Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Adventures in Cinematic Failure: Little Boy Makes Little Sense

A little over a year ago, I went to see a film called Winter's Tale, and published a review on this blog. Which is arguably the best thing I've ever written. Because as much as I love writing about good movies, it's a different variety of fun to write about bad movies. And not just any bad movie, I mean movies where something clearly went very wrong. Where you know there's no way those involved intended for the movie to turn out quite like this. It's a morbid fascination of mine, which I know many share. When I hear of a movie that's supposed to be good, my first thought is "I should see this." But if I hear of a movie that is spectacularly bad, my first thought is "I HAVE TO SEE THIS."

And then, a few months ago, I saw a trailer for a film called Little Boy. And it made me giddy. It looked so terrible, so overly saccharine and misguided, so nonsensical under the guise of whimsy, that the familiar feeling of "I HAVE TO SEE THIS" reared its ugly beautiful head. When the film was released, it was critically panned, receiving a 15% on Rotten Tomatoes, with only 6 positive reviews registered. The critical consensus reads "Well-meaning but manipulative on a horrifically misguided scale, Little Boy is the rare faith-based film that many viewers may find legitimately offensive." It looked like my instincts were right. I couldn't help but think "This is going to be the next Winter's Tale."

I have, of course, seen the film since. Like Winter's Tale, Little Boy is nonsensical, stupid, meandering, and terribly lacking in self-awareness. But Little Boy sets itself apart by being horribly racist as well. So buckle your seatbelts because we're going to go through this movie together and it's going to be great.

This is the little boy. He is not excited.
Although before we get into the review, I will say that despite how offensive almost everything about this film is, there are a few good things about this movie. The performances, for example, are decent. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is genuinely good, and actors like Emily Watson and Tom Wilkinson really try their best with completely useless and one-note roles. Even Kevin James is not terrible in it. He's not good, but he's not noticeably bad by any means. Although I do find it funny how much he appears on the film's promotional materials because he's hardly in the movie at all, and it's not like Kevin James is such a big get that they need to plaster his name everywhere. During the credits, it even says "with Kevin James" after everyone because apparently he's such a big deal. And his character has no reason to be in the film. He's completely superfluous. Which makes me think the following conversation must have happened.

Writer 1: Well, script's done!
Writer 2: WAIT! We just got a call. Kevin James has agreed to do the film!
Writer 1: Kevin James? THE Kevin James? No way!
Writer 2: I'm flipping out!
Writer 1: But who could he play? All the other roles are cast!
Writer 2: Well let's just write a character and put him in the film. We can't let the opportunity to add this film to Kevin James' golden resume slide!
Writer 1: Write a new role. Brilliant! And so a fox!
Writer 2: That's what we'll call him! Fox!

This is why Kevin James' character is named Dr. Fox.

What does Paul Blart say?

But the standout is Jakob Salvati, the titular little boy who gives a performance that is actually rather engaging, and certainly very cute. I've spoken about how much of a champion I am for child actors, and with his performance he really does make a strong case for why. The film almost works because it is on his shoulders--his performance is so earnest and consistent. I hope he moves on to bigger and better things because he deserves to be in a better movie than this.

Seriously, look at this muppet!
Salvati plays Pepper Flynt Busbee. I can't decide whether I should say this sounds like a rejected Charles Dickens character, or a rejected character from the Harry Potter series, so I'll just say that it's a stupid name. I mean, really, Pepper Flynt Busbee. But because Pepper Flynt Busbee is short for his age, nobody really calls him this, they just call him Little Boy. Because the people in this movie aren't very bright.

I should mention that Salvati is not the only one who plays Pepper Flynt Busbee, because the movie also has voiceover narration from the grown-up Pepper Flynt Busbee. This narration has no business being here. He offers no particular insight, no reflection on the time. And he doesn't even serve any narrative function. His narration is pretty much to just say exactly what's happening on screen.When Pepper Flynt Busbee the younger is playing with his dad, the narrator says "We would play games." When Pepper Flynt Busbee is being taunted by bullies who call him "midget" the narrator says "The bullies would taunt me and call me midget." And having the narrator didn't make any sense. A narrator implies that things are taking place from the narrator's perspective, but there are a few scenes that Pepper Flynt Busbee could not have been aware of, so their inclusion goes completely against the fact that there's a narrator. And also the narrator isn't much of a presence. I'm not sure how many times the narrator has a monologue, because nothing about the narrator stands out in any way, but he couldn't have spoken more than four times in the entire movie. So I'm really not sure what that's about.

But the narrator is not the only unnecessary character. There's also absolutely no need for the character of Dr. Fox, played by the inestimable Kevin James. He serves no purpose, other than to measure Pepper Flynt Busbee a couple of times, and very creepily hit on Pepper Flynt Busbee's mother. He's seriously creepy, but also in a completely non-threatening way since he's not a very effective creeper and the mother never shows any interest in him. At the end she stands up to him and declines him which he's sad about but seems to get over it. It's supposed to be empowering, I think, but it's just kind of weird and forgettable. During that last scene she also says "You're a good man, Dr. Fox," but, no, he really isn't.

But let's forget about these non-characters and move onto the important people. It becomes immediately clear that this film is about a father/son relationship, which is usually my emotional Kryptonite but is so bland here that it is disastrously ineffective. The father (Michael Rapaport, in a dopey performance that is particularly subpar amidst the other competent performances) certainly loves his son, and Pepper Flynt Busbee clearly loves his father, but it's a bit worrying when he describes his father as his only friend. That's not exactly healthy. And sure enough, the two of them do lots of things that Pepper should be doing with his friends--like playing games together like cops and robbers and making blanket forts.

Michael Rapaport seriously wears this stupid expression on his face in pretty much every scene.

Pepper Flynt Busbee's mother (Emily Watson, who is too good of an actress to be in this movie) always stops these silly games, which makes Pepper Flynt Busbee pout, and makes Pepper's father give a reluctant shrug and make a face that says "What a bitch, am I right?" The movie seems to be going to great lengths to make the father likable. He's full of whimsy and energy, like a sort of manic pixie dream dad. But we don't actually know anything about him. Sure, he seems fun, but the relationship between the two of them never feels cemented. We only see them play, and never get to examine their relationship on more emotional or important moments. You know, moments where Pepper's dad actually has to act fatherly. Those are the sorts of moments that actually define the relationship between a parent and child, and are totally missing here. The attempts to establish him as a father are purely superficial. Sure, we know from the stupid narrator that Pepper looks up to his father and wants to be just like him, but that's kind of the norm for young boys and their fathers. And, honestly, the imagination games are so generic that they just don't come across as actually imaginative. Who actually pretends to be cops and robbers? Also, it's worth mentioning that in the cops and robbers situation, the two of them play the robbers. We also see imagination games where they play cowboy outlaws and pirates. So, the dad seems to be teaching his son to be a criminal.

But that's not the worst part of his fathering. There's also a scene where the two of them go to see a movie and watch one of those World War II propaganda cartoons with the incredibly offensive depictions of the Japanese. You know exactly the ones I'm talking about. The ones with the giant buck teeth and terribly offensive voices. The type of things that we watch now and cringe and just feel embarrassed. So, they watch one of those and Pepper Flynt Busbee and his dad are just enjoying the heck out of it. And I get that this film takes place during another era where these types of things were common, but it's nonetheless odd to see the protagonists of our story-- one being a small cute muppet child and the other being the person whose existence is meant to carry the entire emotional weight of this film-- reveling in the glory of old-timey racism. I couldn't believe what I was watching. But, of course, this is just the start of this film's racism against the Japanese. You have been warned, because I was really not prepared when watching the film and I wish I had been.

Outside of the racism and the generic imagination stuff, the film has no time to further develop this relationship because everything is about to change. Pepper has an older brother named London, played by David Henrie, possibly best known as Ted's future son on How I Met Your Mother. Can we talk about these names? Pepper and London? Where are these names coming from? Even more perplexing is the fact that their parents are named Emma and James, two perfectly upstanding but nonetheless common names. Unlike London and Pepper Flynt Busbee. Anyway, London discovers he has been rejected from the army because he has flat feet. And this means that his father has to go to war instead.

You may be reading that and thinking "That doesn't make sense. That's not how the draft worked." And you would be right. The draft was not like in Mulan where someone from each family had to go. But, no, because London is rejected, it is just sort of agreed that the father has to go instead. And it makes no fucking sense. Now, it may be that the father felt that someone from the family had to go to the war out of a sense of duty towards their country, but if that is what he felt, it's never stated. And even if that is what he felt, that's stupid. London tried to enlist and was rejected. The family tried. And there's no reason for the father to go to war and get killed out of some bizarre sense of unstated obligation.

But he does go and everyone is sad.

See? Sad.
Actually, I'm happy because Michael Rapaport is pretty much gone for the rest of the film now. But the saddest and strangest part of Pepper Flynt Busbee's father leaving is that everyone in the town seems to immediately assume that Pepper's dad is not going to make it back home. I get that it was a sad time and a lot of people did not come home, but give the guy a chance! Everyone's just immediately very bleak and convinced that there's no way an idiot like James Busbee is going to make it back alive. Back at home, London has taken over his father's auto-repair business, which seems to consist of London and only one other employee: a simple-minded man with one ear. This man is named Teacup because whoever wrote this seems to have pulled random names out of a dictionary. It's probably just a cruel nickname because his one ear looks like a teacup handle, but that's never explained and everyone calls him Teacup and no one says his real name. I can't imagine he likes being called Teacup. Also, what nerdy bully was like "haha you have one ear. I'm gonna call you teacup!" These are the same people who saw that Pepper Flynt Busbee was short and nicknamed him "Little Boy," so Teacup really is a reach. Anyway, Pepper asks London for some money, which I think is meant to be an allowance, and London is unhappy because the family is poor and they need to save, but ultimately gives in and gives Pepper a little bit of money. With this money, Pepper Flynt Busbee proceeds to buy a pair of cowboy boots and two tickets to see a magician named Ben Eagle.

A word on these boots: these were some boots that Pepper's father was shown looking at earlier in the film. During this scene, Pepper had asked him, "Will you buy them today, pop?!" and he says that he can't. And when Pepper Flynt Busbee does buy the boots for his father, the shopkeeper says, "Your father's been eyeing these for quite some time, hasn't he?" So, it's set up that these are some boots that Pepper's dad really wanted but could never afford, and it's very sweet that Pepper buys them as a gift for his father. But, remember, he buys them on what I can only assume is a meager allowance. And then after buying them he still has enough left over for two theater tickets. Maybe the family would be better off financially if they didn't give everything to their kid as an allowance.

Now it's time for the Ben Eagle show. Now I already said Ben Eagle is a magician, but the film would like us to believe that he's a really big deal. He doesn't just perform stage shows, he has a comic book series and a series of movies where he acts as a superhero (we see clips of these films and they are legitimately the best part of the movie). Also he has a cane with an eagle head on it. Because his last name is Eagle. Which poses the question of "Does he have that cane because his stage name is Eagle, or did he pick the stage name Eagle because he had a cane with an eagle's head on it?" Of course, it might not be a stage name at all, considering how bizarre all the names are in this movie.

Since Pepper Flynt Busbee's dad is not home yet, his brother London goes to the show with him. And this show is really weird. It starts with a movie and then halfway through it becomes a live show. Were these things that happened? Anyway, before the live show, London decides to leave the show and get drunk. It is at this point where we become aware that he's an alcoholic. The film will proceed to show us this by having him take a drink in almost every single scene that he's in for the rest of the film. As you will soon find out, London is kind of an asshole, but towards the end of the film he will become not an asshole and will magically be able to get over his alcoholism without it ever being addressed.

A flat-footed asshole
Because London leaves, he misses seeing his brother (named Pepper Flynt Busbee) get called up to participate in the show. The magician has him move a bottle with the power of his mind. At first the kids in the audience are all skeptical and start booing him and jeering at him because they are the absolute worst children in the world. But then, he does it and the crowd of kids fall into stunned silence and then burst into applause. Even though, as far as magic tricks go, this is a fairly unimpressive trick.

Now, Pepper Flynt Busbee moves that bottle by scrunching up his face and making loud groaning sounds. He will try to move other things later in the film and he always adopts this same strategy. And...I'm just going to say it. It looks like he's pooping. There's no way to say this more elegantly. He looks like he's pooping. And it's uncomfortable pooping. Like, he's not having a good bowel movement. But he is DEFINITELY having a bowel movement. This observation that it looks like he's pooping is unfortunate because it makes every scene where he does this incredibly hilarious. And these are important moments in the film, but you can't take them seriously. Because he looks like he's pooping.


Still pooping.

Definitely pooping.

Constipation aside, Pepper Flynt Busbee becomes convinced that if he can move the bottle he can also somehow bring his dad home from the war. He is convinced of this by hearing a sermon delivered by a priest named Father Crispin who says that if you have faith the size of a mustardseed, you can move a mountain. This is an odd thing to say since nobody has ever compared anything to the size of a mustardseed. Mustardseeds are not a common product, and "the size of a mustardseed" is not a common expression. After this sermon, Father Crispin will disappear from the film and be replaced by Father Oliver, played by Tom Wilkinson. Once again, we have a totally extranneous character. there's no reason that Father Crispin had to be in the film and his one sermon easily could have just been given by Father Oliver. Regardless, after Father Crispin's sermon, Pepper Flynt Busbee steals a mustardseed from the grocery store because he's not very bright and takes things too literally. Upon seeing the mustardseed, Pepper Flynt Busbee realizes that "HEY! Mustardseeds are small! I can DEFINITELY bring my dad back!" But as he's leaving the store, he runs into a Japanese man named Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Horrified, Pepper Flynt Busbee runs from the store and finds London who is, of course, drinking in the saloon. He tells his brother that he saw a Japanese man, prompting London and a gang of other drunks led by Sam (Ted Levine) to confront Hashimoto at the grocery store and say that the Japanese are not welcome in this town. Sure enough, the grocery store owner tries to deny Hashimoto from shopping at the store. Things get heated, until Father Oliver shows up and pays for Hashimoto's groceries, diffusing the tense situation.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, wishing he were in a better movie.

But, again, this scene was just bizarre. It's weird seeing this little kid, who is the hero of the film, and who is otherwise portrayed as kind and wonderful, yelling racial slurs. And, again, I know this was another time and a lot of people in America were incredibly anti-Japanese after Pearl Harbor, but...this is our hero. And so just from a filmmaking standpoint, yelling racist slurs and showing hatred towards someone simply because of their ethnicity doesn't exactly make you root for the film's protagonist.

Not convinced that this scene is that bad? In the next scene, Pepper Flynt Busbee and London go to Hashimoto's house, throw rocks at it, break a window, and then attempt to set the house on fire. Literally, London tries to throw a flaming bottle of alcohol at the house. This is attempted arson. And our hero, the great Pepper Flynt Busbee, is cheering him on. London is, of course, drunk, as this was before his miraculous cure of alcoholism, and he trips and the flaming bottle only falls on Hashimoto's lawn (amazingly, the dry California grass does not burst into flames and the fire just kind of dies out). The narrator suddenly pops in and says, "I understood now why the army didn't accept people with flat feet." Now let's analyze that joke.

1) This doesn't make sense. Flat-footed people don't trip regularly. He missed because he was drunk.
2) The narrator makes this joke right after he tells the story about the time that he and his brother almost killed a guy. Hilarious! This is certainly a time for lightheartedness!!!!!!

This film is, in part, about tolerance. Of course, Pepper will eventually learn that his prejudices against the Japanese are unfounded and horrible, and he and Hashimoto will become friends. But, and I must make this point for a third time, it is incredibly disturbing seeing characters we are supposed to be rooting for behaving in such a violent and ugly way. These are not the heroes if it takes them a whole film to not be racist. And it should be noted that neither Pepper nor London apologize nor acknowledge how terrible this was. Pepper apologizes to Hashimoto, but it is not heartfelt and done for selfish reasons. He never actually makes a heartfelt apology or think back on this terrible moment. London absolutely never says anything to Hashimoto by way of an apology. What heroes.

London is sent to prison and Pepper Flynt Busbee goes to church to atone. He meets with Father Oliver and asks him about faith, asking if he can bring his father home if he has enough faith. He mentions Ben Eagle and how if Ben Eagle can do impossible things, so can he. He says "Ben Eagle can move a mountain! See?" and hands Father Oliver a Ben Eagle comic book where Ben Eagle is moving an elephant with his mind. certainly impressive but an elephant is not the same as a mountain. Father Oliver argues that God can make miraculous things happen, and will do so if Pepper can prove his faith. And the best way to prove his faith is by performing a series of tasks and if he does all of the tasks God will listen to him. These are the Works of Mercy. According to Father Oliver, Pepper must:
Feed the Hungry
Shelter the Homeless
Clothe the Naked
Visit the Sick
Visit the Imprisoned
and Bury the Dead
I looked up the Works of Mercy and you are also supposed to give water to the thirsty, but they couldn't figure out how to work it into the script so they just left that part out. But, maybe to take that one's place, Father Oliver gives him a new task, and tells him he has to become friends with Hashimoto. It's very shoehorned in there and INCREDIBLY manipulative on Father Oliver's part, but I'm all for there being less racism so go for it, Father Oliver.

Now scram, before I get rid of you like I got rid of Father Crispin.

Quick sidenote here, we later find out that Father Oliver and Hashimoto are friends. And not just friends, they're really good friends. They play poker together (with chestnuts instead of money because sure why not) and have long conversations about their differing ideologies (Hashimoto is an atheist). We know very little about Hashimoto, even though he is about to become a major character, and we never find out anything more. We never find out why he now lives in California instead of Japan. We never find out how long he has lived there; he seems to be a long-time resident but Pepper had apparently never seen him before. He's an older man and we never find out what he did with his life when he was young. We certainly don't find out where he gets groceries from since apparently he needs Tom Wilkinson to buy them for him. But the most baffling part of Hashimoto is why this Japanese atheist during World War II is best friends with a local priest. How did these guys meet? Certainly not in church. So, why do they know each other? Why? HOW? WHY IS THIS NEVER EXPLAINED?! THEY ARE A VERY ODD PAIR AND I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS!!!!!

Anyway, Pepper Flynt Busbee tries to befriend Hashimoto. He apologizes for trying to burn down his house, but only does so because he thinks it will bring his father back. But Hashimoto isn't receptive to Pepper's olive branches because, well, this is the kid who tried to burn down his house. But Father Oliver is like "come on, just do it," and since they're besties Hashimoto changes his mind and starts to "hang out" with Pepper. And I say "hang out" because that's the phrase the movie uses. Pepper Flynt Busbee asks Hashimoto if he'd like to "hang out" and Hashimoto says "let's hang out." The modern slang feels very out of place considering the era of the film and, sure enough, Google tells me that the phrase "hang out" did not come about until 1951, a few years after this film was made. After hanging out for a while where they do things like awkwardly eat ice cream, Hashimoto agrees to help Pepper Flynt Busbee with his list. As he looks at the list, he says "Visit the sick. I can help you with that."

"Sure, I love spending time with racist kids."

We then see Hashimoto and Pepper go to a hospital and I assumed that they were there to visit a family member of Hashimoto's who was sick. But, nope. Hashimoto is just there for a checkup and Pepper wanders into a random room where he meets a guy with bandages on his face. And...that's it. There's no meaningful exchange. Pepper Flynt Busbee learns nothing from this encounter. Also, Hashimoto did not help in any way. Hashimoto had no connection to the random bandaged guy. All he did was bring him to the hospital and even if Hashimoto had not been there, I'm pretty sure that even Pepper could have figured out that if he wanted to visit the sick the hospital might be a good place to start. But, anyway, that can be crossed off the list. Oh, and Pepper had earlier visited his brother who is still in prison. It was a similarly meaningless scene that served no purpose but to establish that London is racist which, yeah, really, I never would have guessed.

But he's a WORRIED racist.

Hashimoto looks at the list and decides that Pepper Flynt Busbee should house the homeless next. And luckily, Pepper Flynt Busbee happens to know a homeless person! Who? It's Teacup! The one-eared oaf who works in the family's garage. Apparently Teacup sleeps in the garage, which Hashimoto knows somehow. I'm not sure why, since if London didn't want him to buy groceries, I doubt the family ever repaired Hashimoto's car. Anyway, Hashimoto says that Pepper should invite Teacup to move into London's old bedroom since London is in prison. Luckily, Pepper's mom (who is still a character) is okay with this so Teacup moves in. This is the only reason that Teacup was in this movie and we don't see him again.

Teacup, we hardly knew ye

Of course, not long after this, London is released from prison after Dr. Fox pays his bail in an effort to get into their mother's pants. This is the only thing relevant to the plot that Dr. Fox does, and it's really good that he waits to pay London's bail until the point that it's the most dramatically convenient. Even though, how does the law work? Because bail is for when someone is waiting to be tried. So, either London has been waiting to be tried for arson for weeks before Dr. Fox pays the bail, or London is in jail because he was found guilty, only to be released from jail because Dr. Fox paid some money. That isn't bail, that's bribery and that's illegal. Regardless, we never find out what happens to Teacup once London returns home. I imagine London goes "This is my bed, get back in the garage where you belong."

Next, Hashimoto advises Pepper Flynt Busbee on how to clothe the naked. He tells Pepper to join a knitting group that exists even though we'd never heard of them until now. We don't get to know anything about this knitting group or why they exist, since they are only there so that Pepper can fulfill this list and are not important in any other way. Pepper Flynt Busbee knits a little sweater for an unborn child. Which...I don't know, I don't count this. Fetuses can't wear clothes, so I don't know if you can really call them naked. And if they wait until the baby is born, well, he hasn't really clothed any naked people yet, has he? He might be able to in a few months, but it's weird that he's willing to just wait that length of time since he wants his father home as soon as possible. Look, I know that the film was having a tough time fitting this one in, and didn't want to include nudity in what they desperately hope will be a family film, but if you have to resort to stupid roundabout loopholes like this then your movie idea is stupid.

Things are looking up for Pepper Flynt Busbee. With this series of tiny isolated scenes that have nothing to do with the rest of the movie, Pepper has already done five of the seven things on the list. But then he is attacked by bullies! Now, the bullies have been present throughout the entire film but I haven't talked about them yet because they are just so painfully uninteresting. Child bullies are often the worst characters in movies--they tend to be reduced to just kids who are mean for no reason, and that is certainly the case here. Every child except for Pepper Flynt Busbee is portrayed as a genuine horror, who seem to pick on no one except for Pepper. Because they find "he's short!" jokes endlessly funny. These jokes about Pepper are the height of humor to them. Did you get that pun? The HEIGHT of humor? Because Pepper's so short! Did you laugh at that pun? No? Well, these kids would have. By the way, the leader of these bullies is a horrible Augustus Gloop wannabee named Freddy, who happens to be Kevin James' son in the film. So, his name is Freddy Fox which is another really stupid name.

Anyway, the bullies confront Pepper Flynt Busbee and Feddy steals Pepper's list. Pepper is distraught. "I NEED THAT!" he cries. Dude, no you don't. The list has only seven things on it, and you've already done five of them. You can probably remember the other two since you've been obsessing over this for weeks now. You should definitely know this by now.

"Let's see, it'll be easy to remember the first five since I've done those already so I'll just ignore the other two for now. Memory is hard."

But since Pepper apparently doesn't have even the most basic memory retention skills, he needs the paper back but doesn't think he can stand up to the bullies. So Hashimoto trains him in...sigh...the way of the samurai. Because he's Japanese so he knows about martial arts. Although maybe he doesn't because he doesn't actually teach Pepper anything. Instead he just tells him a story (using a pop-up picture book he just happens to have lying around) about a guy who never used to fight, but then one day managed to beat a fearsome Mongol foe that no one else could beat by shooting him with a dart lined with scorpion poison instead of attacking with a sword. Hashimoto says he did it because he had the will of a warrior and so if you have that you can do anything. But...I think he did it because of the poison. His will would have meant shit without the poison. So, remember kids, it doesn't matter how small you are, you can take down stereotypical bullies using the power of scorpion poison!

"I'll have one bottle of Will of the Warrior, please."

After learning absolutely no skills from Hashimoto (who is presented as a wise mentor but has not actually done anything helpful this entire time, but he's still the best character in the film) Pepper confronts Freddy, who taunts Pepper by pulling out the list and saying "Looking for this?" because apparently Freddy keeps the list on his person at all times. Freddy then tears the paper in half and drops it to the ground and everyone laughs and chant's Freddy's name. Now, if I were Pepper, I would have just grabbed the two halves and run away, since he now has the list he apparently needs. But instead, he hits Freddy in the face with a metal lunchbox and Freddy falls to the ground like a sack of potatoes. We never see Freddy in this film ever again so we can assume the lunchbox was laced with scorpion poison and that Freddy is now dead. And while Pepper doesn't actually make any friends from this experience, the kids seem to stop taunting him and seem to fear him. Because he killed Freddy. This is all seen as a very good and triumphant thing, and Pepper faces no consequences, so remember kids, violence is the answer.

"Hashimoto is teaching you all the valuable life lessons that I didn't have time to."

Next on Pepper's list is feed the hungry. His mother suggests that if he brings a friend over for dinner, that would count. Even though that's more his mom feeding the hungry since Pepper doesn't do shit. He invites Hashimoto and the three have a lovely meal of hot dogs, until London comes home and, after seeing Hashimoto, looks angry and then wordlessly leaves. I thought in my head "that went better than I expected" but then London returns with a gun which he points at Hashimoto's head and threatens to kill him, because he's still an asshole. Hashimoto thanks Pepper's mom for the hot dogs and leaves. It still went better than I expected.

Later, Hashimoto and Pepper are walking around town when they are confronted by London and Sam. I only mentioned Sam briefly before, so as a reminder, he's the other drunk guy and is played by Ted Levine. If you thought the bullies were caricatures, they're nothing compared to Sam. Drunk and angry, the only thing we know about him is that his son was killed during the Pearl Harbor attack, and this tragic detail is, in the filmmaker's eyes, enough to deprive Sam of a personality. His only character trait is "racist." So, London and Sam tell Hashimoto to leave town, but Pepper stands up to him. London insists that Pepper's list won't work and dares him to "move a mountain" that happens to be near the town. So his goal is to humiliate Pepper in front of the whole town. And this is one of the scenes where London comes across slightly better.

But, Pepper makes his pooping face earthquake happens! And it is implied that Pepper caused it. And everyone in town is amazed!

Pepper after moving the mountain. I like London's face in this because he's clearly thinking, "HE'S A WITCH! BURN HIM!"

To be fair, what actually happened is left up in the air, and the argument is made that the earthquake might have happened regardless and it was just a coincidence. But others in town believe that it couldn't have been a coincidence and Pepper did in fact cause it with his mind. While the film leaves it open-ended, they CLEARLY want us to believe that Pepper Flynt Busbee did it. That's what they really hope we take away. It's a very one-sided argument. The town certainly believes it, so Pepper Flynt Busbee becomes a local celebrity. With his now proven powers he focuses his attentions on ending the war so his father can come home, and after finding out which direction Japan is in from Hashimoto, he makes his pooping face towards Japan and hopes something will happen.

Making poop faces in the direction of Japan works better than Pepper's initial plan, which was making the poop faces at a picture of his dad. Which was a really stupid plan.

After he does this for a while, it looks like Pepper Flynt Busbee's work pays off, as one morning everyone starts to congratulate him because "he did it!" What do they mean? Well, the war is over because an atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima and the code name of that bomb was Little Boy so clearly Pepper did it and that's a very good thing and everyone celebrates and happy music plays.

Read that again.



I promise you I'm not making this up, this is what actually happens. Our hero causes the atomic bomb to drop on Japan and everyone cheers.

You might be feeling incredibly angry right now, so, just, look at this muppet!

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is always going to be controversial. Some feel it is a stain on our nation's history, and some feel it was a necessary tactic that ultimately saved more lives than it cost. But even those who defend the use of the atomic bomb acknowledge the undeniable horror of the event which took hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. And here, it is a thing to celebrate. Pepper has a huge smile on his face and everyone is going "YOU DID IT!"

Remember the critical consensus from Rotten Tomatoes? The one that included the words "horrifically misguided" and "many viewers may find legitimately offensive?" Yeah this is what they're talking about because holy shit this is one of the worst things I've ever seen.

And this isn't just a detail. This is what the film has been leading up to. And I know this because this is, of course, why the film is called Little Boy. Because up until now there has been no reason for Pepper Flynt Busbee to be so short. Sure, it has added to his cuteness and made him more of an underdog but there has been no reason, plotwise, that he had to be short. So the only reason they made him so short had to be so that everyone would call him Little Boy and then could cause the atomic bomb. Like, this is the starting point for this film.

Writer 1: So, I was thinking. You know how the bomb dropped on Hiroshima is called Little Boy?
Writer 2: Yeah.
Writer 1: Well, what if that was because a little boy caused it by, like, wishing for it because he wanted his dad to come home?
Writer 2: A boy caused it?
Writer 1: Not just any boy. A little boy. As in a literally little boy. He's short.
Writer 2: So this would remove all of the complexities of war, all of the incredible nuance that went into this tragic event in history. All of the well-documented difficulty that President Harry Truman had making this decision, which weighed on his conscience for years, we can take all of that out and make it all about this little boy! That's brilliant!
Writer 1: I know!
Writer 2: Maybe we can get Kevin James to be in it!

I hope I don't need to explain any more why this is offensive. I hope that everyone read that this happened and just immediately felt angry and sad to their very core. And we're going to move on because the movie does not end there.

Even Pepper Flynt Busbee can't believe it's still going on.
After this horribly offensive thing that has just happened, Sam and London go to Hashimoto's house and destroy most of his possessions and beat him up, leaving him to bleed to death on the floor as they flee from their crimes.

God fucking dammit.

But on the plus side, things start to look up when, as they're running away, London suddenly feels remorse and says "We can't just leave him there to die." DUDE, WHERE IS THIS COMING FROM?! YOU POINTED A FUCKING GUN AT HIS HEAD AND TRIED TO BURN HIS HOUSE DOWN! YOU CLEARLY DO NOT CARE ABOUT HIM! But we're supposed to like London somehow so they need to make him be not racist in this moment. And, no, there was no scene where London realizes that his anger is misguided or how much Hashimoto means to his brother. London just suddenly has a reversal of personality without any prompting which goes completely unexplained. So, mere minutes after agreeing it's a great idea to break all of Hashimoto's possessions and that it would be great to beat him up, he has a change of heart and calls an ambulance so that Hashimoto can get help. London is arrested, although is later released as Hashimoto does not press charges and says that London saved his life. Yeah, but...he also could have saved your life by not trying to kill you in the first place. Sam meanwhile gets away and Hashimoto never presses any charges against him so he learns no lessons. Hashimoto is in bad shape--he's in the hospital and doctors are trying to help him recover. Pepper realizes that on his list, the only task he has not completed is "Bury the Dead." If he wants to see his father, Hashimoto has to die and Pepper has to bury him. But Pepper does not want literally his only friend in the world to die and is probably starting to feel like this whole Catholicism thing is inherently flawed.

But as this is happening, an army guy visits Pepper's mother and tells her that her husband died in the war. So after all of this, Pepper's father dies after all. And so as he crosses off the final entry on his list, it turns out that the dead Pepper buries is his own father. Hashimoto comes to the funeral, and Pepper is glad he is there. Their friendship was genuine, not just a ploy to get his father home. Everyone is sad. But ultimately it makes a strong statement about faith and how sometimes things are outside of our control. And sometimes things seem unfair, but we still must have belief in ourselves. The nuanced ending tells us that the final goal of getting what we want sometimes has consequences and that it is more important to do good things along the way.

HAHA, I'M JUST KIDDING! Pepper's father is alive of course and the whole thing was a mixup! The dead guy is just someone who stole Pepper's dad's shoes so he had the wrong identification on!!!!! His dad lives after all! London tells his brother "you did it!" even though no he really didn't and the whole family goes to see the father. But they are warned that Pepper's dad was very hurt in the explosion and might not be the same. His head is bandaged and, sure enough, when Pepper goes up to him, his dad clearly does not recognize him. Not reacting, Pepper tries to jog his father's memory, but it doesn't work. And Pepper realizes that war does not leave someone the same. His dad had his own difficult times that he went through. But Pepper knows that his father is still there and is still happy to have him home. And the Busbee family will help the father get back on his feet, a bittersweet ending to the film that doesn't reek of sentimentality.

HAHA, I GOT YOU AGAIN THAT DOESN'T HAPPEN! At first the dad doesn't recognize him, but then Pepper's like "It's me, dad" and the dad's like "Pepper!" and everyone hugs. Suddenly he's okay and everything is fine and happy and sunshine and rainbows except for all the people who have died and been hurt along the way.

with Kevin James as Dr. Fox

This film is terrible. Terrible. I have never been in such a state of disbelief while watching a film before. Because it really is clear that they mean well. It's clear that those who made this film really did think that this was inspiring and beautiful and heartwarming. And it isn't. It's so clearly a bad idea that you would think that someone would have gone "are we sure about this?" But nobody did. It is so unbelievably misguided and so legitimately offensive I still can't believe half of the things that happen in this movie.

I struggle to really explain this film. The film critic in me wants to analyze it, and wants to really consider the message of the film--what it's saying about faith and what its earnest attempts at a statement of any kind amount to. I feel there is probably some grand metaphor between this movie and certain forms of religion. I feel like there is so much that could be said. And yet, it is impossible for me to consider this film any deeper than I already have. Because there really is nothing there. Any statements it makes are so watered down and broad that they are completely devoid of depth. On its surface, the movie is so simple and shallow that it really should be completely incapable of making any sort of impact. Except that by being so simple, it actually manages to be offensive, thus making the worst kind of impact possible. Its commentary on race relations is exactly the type of thing that racists think is not racist.

But offensiveness of message aside, it's simply a bad film. Winter's Tale is entertaining to watch because it is awful but in a goofy way. But Little Boy is really dreadful. Do not watch this movie. I suffered through it so you don't have to and I hope you are appreciate this. It has a terrible concept, a terrible script, and terrible characters. The only thing not terrible is the cast, led of course by the incomparable Kevin James.

Here's one last pooping face for the road.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Review of Kenneth Branagh's "Cinderella."

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There is one moment towards the end where the evil stepmother (Cate Blanchett) is confronted by Cinderella (Lily James, who is pretty and bland) about why she is evil. This is a really great moment, where Blanchett shows a hard edge and some more sinister undertones come to light. One realizes how there could have been a lot that was explored in this movie, and much potential was wasted. Except for this moment, the movie is primarily pretty and bland.

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Mr. Branagh, why do you do the things that you do?

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Did you see the film? Do you agree? Disagree? Think there's something I missed. Leave a comment below!