Mums and their sons. Films reviewed: Code 8, Brotherhood, In Fabric

Posted in 1920s, 1970s, Action, Canada, Death, Drama, Fashion, Horror, Science Fiction, UK by CulturalMining.com on December 6, 2019

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

This week I’m looking at three movies about mums and their sons. There’s a historical drama about fatherless boys facing disaster at summer camp; a sci-fi action/thriller about a guy with secret powers and a dying mom; and a retro horror movie about a divorced mom and her sinister red dress.

Code 8

Dir: Jeff Chan

It’s the future, a dystopian America patrolled by drones that terrorize ordinary people in the war on drugs. Conner (Robbie Amell) is a young guy livng with his mom in a big city. He’s a day labourer who does pickup construction work for cash, while she stocks shelves at a corner grocery store. They’re in debt and can’t pay their bills. Worse than that, his mom (Kari Matchett) needs medical care… badly. She has a science-fictiony disease that has you bleed fluorescent blue gunk, but they can’t afford the treatment. What can they do?

Opportunity knocks when a criminal named Garrett (Stephen Amell) hires him to help with a job. He needs someone with high level electrical skills… and he doesn’t mean wiring. Conner is a guy with special powers – he can shortcircuit a generator with his bare hands. But in this world, mutants are kept down by the cops and forced to take menial jobs. So it’s poverty or a life of crime. His mother raised him to be honest and hide his powers, but he needs to cure her illness. If he can help the criminals secure the scarce narcotic Psyke – made from human spinal fluid – maybe they’ll give him the cure his mom so desperately needs.

Code 8 is a fast-moving action-thriller about a future world where power is shared by corrupt cops and organized criminals. It was shot in Toronto, with recognizable locations – Regent Park! – in many scenes. Good special effects and music, and recognizable actors – Stephen Amell is TVs The Arrow, and Robbie Amell his real-life cousin. (Sung Kang co-stars as a good cop). I enjoyed this movie, but I gotta say: Code 8 feels more like the pilot for an upcoming TV series than a one-off movie.

Brotherhood

Wri/Dir: Richard Bell

It’s the summer of ’26 in Ontario’s cottage country. Arthur Lambdon (Brendan Fletcher) is a WWI vet who lost his wife and kid to the Spanish Flu. He’s a counsellor alongside Mr Butcher (Brendan Fehr) who walks with a cane. He busted up his leg in the war. They’re at a summer camp for fatherless teens on placid Lake Balsam in the Kawarthas to provide leadership role models. And the kids there are really into it. There’s a whole crew of eager kids: Waller (Jack Manley) the quick-to-anger alpha dog; brothers Jack and Will who are always fighting, one kid with a runny nose – I’m allergic to trees! – , and another who likes to sing dirty camp songs. They are all very excited by an upcoming trip across the lake in a long, war canoe that can fit them all.

But once they reach the middle of the lake disaster strikes in the form of a freak summer storm. Heavy winds roil the waters and capsize the boat. Someare lost and the rest forced to spend the night, in the dark, in the cold water, taking turns hanging onto the upsidedown canoe. Who will survive the night? And who will make it back to shore?

Brotherhood is a well-made look at a real-life tragedy from the distant past. It has all the right period costumes, authentic language and historical details, beautifully photographed panoramas of scenic lakes… The problem is I just couldn’t connect with any of the characters. There was nothing surprising or intriguing about the story – you know from the start that they will drown. In fact, most of the movie is a self-imposed spoiler, a series of flashbacks leading up to the inevitable accident, as seen through the opaque eyes of uninteresting Arthur. It’s based on a true story (in real life the victims were as young as 6, not all teenagers like they are in the movie), but, perhaps because of its suspense-free method of storytelling, this tragic movie didn’t pluck a single heart string.

In Fabric

Wri/Dir: Peter Strickland

It’s London, in the 1970s. Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste: Secrets & Lies) is a middle-aged divorced woman, who lives with her adult son, a student. She works full time but wants more out of life. So she’s preparing for a blind date with a gentleman she met through the Lonelyhearts column in the newspaper classifieds. She wants it to be a night to remember so she stops by an exclusive women’s store to buy a dress. There she’s greeted by Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed) an enigmatic saleswoman with pointy red nails, dramatic black hair and an uncanny way if speaking. She insists Sheila buy only the best, a blood-red satin dress with a plunging neckline. It’s a one of a kind, Miss Luckmoore says, and despite being the wrong size (“size 36”), it fits Sheila like a glove. Her date is less than elegant – a chips-and-kebab house – but the dress takes on an increasing importance. It leaves strange marks on her body, inspires horrible nightmares, and leads to increasingly awful incidents – like the dress had a mind if it’s own. Is it just her imagination or is it trying to kill her?

In Fabric is a bizarre, haunting horror film, with loads of dark comedy, stylized violence and perverse sex. Sheila’s story intertwines with that of Reg Speaks (Leo Bill) a newly-married washing machine repairman (and other side plots) all centred on that insidious, satanic red dress and the witch-like saleswoman who controls it. With its intentionally stilted dialogue, amazing production design, jarring editing, brilliantly spooky music, and perfect deadpan acting, In Fabric is like nothing you’ve ever seen before (unless you’ve seen Peter Strictland’s other movies.) It’s disturbing, and you may wonder what the hell is going on, but if you like art, sound, design and fashion; if you like horror/comedy without too much gore, this avant garde film is a must-see.

In Fabric (at the TIFF Bell Lightbox), Code 8, and Brotherhood all open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Inside Out Festival, 2010. Movies Reviewed: Leo’s Room, The OWLs, Brotherhood, Oy Vey My Son is Gay, Joan Rivers, a Piece of Work, Undertow

Today I’m going to take a look at some of the movies playing at this year’s Inside Out festival, Toronto’s LGBT Film and Video Festival.

Inside Out is good and friendly film festival, with a wide, and extremely varied itinerary, ranging from Ryan Trecartin’s excellent art videos, to movies and documentaries including a very good selection of first-run foreign films, from France, Scandinavia, Israel, Latin America, Korea and, of course, the US. They deal with themes like aging, coming out, secrecy, discrimination, violence, tolerance, and of course, love and sex.

“Leo’s Room”, a gentle, low-key drama from Uruguay (Directed by Enrique Buchichio), is a coming-of -age story about a graduate student, Leo. Leo breaks up with his girlfriend to try to pursue something he’s not getting from her. Something one character says is all men think about, even though it only totals about ten minutes of their life each year: he was referring to the orgasm. Leo turns to the internet to secretly meet other men, whom he takes home to his small, dingy unpainted room. He makes his new friend sneak out past his couch potato pothead roommate, lest he suspect what was going on. But when he runs into a childhood crush in a supermarket, Caro, a sad but pretty woman, he finds a new friend. His life is still full of bleached-out faded colours and enclosed spaces. Caro ends up bedridden for an unknown reason, while Leo doesn’t want to leave his own room and face the world. Will they ever be able to voice their troubles and free themselves?

“Leo’s Room” (set in a rarely-seen, urban Uruguay), is a nice, if simple, look at how a man and a woman in a non-sexual relationship can help one another rid themselves of their secrets.

In the Danish dramatic thriller “Brotherhood” (Directed by Nicolo Donato) Lars starts going to clandestine meetings of a political group, partly to spite his liberal parents. He quickly rises up in the organization – it’s a neo-nazi, white supremacist party – and proves his mettle by attacking and beating up a Muslim refugee. In order to become a member for life of the sinister group, Lars is sent to a country house where Jimmy, a longtime Nazi skinhead, will instruct him in the ways of the order: Masculinity, worship of nature, extreme nationalism and so-called racial purity. All couched in the highly-charged homo-erotic atmosphere of male bonding. But the two men — Jimmy with giant swastikas and the number 88 (code for Heil Hitler) tattooed all over his body; and upper-class, rebellious Lars – take the step from homo-eroticism to homo sex. They become lovers. This complicates things. Even more so when Lars discovers that his new friends don’t just beat up immigrants, but also gay men. “Hey– that’s not fair…!”

This is a troubling, difficult movie; it’s hard to sympathize with members of a repugnant group who enthusiastically study Hitlerian theory and put it to work in thuggish attacks on innocent strangers, just to further their political causes… but I think it does manage to show this unlikely, doomed-from-the-start relationship as a compassionate one in the oddest of places. A very problematic movie to reconcile, morally, but an emotional one, none the less.

The OWLs (Directed by Cheryl Dunye of the Parliament Collective) is an extremely low budget (12 thousand dollars!) look at the lives of a group of aging women living together in a sprawling home in southwestern US. These OWLs – meaning Older Wiser Lesbians – were involved in an incident at a pool party where a young woman, Cricket, was killed. Their relationships are grouping and regrouping, they’re trying to sell the house and move on, and they’re terrified that someone might find the body. But their already tenuous equilibrium is upset with the arrival at their door of Skye, a much younger, muscular, masculine and aggressive woman. Skye dismisses their politics, their relationships, their beliefs, and inserts herself between couples. An even bigger shock is when the actors step out of their roles and discuss politics, identity, collaboration, sexuality, gender and the changing attitudes of younger lesbians.

At first I was put off by this meta-movie spoiling the storyline, but by the end their discussions are even more interesting than the plot, and somehow (not sure why) they provided both the content and the glue to hold this unusual collaborative movie together.

Oy Vey, My Son is Gay (Directed by Evgeny Afineefsky) is a comedy about the Hirsches, a middle-aged Jewish couple, (played by Lainie Kazan and Saul Rubinek) who are looking for a bride for their unmarried son, Nelson, a real estate agent. But, as the title says, he’s gay (they don’t know it) and is living with Angelo, an interior decorator. Shirley, the mother, is led to believe that he’s going out with a female porn star (played by Carmen Electra) and that Angelo is just there to tastefully decorate his apartment.

I was all set for a gay re-take of the old-school screwball comedy– you know, where there are lots of mistaken identities, witty dialogue, sharp-tongued innuendo, and all the characters running around trying to make sense of all the confusion. Well, it’s a little bit screwball, but mainly lame movie-of-the-week about parents struggling trying to understand and accept their gay son.

But, ¡ay, caramba! Mama mia! Was this ever a bad comedy. Painfully bad. Oy vey is right. The witty repartee, the mistaken identities, the disguises – they were all sparse indeed. No double entendres in this movie – you’re lucky to find a single entendre… There are some OK parts – especially the few times when Saul Rubinek and Lainie Kazan get into some energetic discussions, and stop walking through their lines – but they’re counterbalanced by awful, unfunny scenes. Like the father trying to get the porn star to date his son, to turn him straight again, but ends up making a glacially slow pass at her instead, and falls onto her, on a sofa, with his bum sticking up in the air. And then stays like that for two minutes.

I seriously think the movie needed a laugh track, to fill in the enormous gaps between punchlines; at least I’d know when it was supposed to be funny.

One movie that actually is funny is “Joan Rivers: a Piece of Work” (directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg), a tell-all documentary about the famous stand-up comic and talk-show host. When I say she’s famous, I mean I’d heard of her name, but never actually seen her perform as a stand-up comic, anywhere, even on TV. The documentary follows her career as a funny woman, when female comics were few and far between, and her catch line was: “My name is Joan Rivers – and I put out!”

Now, I’ve been told she’s been using the same one-liners for half a century, but my ears were virgin territory. So her jokes were funny, and still just offensive enough to surprise a laugh out of the listener. Equally shocking were candid scenes of her face without makeup: puffed, sewn, reconstructed and botoxed. I was like – Wow! Who’s that ventriloquist dummy, (and what happened to that smooth-cheeked blond woman who was there a minute ago)?

But you can see she’s still on the ball as a comedian by the way she deftly handles an angry heckler who objected to her Helen Keller jokes.

Finally, “Undertow”, (Directed by Javier Fuentes-Leon) a beautiful, intriguing movie about a macho Peruvian fisherman in love with a rich painter and tourist from Colombia.

Miguel, the fisherman, starts the movie by welcoming his new son, even as he “offers” a villager’s dead body to the harsh waters. The villagers believe if that’s not done, his soul will never rest. But macho Miguel is also having a love affair with Sebastien, a rich, gay Columbian painter (played by Manolo Cardona). They secretly meet in an abandoned building on the beach. But after a fight he disappears into the waves… and then comes back as a ghost. His dead body was never offered, so his corporeal self remains there but visible only to Miguel. He is elated – he can spend time with his lover without any threat to his machismo. But things soon go awry. His relationship is exposed. He must choose between his loves – his wife and son, his fellow villagers, and the memory of his male lover. Undertow is a great movie, beautifully shot.

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