Next week’s Kids Film Friday is going to be a little different. Instead of catching up on an older film, I am taking the afternoon off from work and will be going to the cinema to see The Muppets! I am very excited. And I know all of you will be too. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet. Here’s this week’s instalment:
Blame this for Shia LaBeouf
This is one weird movie. This is like the anti-Disney kids flick. It’s got children in prison, interracial romance in the Old West, lynching, people eating onions, the list goes on. Yet it comes direct from the Mouse House, with an assist by Walden Media (the same producing collaboration that brought us the recent Narnia movies). I guess it helps if your film is based on “one of America’s most cherished children’s books” (according to the poster).
Not this poster though.
Holes is the tall tale of a boy named Stanley Yelnats IV who gets sentenced to 18 months at Camp Greenlake, a juvenile detention centre in the Texas desert. He got hit on the head by a pair of flying shoes and there was a whole misunderstanding, but anyway. Camp Greenlake used to be an actual lake, but there has been no rain for a hundred years and the bed is long dried up. The camp is run by The Warden (Sigourney Weaver) and Mr Sir, played by Jon Voight, and the boys in residence there spend every day digging holes all over the dry lake bed as a character-building exercise. But is there some other purpose to the holes? (Spoiler: Yes, there is)
And the award for most obvious title of the year goes to...
I’ll be honest here: for the first hour or so, this movie didn’t really grab me. I’ve never read the book. Actually, I had never heard of the book until I saw “based on the book” in the film’s credits, so I didn’t have any prior investment in the story. It all seemed amiable enough, if maybe a little overly kooky, but I wasn’t desperate to know what happened next. Truth be told, if I didn’t have to write this column I might have just turned it off. It did pick up though when Sigourney makes her first appearance as the frankly psychotic Warden – the woman is nutty as a fruit loop. She even makes her own nail polish with rattlesnake venom in it – and the story starts moving towards the climax. Also, the Old West portions take a while to start to converge with the present-day plot. Despite Patricia Arquette and Dulé Hill doing their damnedest, it’s difficult to get involved with this seemingly unrelated subplot without any kind of context. Everything comes together nice and neatly by the end however. There are no loose ends left dangling for a sequel. You could call it a pat ending, but remember this is a kids film. If there is one genre uniquely forgiving if not welcoming of pat endings, it is the kids film. My nieces will still be too young when I finish this, but at some point over this year, maybe I’ll borrow a child or two for a guest slot on Kids Film Friday. Does anyone know how I might go about that without people getting the wrong idea? I don’t think Lovefilm will deliver to a prison. Suggestions in the comments please, thanks.
Damn you, GPS! DAMN YOU TO HELLLLLL!!
At the end of Holes you will see the credit “and introducing Shia LaBeouf”. The future Sam Witwicky had already popped up on TV a few times, most notably as the concussed basketball team mascot in an episode of Freaks And Geeks, but here is where you will find his first leading role. Aside from the glorious curly mop and being an inch or two shorter, he is already the fast-talking, smart-assed little shit you all know and love (or possibly detest with every fibre of your being. I understand opinion is divided). For me personally, I don’t mind him too much. He was fun in the first Transformers and was a good enough Everyman in Eagle Eye. He’s got the snarky teenager act down pat, but I guess we’ll have to see how he settles in to the more mature roles now as he gets older. The unholy triumvirate of Sigourney, Voight and Tim Blake Nelson just go hell-for-leather as the baddies in charge of Camp Greenlake. Jon Voight in particular is gloriously without shame. The older he gets the more fun he seems to be having doing these kind of parts and you always get your money’s worth with him. His wig almost deserves its own credit as well.
Tim Blake Nelson has been practising his moody glare all morning for this shot. No way to compete with Voight's hair though.
Despite Henry Winkler’s best efforts as Stanley Yelnats III, Holes doesn’t get off to the most compelling of starts, but ultimately it is worth sticking with. If I was 12, I would probably really dig this*.
Also, if you ever need to run a Google image search on this movie, remember to turn on safe-search first. Learn from my mistakes.
*Oh lord, I’m sorry. I swear that won’t happen again.