30 August 2015

Little Man Tate (starring Jodie Foster and Adam Hann-Byrd)

This is probably one of those movies that Amazon recommended to me - or perhaps I read a review of it elsewhere. In any case, I put it on my wishlist and was given it for my birthday a few months ago. We sat down to watch it with our twenty-something son on Sunday.

‘Little Man Tate’ is about a small boy called Fred (Adam Hann-Byrd) who is nearly seven when the story begins, and is already a highly gifted pianist, mathematician and artist. He lives with his single mother Dede (Jodie Foster) and they’re very close; however he is excessively bored in school and struggles to make any friends. His mother doesn’t understand his giftedness and wants him to be an ordinary little boy; she loves him very much but is resistant to ‘gifted and talented’ style testing.

However, she eventually allows him to take some tests and attend interviews, pending some enrichment courses and spending time with other prodigies. The psychologist Jane (Dianne West) becomes almost another mother figure to him… until he realises that gifted children are no pleasanter than regular ones, and that Jane may be able to offer him a great deal in terms of academic challenge, but she has no idea how to be a parent…

Fred is not portrayed as having Asperger’s Syndrome or any other learning disability; he’s affectionate and friendly, and quite capable of pretending to do things wrong so as not to stand out. Some of his teachers (and, indeed, the psychologist Jane) are portrayed as caricatures, condescending to their charges and with no real connection to them at all, which gave a light-hearted touch to what could have been a very heavy story.

Jodie Foster directs the film as well as playing Fred’s mother, and we thought she did it well, sensitively and with a good pace. Overall, we loved the story; the way it’s told, with the different viewpoints and the struggles to help a child who is ‘different’ as well as the tensions between those who value academic excellence above everything else, and those who don’t.

However…

The soundtrack on the DVD was very badly mixed. The music was too intrusive, often drowning out the speech entirely. My husband did all he could to increase the sound of the dialogue while reducing the music but by about half way through we had to switch on the subtitles in order to catch what was going on. I struggled with the strong accents in any case, but Fred and Dede in particular spoke very quietly and it was important to know what they were saying.

We also thought that, while the young actor did well, he was never quite believable as a gifted prodigy. And it was a pity that none of the serious academics or psychologists were portrayed as believable or indeed likeable.

The rating is PG which we thought about right; there's some strong language, and minor violence, but nothing explicit. Unlikely to appeal much to small children anyway.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

03 August 2015

Ever After (starring Drew Barrymore)

Browsing around on Amazon, as you do, I was recommended this film. It sounded pleasant, it starred Drew Barrymore, and it was rated PG. Reviews were mostly positive so it went on my wishlist and I was given it a couple of years ago. It’s taken until this long to decide to watch it.

However, last night we wanted something light and relaxing, so curled up in the air conditioning to watch ‘Ever After’. Billed as a ‘Cinderella’ story, that’s exactly what it was - with a difference. There’s no fairy godmother in this, no pumpkin turning into a carriage. Indeed, special effects are noticeable by their absence.

Instead, it’s topped and tailed by a discussion between an elderly monarch and a couple of writers; the monarch wants them to know the ‘truth’ about the story of Cinderella, which, she says, happened to one of her ancestors.

The majority of the film is then set in Mediaeval times - probably around 1500, since one of the significant characters is the elderly artist Leonardo da Vinci. We first meet young Danielle, aged ten, looking forward to her father returning home after a lengthy trip, bringing a new wife and her two daughters. The meeting is a little awkward, but the sisters are far from ugly; it’s Danielle herself who, as a complete tomboy, appears covered in mud after having been chasing her friend across the fields.

Danielle’s father dies suddenly, shocking his family, and the story then moves forward some years. Danielle (Drew Barrymore) and her stepsisters are now in their late teens, and while Danielle isn’t exactly abused or locked in cupboards, she’s treated very much like a servant, expected to fetch and carry for her stepmother and sisters. Even so, the younger of the sisters - Georgina - is quite kind-hearted.

Danielle remains unspoilt and quite outspoken, and manages to attract the attention of Prince Henry in various ways, long before the ball at which he plans to announce his betrothal. There are twists and turns to the story which, in context, make a whole lot more sense than the traditional fairytale.

My only real problem with the film is that there wasn’t much chemistry between Danielle and the Prince; she seems at times like a naive child, and he is remarkably self-centred. It made sense that he appreciates her outspokenness and intellectual abilities, and is captivated by her looks, and their friendship certainly works. But the sudden 'falling in love' and kisses never feel entirely real.

The settings and costumes are excellent, with Mediaeval life well portrayed, and the snootiness of Danielle’s stepmother, a wonderful caricature, is quite amusing. Overall it made an enjoyable evening’s viewing.

The rating is PG which seems right: there’s no nudity, only the mildest of bad language, and the kisses are never anything other than chaste. However there are some traumatic scenes that could disturb some children, and a fair amount of violence, as well as threats, but no real gore.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews