Film #292: Mommy (2014)

director: Xavier Dolan
language: French
length: 138 minutes
watched on: 15 May 2017

I last watched a Xavier Dolan movie about two years ago, I Killed My Mother. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Dolan has a lot of mommy issues, and is putting those into his work. (Also, the mother in both movies is the same actress, which I didn’t realize.) And those who know me well might know why I perhaps am intrigued by those themes…

As for this movie, I tried to watch it on DVD – I rented it along with Sing Street and a few other movies, but I forgot that there wouldn’t be English subtitles (not for the first time, I might add – I tried to rent an Almodóvar film a while back). Normally, I’d just attempt to muddle my way through the movie, but the second or third line of dialogue is one character asking the main character if she even speaks French, to which she replies that it may not be proper hoity-toity French but it’s still French. And if the other characters in the story can’t understand her, then I’d have no hope. At that point I gave up and just resolved to stream it later with English subtitles, and finally got around to that in May.

The movie is about Die, a single mother, and her son Steve, who has a violent form of ADHD. Parts of the story is contingent on a fictional future government of Canada, that puts into place a law allowing families of young offenders to bypass the due course of justice and put them straight into institutions. At the beginning, she chooses to take her son out of hospital to avoid him having to go to jail instead. Then the movie follows their struggle to get along with each other, and introduces a shy woman with a stammer from across the street who bonds with them and starts tutoring Steve.

Visually, the film is unique in that it uses a 1:1 aspect ratio, reminiscent of Instagram pictures, and creating a claustrophobic atmosphere. The cinematography is also really nice, and the camera likes to linger on contemplative images – characters bored or listening to music, or of nature.

Perhaps it’s a spoiler, but when the mood lifts around the halfway point and everyone is feeling elated, the boy pushes the frame out with his hands and it fills the screen in the anamorphic widescreen ratio. It does this again later – but both times it subtly pushes back in when the mood dampens again.

The soundtrack is nothing but throwbacks – like they’ve looked into my pre-teen listening history and chosen some select tracks. They use Wonderwall, and then it’s the first time I’ve heard Dido, or that song Blue Da Ba Dee in many years. These parts of the movie are also very colourful, and I enjoyed them a lot.

Anyway, where I Killed My Mother was all about a boy trying to escape from the grasp of his evil mother, this one is much more Oedipal. Steve doesn’t know where to draw the line, getting jealous and lashing out when his mother flirts with another man, and tries to kiss her and tell her he’ll take care of her instead, precipitating the more catastrophic events towards the end of the movie. In contrast to Dolan’s earlier movie, it’s told from the mother’s perspective.

And while Steve is nominally the one with violent outbursts and mental health problems, Die is not much better – she is alcoholic, and a lot of the movie is the two of them shouting and swearing at each other. Like mother like son.

It’s quite a slow movie overall, and the ending is a bit of a downer, but I definitely enjoyed it, and liked a lot of the imagery. I can definitely see a lot of myself and my family relationships in both characters, too. Fortunately minus the violence and constant swearing.

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Film #285: Gerontophilia (2013)

director: Bruce LaBruce
language: English and a bit of French
length: 82 minutes
watched on: 20 April 2017

I’ve known about Bruce LaBruce for a long time as a provocateur. He likes to make out-there films. I haven’t actually seen any of the others all the way through – I have seen a bit of The Raspberry Reich, I think it was, which was released in a porno and non-porno version in the UK – all I remember is a guy sucking off a gun. I can’t remember why I didn’t finish it. Probably just didn’t have the time.

Anyway, I clocked this movie a while ago, but it wasn’t a high priority to buy or download. I borrowed it along with The Devils, Grey Gardens, and some others, from my friends.

It’s definitely not as provocative as The Raspberry Reich or LaBruce’s other pornos. It’s about a boy who has a fetish for old people, and starts a relationship with an old man he meets when volunteering in a nursing home. Adventures and drama ensue – people are initially unaccepting, and the main character has to fight these prejudices.

I wonder if the choice of old people is because regular same-sex relationships have become more accepted in the mainstream these days. LaBruce seems to be trying hard to be counter-cultural at every opportunity.

An interesting movie, but the ending was ultimately predictable, and the acting from the main character wasn’t the best. There are a few interesting points – I found it very Canadian, set in Montreal with a mixture of French and English at some points. Basically it was fine, but not something special or outstanding.

Film #267: Closet Monster (2015)

closet-monsterdirector: Stephen Dunn
language: English
length: 90 minutes
watched on: 9 Feb 2017

This was another big release of last year that I hadn’t seen – it’s been out in some film festivals and on DVD, and like Departure or Being 17, I’d seen a lot of gifs from the movie, or trailers, or whatever. It looked good even before watching it, just based on the visual style.

I didn’t really know what it was about – from the trailer, you can fairly assume it’ll be a gay coming-of-age story, which is true. So I swear blind I’m not seeking out movies where the protagonists have horribly dysfunctional relationships with their parents, or parents going through a divorce, or whatever (this follows pretty soon after Sing Street and Departure). It just keeps happening that way.

This particular protagonist is called Oscar (and his crush in the movie is called Wilder, of all the obvious allusions you could make), and in his childhood (the initial scenes of the movie) he witnesses a brutal homophobic attack, which leaves him pretty traumatized. A large part of the movie is him trying to overcome that trauma later in the movie, when he starts having sexual experiences – and the other part is him trying to distance himself from his parents. He is desperate to get a place in a college as a movie make-up artist, so that he can move out of his deadend middle-of-nowhere hometown (again, very similar to Sing Street). It’s filmed in Newfoundland – I can indeed imagine it must feel very far from anywhere else if you live there.

The director, Stephen Dunn, has been rightly compared to Xavier Dolan (I’ve only seen J’ai tué ma mère, a while ago, but that also has a dysfunctional parent-child relationship) – perhaps mainly because the films explore family relationships, but I imagine it’s also the visual style of the movie, which is frenetic and colourful. I really liked the use of colour in the movie – too many movies that I see these days are drab in comparison. It also has a nice electronic soundtrack, and I just had to find the music online after hearing it in the movie.

The exploration of the boy’s trauma is central to the movie, and I liked how it did this, sliding in and out of Oscar’s imagination. There are a lot of layers to how this is told, too – shifting the focus of blame and attribution a lot between him and the parents. The way it’s done also fits with the dreamy music, and the colourful mise-en-scène.

The relationship with the other boy is also developed naturally, but we’re left wondering how much of that too is in the main character’s imagination. That too doesn’t follow the usual plot trajectory of the standard gay coming-of-age film.

Ultimately, though, it’s the relationship with the parents that is most important in this film – neither of them ultimately come off well out of it. Fortunately, it didn’t feel quite as relevant to my own life as Departure, as there was a lot more emotional abuse going on from all sides. Obviously the father is the major conflict, but the mother often appears dismissive to her son’s interests and needs, and I was annoyed that she didn’t tell her son she loves him.

But despite all the doom and gloom, I think there is an optimistic heart to the film, including various comedic moments throughout. In the ambiguous ending, there is a sense that things are going to get better, despite the bleak setting and all the terrible stuff that happens up until then.

So generally I liked this. The only things I can think to say negatively are that the movie could be a bit over-the-top, too melodramatic at times, or that people interact in scripted and unnatural ways. That said, there are enough moments that struck me as very real, or directly comparable to my own experiences. But thankfully, not the emotional abuse or the visions of violence.

I would recommend this whole-heartedly. I’m glad I’m getting to watch a lot of good movies recently. Has anyone else seen this? I’d be interested to know what you think.

Game #18: Trainyard Express (2010)

TrainyardExpressCMade by: Matt Rix
Finished on: 14 Nov

A fun little iPhone game that I played last month. It’s a puzzle game which involves trains, as the title suggests, and it has quite a steep learning curve, but it’s really fun once you get used to it. Trainyard Express is actually the free version. I also bought the larger “Trainyard”, which I completed most but not all of, as it turned out to be much harder later on. They’re basically the same game, but with an entirely different set of levels.

At the most simple level, you have to direct the coloured trains to the right destinations. But there’s only so much you can do with that, and thus quite early on, obstacles are put in your way, tracks start having junctions (which toggle one side or the other whenever a train passes over them), colour changing tunnels are introduced, and then the game starts to take a slightly surreal turn, as instead of crashing into each other, trains merge colours like a painting kit. Or two trains joining the same track at the same time will merge together to become one train. This doesn’t really make any sense, but it’s a diagrammatic iPhone game, so this doesn’t really matter so much.

The other most amusing thing about the game is that it’s got Canada stamped all over it. In the Express version each set of levels is named after a province of Canada, while the paid-for version has names of cities. But this was mainly just something that I chuckled at when I realised what was going on.

It also looks very slick and runs very smoothly, and the two games kept me well-amused for a week or two. Overall it’s worth checking out.