Heroes, Anti-heroes, and their followers. Films Reviewed: The Trotsky, Ryan Trecartin, Leslie, My Name is Evil, MacGruber.

Today I’m going to look at movies with different kinds of heroes, or anti-heroes, and the movements that some of them inspire. The hero or heroine might be misguided, but if their aims are true (in movies) good will surely triumph.

The Trotsky
Dir: Jacob Tierney

Jay Baruchel plays a boy, Leon, in anglo, West Montreal who, although from a rich family himself, is upset by, and wants to overthrow the entire capitalist system. When he unsuccessfully tries to organize his father’s factory workers into a union, for the first time he is placed into the public school system. Once there, though oddly dated in his speech and behavior and clothing, he gradually gets a following: his apathetic classmates who want change in the system. Sorta. When they’re not smoking or texting or gossiping.

Oh – and did I mention he actually believes he’s the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, and that he’ll meet an older woman named Alexandra who will fall in love with him? Yeah, Leon’s a bit nutty, with his little round glasses, scrunched up forehead and gesticulating arms.

The movie takes a cute look at Old Left politics in a modern-day Montreal setting, seen through the eyes of a misunderstood, neurotic kid, who, though he espouses century-old slogans, is media savvy enough to call up reporters in his fights against the school board. He wants to gain supporters to achieve his goal of organizing his fellow students. Will Leon’s goal be realized? As a vanguard leader of the proletariat can he organize them to shake off the chains of inequality by overthrowing the land-owning bourgeoisie, and their running dog lackeys (personified by his school principal — Colm Feore — and his Miss Grundy)? Hmmm… Or is this movie more like a season finale to a Degrassi episode? No – it’s better than that.

A simple premise, with a well-written, dense plot, good Canadian cast (Genevieve Bujold, Saul Rubinek), and lots of visual references — spanning Maoism, black panthers, the Spanish civil war, Che Guevera, bolshevism, anarchism, The Battleship Potemkin, and Vietnam war resisters. It’s a good, cute, low budget movie with a very Canadian feel.

Any Ever; and In Short

Various art videos by Ryan Treacartin

OK, I have to admit, the first time I saw a Ryan Trecartin video, an hour long monstrosity of jarring flash editing with self-centred teenagers shrieking like characters from “Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakquel”, I have to admit, I haven’t been that pissed off at a so-called work of art in a long time. Who can watch this crap? Who wants to see people in grotesque make up and fright wigs randomly shouting nonsense in distorted voices, while tired, corporate logos drift endlessly across a laptop screen. Incomprehensibly bland video titles, jarring cuts and zooms, post-structuralist posturing… It’s insulting! Bleaaaagh!

Then something happened.

It started to look… pretty. It started to look nice. Some of the words started to be funny. Some even made sense. I began to love the sound of breaking glass.

Then I went to the Power Plant, where his one-man show, Any Ever, is now finishing its run. Seen projected on huge screens, in small rooms, with comfortable chairs and beds and earphones provided, where you can walk in and out, it all becomes pleasant, hypnotic, hilarious… fun.

I started watching his stuff on youtube.What is this? What’s going on? It’s weird… it’s… it’s.. Gay. It’s ghey. (It is gay). But it’s not the “gay” you see on TV sitcoms. Nothing so safe.

Picture a whole field of gay, in say, southern Manitoba, that have these little purple flowers. And each purple flower has a little stamen in it. And they pick them, and pile them all together, and crush them, and boil them, and distill them, and refine that into a potent substance — a gay reduction. Where you can detect a single drop a mile away.

Well, Ryan Trecartin has jugs of this in his storage room, and he splashes it on everything, saturating it. His work is drenched in gay, dripping with it. It’s overwhelming. It’s the gayest art, the gayest videos on the face of the earth. And his films are amazing.

It turns out, the lines aren’t random at all – they’re composed. The editing, the costumes, even the hiring of Mickey Mouse club audition rejects who vent on camera in annoyingly arch voices… all planned. And those strangely recurring images of twelve year old girls, the Avon ladies, the post-mastectomy yoga enthusiasts… some of these people are him, Ryan, in a wig, in make up, crying.

And the stuff that made me angry, because there were no real stories? There are stories in most of his videos. Epic stories.

Anyway, it’s not all comfortable stuff, not the kind of thing you can sit through for too long, but in small doses, it’s a heady experience.

And on Saturday, May 22, he’s showing some of is earlier work– as part of the Inside Out Festival, Toronto’s LGBT film and video festival, and in collaboration with Power Plant and Pleasure Dome — “In Short”, in person.

“Leslie, My Name is Evil”, (Directed by Reginald Harkema), is about a boy, Perry, a born again Christian, who is placed on the jury for the trial of Charles Manson and his female followers, where he has to figure out if his passion for the beautiful, accused murderess Leslie is real, or if he’s being fooled by her seductive ways.

In a crucial early scene, Perry and his girlfriend look through a Chick publications comic book. (Ever seen those weird fundamentalist comic book pamphlets where the ordinary people – led astray by marijuana, sexuality, abortion, devil worship, the Pope, rock and roll – are saved from the pool of fire when they accept Jesus into their heart?)

After Perry sees the comic, Leslie and Perry (played by Canadian actors Kristen Hager and Gregory Smith) find themselves sucked into a meta-world, a dreamy vortex, where the evil forces of Charles Manson fight against the light of God beaming out from the born-again contingent. This little comic book sets the tone for a large part of the movie, a chunk of the plot filtered through a Chick comic motif. All of the cultural extremes of the sixties — moralistic sermons mixed with pop culture, surreal dreams with news footage and newspaper headlines, a fundamentalist view of politics vs the nihilistic evil of Charles Manson’s death cult – are seen by Perry (and the audience) deep inside his head.

At times this movie resembles William Klein’s pop art film Mr Freedom (from 1969), with its bold images. And I loved the psychedelic, rock soundtrack. The thing is, sometimes “Leslie, my name is Evil” — with its highly stylized scenes, scripted dialogue, and intentionally artificial, almost camp acting — feels more like a live play than a movie. It doesn’t always hold together: the movie feels a bit disjointed, and the acting is inconsistent, sometimes realistic and moving, other times just silly.

Lines like: “What kind of pinko commie nonsense is that!” and “Don’t fret Dorothy, God will protect us” were too much for me. (But could this just be the comic book swirling in Perry’s head…?)

This made it harder to sympathize with the main characters, or, especially, to believe that the young women were really mesmerized by a svengali figure like Charles Manson – he just didn’t seem as hypnotic and compelling as he’s supposed to be. But the bold, pop-art feel and the great soundtrack helps the movie hold together its complicated, original take on the Manson Girls.

MacGruber

MacGruber is a new movie based on a repeated 15-second-long skit from Saturday Night Live, where MacGruber, Vickie, and a third person, watch the hero MacGruber fail to defuse a bomb and they all blow up. “MACGRUUU-BER!” In the movie version, (which takes about 5,895 seconds longer to get to the final punchline) he’s known as a ridiculously accomplished hero, and the only one who can defeat Val Kilmer’s villainous character, Dieter von Cunth, from using his nuclear weapon.

Anyway, the plot, such as it is, isn’t very important. Neither are the lines. Just the characters and the premise. The real question is: Can a single, ten-second gag survive an hour and a half long movie? No, it can’t.

So they added a few more jokes, about MacGruber tearing out people’s throats and sticking pieces of celery up his bum. Hyuk, hyuk, hyuk!

Ok I laughed at some of it. And a few parts were really funny (like MacGruber in bed with his girlfriend). It wasn’t exactly boring, just pretty stupid. Like Saturday Night Live has always been. Don’t mess with the proven formula: find a mildly funny premise or punchline, drag that joke out into an eight-minute scene, then repeat it over and over and over again, season after season. That’s Saturday Night Live.

Will Forte as MacGruber, works well with Kristen Wiig as Vickie St Elmo, and Ryan Philippe as the special guest star. If you like SNL, you might just like this movie. But do you really want to watch a whole movie based on a so-so joke?

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