Adam Sandler, Cole or Dylan Sprouse

Child actors!

I normally shy away from films that feature children. In my experience, these are either films aimed at kids (and I’m no longer one of those), films aimed at childish adults (and I like to think I’m not one of those either) or overly sugary movies aimed at people who adore kids (click here for an example of one of these. Surely I can’t be the only one who experiences horror at this clip?)

Anyway, it won’t surprise you that Big Daddy will not be appearing on my TV tonight (Sky 1 at 9pm), as it not only features a five-year-old kid (actually two as it’s played by twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse – Cole’s best known as Friends’ Ben Geller) but it also stars that child actor in adult’s clothing – Adam Sandler. He plays a slobbish law school graduate who adopts the boy to impress his girlfriend.

Now the reason I’m sharing my mild child actor phobia with you and telling you about a film I’m not going to watch is because there are two On Demand films premiering this week on Sky Box Office and FilmFlex that feature child actors, and if you’re anything like me then you’ll probably be inclined to avoid them. But you shouldn’t. They’re both outstanding.

I’m referring to The Fall and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. They’re very different from each other, but there are two things they both share. Firstly, they both paint clever portraits of a child’s imagination and show how that can be influenced and controlled by manipulative adults and, secondly, they’ll both haunt you for days afterwards.

The Fall

You’ll never see anything quite like The Fall – I guarantee it. Commercial and film director Tarsem shot this movie in 28 exotic locations by piggybacking on commercial shoots, all financed out of his own pocket. Read more about the production here – it’s a fascinating project.

The Fall

The film’s story is set in a 1920s LA hospital where wounded silent movie stuntman Roy (Lee Pace) befriends fellow patient Alexandria – a five-year-old girl with a broken arm – and entertains her with an elaborate adventure story with an exotic cast of characters. As the tale blossoms in the child’s imagination, we gradually become aware that Roy has an ulterior motive for spinning out his epic tale.

The Fall

This film is not flawless. The epic fantasy sequences, while visually stunning, are dull in places. They work wonderfully as figments of Alexandria’s youthful and innocent imagination, but sadly Tarsem stretches them out too far and whenever they’re presented as stand-alone sequences they become stale in my opinion. I dozed off a little during these, but came back to consciousness whenever Catinca Uncaru was on screen. Check out this site for more about this Romanian actress. She is outstanding, unforgettable and if the visual spectacle isn’t proof enough of Tarsem’s talents, then this little girl’s performance under his direction certainly is.

The Fall

Inspired, groundbreaking, wildly imaginative and simply beautiful, this film lingers in the mind for days afterwards, and I suspect for years to come. It blew me away.

Jack Scanlon,Asa Butterfield

I didn’t expect The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas to blow me away though. I approached this film reluctantly. I didn’t know too much about it other than the fact it was a Holocaust film about two children at opposite sides of a concentration camp fence. Now, that, to me, sounded rather unappealing. Kids, Holocaust – not a tempting proposition.

Asa Butterfield

However, I did finally give in and I have to say I was more blown away by this movie than the previous one.

It’s the story of eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield) who is upset when his father’s new job takes the family away from 1940s Berlin to live in the country. His mood improves though when he makes friends with Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a boy his own age, but his new friend is separated from him by a barbed-wire fence.

Jack Scanlon

Obviously, as viewers we’ve all been educated about the atrocities of the Holocaust and as we witness Bruno making sense of the world around him, we know the harsh truth that Bruno’s father is a concentration camp commandant and Shmuel is one of its Jewish prisoners. As the story unfolds, we awkwardly observe Bruno making sense of his new environment. He perceives the camp as a farm  where the farmers wear striped pyjamas. He learns that one of these farmers has given up being a doctor to peel potatoes in his kitchen and that sometimes they burn old clothes in the big chimneys and it smells terrible.

Asa Butterfield

The clever thing about this film is that it’s so easy to become captivated by Bruno’s innocent view of the world and to feel touched by his friendship with Shmuel. It’s clear that he knows all is not right and that his friendship is frowned upon, but his innocent view of the world could never have invented the atrocities that were actually taking place.

Asa Butterfield,Rupert Friend

The film has a shock ending and is truly horrific. That’s probably not a surprise, but for me, the power of the horror came from recognizing what it had actually taken to shock me.