TOP 5 MOST UNDERRATED CHILD PERFORMANCES

JURNEE SMOLLETT Eve’s Bayou

Okay. I know I talk about Eve’s Bayou a lot, but that’s only because it is a truly phenomenal example of filmmaking that has stuck with me for well over a decade. I first watched this film on HBO when I was about eight or nine years old. It was Rated R and I knew better than to ask my mom to purchase  a film that featured sex, drugs, and murder, not to mention incest. After that first viewing, I caught it on television two or three times over the next few years. But it wasn’t until I was in high school that I was finally able to purchase the DVD, which, by the way, was not exactly easy to find. I literally called every video place in Columbia until I managed to find it at this small independent shop in the mall. A little over the top? Maybe. But more than anything my determination was a testament to what a profound effect this film had  had on me, even though I hadn’t seen it in years.

One of the main reasons Eve’s Bayou is stuck high in my Top 10 Favorite Movies of All Time is the emotionally raw performance by Jurnee Smollett. I wholeheartedly believe that I was able to love and connect with this very adult story at such a young age because of her. More than I saw myself in her, I knew her.

Jurnee Smollett in Eve’s Bayou

Grown-up Eve’s narration frames the story, but we process the film through the eyes of ten-year-old Eve; and the eyes are very important. Eve is gifted with “The Sight” or clairvoyance, like her Aunt Mozelle, but she is no melancholy, wise-beyond-her-years Haley Joel Osment balking at her supernatural ability. Eve is first and foremost a girl like any other; a girl who sees her father making love to a woman who is not her mother; a girl who sees his preference for her older sister, sees her mother’s depression, sees her aunt’s tragic loneliness. The film becomes an exploration of what such a world looks like to a child. It would not have worked if Smollett had brought an ounce of pretentiousness or precociousness to her performance. Fortunately, Eve’s Bayou succeeds firmly in the hands of it’s young star who emotes like a pro.

MATT O’LEARY Frailty

This is another film that has stuck with me over the years, but for very different reasons. Frailty is not the kind of story you relate to; it’s the kind of story that creeps the hell out of you. Even though most of the violence takes place off screen, the movie still manages to drive the point home in a very unsettling manner. I discovered this film largely thanks, once again, to HBO. Either it had just been released onto video and Pay-Per-View was restlessly advertising its new addition, or I saw the trailer on TV Guide. Whatever the case, I didn’t initially want to see it. It was obviously a horror film; even today I remember being appropriately creeped out by that chilling shot of Matt O’Leary‘s face disappearing in the darkness as his father says, “Only demons should fear me. You’re not a demon, are you?”

Which brings me to Matt O’Leary. This guy is one of the most underrated, underused, unrecognized young actors working today. Sure, he’s appeared in some duds like Sorority Row, but he is at his best in off-beat, thought-provoking indies like American Son and Natural Selection (he’s at it again in the sure to be awesome Fat Kid Rules the World, hopefully released later this year). I mean, kid consistently turns in critically acclaimed performances, but few people know about him and he doesn’t work nearly as often as he should.  He is passed over instead for decidedly mediocre acts like Robert Pattinson and Zac Efron. This is the world we live in.

Matt O’Leary, Jeremy Sumpter, and Bill Paxton in Frailty

Anyway, I first noticed him in Frailty. Having nothing to do and it being the middle of theday (I had hours before I had to go to sleep), I decided to give the film a chance when I watched it On Demand one afternoon at my aunt’s house. I was not disappointed. Thankfully, it was more family drama than horror film. When a man claims to have received a vision from God, telling him to take out the “demons” in their small Texas town, one son (Jeremy Sumpter) accepts his word without question while the other (O’Leary) becomes increasingly disturbed.

Once again, without a solid performance from actor O’Leary, the film would have failed. He turns in a performance that is all at once sympathetic, heartfelt, vulnerable, vaguely sinister, and multi-layered. He had to be about twelve or thirteen when he filmed this, and I always wonder how much of it was deliberate.

If you are a sane audience member, you will most likely side with O’Leary’s character who believes that his father is a whackjob. However, if you ever get a chance to pick up the DVD, the screenwriter offers an entirely different and interesting perspective that will make you think twice about who is supposed to be the hero of this story.

HUNTER MCCRACKEN The Tree of Life

It came as no surprise to me that Terrence Malick‘s latest effort turned out to be one of the most polarizing films of the year, if not the decade. With The Tree of Life, you either hate it or love it. As a Malick fan, and as fan of unconventional films in general, I loved it. In another post a while back, I criticized Malick’s writing. Well, I take it all back. Obviously he’s not a bad writer. It’s just that he rarely gives his characters more to express than poetic musings. But I can’t expect him to be like every other filmmaker out there. That’s why I love him. I love that he allows the audience to peer inside his characters’ heads. I love that he lingers on the details. I love that he is in no hurry to get to the next plot device. Malick’s brand of filmmaking reminds me of the John Keats quote in Bright Star when he is explaining the “point” of poetry:

“The point of diving into a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out, it is a experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept the mystery.”

This is Malick all the way. But this may also be part of the reason The Tree of Life was received poorly by at least half its audience, because in this Avatar-era of filmmaking, we are used to having our messages spelled out for us. Malick chose to do an ambitious film largely about life: growing up, family relationships, faith, and death. He offers little in the way of explanation, because how could he? Life is not exactly a 2 + 3 = 5 situation.

Laramie Eppler, Jessica Chastain, and Hunter McCracken in The Tree of Life

All that said, one thing most critics could agree  upon is the stunning performance by Hunter McCracken, who plays young Jack. Once again, the success of the film rests firmly in his hands, and he rises brilliantly to the occasion. What I find most impressive is that McCracken really doesn’t say much. Dialogue does not seem to be Malick’s forte, which is what I was hinting at before. No matter; we get plenty of insight into Jack’s head through his Southern-coated, pain-laden voiceovers, aching for answers he never seems to get. McCracken wanders, often stoically, through the film. You might never guess how he felt about anything unless you look into his eyes. Therein lies the true beauty of his performance. We can see in his eyes that Jack wants to love his father, does love his father, but hates him sometimes, too. We see in his eyes that he longs to be good like his brother R. L. and his mother–both characters the embodiment of Grace–and we see his frustration at the jealousy–the Nature in him–that he is desperate to suppress.  All this McCracken manages to convey beautifully, with a subtlety and–yes–grace some seasoned actors have yet to pull off.

Special mention should also go to Laramie Eppler who plays R. L. If Jack is the guiding light of the film, R. L. is certainly the heart; and Eppler plays him with an unassuming, heartbreaking tenderness. Not to mention, he looks extraordinarily like Brad Pitt who plays Father/Mr. O’Brien.

TO BE CONTINUED…

“Love” conquers hearts and money

By Kelli Weston

 

credit to allyouneedlists.com

In perhaps one of the most iconic love scenesof all time, a stringy-haired Kate Winslet descends to safety in a lifeboat while her fiance, Billy Zane before he was bald, and her lover, Leonardo DiCaprio before he got chubby in the face, look on from aboard the ill-fated RMS Titanic. Then, the unthinkable happens: She jumps back aboard the ship that is hours from sinking beneath the freezing ocean. She pushes through the crowds of people, scurrying frantically for security, while she runs headfirst away from it. At last she meets Leonardo DiCaprio in the ballroom,and they collide in a desperate embrace.

“Rose! You’re so stupid. Why did you do that, huh? You’re so stupid, Rose. Why did you do that? Why?” he screams. And I’m thinking, “Yeah, Rose. Why did you do that? That is stupid.”

She replies breathlessly, “You jump, I jump, right?”

“Right,” he sighs, kissing her.

How cheesy. I don’t know anybody in her right mind who would choose freezing death in the middle of nowhere just to hold hands with Leonardo DiCaprio. Yet even today this scene still inspires an “Awww” from me.

 “Titanic” was one of the first non-animated films I watched and my introduction to the romance genre. My mom didn’t want me watching it because of the sex scenes. She should have

been more worried about the unrealistic expectations of love presented..

Just a decade before the mind boggling “Twilight”-craze,  girls paid money to see something that was actually worth watching. In 1997, comma “Titanic”shattered box office records, comma grossing more than $ 1.8  billion worldwide.

By the time “Titanic” aired on HBO, I was 8 years old and excited out of my mind because I, too, had fallen under the spell of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” Please forgive my taste at such a naïve age. Needless to say, I enjoyed every minute of the film, comma and I still do today. The running time is more than three hours, but I will sit there if only for that tender ending.

However, now that I’m 21, I wonder about the messages “Titanic” and films like it send to women, but particularly girls, about love. I have never been in love, and I wonder if the unrealistic expectations these films set has anything to do with that. There are plenty of arguments that claim media (films and television in particular) can influence viewers, and not for the better.

Several critics (myself included) condemn “Twilight” for setting unrealistic, if not unhealthy standards, for romantic relationships. Yet young girls seem to eat up the books and the films (which broke midnight- show records), comma which center around a young girl so obsessed with her vampire lover that she engages in suicidal activity just to get his attention. Consequently, what of its precursor, “Titanic”—which, despite being better-filmed, better-acted, and just overall better—still spouts the same themes of overpowering, all-conquering, love?

I can’t speak for anybody else, but escapism has always been the attraction for me when it comes to movies in general. Movie love is often far less messy than real love. I’ve seen my share of friends and relatives through unscripted, unpredictable relationships, and it’s not nearly as fun to watch. There’s also something poetic and endearing about someone willing to risk his or her life for another in the movies that translates as creepy and borderline pyschotic in real life.

I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, but romantic films, comedies especially, have always been popular with movie-going audiences. “Titanic” has been followed by an influx of films about women desperate to find this “epic love” in their real lives, like the “Sex & the City” franchise and “The Ugly Truth.” The popularity of these films seems to suggest that love not only captures hearts but money as a consequence.

I wouldn’t go so far as to blame divorce rates on films, but it does make me wonder

what is it about seeing people desperately in love that is so engaging.

I can only speak for myself. At 21, I know that Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt-Bukater are anything but the epitome of true love. Film is obviously heightened reality. What makes a film truly timeless is its ability to touch people at any time in their life, and its ability to speak to some universal theme of life.

At the end of the film, Jack, Rose and the surviving passengers are thrown into the ocean. Jack finds a wooden board, which he and Rose try to share, but the board begins to sink under their weight. It can only hold so much body weight, so Jack gives it to Rose while he stays in the freezing water.

Whether Jack and Rose’s romance qualifies as love or not, I suppose the truth of all this is that when you can put somebody else before yourself that’s the definition of true love.

Best Scene of All Time