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Sunday, March 8, 2009

"Thinkers" Not Stinkers

This grey and rainy weekend has proven a good one to catch up on some movies I missed the first time around. Both of them were entirely different but both proved to be hugely compelling. “Thinkers”, as my son likes to call them. These "not so new releases" featured young people as the main protagonist. Each one however, had very, very different stories to tell. The first, My Kid Could Paint That is a documentary about Marla Olmstead, a four year old artist who rocketed from total obscurity into international renown, selling over $300,000 dollars worth of abstract paintings along the way. The pint sized Picasso was even compared to Wassily Kandinsky and Jackson Pollock. Inside Edition, The Jane Pauley Show, and NPR did extended pieces, and The Today Show and Good Morning America got in a bidding war over an appearance by the talented toddler. There was talk of corporate sponsorship from even The Gap and Crayola. Ultimately though, not all of the attention was positive. From the beginning, detractors faulted her parents for exposing young Marla to the glare of the media and accused the couple of exploiting their daughter for financial gain.

At the height of the frenzy, director Amir Bar-Lev entered the picture at the behest of the parents; Bar-Lev stayed for a year, and taped the subsequent fallout. The story shifted gears dramatically when five months into Marla’s new life as a celebrity and just short of her fifth birthday, a bombshell dropped. CBS' 60 Minutes aired an exposé suggesting strongly that the paintings were painted by her father, himself an amateur painter. Just the right turn a documentarian needs to derail a project. But not this one.

Though intending to raise the thorny issues at the center of abstract art, Bar-Lev instead began monitoring and questioning a dark but growing subtext: whether Marla painted all the pieces herself, unassisted. Be assured, this is compelling stuff; the whole family seemed to have differing opinions on the thematic core of that one. Strangely, it would't be the first time this weekend the family would have film content to discuss.

Next up was Boy A, a film inspired by the controversial case of two 10-year-old killers who murdered a younger boy in England in 1993. The film asks the question, is a 10-year-old "evil?" If so, does he remain evil or is it something he can leave behind as an adult? Boy A is a thought-provoking and powerfully sad film with an amazing central performance by young actor Andrew Garfield (The Other Boleyn Girl). The performance actually won a BAFTA (British Oscar) for the film’s star.

When we first meet Eric (Garfield), one of two infamous "killer-children," he's being released at age 24 – (14 years later, to a new life and a new identity –Jack Burridge). The entire world seems foreign to him now though. He doesn't know how to order a meal at a restaurant. He has trouble relating to a world he barely knows. To complicate matters further, accompanying his release is a widespread, media frenzy which reignites public indignation. The crime and trial are covered as current news and feed a hunger for revenge. Although Jack bears little resemblance to the young Boy A, it becomes increasingly clear that the past may be impossible to escape.

Boy A has a certain melancholy inevitability but director John Crowley’s deft amalgam of the present "new life" and the flashbacks of Eric's past life offer a vivid duality, that is affecting and ultimately decisive. It this insight though that forces the viewer to process the films dark themes, often with vastly different results.

This one will make you think (likely debate) and it asks more questions than it answers. I can guarantee though, this one will stick with you for days.


Allison said...

I saw Boy A this past summer and I still remember it vividly. Stuck indefinitely with me.

Have you ever seen The Lookout? Great film, and same as Boy A, stuck with me for days afterward.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

These are both films that I have been meaning to watch, but for a variety we haven't had a family film weekend. They are definitely going on the list!

Sean Wraight said...

Allison - Have not seen the Lookout yet. Consider it added to the list though. I'll defintely be on the watch man for that one! (Bet you thought I'd say lookout! ;)

Thanks for the recommendation I appreciate it.

Barbara - Yes, both are definitely worth your while. (Nothing beats family movie nights huh?)


amityb said...

Tessa and I were just talking about the "My Kid Could Paint That" doc --I still haven't seen it. But I did recently see this documentary about Henry Darger, "In the Realm of the Unreal" I think it's called. If you haven't seen that, you must immediately! You will learn, among many things, how the Vivian Girls got their name...