Beneath the Harvest Sky (2013)
★★ / ★★★★
High school seniors Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) and Casper (Emory Cohen) made a pact to leave Van Buren, Maine and live in Boston, Massachusetts upon graduation. Although best of friends, the two have different approaches when it comes to earning money prior to their departure: the former chooses to work in a potato farm while the latter collects prescription pills and gives them to his father (Aidan Gillen) to be illegally transported across international borders.
Written and directed by Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, “Beneath the Harvest Sky” has its feet planted on realism but often falls short from becoming truly compelling because its subplot involving law enforcements trying to capture Casper’s father takes precedence over the relationship between the two young men. Although the subplot works as a peek into where Casper’s future might be heading if he continues to make bad decisions, it does not offer much in terms of what Dominic and Casper might be thinking or feeling toward a future inching closer by the day.
Cohen and McAuliffe create characters who are believable—as individuals and as partners. Despite their elementary differences, the screenplay is aware that it is necessary to communicate, in a subtle manner, that they share enough similarities—elements that keep them together. Thus, we reach an understanding of the characters’ friendship. For instance, when someone speaks with Dominic and makes a judgement about his best friend, we know exactly why he is hurt and feeling the need to defend Casper. To him, making a quick assessment of Casper is like attacking a family member.
Scenes that revolve around Casper and Dominic’s boredom and alienation of their small town are sandwiched by the business involving drug trade. Although Gillen makes a convincing criminal who knows how to separate business from pleasure, the subplot does not offer any emotional gravity that makes it a worthy parallel storyline alongside the boys’ uncertain future. So when the picture makes a switch from central plot to subplot, the intrigue is set aside for a couple of minutes and the pacing drags. Also, I found the subplot to have very little payoff, especially given the amount of time it gets.
I enjoyed the look of the film. There seems to be a fog of gray that hovers the town. I liked looking at the ordinary faces of high school students, some bored and others interested in what the teacher has to say. Certain images like rocks being picked up from the dirt and potatoes being processed are memorable because, ironically, these are details that are a part of every day life. The film gives the impression that these little things define a community. It may not be much but it is their life nonetheless.
“Beneath the Harvest Sky” has the potential to make a real statement about this generation, but it is too long and feels like two different movies at times. It is at its best when Dominic, in his own way, challenges or reminds his best friend that he can do so much more with his life. We wait for Casper to become defensive. Maybe, deep down, he knows that this is true.
I Am Number Four (2011)
★ / ★★★★
John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) was an alien passing as a normal teenager. John and Henri (Timothy Olyphant), his guardian, led a nomadic lifestyle because the Mogadorians, an alien race that destroyed their planet, were on the hunt for the nine chosen ones. John happened to be number four on their list. John and Henri moved for Paradise, Ohio and it seemed like any other town in the middle of nowhere. But when John met Sarah (Dianna Agron), he found a reason to stay. “I Am Number Four,” directed by D.J. Caruso, could have been an interesting if the filmmakers had paid more attention to the characters instead of the CGI. When the best part of the film consisted of a battle between two giant CGI monsters, that is usually not a good sign. Casting was partly to blame. Pettyfer lacked enough dimension and angst for us to want to get to know him. The deadpan delivery of his lines worked against him because the script was already so thin. He was charismatic when he smiled but that was about it. There were some shots where I thought his pose could’ve made a great American Eagle summer ad, especially in the beginning when he was at beach, but I wasn’t interested in John’s story. I found myself more interested in the stronger actors like Sam, John’s friend who was bullied at school because he was interested in aliens, played with wit by Callan McAuliffe. Since he was pushed around like a nobody yet never seemed to fight back, most of us could easily relate to him. We wanted him to throw a punch or try to pull off a mean prank against his tormentors. He said cheeky things like his life being one big episode of “The X-Files.” But as the picture went on, Sam wasn’t given very much to do, perhaps because he didn’t have any superpowers. Instead, he ended up babysitting John’s dog. The picture had serious issues in terms of its pacing. It took too long to get into the meat of the story. I found it too preoccupied with delivering clichéd images like someone, in slow motion, strutting away from a massive explosion. Questions such as why the Mogadorians wanted to kill the nine, the importance of the rocks Sam’s father collected, and why Number 6 (Teresa Palmer) was intent on finding Number Four were awkwardly tacked on during the last forty minutes. Lastly, the villains were completely forgettable. All of them looked alike–bald and with teeth in desperate need of braces. If one stood out as a character foil against John, it would have been far more interesting. Based on the novel by Pittacus Lore, “I Am Number Four” was too much computer and not enough imagination. It felt like a very rough sketch of a television pre-teen flick on the CW.
★★★★ / ★★★★
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.