Tuesday, September 3, 2013

DVD Review: Camp

CAMP - Written and directed by Jacob Roebuck
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Studio: Word Films
Format: DVD, 111 minutes

Starring: Michael Mattera, Asante Jones, Grace Johnston, Matthew Jacob Wayne, and Miles Elliot

About the Movie:
CAMP centers around the unlikely pairing of Eli (Miles Elliott), an angry young boy whose life has been dominated by hurt and heartache, and Ken (Michael Mattera), a self-centered investment advisor. When the two spend a week together at camp, they learn a lot about one other and what it means to love and trust.

My Review:

This weekend I had the privilege of viewing a special film entitled CAMP. Written and directed by Jacob Roebuck, the film is inspired by Roebuck’s own experience volunteering at a camp for abused and neglected children.

Each of CAMP’s early scenes introduces us to a different major character. These scenes are well-shot, and effective in providing enough exposition without delaying the action. Additionally, these introductions give us a good sense of who these people are.

First, we meet Eli who is wandering near the train tracks, throwing rocks through glass panels. When he is caught in the act, he runs home, but not before stumbling and cutting himself. When he gets to his house, we find out how rough his family life is. His mother does nothing to help him with his cut, but instead seems to find him an annoyance who gets in her way. After she leaves for the evening, his father (presumably split from or unmarried to his mother) shows up. At first glance, it seems like Dad is a good guy. But we soon find out how quickly he can turn violent. Cue the ambulance that takes Eli to the hospital.

As the ambulance speeds away into the night, the camera switches focus to a Porsche driving in the opposite direction. This turns out to be Ken, a self-centered investment advisor with a single-minded goal – making money. Looking to impress a wealthy prospective client, his assistant comes up with a scheme to win her business: Send Ken to a camp for troubled kids that the wealthy woman sponsors.

Finally, we meet Tammie who runs the camp. She receives a last minute email asking if there is room for one more camper – Eli. Since there isn’t time to get another counselor, she is about to say no when she gets a phone call from Ken’s assistant.

As I’ve said, we’ve already experienced an emotional reaction to Eli, Ken, and Tammie before any of the camp action takes place. So now the stage is set and it’s off to camp we go!

I was unfamiliar with the actors, which I found preferable as the movie’s world more quickly became its own reality. This film quickly stops feeling like a movie and starts feeling like real life. This is due in large part to the fact that these characters and their experiences are inspired by and informed by the life experiences of real campers and counselors. Having a basis in reality makes the scenes ring true. And the solid acting of the whole cast supports both the film’s perceived realism as well as the viewer’s depth of emotional connection and response.

God is lightly touched on in the film. Nothing heavy handed, and nothing in any way preachy. This is significant and purposeful because Royal Family Kids camps do not proselytize. Similar to Salvation Army, the group is Christian-based and the camps are run by Christian staff and volunteers, but campers are not asked to adopt any religion.

CAMP turned out to be enjoyable and touching. Although it covers weighty issues, there is plenty of humor interwoven to keep things from getting too moody. It becomes a real joy watching all the children interact with the loving counselors. You even find yourself rooting for Ken to do right by Eli and break through the protective walls of mistrust that Eli has built around himself. There are a couple of really emotional scenes between him and Eli that will turn on your tears. It breaks your heart that children have to suffer. But this is not a heartbreaking film; rather, it’s a heartwarming story that will inspire you to make a difference in the lives of children.

Verdict: 4 of 5 stars. A joy to watch. Think Disney summer flick with more substance. CAMP does more than just entertain, it inspires. Recommended for ages 12 and up (minor language and violence).

About Royal Family Kids, Inc.:

Royal Family Kids, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is the nation’s leading network of camps for abused, neglected and abandoned children. By mobilizing local churches to sponsor a one-week camp for abused and neglected children ages 7-11 in their local community, RFKC gets caring adults involved in the lives of children who need them most. Each camp has two very simple goals: make positive childhood memories for the kids and let them experience unconditional love from an adult. Many volunteers who go to camp are inspired to become mentors, become foster parents and even adopt children who need a loving, caring family.

For more information about Royal Family KIDS Inc. CLICK HERE

CAMP on the Web: 

*Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received the above DVD for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


Monday, September 2, 2013

Read Love Reviews: The Boy on the Bridge

The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford
Pub. Date: July 30, 2013
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Format: Hardcover
Age Range: Young Adult 

Description from Amazon.com:

Laura Reid goes to Leningrad for a semester abroad as Cold War paranoia is peaking in 1982. She meets a young Russian artist named Alexei and soon, with Alexei as her guide, Laura immerses herself in the real Russia--a crazy world of wild parties, black-market books and music, and smuggled letters to dissidents. She must keep the relationship secret; associating with Americans is dangerous for Alexei, and if caught, Laura could be sent home and Alexei put under surveillance or worse. At the same time, she's been warned that Soviets often latch onto Americans in hopes of marrying them and thus escaping to the United States. But she knows Alexei loves her. Right?

My Review:

I must admit, I immediately worried that this story would be similar to Anna and the French Kiss, which I kind of loathed. The Boy on the Bridge started off fairly well, with Laura describing life as an American studying abroad in Leningrad. Feeling isolated and lonely in her dreary life in Russia, Laura meets Alexei, or Alyosha, as he prefers to be called, when, on the bridge near her dormitory, he rescues her from the torment of aggressive gypsy beggar women. The implied violence of these women made for a scary scene. But alas, the scene with the gypsies and their swaddled "babes" was perhaps the first and final time there was palpable tension in The Boy on the Bridge.

To be fair, this is not a bad book. The plot moves along nicely, while the uncertainty of Alyosha's motives sustains enough mystery to help keep the pages turning. Though not dense with historical detail, young readers will learn a thing or two about life in totalitarian Russia under the Communist regime of the Soviet Union. Apart from mentions of things like the popular diet drink, Tab, and music like Neil Young, the American kids don't seem all that different from modern day characters.

The real weaknesses of the book are these: Laura falls nearly instantly in love with Alyosha, as does he with her; there is never any real tension -- I am never honestly afraid for Laura (it seems the worst that could happen is that she will be sent home) or Alyosha (who faces the larger danger); the narrative description is not adept enough to successfully convey the beauty and allure of the Russian setting or of its historical landmarks. I was intrigued to find out that much of the novel is informed by the author's real-life experiences during a semester abroad. Upon visiting the author's website and seeing pictures of such places as Dom Knigi (House of Books), Nevsky Prospekt, and The Summer Garden, I was struck by what seemed a huge lost opportunity. She never described those places.

Overall, while The Boy on the Bridge is a fast, effortless read, it will not be particularly memorable or moving. For all the professed love that takes place on the page, little emotion is felt by the reader. I feel like we never knew who Laura was. And what little we know of Alyosha makes us pity more than admire him. What could have been a poetic, aching tale just falls flat.

Verdict: 3 stars of 5. Lacking in depth of character. Emotionally deficient. Descriptively wanting. While you'll understand the harsh Russian conditions and the desperate hope and hunger for freedom that many citizens carried, you won't feel more than a vague sadness. And that's a shame.

Not recommended for purchase. If you are inclined to read it, borrow it from the library.