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Pups (1999)
28. Dec 2001 at 06:08
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I saw this movie last night and was astonished that it did not do well at the box office.   It is a remarkable film with a fine performance by 13 year old Cameron Van Hoy.  Instead of spending an hour writing about this movie I've decided to cut and paste a couple of interesting reviews..  one of which tells why the film became 'too hot to handle'.

My movie rating 8/10
My boy movie rating 8/10


Are The Kids Really Alright?

Writer-Director Ash discusses Pups, and the challenge of working with young actors by Erich Leon Harris

By E. L. Harris

Pups, the second indie feature from British-born moviemaker Ash, is at once brilliant, raw, unnerving, and ultimately heartbreaking. Armed with solid performances by Burt Reynolds, Cameron Van Hoy and Mischa Barton, Pups has both bark and bite.

Set in the quiet suburbs of Chatsworth, California, Pups tells the story of a day in the life of Stevie, a suicidal latch-key kid portrayed convincingly by Cameron Van Hoy, and his girlfriend, played by Mischa Barton. On a routine search through his mother's handbag, Stevie happens upon her loaded handgun. What follows is a scenario that is as much Dog Day Afternoon as it is Larry Parker's Kids.

The film's premiere at the LA Independent Film Festival left audiences shaken and led this reporter to ask the director, "Is this film too hot to handle?" The answer came two days later as Ash watched in horror as the reports of the massacre at Columbine High School emerged, and the film's potential distributors moonwalked away from the potential powder keg.

Many months later, in a cooler political climate, Pups was finally released to good critical notice. Ash chooses his words carefully as he tells the story behind this story.  
"I don't see this film as a critique of America," Ash states, almost apologetically. "It was meant to be looking at a global phenomenon. I was pretty rocked when two young kids in Liverpool, both about 11 or 12, put a two-year-old toddler on the railroad tracks and chopped him in half. Then in Japan, around 1996, a 13-year-old kid chopped the head off of one of his classmates and hung it on the gate of his school. In Jonesboro, two kids, 13 and 11, did that sniping at the schoolyard. For me, I was interested in what was going on with kids around this magic number 13, which is an interesting age. I wanted to explore the factors that would make a 13-year-old kid go to these lengths of ultra violence."

There's an old adage in Hollywood that one should avoid working with kids and dogs. Ash admits that having an underage cast presented special challenges that any moviemaker should consider ahead of time.

"All kinds of challenges occurred," Ash recalls. "I had only four weeks to write the script and 16 shooting days. I was hoping that we would be able to use all the actors for 12 to 16-hour days, if necessary. Then I realized that we were up against these union regulations, which meant the kids had to break every couple of hours to go to school. They'd be in the middle of an intense scene where the girl is accusing her father of sexually abusing her and we'd have to break for a couple of hours for a history lesson. Then we'd try to come back to that emotional moment. That's a very hard thing for any actor, let alone a teenager."

Faced with making a low-budget feature about kids, Ash couldn't very well use young-looking adult actors. The integrity of the film hinges on the performance of his lead actor. After an exhaustive search, he chose a relative newcomer, Cameron Van Hoy. About his selection, Ash said, "I wanted to find someone new to play that role. I looked at about 300 kids in an open call. The interesting thing about Cameron was he was very quiet and withdrawn when he came in. At first I thought he was too shy. I asked him to improvise a robbery scene for me and he morphed into a young Al Pacino on PCP right in front of me. He put an imaginary gun to his head and screamed "I'm psycho!" It was that improv that sold me on him."  
Speaking by phone from his home in San Diego, California, Van Hoy, a well-grounded 14-year-old, recalls that fateful day somewhat differently. "I don't remember if I was mad at my mom or if it was the cattle call situation, but I was upset on the day of the audition. I was sulking and I didn't really want to be there. Instead of just blowing off the audition, I chose to use that angry energy. I had been in several plays since I started acting at age three, so I knew how to improvise, find a character and commit to a moment, so I did and held nothing back. I guess it worked because I got the part."

"My faith in Cameron's ability to carry this picture came when I watched the other actors respond to him. Even with Burt Reynolds, I could see there was intimidation from him to see a kid who was so raw and so "on" every take. It drew the other actors in and pushed them to their limits. To me that's the mark of a good actor."

When asked about debuting alongside Burt Reynolds, Van Hoy confesses, "I really didn't know who he was at first, but my dad is a huge fan of Burt's. We got as many of his films as I could find at the video store, so by the time I was introduced on set I had a real respect for him."

Physically, Van Hoy might weigh 100 pounds soaking wet, yet to see his skinny frame toting a weapon that looks like it weighs as much as he does might make audiencesÉ gun-shy. This is a fact that Ash admits was by design.  
"At 6'3", I'm a pretty big guy, but I remember being in school one day, and the tiniest kid brought me to tears with a well placed knee to the balls. I'll always remember that it's the small ones that you've gotta watch out for. Cameron is small, but he packs a lot of noise."

The social impact of the film, which will be released on video by Allied Entertainment on June 27th, is obvious, but the full impact and relevancy is something even Ash didn't foresee. There's a '70s hit recorded by The Who entitled, "The Kids Are Alright." Considering all that has happened recently in this and other countries involving teens and gun violence, the question that begs asking in this year 2000 is: Are the kids really alright? When asked, the normally loquacious Ash grows pensive. "Clearly, they aren't and I would say there's a section of kids that are getting a little antsy."

Cameron Van Hoy bristles a bit when told of Ash's quote. "Sure, kids today are faced with a lot more issues and pressures than ever before, but that happens with each generation. I watched Pups with a couple of friends my age and they raved about my performance. Everybody knows that I was just acting and it's only a movie. I think that it's the parents' responsibility to teach their kids right from wrong. Maybe I'm lucky because I've got great parents. I happen to think the kids are alright." MM



what happens when a rebellious teenager (cameron van hoy) stumbles upon a loaded gun?
instead of heading to his suburban school, he and his girlfriend (mischa barton) venture on an impromptu bank robbery that catches national media attention. as tensions inside the bank heighten, fatherly fbi agent bender (burt reynolds) negotiates the boy's absurd demands, exemplified by an interview with mtv personality kurt loder (himself).

also starring darling narita. written and directed by ash.

your friendly couch potato is
what he saw
romance: boy meets gun, boy wants gun, boy gets gun, boy loses gun, boy gets gunned down by trigger happy pig from a society that puts the ownership of a gun on a pillar (but not a tall one, because then no-one could get guns).
your favourite couch potato is not in favour of guns in the community; 100% of people who die from gunshot wounds were shot with a gun.

pups agrees with your couchie, so it must be a pretty good film. not surprisingly, it is! kids are forever playing with their parents' toys, be they guns, cars or drugs, and the occurrence with which kids go out and rob banks is beyond the pale. remember that the usa is a country where they don't report on the news how many people were killed because they can't keep up. this vid follows one kid from a white, middle class, broken home and follows him through the course of a normal day.

8:00am - meet girlfriend
8:15am - leave for school
8:30am - rob bank
8:35am - take hostages against police invasion
9:00am - start making demands
10:00am - start receiving goodies
11:00am - give tv interview
12:00am - surrender
12:01am - get shot and die on sidewalk in pool of own blood
ah, the joys of youth.
cameron is great as the asthmatic, gun toting, crappity smacked up teen bank robber from the suburbs. he's completely normal with the twist of weirdness that is the hallmark of the usa. think jerry springer, think ricki lake. his outbursts are a rage against the injustice that it is to be born in such a society as well as a piteous cry for love. mischa follows him on his journey of highs and lows, at once more moderate and more scary. it is easy to see cameron's problems but mischa's are less transparent, hence the scariness. does she follow because she's lost or because there's nothing better to do?

burt continues his run of actually having to act in films rather than just run around being heroic (see: mystery, alaska). his nicotine addicted fbi agent is a damned sympathetic one but also retains a sense of reality. just because he's heroic doesn't mean he's going to win. the nutters in the bank are american, of the kind who really piss death off. every single one of them has an opinion and they are damned sure they're going to get it out. they don't care about the gun being waved in their face as long as they get to exercise the first amendment (the one about freedom of speech or something - who really cares since they don't support it anyway).

pups is a great way to start a sunday morning, sex, guns, robbery and kidnapping: all before breakfast. pups is what really happened to bobby brady. watch and enjoy.  (bzine)


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