Alex is a bright-eyed 10 year-old boy who has high hopes of one day becoming a great astronaut, just like his idol and imaginary best friend Captain Harry. The Captain tells Alex glorious tales of life in space and reminds him he must do well in school, eat his veggies and mind his parents so he can fulfill his dream.
Though he was once excited at the prospect of being a big brother, after the birth of twin siblings Alex begins to feel frustrated at the diminished attention he gets. In turn he is able to guilt his wishy-washy father (well portrayed by Andrew Tarbet) into buying him a TV for his bedroom, though much to the dismay of his easily-stressed mother (Jo Kelly, in her first major feature film role). Even though the television came with a set of rules and regulations, Alex starts indulging in hours of TV-watching while his parents are elsewhere, busy with with raising the twins and keeping their struggling relationship in tact. Alex soon becomes fascinated with images and stories of war, weapons and violence that he absorbs while sitting alone in his room.
As Alex becomes more obsessed with war, he trades in Captain Harry for a more favorable imaginary friend, Sergeant John Cluster, who is the Mr. Hyde to Captain Harry’s Dr. Jekyll and has made it his duty to train Alex for his new dream job: a soldier.
Alex’s transformation from innocuous little boy to one engrossed by violence and power is initially demonstrated visually through what he sees on his TV screen, which shines back across his entire bedroom and presumably into his mind, altering his perceptions.
The power of the image and how it ties into identity is a strong theme in this film. It is suggested that influenced by violent images, Alex discovers and indulges in his violent side. The transformation Alex undergoes seems rushed or off at times — especially when the pace of the editing did not provide clear chronology — but his changes do not ring entirely inauthentic. I’m sure many of us are familiar with the phases that kids can go through, e.g. one week they are all about this, but the following week this is old news and that is where it’s at. Up-and-coming actor Fergus Riordan captures his character’s changes and emotions gracefully and manages to carry the film with skill uncommon for actors his age. Riordan’s performance and that of Ben Temple — who amazingly plays both Captain Harry and his alter ego Sgt. John Cluster — were deliberate and excellent.
The story’s and characters’ progressions relied on exchanges that at times seemed a bit forced or melodramatic but other times seemed eerily natural. When Alex and his new troublemaker friends are smoking and picking on a kid in the bathroom, the dialogue feels real, but other performances, such as the ones done by Robert Englund (whom you might know best as Freddy Krueger) and Danny Glover (whose cameo at the start of the film might have been in efforts to capture American audiences with a familiar face) were great but seemed if only slightly theatrical, especially when paired with low-angle and close-up shots by director Christian Molina.
This slight discrepancy may have something to do with the fact that the script was written in Spanish and that all the dialogue in the movie is in English. Though this is Molina’s fourth feature film, it is his first with all English dialogue. In a Q&A after an intimate screening of this film at the New York International Latino Film Festival (i.e. I was one of maybe twenty people who attended, including cast & crew attendees), Molina said that he is familiar with English, but does not necessarily feel comfortable writing dialogue or even directing in the language. The actors (many of whom are quite fluent in the Spanish) were given much artistic license to interpret their lines as they felt fitting and realistic. 14 year-old Riordan even jokingly claimed that he translated the script line by line during filming.
Throughout the film Alex’s actions and feelings are mirrored yet also challenged by his imaginary friends and real people around him as he grapples with his identity, his goals and his family life. He is complex: at once pensive and certain about things yet immensely influenced by his surroundings and by what he has seen and learned from television, videogames and his friends. As the trailer below might suggest, something the film addresses is the role of various influences on the growth of a child and that of parents in monitoring their children’s interests and media intake. When I asked the Molina if he meant for his film to have a moral weight related to these issues, he said he tried to avoid being preachy and only wanted to tell a story that might incite discussion. “Pero la solución no puedo dar” (“But I cannot provide the solution”).
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