Tag Archives: Character Played by Disabled Actor

Orphan (2009)

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Filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra knows the steps but not the music, and therefore lacks the ability to make “Orphan” great, or even good, for that matter. I was startled by myriad similarities to “Joshua,” a psycho-child thriller I really liked, but while “Joshua” showed restraint and a gift for nuanced dread, “Orphan” delivers it’s shocks with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

I became wary when “Orphan” opened with a nightmare sequence involving a bloody squalling fetus-monster coming out of Vera Farmiga (who plays an almost identical role in “Joshua,” wouldn’t you know?) We soon find out that the reason for Kate (Farmiga)’s nightmares is a recent miscarriage and an alcohol problem that’s the proverbial ‘elephant in the room.’

However, Kate and her loser husband, John (Peter Sargaard,) want to bring light and joy into an orphaned child’s life, so they adopt Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman,) a prim and unnervingly precocious girl with an annoying Russian accent, and bring her home to their nice house and two children, Maxine (Aryana Engineer) is the youngest, a sweet girl who has suffered almost complete hearing loss in an accident, and Danny (Jimmy Bennett) is somewhat of a punk, who fancies himself a bit of a ‘bad boy’ at his school.

The reactions of the two tykes transpire much as you might expect. with Maxine (‘Max’) immediately accepting the strange child and Danny balking at the girl’s presence. But Esther isn’t who she wants you to think she is, and she soon causes chaos and bloodshed in her adoptive parents’ household.

Fucking jump-scares, man! Let me just say up-front, I have watched a LOT of horror movies. I can usually predict when a jump-scare’s going to happen. And this was no exception. Like in the scene where Kate’s gobbling pills in the mirror, I can safely say, “Someone’s going to pop out in the mirror when she closes it.” You know why? Because it’s been done a million friggin’ times before! If I could describe “Orphan” in three words they would be “Cliché, cliché, cliché.”

“Orphan” tries to compensate for it’s utter predictability by tacking on an insanely ludicrous twist ending and some deliberately, self-consciously ‘shocking’ scenes involving young children. Guess what? I did not find these scenes ‘horrifying.’ I found them skeevy and lurid, as I would guess most people with a social conscience would, but certainly not as ‘horrific’ as the filmmaker intended.

When a young child puts on a low-cut dress and make-up and puts her hand on a grown man’s crotch are we not supposed to be a little… concerned? And I know what you’re going to say, “Well, it’s really not any worse than the violence.” Well, let me just say this- pervs aren’t going to be wanking to the violence.

Some beautiful films have been made about blossoming sexuality. Some timely films have been made about child sexual abuse, which transcend the yuckiness of the subject matter. “Orphan” is neither. It is a cheap attempt at shock value. And that ending! Jesus! Could it have been any fucking lamer if it tried? I laughed out loud when the evil little bitch came popping out of the hole in the ice like Michael Myers or something.

Also, most of the good parts of this movie had been taken almost directly from “Joshua.” The way Esther pits her ‘parents’ against each other has been done better in movies like “Joshua” and Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel, “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

I didn’t really care about any of the characters, except maybe Max, and while I liked Sam Rockwell’s similarly dispositioned character In “Joshua,” I found John (Sarsgaard) to be a weirdly ineffectual dweeb. while the kid actors (especially Ariana Engineer, who is hearing-impaired in real life) were decent, the movie was a total fail.

Note- On the other hand, I did get a laugh out of an ad for adoption at the beginning of this movie. Do you back the SPCA before a showing of “Cujo?” There’s a time and a place, people!

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The Hammer (2010)

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m no big fan of wrestling. I just can’t get pumped up at the prospect of two muscly, angry-looking, sweaty boys/men sticking their testicles in each others’ faces. So the human interest element of a wrestling story really has to involve me, or else the appeal is lost on me.

Well, “The Hammer” is no Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler,” but it still manages to be a pretty appealing ‘underdog’ story, sans “The Wrestler”‘s devastating ending. Now inspirational underdog pic can be great “Billy Elliot,” good “The Fighter,” or just mediocre (“Front of the Class,”) and “The Hammer” falls somewhere in the middle category.

Based on a true story, “The Hammer” follows Matt Hamill, a deaf athlete (played by Russell Harvard, who has the disability in real life,) who struggles throughout his youth for love, inclusion, and acceptance. As a child, Matt’s grandfather Stan (Raymond J. Barry) denied him the right to learn sign language or participate in a school with other deaf children.

So guess what? Matt gets moved to the ‘slow class’ of a mainstream primary school, where the normal kids  assume he’s stupid- he can’t hear, he can’t talk, he doesn’t respond to their taunts… until one day he does respond, knocking one of his victimizers to the ground after being bullied.

Matt grows into a strong, oxish youth who nevertheless remains tentative about social engagements. He also finds his calling in life… wrestling. When Matt fails at his wrestling scholarship, partially because of his inability to understand sign language (way to go, Gramps,) he must fight his fears and insecurities in order to achieve his dreams.

I’ll admit- I kind of spaced out during the wrestling scenes, which weren’t my forte. But despite the sentimentality, the tears, and the token inspirational moments, I was pleased with this film as a whole. It wasn’t really anything new or special, but it was well-done.

First of all Matt was a likable characters- you felt for his failures, even if you knew he was going to succeed at the end. The Grandpa was a three-dimensional character, even if his motivations were not always clear. He made up for his shortcomings by being an overall good father figure to his grandson.

Matt’s deaf girlfriend Kristi (also deaf actress Shoshannah Stern) was kind of blah… you couldn’t really feel the chemistry between her and Matt, and her constant nagging at him to sign rather than speak was annoying, and never really got resolved.

“The Hammer” is an overall rather predictable movie that ends up inspiring you despite yourself. The acting is decent, the script strong, and the characters likable enough. It might be worth a watch if you can find it for a cheap rental, or if you like this sort of movie.

The Station Agent (2003)

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Pensive and deliberately slow-paced, “The Station Agent” was a movie that definitely improved for me upon another viewing. It was the movie that brought Peter Dinklage into the spotlight before “Game of Thrones” made him a star. Dinklage is a dwarf, so it will come as no surprise to you that good roles are hard for him to come by regardless of what a good actor he may be (and is.) Compared to his more disposable roles like “Elf” and “Underdog,” “The Station Agent” stands as a surprisingly good indie film, and Dinklage, as well as his co-stars Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale, give the project all they’ve got.

Gut-wrenching ableism is alive and well in the people who surround Fin (Dinklage,) a reserved young dwarf whose equally hard to read friend and fellow train enthusiast Henry (Paul Benjamin) dies suddenly, leaving him property in a middle-of-nowhere New Jersey town. Fin, who is subject to constant prejudice from ignorant a-holes, just wants to be left alone, but bereaved mom Olivia (Clarkson) and loquacious Cuban-American hot dog vendor Joe (Cannavale) try and begin to succeed to draw him out of his shell (but only after Olivia almost carelessly runs Fin over with her car- twice(!)

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“The Station Agent” is almost as low-key as it’s protagonist and doesn’t resort to cheap sentimentality or maudlin counter-stereotyping of the disabled to make it’s point. Michelle Williams, who has always been good at straddling both indie and big-budget productions, is featured as a lonely librarian who flirts with Fin, much to his befuddlement. Fin is not a martyr or a bafflingly quirky little person with a heart of gold. Fin himself says it best “It’s funny how people see me and treat me, since I’m really just a simple, boring person.” Many people are astonishingly nasty to him, either out of cruelty or ignorance, and he’s learned to build up walls and avoid getting hurt.

“The Station Agent” is tender and funny without exploiting the foibles of it’s characters. The movie is best suited for people who have reasonable attention spans, as it is sometimes painfully slow, but the sharp and bright-eyed observations of it’s characters make it worth the watch. It’s a great showcase for the talents of both Patricia Clarkson and Peter Dinklage, BEFORE he was ‘Half-Man’ Tyrion Lannister. I also feel that the later film “An Insignificant Harvey” ripped this off to some extent. People who love subdued indie movies will like this a lot. It’s slight yet affecting, and touches the viewer’s hearts without using implausible melodrama or deceit to get it’s way.

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Forbidden Zone (1982)

“The Forbidden Zone” takes place in a world entirely unlike our own. From the bizarre recreation of California to the freaky-deaky “Forbidden Zone” of the title, nothing looks the way it should look and none of the characters act the way a normal person would act under any given circumstances.

This is absolutely one of the weirdest movies I have seen in my life. If this intrigues you, this may be the movie for you. If not, maybe not. This bizarre surrealist musical follows Susan B. “Frenchy” Hercules (Marie-Pascale Elfman), a Californian with a pretentious French accent, who passes through a door in her parents’ basement to the “Sixth Dimension” a bizarre world ruled by a jealous queen (Susan Tyrrell) and amorous dwarf king (Hervé Villechaize,)

Frenchy quite willingly becomes the dwarf’s sex slave, but the queen, Doris, becomes determined to destroy her. Meanwhile, Frenchy’s dunderhead brother Flash and Grandpa enter the Sixth Dimension, hoping to rescue her.

The acting ranges from okay (Hervé Villechaize, Susan Tyrrell) to poor (Matthew Bright, as twin brothers Rene & Squeezit). The music, however, was quite good. I especially liked the voices of Marie-Pascale Elfman and Susan Tyrrell, whose throaty tune “Witch’s Egg” was strangely captivating.

This movie is not for the easily offended. There are racist stereotypes (thought by many to be a satiric portrayal of bias in Hollywood) and out-there sexual content. As a comedy, it’s a little weak (certainly not a laugh-out-loud movie). As a musical, it’s quite strong (with songs composed by the director’s brother, Danny Elfman, who later became a composing regular in Tim Burton films.)

“Zone” will divide audiences. For die hard fans of surrealism and cult weirdness, the film will offer subversive pleasures; for the average person, it won’t offer much. For people to whom “Inception” is hard-core weirdness, it will shock and repel. Regardless, it is a polarizing experience and a original picture, if not a particularly coherent one. I leave this one up to you.

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6.0/10

Set Me Free (Emporte-Moi) (1999)

I’ll go ahead and admit as a bad filmgoer and reviewer that I have never seen “Vivre Sa Vie” (“My Life to Live”) by Jean-Luc Godard, and I considered watching it to get some perspective before reviewing “Set Me Free.” “Set Me Free,” though not directly related to “Vivre Sa Vie” thematically, is the story of a frustrated young girl who becomes fascinated with the prostitute character, Nana, in Godard’s classic.

It’s also about growing up. And sexual awakening. And youthful confusion. And the moment as a child when you realize that you can’t save the grown-ups in your life; sometimes, you can only help them along while they choose to sink or swim, to fight against the current, or drown. It’s about the way movies influence young people, and how it’s often the one’s you wouldn’t expect that change their ideology, for better or worse.

Hanna (Katrine Vanasse) is a knowing yet naive 13-year-old who lives with her thief brother, Holocaust survivor father, and suicidally depressed mother in France. The year is 1963. Her father (Predrag Manjlovic) has a iron grip on the household. On the other hand her mother (Pascale Bussières) is as submissive and weak as her father is dominating. In an opening scene, Hanna gets her first period near her grandparent’s house, and shortly after goes back home to her parent’s.

While she was hardly happy at her grandma and grandad’s, things go from bad to worse at home. Her dad is a pretentious, lofty, and generally bad writer who fancies himself a great artist, and her mom is one twitch away from a complete nervous breakdown. Her brother Paul is a petty thief. In an opening act of general assholery, Hanna’s father spits at her mother that her’s is ‘mongoloid family’ because her brother (Hanna’s Uncle Martin) has Down Syndrome (I told myself that ‘Mongoloid’ was not such an offensive term back in the 60’s, but nah, it’s still not excusable.)

When Hanna goes to the theater and sees “Vivre Sa Vie” for the first time, she falls in love- with the movies, Anna Karina, and with Karina’s ‘glamorous’ character. From what I saw of the film within this film she is totally misreading the message of the movie, as her teacher tries to point out. But as a confused kid (sexually and in life) looking for a role model, it makes sense.

Boy, did the child actor knock it out of the park here! Hanna was a sweetheart. From what I understand, the child actress was sixteen when she did this movie, and in fact, she looks childlike in some shots and more womanly in others, probably a intentional decision on the part of the director. Hanna’s father insists on masculinizing his daughter, cropping her hair down to boy length (the hair-cutting scene reminds me of the one in “Ma Vie En Rose.”) As Dad cuts, a silent tear runs down Hanna’s cheek, and she gradually is made to feel a little more helpless.

Hanna propositions a man, maybe in hopes for a normal life or because it is the ‘thing to do’ as a girl, but exchanges intimate kisses with a female friend (Charlotte Christeler.) Does that mean she is bi, simply confused, or something else. Fed up with her family, Hanna runs away, but will a life on the streets be easier or harder than she was looking for?

The acting was fabulous, but I wished the ending had offered a little more. There seemed to be a real lack of realization, and everything get’s better quite abruptly. What was learned, except that being a ho’ isn’t all it’s cut out to be? It’s nice to have a happy ending for such a lovely character, but the story doesn’t seem to have the most logical conclusion.

“Set Me Free” is well made and most of all bittersweet and sad. It’s is based on the director Lea Pool’s life, so that makes it this much more authentic. I would love to know if filmmaker Lea Pool is gay, because that would shine a light to better understand the sexual elements of this movie. Note- You can watch this on Huluplus. Otherwise it is not available on DVD as far as I know. I hope you get the chance to watch this powerful film. Thank you.
                                                                             

Buddy Boy (1999)

Buddy Boy, Mark Hanlon’s debut, is a haunting and potent film about dead end lives that provokes more questions than answers but remains bizarrely interesting throughout.

The film provides a look into the surrealistic existence of emotionally stunted, stuttering misfit Francis (Aidan Gillen), who lives with his trollish invalid stepmother (actual amputee Susan Tyrrell), in a squalid apartment.

Suffering from overwhelming guilt concerning his sexuality, his religion, and himself, he goes to confession monthly, admitting every impure thought and indiscretion. The contrast between faith and the id is revealed in the opening, which presents the viewer with a montage of religious imagery followed by Francis, uh… pleasuring himself to a pair of voluptuous breasts in a magazine.

Like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, this is the high point of his day, which soon descends into woeful monotony. He finds a new pasttime in spying on his attractive neighbor Gloria (Emmanuelle Seigner, controversial Polish director Roman Polanski’s wife) through a hole in his apartment.

Then they meet. Gloria is strangely attracted to Francis, which would be unfeasible if she weren’t clearly lonely and desperate too. She tells him she is a vegan, a word he doesn’t understand, but he catches on. According to her, she doesn’t care what he eats, but then she buys him a “Meat Is Murder” t-shirt, which is a mixed message if I ever saw one. This further accentuates the character’s conflicting beliefs and desires.

Gloria is pretty and nice, too nice, and Francis begins believing irrational things about her pastimes, focusing on her eating habits. Meanwhile he becomes increasingly psychotic (?) and has a falling out with God. Is Francis going insane? Or is meat back on the menu? Buddy Boy is an enigma — although declared a religious allegory by IMDB users it at times seems to be making a statement against Christianity.

In fact Francis spends so much time obsessing about his masturbating, sinning ways that the viewer wishes the poor guy would just snap out of it. The movie is a triumph of atmosphere — the bleakness and decay of Francis and Sal’s apartment is palpable, while Gloria’s big-windowed, pleasingly green abode seems to spell change for the troubled young man.

The problem, it seems, is the vast contrast in acting styles between Aidan Gillen (Francis) and Susan Tyrrell (his stepmom, Sal). Gillen, from the GLBTQ show Queer as Folk (which I haven’t seen), plays his character sensitively and gently, as a fundamentally benevolent albeit strange outcast damaged by trauma and psychosis. Susan Tyrrell plays his abusive stepmom more like a SNL skit. Maybe her broad performance is the fault of the material.

When an actress’ character is scripted to beat a plumber over the head with her artificial leg (one of the stranger scenes in this story), maybe there isn’t much room for subtlety. Buddy Boy, nevertheless, is an intriguing first feature and a fascinating story.

It walks a fine line between being campy and profound, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I like the humanization of Francis, a character who might be written off as a scummy voyeur, or worse, as white trash. It raises interesting questions, contains twists, and transports you, which is something films should accomplish, but rarely do.

Girlfriend (2010)

I can’t believe it! A film with a disabled character who isn’t a maudlin stereotype? Will wonders never cease? “Girlfriend,” in the spirit of “Sling Blade” or “Treacle Jr.,” creates a unique and engaging protagonist with a intellectual impairment. But this time, the actor who plays the lead (Evan Sneider) is also disabled.

Afflicted with Down Syndrome, Evan (Sneider) lives with his mother (Amanda Plummer) in a small town that offers few options. Meanwhile Evan is enamored with old high school crush and single mother Candy (Shannon Woodward), whose feelings toward Evan and his challenges are ambiguous.

Into this scenario swaggers Candy’s white trash ex-boyfriend Russ (Jackson Rathbone, venomously unlikable and liberated from the “Twilight” franchise). When Evan’s mother dies, his attraction to Candy only intensifies, and all three are caught in triangle that will leave none untouched.

One of the reasons I watched this movie was that I heard Amanda Plummer was in it, so it was disappointing to have her die in the first ten minutes. Nevertheless, Evan’s mother Celeste is one of the best portrayals and most real characters in this story.

Far from being a typical movie hero mom, Celeste has her good days and her bad, like any other mom. There is one scene where Celeste represses her rage at her and Evan’s oppressive employer with a subtle facial twitch which I felt really displayed Amanda Plummer’s acting talent.

In fact, the only performance I felt was a little weak is Sneider’s. I know, I feel like I’m picking on the disabled kid in the lunchroom, but Sneider was not prepared to take some of the dramatic turns the story took. Nevertheless, his occasional faltering didn’t distract me from the story too much.

Evan is a very interesting character in that I got to see him exercise his dark side a little, which is rare in a movie like this. It’s always aggravated me the way people desexualize people with disabilities, so seeing Evan experience libido and exhibit desire for a relationship — and yes, sex — was refreshing.

I found the ending a little convoluted. You know that moment when things are resolved only as they are in the movies? Yeah, like that. The final twist was similarly unsatisfying, as I think sex shouldn’t be something you give out to compensate for past mistakes. At the same time, though, I was kind of impressed they were daring enough to end it that way.

Overall, “Girlfriend” is a very underrated and intriguing movie about small town relationships and the limitations we all have. This is writer/director Justin Lerner’s first feature-length movie, and I hope to see more of him very soon. I recommend this film to anybody who loves independent movies.