more human than most of the other characters, especially the pirates and Porco’s American rival in the sky. Its story was a nice surprise because I thought the film was going to be about his journey to remedy the curse that had taken a hold of his body after fighting in World War I. It turned out that Porco was not unhappy with his appearance so we simply got to enjoy him interacting with different kinds of beings, taking strange jobs, and trying his luck with women. It doesn’t have a core story, which strangely enough, I enjoyed because there were many scenes when comedy and heart are at the forefront. However, I wished that I saw this film in its original language with subtitles instead of the dubbed version. I’ve aware of the fact that sometimes dubbing takes away layers of complexities from the original material either due to the language barrier and a culture’s own bias when it comes to what is acceptable for children to see. There were definitely scenes that made me question the subtle differences with what was being said and what was being enacted. Still, I think “Porco Rosso” is still fun to watch (which is probably geared more toward boys because of the many masculine images involving pirates and battles in the sky) despite its flaws because of its energy and it tackled universal emotions. And what I thought made this one special was that I could easily imagine it to be a live action movie, minus the half-pig angle, because it’s that connected to the characters’ humanities. What it lacks in darkness (as I come to expect in Miyazaki adventures), it makes up for romanticism and sometimes dry sense of humor. The animation may not be as “great” as today’s animated flicks but this one might take you by surprise.