Tag Archives: Classics

Who Can Kill a Child? AKA Island of the Damned (1976)

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What can one say about “Who Can Kill a Child?” a cult 70’s shocker about a island of children who go insane and kill all the grown-ups, ruling with miniature iron fists ‘Lord of the Flies’ Style? It’s kinda funny (at least I laughed at the scene with the cornered hero (Lewis Fiander) with the Mario n’ Luigi moustache wielding a baseball bat and beating red paint out of feral tykes, although I’m not sure I was supposed to.)

Not very disturbing, besides the graphically exploitive war time footage at the beginning, which turned my stomach and seemed to go on forever. I think this film aimed to shock and disturb, but it just… fell short, to be honest. Ultimately, “How to Kill a Child?” proves to be tacky, silly, and downright pointless for the majority of it’s running time.

Is “How to Kill a Child?” influential? Maybe. Is it intriguing? Initially, yeah, sure. Is it good? Hhm… not really. The actors who play Tom (Fiander) and Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) do a decent job at conveying the couple that lands on the island’s confusion and fear, but their characters are afflicted with ‘What the Fuck Logic’ horror syndrome… in other words, nothing they do makes any freakin’ sense.

The main character, Tom, seems to be perpetually running off and abandoning his heavily pregnant wife Evelyn. In lieu of leaving your pregnant wife alone on an island inhabited solely by mad children every chance you get (“Wait right here,” he continues to say- I’d be like “Bitch, get back here… you got me into this situation, you can get me out of it!”,) there are myriad examples of bad decision-making on the part of all the characters in the movie, especially the male lead.

Also, dialogues like this-

Tom (after seeing a little girl beat an old man to death with a stick)- Why’d you do it? Why? Why?! WHY?!!

Little Girl- Mu-ha-ha-ha-ha! (laughs loudly and maniacally for a few minutes.)

Made me crack up, and not in a good way. Scenes involving young children getting their cute cherubic heads blown off and little boys stripping a corpse with erect nipples made me wonder if the child performers’ parents really couldn’t get a babysitter that day or if they just needed some quick dough.

So… I don’t like a horror classic. Boo on me. But if you want to watch an spectacularly unscary but highly regarded cult item with lots of unintentional humor, check this one out. Bring some friends. Get loaded. Count the instances of the male lead gawping in terror at small children wielding blunt objects. “Who Can Kill a Child?” is not particularly well-made or frightening, but it might be your new favorite comedy if you lower your expectations enough.

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The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines

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A work of fiction chronicling a life from the time of slavery to the civil rights era? Wow, I feel smarter already.

Meet Miss Jane Pittman, a 110-year-old black woman who lives on a plantation making meager wages from her white boss. She’s not a slave anymore, but she might as well be. She and her fellow  workers break their backs on the farm and receive next to nothing. Undereducated but smart as a whip, Miss Jane is quite a character. An unnamed schoolteacher convinces her to let him document her life in a series of audio recordings, suspecting Jane might have quite a story to tell. Oh, and does she ever!

Jane’s story encompasses almost a hundred years, dozens of characters, and a multitude of historical events. Jane has suffered years of abuse and heartbreak and has aged into quite a fine woman. She’s loved and lost, suffered and lost some more. But ages of struggle have given her a wise outlook on life. She’s been a slave. She’s been a wife, an adoptive mother, a warrior. But mostly she’s been quintessentially Jane, a experienced lady with a life time of memories to share.

I had never read anything by Ernest J. Gaines before The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, but I had heard many good things about him. As soon as I got ahold of a copy, I devoured it relatively quickly (for a slow reader like me, mind). A slim volume with a lot of ground to cover, Jane Pittman maintains the no-nonsense and the plain speech of it’s protagonist. I must confess I liked Jane a lot. I adored her strength and her offbeat spirituality.

I found this book to be an enlightening and educational experience without being too preachy. It certainly contains a refreshing lack of white guilt. You’ve got your basically good, decent white men and your dreadful minorities, and vice versa. Your black characters are not above racism and barbarism and your whites are not incapable of compassion. I got the impression Mr. Ernest J. Gaines has a good head on his shoulders and has bigger fish to fry than moaning about the ghastly whites, while still accurately portraying how the white man has fucked things up for many.

On the down side, I found the take of keeping all the characters straight daunting, to say the least. There were about two Marys, two Alberts, and innumerable Joes scattered throughout this narrative. Characters are introduced erratically never to be heard from again. Also, I didn’t find myself liking the last segment of the book as much as I enjoyed the first few parts. Miss Jane Pittman is best when dealing with Jane’s early years or the white Tee Bob’s doomed infatuation with a mixed-race schoolteacher.

However, when Jimmy, a precocious black boy who Jane mystically insisted could be ‘the one,’ showed up, I was just about ready for the book to end. I guess after introducing a strong, progressive African-American character like Ned earlier on and leaving Jimmy little room to develop, Jimmy just seemed like an extension of Ned. Now I know the decision was somewhat deliberate, but I still found the part of the book focusing primarily on Jimmy to be a bit of a bore.

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is a fascinating novel featuring a delightful heroine. It’s brilliance is in it’s artful simplicity, and I am looking forward to catching up with Gaines’ other books.

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

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Admittedly, I am not supposed to be the target audience for Anne of Green Gables. In fact, I would not have reread it at the age of twenty had my mother not bought the used boxed collection online to read to my sister. I figured, heck, why not; if only for nostalgia’s sake? If I could describe Anne… in one word, it would be ‘quaint’ which is a very good thing, in this case. It helps the reader to remember a simpler, more innocent time through the eyes of a spirited, naïve child.

Marilla and Matthew Cuthburt are grown-up, unmarried siblings living together in the small, gossipy town of Bolingbroke, Novia Scotia who decide to adopt a young boy from an orphan asylum to help them carry out household and farm tasks on their piece of land. Imagine their surprise when Matthew goes to the train station to pick up his adoptive son and comes back instead with a freckly, fiery-haired eleven-year-old girl!

This is Anne Shirley,  who talks constantly and always has her head floating up in the clouds with pleasant daydreams. Anne ingratiates herself in with the Cuthberts and eventually bonds to some extent with the suspicious townspeople, despite the fact that her peppery demeanor allows little room for forgiveness. She can hold grudges like a Sicilian, especially against a certain schoolmate named Gilbert Blythe, who might be Anne’s first crush (not that she’d ever admit it,) and the Cuthbert’s busybody neighbor Miss Rachel Lynde.

The novel, the first a series following the titular ginger, follows the often humorous series of mishaps and ‘scrapes’ Anne befalls on the road to growing up, and her eventual maturation and coming of age. There’s no great drama until near the end, where one lead character dies and a serious disability threatens to limit another’s day-to-day life.

The thing is, I found Anne a bit annoying at the beginning of the book, but I found myself missing the old, chatterbox Anne when she became more quiet and serious, which was quite a strange experience for me. Anne is overall an ideal role model for girls, spunky while still retaining her femininity and promoting a love of reading and childhood flights of fancy.

The relationships in Anne of Green Gables are quite sweet and innocent and although the slow pace and florid vocabulary won’t snatch up reluctant readers, young girls and girls at heart who already love books and reading will enjoy this this trip down memory lane, or will happily devour the series for the first time. The jury is out on whether a boy would pick it up.

Overall,  Anne of Green Gables is not too outdated and is often very funny in a gently wry way (you can tell that Lucy Maud Montgomery was a sophisticated lady with quite a sense of humor.) However, it might be hard to push on new readers in our electronics-obsessed world, as it is low on epic conflict or contemporary-minded shtick.

Favorite Character- Matthew was such a sweet old man. He was terrified of girls and women as a lifelong bachelor lacking in sex appeal but really doted on his adopted daughter in a pure, innocent way. Perhaps he was a little bit on the simple  side but he was a good father to Anne and a hard worker.

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Lassie Come Home (1943)

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Above all, “Lassie Come Home” is a heartwarming, frequently heartbreaking testament to the bond between a boy and his dog. Penniless lad Joe Carraclough (Roddy McDowall) is devastated when his desperately poor  Yorkshire parents (Donald Crisp and Elsa Lanchester) sell his beloved dog, Lassie, to a wealthy dog breeder (Nigel Bruce) in Scotland. In the breeder’s ownership, Lassie languishes in a cage and is misused by her new owner’s nasty servant Hynes (J. Pat O’Malley.)

Lassie repeatedly tries to escape, only to be dragged back and imprisoned by Hynes. One day she gets away for good and embarks on the 1,000-mile journey back to her family. Lassie suffers many hardships and meets several kind people on her trip, but never forgets where she belongs- in the arms of her boy Joe.

Chances are, this movie is going to cause some serious feels even for the most hardened filmgoer. For one thing, the child actor (who went on to play flim-flam artist ‘vampire slayer’ Peter Vincent in the original “Fright Night”) is almost too convincing. In the scene where he realizes Lassie won’t be meeting him in the schoolyard after class anymore, McDowell buckles in an explosion of snot and tears. It really puts the sentimental, gently grating child actors of today to shame.

For another, Lassie goes through a living Hell to get back to her master. There were moments where I seriously wondered if the humane society was present at the time of this movie, for example, where Lassie swims through a muddy, slimy body of water and collapses, disheveled, outside the home of a caring, elderly couple.

Unfortunately, there were some corny elements, like a dastardly duo of villains named ‘Snickers’ and ‘Buckles’ (Those are their street names, yo) who give the kind carny Rowlie (Edmund Gwenn) an incredibly fake beating. However, my sister (who had read the book adaptation) refused to watch the scene where the gruesome twosome dole out a fatal kick to the carnie’s dog, Toots.

If you’re willing to put your cynicism away (it helps if you are a dog lover,) “Lassie Come Home” makes an entertaining, if oddly melancholy, watch. It does a good job of seeing Joe’s parents side of things as well; though it probably won’t matter, kids will likely hate them for selling Lassie anyway. Older viewers will see that what they did what they did  out of desperation, not cruelty.

Classic film buffs might want to note that Elizabeth Taylor is featured as the breeder’s granddaughter, Priscilla. Frankly, it seems to me like the two sequels (“Son of Lassie,” “Courage of Lassie”) whose advertisements are featured on the DVD are probably not worth bothering with. For Chrissakes, “Courage of Lassie” doesn’t even have Lassie IN it. But I digress.

In summation, “Lassie Come Home” is a overlooked and effective family film, though probably not of the very young or very sensitive.

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Blade Runner (1982)

“Blade Runner” is how a science fiction film SHOULD be made, as a speculative thinker, not as a silly disposable piece of throwaway camp like “Star Wars” (yes, I dissed George Lucas’ Magnum Opus. I can see you fanboys writing that down.) I won’t place this on the pillar of perfect science fiction like “Firefly” (’cause I just won’t,) but the creativity of the whole enterprise shines through, past the dark sets and blackened hearts of the characters.

Early in the 21st Century (yep, folks, we should be seeing some crazy shit real soon,) Tyrell Industries has refined the android model to the brink of perfection. These beings, called ‘replicants,’  are man-made entities virtually identical to the human but used for all the dirty work- war, prostitution, dangerous jobs. They were implanted with memories that are not their own and manufactured to feel no empathy or identity as an individual.

But things have changed. Replicants have formed a consciousness of their own and have become too dangerous to keep. That’s where Deckard (Harrison Ford) comes in. Deckard, a ‘Blade Runner,’ is assigned to kill illegal Replicants. In turn, a group of Replicants attempt to force their their creator, Dr. Tyrell (Joe Turkel,) to increase their longevity (the androids have a maximum life span of three or four years.)

    It’s Deckard against Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer,) the maniacal, intelligent leader of the Replicants, and his three cohorts. And you know what? I kind of wanted Roy Batty to win. He’s a great, complex character, even though he goes to violent extremes to get what he wants (I felt for two of the victims, but less for the third.) Deckard is frankly kind of a bore. He’s typical stoic Ford, and the way he borderline-rapes beautiful female Replicant and love interest Rachael (Sean Young) is a little sickening.

I liked Batty a lot, but I was equally taken with J.F. Sebastion (William Sanderson,) and eccentric and somewhat childlike inventor suffering from Methuselah Syndrome, which leaves him prematurely aged.  He’s a little talked about character, but I find him just as interesting as Batty. J.F. picks up waifishly appealing Replicant Priss (Daryl Hannah) and takes her home with him, a decision that turns out to be the worst of his life.

There are a few corny scenes and lines (like “Wake up! Time to die!”, uttered by Leon (Brion James,)) but the movie is very original and iconic. I love the unique sci-fi vision originally created by Philip K. Dick (author of the book ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?’ that “Blade Runner” is based on) but brought to life by Ridley Scott. The movie’s world is damp, dreary, but strangely compelling. The final confrontation is sad and creepy and maybe even a little darkly humorous, all at once.

Rutger Hauer’s performance as the lead android is wonderful. He is creepy yet tragic, all he wants is more time. In a world where humans have really screwed their creations over, the creations want to feel the sunlight a little longer, to live to see the world through aged eyes. Why should their experiences mean any less? The final line by Hauer (…”Like tears in the rain”) perfectly summarizes this.

“Blade Runner” is a classic movie that is most definitely worth multiple rewatches. It’s important in that it deal with the moral quandaries of science and creation, the way ‘Frankenstein’ did. It features a stunner of a performance by Rutger Hauer (too bad he plays in so much crap now…) and a chilling orchestral score. Watch it. Watch it more than once, if you haven’t already, and think about the implications behind it and films of it’s ilk.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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I can’t believe it took me until late into my teens to read this wonderful classic. Mary Lennox, a sour-faced orphan who has been allowed to do anything she likes for her entire life, but has never been loved, arrives at a gloomy British estate to live with distant family. Raised in India, Mary is unused to the cold English weather and the British sensibilities, and finds her life taking a turn for the better. She quickly befriends a Yorkshire lad named Dickon who has a special way with the animals, and solves the mystery of a wailing boy whose cries she can hear from her room at night. And best of all, Mary discovers a seemingly enchanted garden that has been blocked off for years after an unthinkable tragedy.

“The Secret Garden” was published in 1911, and remains a timeless classic more than a century later. This success is no doubt based in it’s inspirational optimism and literary magic, all while being basically grounded in reality. Mary starts out as a brat but is never really a hateable character. She has never known caring or compassion, and without parental devotion, getting what you want on any given day means nothing. Dicken is delightful throughout, and there is really not much development on his part during the book.

‘Invalid’/hypochondriac Colin, Mary’s counterpart in bitterness and lonely angst, is not loved by his brooding, absent father, and he has been told he will be crippled and deformed if he does live to grow up. Colin is a tyrant who kicks and screams and makes all the servants at the manor’s lives a living hell. Mary’s combination of friendship and tough love redeems Colin, and they soon experience psychological transformations at the beckoning of the garden and themselves.

The writing in “The Secret Garden” is beautiful, and makes an ideal read-aloud. It might be a little descriptive for modern kids with short attention spans, and that’s a shame, because it really is a terrific book. Boys who aren’t too self-conscious about reading a ‘girls book’ will find a lot to enjoy here too. The portrayal of two kids pulling themselves out of despair and finding a new future together rings true.

Everyone who cares to read a brilliant piece of fiction should read this book. I am eager to read “The Little Princess” again (the first time I read it I was nine) when I get the chance. “The Secret Garden” belongs in a similar category to the “Harry Potter” books as perennial classics that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike for years to come.

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