Tag: kids

Village of the Damned


Village of the Damned (1960)
★★★ / ★★★★

It was an ordinary day in an English village which suddenly turned extraordinary when the townsfolk fell asleep at the same time. Calls from people who wished to contact the villagers could not go through so they began to worry. Whenever someone from the outside crossed an invisible line, they, too, fell asleep. Officials concluded there must have been a force field or a biological agent involved that explained the strange phenomenon. When the villagers woke up, a few months later, the women made the discovery that they were pregnant. I found this movie fascinating because of its strong concept and consistency to keep me guessing. I admired it for not simply relying on the creepy blonde-haired children to generate chills. It actually took its time trying to explain the weird situation the village was thrusted into by monitoring women at various points in their pregnancies. We learned a handful of weird details even when the children were still in the womb such as their rate of development being faster than a normal human being which suggested, as my first hypothesis, that the kids may have been extraterrestrial by nature. But the picture did not give us defined answers. It asked questions like the children’s purpose, but the writers made an astute decision to simply offer the audiences several explanations and it was up to us which, if any, we wished to accept. The film constantly changed gears. When the kids were about three of four years old, led by David (Martin Stephens), son of a couple (George Sanders, Barbara Shelley) suggested to have been trying to conceive but to no avail, we learned that the kids had various psychic abilities. Paranoia covered the town like a permanent fog and the regular folks’ discrimination almost made me feel sorry for the kids. Wolf Rilla, the director, successfully tried to make us sympathize for the children so the material felt dynamic. Since they were so different, the people in the village did not quite know how to deal with the blonde-haired children. It was easy to relate the situation to the real world where educators struggle to find a way for gifted children to meet their true potential. The ostracization by their peers is another factor. “Village of the Damned,” based on John Wyndham’s novel “The Midwich Cuckoos,” had imagination but it did not result to gore or violence. The small details were the factors that sent chills down our spines. The story may have taken place in a small village but the ideas surpassed borders on the map–or in this case, force fields.

Babies


Babies (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

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.

Waiting for Superman


Waiting for Superman (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Five kids from disadvantaged districts across America hoped that they would be lucky enough to be chosen, lottery-style, to attend charter schools. Such schools were considered as public schools but they were independent from the many bureaucracies, like how much money should be spent on a child and the amount of material that needs to be taught in a year, that directly impeded children’s ability to learn as much information they possibly could. Directed by Davis Gunnenheim, “Waiting for Superman” was an eye-opening look at how public schools have gone from good (1950s), to bad (1970s), to inexcusably terrible (2000s). I was moved to tears when these kids looked into the camera and said that they just wanted to go to a good school so they could have a chance at a promising future. Odds were against them because four of them lived in dangerous neighborhoods which meant that they didn’t have many role models with whom they could look up to; their families didn’t have much money so even if they were sent to private schools, their possibility of finishing was slim; and despite being motivated to go to school, some teachers simply didn’t care.

Out of all the reasons the film cited involving why public schools have turned out the way they have, teachers who gave up teaching was what bothered and angered me most. In high school, I remember having some teachers who proudly said, “I still get paid even if you don’t learn anything.” They would just sit behind their desks and we were left to do mind-numbing “busy work,” completely detached from the reason why we were there in the first place. If we had a question, they purposefully (and vindictively) ignored us or they would order us to put our hands down and “just do your work.” How could we possibly do our work correctly if a teacher, who was not teaching, wasn’t willing to offer us any guidance? We might as well have stayed home or had a free period. We could have gone to the library and read something we were interested in. I didn’t go to the best high school (obviously), but I didn’t go to the worst either. We were known for our sports, color guard, and the debate team. Academics just wasn’t the main priority. But that was high school. By that point, I already knew the importance of education and I had a laser-focus plan. Despite such “teachers,” I was going to get the best grades, get solid scores on whatever standardized exams they threw at me (which, really, doesn’t measure anything significant about a person–don’t get me started on this issue), and I would go to a four-year university. My mind didn’t have any questions or doubts. There was no “back-up plan” that teachers so enthusiastically recommended “just in case.” Not being admitted wasn’t an option. I knew I was smart and I wasn’t afraid. My parents busted their ass, pardon my French, to save a bit of money so that I could get a college degree. I did. I graduated. And I was lucky. But most people aren’t lucky. Imagine the same apathetic teachers I mentioned but in extremely disadvantaged elementary schools. The damage they could wreak is irreversible. Kids absorb all sorts of information. If teachers don’t care or have given up trying, children can turn that way, too.

With the help of a hidden camera, even though I had a first-hand experience with those kinds of teachers, the videos this film showed us was still horrifying to watch. Millions of dollars of taxes are spent on teachers not doing their job. The film had its flaws, like not defining what makes a “good teacher” and not putting enough weight on internal motivations, but it was very informative. The statistics were mind-boggling (aided by fun animations that were easy to understand) but I never knew that tenures could be a weapon used against kids. Up to this point, I was led to believe that tenures were inherently good because it protected good teachers from being fired. In reality, it protected all teachers. It didn’t matter if they just sat behind their desks all day playing solitaire or looking at pornography or trying to hook up with strangers to meet on the weekend. They were set for life and they shirked their responsibilities with impunity. Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools system, made an astute statement that some teachers felt that their position was a right and not a privilege. It shouldn’t be that way. Teachers should be agents of progress instead of parasitic impediments.

I’ve had experience in teaching kids and the trends I noticed were staggering. For instance, I would have kids in the same grade, assigned the same worksheets, yet there was a huge difference in their abilities. I could have five kids who were in the fourth grade but three of them could barely spell words like “announcement” and “scholar,” let alone apply rules of grammar and punctuation. How could they progress to middle school, then high school, then college if they didn’t have the basic skills? Lastly, I wished the film had acknowledged the division between “Honors Kids” and “Regular Kids.” There were times when I would teach a child and she would say, “I just don’t get it because I’m dumb.” When I asked, “Why do you think you’re dumb?” She responded, “Because I’m not in GATE. So I don’t get it. I’m not smart.” (GATE: Gifted and Talented Education) I was one of those “Honors Kids” so I’ll speak from that perspective. Yes, it made me feel special. It gave me a lot of positive attention. It made me want to perform above and beyond what was expected. In a lot of ways, it made me a very competitive person. But I think school districts should reconsider this divide because “Regular Kids” can’t help but feel defeated. The label can possibly stick with them forever. The first time I heard that response, it broke my heart. All I could say was, “You’re not dumb. You don’t understand it now. But you will understand it later.” After hearing that, the look she gave to me was like the very first time someone told her that she wasn’t dumb. I’ll never forget that moment. To say that it’s really difficult for one to fully understand how bad it’s gotten without first-hand experience with children is an understatement. We should be ashamed that education is failing in America. “Waiting for Superman” may have been a flawed mirror but it still reflects something to us so that we can see what changes we need to implement.

Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids


Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids (2004)
★★★ / ★★★★

Zana Briski decided to go to Calcutta’s red-light district in hopes of getting a chance to document how it was really like, especially for women, to live in the brothels. But her mission evolved when she got closer to the prostitutes’ children; she realized that the kids needed a chance to get out of the red-light district so she handed the children simple cameras, used their photographs to raise money, get international acclaim and get them into boarding schools. I was really touched by this documentary because the kids offered such insight about their living situations. Even though the kids were very young, they knew the importance of education but at the same time some of them came to accept that most of them would never leave the district. Or worse, they would turn out like their parents. Despite knowing the nature of their mothers’ jobs, the kids were aware of the fact that their mothers had to sacrifice their own bodies and safety in order to support their families. One of the kids that really moved me said that she doesn’t ever see herself becoming rich, that she’ll be happy being poor because life is supposeed to be sad and difficult. I understand the hopelessness of the children because of how and where they’ve been raised, but it’s still difficult for me to accept that nothing better is in store for them because I wasn’t raised in an environment that was even as close to theirs. The realism of this picture was staggering but it’s nice to reminded of the fact that the events that we’ve seen in the movie is still happening today. Briski’s decision to teach the children the art of photography has to be commended. The children were powerless but having a camera their hands was like handing them a special power. It was easy to see the light in those children’s eyes when they would run around in the streets and take random pictures of people and objects. I was surprised with how well some of the photographs turned out and was convinced that some of them just had a natural gift in photography. I don’t know if the children realized it but taking pictures was like an escape from the harsh realities of their lives. And the way they talked about Briski, I could tell that the kids looked up to her so much and probably even considered her as their hero. “Born Into the Brothels,” directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, was a rich and emotionally challenging documentary. The movie may have been shot with a simple hand-held camera (at least from what it looked like) but it was bold in terms of really exploring the sociological and psychological impacts of the environment had on the children.

The White Ribbon


The White Ribbon (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Das weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte” or “The White Ribbon,” written and directed by Michael Haneke, was a stunning black-and-white picture that tried to offer some explanations regarding the cruelty of the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. Although I liked this film because it was on a league of its own, I couldn’t help but feel very disappointed because it was wildly uneven. Having a pattern of a great scene followed by two or three banal scenes hindered this film tremendously. The movie started off with a man on a horse tripping on an almost invisible rope. The whole small village was stunned by the horrible crime but little did they know that it was only the beginning of such monstrous acts. Throughout the film, with many main and side characters, we were given the chance to play guessing games on who might have committed those crimes. Was it the adults who were tired of the Baron and his family? Was it the children who were abused and mistreated by their parents? Or was it nobody from the village and all of it were just random acts of violence? Half-way through the picture, I grew exhausted of the film because the payoffs were few and far between. I could feel something sinister going on under the surface but the director either was too afraid to tackle the issue head-on or he was simply being pretentious by masking everything in “subtlety.” I didn’t understand what he was trying to do because his execution was so vague. I thought his goal was to explain possible reasons why unnecessary evils were committed in the ’30s and ’40s because it was promised by the narrator. Instead, we get scenes like a doctor having an affair or the Baron’s wife confessing her transgressions to her husband. When I look back on it, I felt like this movie could have been ninety minutes long and it would have been more interesting and more powerful. The best scenes were definitely the ones that featured the way different parents disciplined their children. Not only did those scenes say something about the parents but it told the audiences something about the children–the manner in which they immediately reacted to such punishments and later on when faced with decisions with similar consequences. I was able to think back to the child psychology courses I’ve taken and think about how repression, forceful application of shame (without the kids fully understanding why what they did was wrong), and one-dimensional way of raising children could impact the kids in both short-term and long-term. In that respect, I thought the movie did a good job. It’s just that the technical elements didn’t quite click with me because it lacked focus. For a movie about brewing evil, it didn’t have enough tension so it wasn’t exciting. It was interesting but in a monotonous manner that requires a lot of patience.

Another Day in Paradise


Another Day in Paradise (1998)
★★ / ★★★★

I like Larry Clark’s movies (“Kids,” “Bully,” “Wassup Rockers”) because each one has some sort of lesson in them. But the characters learn (or don’t learn) such lessons in many gritty and very realistic, if not all too painful, ways. I had a difficult time watching “Another Day in Paradise” because it did not start off well. The story was about how two criminals (James Woods and Melanie Griffith)–kind of like Bonnie and Clyde–took two juvenile delinquents (Vincent Kartheiser and Natasha Gregson Wagner) under their wing. One could tell that despite how they seemed to mesh well on the outside, something was about to go wrong because each character was driven by his or her own end game or naïveté. I kept waiting for the point of the story where everything suddenly changed but it didn’t quite deliver until the last twenty to twenty-five minutes. The last section of this movie was so powerful, I considered giving this film three stars. There was something about it was so sad and so haunting to the point where it really made me think about the characters and the choices they’ve made that got them into such an irrevocable mess. Such scenes reminded me why I loved Clark’s pictures in the first place because the message had a voice but it was still able to be quite poetic, which reminded me of some of Gus Van Sant’s strongest movies. Even though the movie did look small and was quite rough around the edges, the acting is top-notch especially from the young Vincent Kartheiser. I’ve seen him on the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” spin-off called “Angel” and thought he was just fine there, but I didn’t think he would be able to deliver such gravity and emotional power as he did here. If the first hour of the film only focused on the more human and sensitive aspect of the story instead of showing the characters stealing, doing drugs, and risking the lives they obviously don’t value, maybe “Another Day in Paradise” would have been much stronger. In my opinion, there were way too many scenes that featured self-descructive behavior to the point where I got sick of it and just wanted to pay attention to something else. With a little bit more work in the editing room and reshooting some scenes, this would have been a hit for me.

Phoebe in Wonderland


Phoebe in Wonderland (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

I thought this was going to be a light-hearted children’s movie but it turned out to be something more serious. Elle Fanning stars as Phoebe, a precocious 9-year-old girl who was chosen by her drama teacher (Patricia Clarkson) to play Alice for the school play of “Alice in Wonderland.” Phoebe was more at home on stage than she was in the classroom and with her family. She constantly got into trouble for spitting at other kids whenever she would feel like she was cornered and this alarmed the principal (Campbell Scott), a man who obviously had no idea how to communicate with kids and how to treat them. Felicity Huffman plays Phoebe’s mother, an author who felt trapped because she felt like she was incompetent when it came to raising her two daughters. At first, I thought this film was about a child with an obsessive-compulsive disorder; whenever Phoebe wanted something so badly, she would wash her hands until they bled, walk in circles for hours on end, and go up and down the stairs for a certain number of times. But then somewhere in the middle, I thought that it was about childhood depression–that the reason why Phoebe was so engulfed in the play (and excelling at it) and why she saw the characters from “Alice in Wonderland” was because she wanted to escape the pressures of the classroom and the neglect she felt at home. Ultimately, her disorder was revealed at the end of the film and I was disappointed with myself because I should have seen the signs. Regardless, this movie kept me interested from beginning to end because it had a genuine drama in its core. Clarkson absolutely blew me away. I really felt like she cared for the kids by teaching them how to trust themselves, show initiative, and playing on their strengths instead of focusing on their weaknesses. The way she said her lines mesmerized me because her intonations provided real insight on how to live life without caring what other people might think. Her relationship with Phoebe was touching, especially when she consoled Phoebe that being different was perfectly okay, or even great: “At a certain part in your life, probably when too much of it has gone by, you will open your eyes and see yourself for who you are. Especially for everything that made you so different from all the awful normals. And you will say to yourself, “But I am this person.” And in that statement, that correction, there will be a kind of love.” This film undeniably has its flaws, such as its pacing and scenes with the psychiatrist, but the positives far more than outweigh the negatives.