Tag Archives: Child Abuse

Little Red Flowers (2006)

A well-made story set against the backdrop of post-revolutionary China that, despite it’s strengths, often comes off as boring and exploitative. I have no problem with child nudity in, say, “Let the Right One In,” but the movie’s obsession with the four-year-old’s protagonist’s genitals is  not only creepy, but just plain wrong. I’ve seen less nudity in a Lars Von Trier flick.

Fang Qiangqiang (Bowen Dong) is a rebellious tyke who is dropped off at a grim boarding school by his father, than left to sink or swim, so to speak. What follows is a kind of brainwashing sicker than anything you’ll see in “The Human Centipede” or “Audition.”

The kids are teased with the superfluous exercise of receiving little red paper flowers for good behavior. All Qiang wants is the flowers, but his habitual bed-wetting and daily transgressions make the others immediately dislike him. Hence- no flowers. The boarding school is barren and cold, except for a few toys that don’t look like they couldn’t make the cut for the Goodwill donation box.

Immediately, it is established that all independent thought is squelched at this academy. The children are taught to eat, drink, poop, and sleep as one. These kids are being taught to be compliant, much to the horror of this free-thinking viewer. Meanwhile, Qiang stirs up trouble like a tiny Randall P. McMurphy, inciting rebellion when he convinces the impressionable children that strict Mrs. Li (Zhao Rui) is a tyke-eating monster.

This movie actually has a lot to say about values both Chinese and American. The scene where Mrs. Li goes ballistic about Qiang getting a female classmate to lift up her skirt so he can give her an ‘injection’ is particularly telling, as it is an unhealthy reaction to a natural exchange between children. Not only does she reprimand Qiang fiercely, she also resorts to name-calling to the girl for ‘letting a boy take off her pants.’

However, I will say that the nudity bothered me, and before you say “That’s your problem,” let me ask you this- would you let your little boy, your brother, your nephew get undressed for a camera at this developmental age? And before you say “it’s his rights,” children of this age have no rights when it comes to ‘choosing’ to flaunt their body in front of the camera.

It would be different, of course, if the nudity were crucial to this plot. It isn’t. Also, I’m almost certain they terrified the living s**t out of these children to get a performance. The tears of these toddlers are so incredibly real that the movie has almost a documentary feel. A good thing? Maybe, unless you take into account that no child this age can give a performance of this caliber. Either they’re the best child actors ever. Or… there’s something else going on here.

The film mirrors the totalitarian regime of the era, so that’s food for thought, if you like that sort of thing. The children are adorable, if only they were fully clothed more often. Yeah, I’ve decided for sure. I’m rounding the rating off to a 2.5.

Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

I pulled my paperback copy of this book of my shelf on impulse one day, and I’m very glad I did. ‘Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes’ is a compelling read, which examines a large birth of issues including bullying, obesity, disabilities, child abuse, abortion, and religion. This all sounds very ‘disease-of-the-week,’ but the ‘problem novel’ aspect of the novel is levied by genuine audacity and an unforgettable cast  of characters.

Eric, called ‘Moby’ (as in the whale) for his considerable girth, is an obese seventeen-year-old boy living in a single-parent family. His oldest friend, Sarah Byrnes was horribly disfigured under suspicious circumstances when she was three. For seventeen years she has stood strong, but now she sits, wounded and silent, in a psychiatric ward.

Eric is running out of time. He has to save Sarah Byrnes from insanity… or something worse. Because someone wants to silence Eric. And in this situation, there isn’t a wide berth for error. Subplots involve   proselytization by Eric’s Christian conservative classmate, a classroom discussion group dissecting relevant social issues, and a troubled and dimwitted boy from Eric’s past.

It might be hard to warm up to the characters at first. Eric is a unrepentant smartass who constantly describes his obesity and profuse perspiration at length, while Sarah Byrnes sometimes seems rougher (and meaner) than she needs to be. Likewise Steve Ellerby, Eric’s other friend, seems to be someone who would pick any fight with a Christian. But slowly your views change- Eric is a devoted friend, Sarah is incredibly brave, and Ellerby is a thinker  who refuses to accept someone else’s reality that doesn’t make sense to him  as his own. Even crazy-religious and hypocritical Mark Brittain shows a human side.

This in’t the best written book ever- it contains a lot of cliched language. But the plot and the characters are engrossing. The story is exciting while also being interesting and not insulting the reader’s intelligence. “Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes” was actually banned/challenged at several points by the school systems, and a Wisconsin parents actually called it ‘pornography’ at one point, which is pure ridiculousness. It is actually a pretty mature book, but nothing that older teens can’t handle in my opinion.

This is a lot darker than the last YA book I read (the Trans-friendly “Parrotfish,”) but then this arguably goes deeper into teen issues (not just GLBTQ issues.) I can’t say I liked this one better, but then, they do different things well. For compelling characters and a steady mix of drama and action, look no further than “…Sarah Byrnes.” I think you could get a tech-head  or jock boy who is committed to sports or glued to his video game system to read this book because it is so involving. I think it should be on every high school library shelf .

The book’s intriguing dedication.

Michael (2011)

A tricky film about a tricky subject, Michael is handled somewhat more tactfully than you might expect, but remains a tough watch. Left deliberately ambiguous by the oblique festival trailer and poster, which shows a man and a boy framed by puzzle pieces, it is a sometimes unbearably tense portrayal of human perversion.

Michael (Michael Fuith), a weasily little man who you might expect for this kind of role, lives an inconspicuous existence in Suburban Austria. In reality, he is anything but ordinary — he is the abductor and captor of ten-year-old Wolfgang (Markus Schleinzer), who is becoming increasingly defiant about his living situation.

Wolfgang lives in Michael’s padlocked basement, where he is periodically raped (obliquely implied by a non-graphic scene where Michael washes his scrotum after an encounter with the boy), bullied into submission, and given what Michael hopes is enough warm and fuzzy time and traces of a normal childhood to keep Wolfgang compliant.

It is implied that Michael plans to kill Wolfgang once he reaches puberty. Living a nightmare, Wolfgang becomes more and more rebellious, culminating in an eventual escape attempt.

The film is minimalism at its most intense, focusing on the practices that make Michael seem at times like a normal human being. He and Wolfgang occasionally seem to have an almost father-son-like relationship, washing dishes, purchasing a Christmas tree, and passing discreetly into the fray of a petting zoo. Sometimes you nearly forget anything’s wrong at all, until some pedophilic dirty talk or foreplay brings you back to reality and forces you to face facts.

Something is terribly wrong. Wolfgang has parents somewhere who love and miss him, and psychologically, he is splintering, turning into the polar opposite of the unknowing boy Michael goes after later in the film.

To ask for more excitement in a movie like this is to ask for a nasty brand of moviemaking. Despite its relentless ugliness and bleakness, Michael never sinks to the sewers of  child exploitation. As a critic, though, I would have asked for a more conclusive ending. Placing an ending like this in any movie, let alone a film of this intensity, seems, frankly, a little like cheating.

Note – Praised by critics for its subtle take on its subject. Free of heavy-handedness and melodrama, the film’s director, Marcus Schleinzer, got several calls from grateful pedophiles, thanking him for his “non-judgmental” portrayal of their kind. It’s sad to think there are people like that out there, who will probably never benefit from any kind of therapy an are best kept away from children for the rest of their natural lives.

Flight: A Novel by Sherman Alexie

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“Call me Zits,” states the disaffected, acne-afflicted anti-hero at the beginning of Sherman Alexie’s fast-paced, compulsively readable novel ‘Flight.’ Zits, an fifteen-year-old Native American orphan, is shipped off to yet another foster home when he gets into a fight with his foster father and physically attacks him. He is sent to Juvie but escapes with a charismatic boy he met in jail, who brainwashes him into committing a violent crime. In the midst of shooting up a bank, ZIts is shot in the head and transported back in time for reasons unknown to him.

Zits enters the bodies of five different characters, from a mute Indian boy fighting for his life during Custer’s Last Stand to a white pilot grappling with his guilt in a modern day setting. Along the way, Zits sees the intrinsic violence and anger that resides within humanity and the futility of revenge and blame-placing. By the end of it, he is changed for the better- but is it too late?

I already knew Sherman Alexie was a talented writer from back when I read “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” but what I didn’t expect was to be completely transported by this book. Let me put it this way- usually it takes me weeks to get through a book (I’m a slow reader) and I finished this in two days. “Flight” was funny and made my heart hurt at the same time. You can’t help feeling for this boy, although for all intents and purposes he is not a very sympathetic character (he lies, steals, sets fires, and kills.) He’s never known ‘home’ or ‘family’ or ‘love,’ and most of his foster parents are just in it for the money.

I know it’s a cliche, but he’s built up resistance against an uncaring world. I know nothing about Indian history yet I never felt lost or stupid reading this book, it’s that accessible. The writing is at once conversational and literary; there is no hint of smut or trashiness in the narrative. The events leading up to the shooting are pretty rushed, but that just gets the reader to the fantasy element quicker. It also builds up a sense of confusion and disorientation, Zits doesn’t really know why he wants to commit the crime, all he knows is that he hurts and he wants to make others hurt as he has.

“Flight” is harsh, heartbreaking, strong, unsentimental, and tough. It’s protagonist doesn’t know what he wants, and his fresh, angry voice drives the narrative at breakneck speed. I want to read all of Sherman Alexie’s works now. When I’m reading Alexie, it doesn’t matter than I’m not in the know about poverty or reservation life or Native American woes, because his themes are pretty much universal. I highly recommend this book to all those that like good fiction.

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The War Zone (1999)

Actor Tim Roth’s dictatorial debut is also an exquisitely acted masterwork about the dark secrets surrounding a middle-class British family, with Lara Belmont stealing the show as the abused daughter. Teenager Tom (Freddie Cunliffe) is horrified but initially fails to intervene when he realizes his older sister (Belmont) is carrying on an incestuous relationship with their father (Ray Winstone.)

Winstone, who is primarily known by the public for imposing-baddie-with-a-cockney-accent kind of roles, really sells it as a monster of a human being. You will hate this man so much you will want to vomit. Tilda Swinton plays Mum, who is pregnant at the start of the film, and later has a baby girl named Alice.

The weird thing is, Tom doesn’t immediately see his older sister as a victim, even as he looks on as she is raped by her father. In fact, Jess (the sister) doesn’t always see herself as a victim either. I don’t think she thinks she deserves to be saved. She occasionally fancies herself a Daddy’s girl, and may very nearly likes the attention and the meager pleasures of the ever more frequent assaults.

She teases Tom, coyly denies it. Tom seems to blame Jess for the impending disintegration of their family, rather than the piece of human excrement who sits at their table, eats their food, makes love to their mother like his interests aren’t directed elsewhere. While ‘Dad’ is a monster, Tom isn’t exactly sympathetic either, and Jess initially raises question of whether she likes Daddy’s attentions, and, in fact, is complaint in the incest.

This is not a movie for the weak of heart. I was disgusted, but in a good way if you know what I mean. This movie is a hundred times scarier than “The Shining” and a hundred times more grotesque than “The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence,)” if only because it is firmly rooted in reality. The only thing I can think to compare it to is “Tyrannosaur,” another great movie who was also directed by a UK actor (Paddy Considine.)

This movie is not about ghosts, devils, evil entities, or masked killers. It’s about the evils people do, the atrocities that can take place in a more or less regular household. While the lack of sexual boundaries the family exhibits is off-putting, it doesn’t seem to incorporate abuse at first. Oh, how wrong you are, filmgoer.

I recommend this amazing movie to people with very strong stomachs. The acting is great all around and the script is nearly flawless. I’m still floored that Lara Belmont did no professional acting prior to this movie. Her acting will blow you away. One of the most underrated performances ever. I hope Tim Roth can find time to make another movie in addition to his acting career. Purely, and simply… great.

Tideland (2005)

“Tideland,” Terry Gilliam’s fantastical horror brain child, is an undeniably original, unmistakably repulsive journey into the life and mind of one troubled little girl (Jodelle Ferland.) To say it outstays it’s welcome it an understatement, the film clocks at over two hours and leaves an undeniably bad taste in one’s throat. The characters are hard to comprehend, much less like or understand.

All this would be bad enough without the bizarre intro by Terry Gilliam, who vaguely informs us that children ‘bounce back’ from situations such as these and tells us ‘don’t forget to laugh.’ But what is there to laugh at in a disgusting horror show such as this?  it’s as if Dave Peltzer of ‘A Child Called It’ fame had promised us a knee-slapping good time.

Between the role of Jeff Bridges as the girl’s junkie father, who sits down in a chair to shoot up, dies, and spends the majority of the movie in various states of decomposition, our prepubescent heroine trading ‘silly kisses’ and sexual curiousness with a mentally retarded man (Brendon Fletcher,) and Daddy (prior to his death) instructing his daughter to prepare heroin for him, I found very little to laugh at in this revolting freak show.

The fact that Gilliam expects us to laugh and see this whole travesty through the eyes of a child speaks volumes on the man’s mental stability. What does he think we are? Animals. Sub-human cretins who are all-too-eager and willing to laugh at the mental and psychological destruction of a child? Apparently, if Gilliam should have his way, we will be laughing at child endangerment through the eyes of that child, oblivious to the adult consequences of such atrocities. Mmm-kay.

After her harpy mother (Jennifer Tilly) O.D.’s Jeliza-Rose (Ferland), ten or eleven or so, is swept away from the squalid tenement she calls home by her druggie father (Bridges,) and tries her best to adjust to her new home in her father’s childhood house on the massive prairie, far away from anything. When Dad dies, Jeliza-Rose acts much as if he was alive, talking to his corpse and exploring the prairie, where she meets local freak Dell (Janet McTeer) and her brain-damaged brother, Dickens (Fletcher.)

Dell, who as it happens, bangs the stuttering grocery delivery boy (Dylan Taylor) in exchange for food, takes a liking to Jeliza-Rose and invites her and her doll heads (Jeliza-Rose frequently talks through her collection of severed doll’s heads, did I mention that?) to live in her and Dickens’ family home.

“Tideland” often references Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ as Jeliza-Rose ‘falls down the rabbit hole’ from one bizarre situation to another. Although technically well-made in many respects, “Tideland” is yucky, overlong, and had me begging for it to end by the halfway point.

Jodelle Ferland turns in pretty good performance as Jeliza-Rose (although I found her Southern accent exaggerated) and Brendan Fletcher gives a decent supporting performance as Dickens (who, through no fault of his own, reminded me a bit of Ben Stiller’s ‘Simple Jack’) but overall the film is a fail. I would recommend you watch “Alice” by Jan Svankmajer as a dark take on “Alice in Wonderland” rather than this. It is less sickening and doesn’t make you feel like you’re watching for hours on end, but hey, that’s just me.

Movie Review- Martyrs (2008)

ImageThere are no words to describe how fucked-up this movie is. I have not seen “A Serbian Film,” which is supposed to make “Martyrs” look tame in comparison, but I truly do not know how it’s going to top this. I’ve seen “Antichrist,” “The Human Centipede II,” “American Mary,” but nothing like this. This movie is spirtually and physically sickening, which is exactly how the filmmaker,Pascal Laugier, intended it.

Okay, I’m probably just riling up you gorehounds, so I’ll cut to the chase. To say that this movie is nauseating is not to say it’s bad. It’s actually very well-made and well-acted from start to finish. Actress Mylène Jampanoï does a great job as the frightened victim turned infuriated perpetrator, and Morjana Alaoui is also terrific as her enamored friend.

Although Anna (Alaoui) harbors a lesbian crush on Lucie (Jampanoï,) her sexuality isn’t a huge part of the plot. Instead, the movie is about the giving and receiving of physical punishment (not the least bit pleasurable; sorry, BDSM enthusiasts,) and just how far the rich and selfish will go to secure their own peace of mind, with no regard to the people they hurt.

Maybe comparing the premise of this movie with current class issues is a long shot, but damn it, it sounded smart to me at the time. Lucie is inexplicably held prisoner as a child and subjected to physical pain. Young Lucie (Jessie Pham, in a performance worthy of her grown-up counterpart,) runs away and ends up in an orphanage, where she meets Anna (played as a child by Erika Scott) and forges a close bond.

Anna seems determined to help Lucie no matter what squirrels reside in her attic and continues to be a faithful friend and companion when Lucie grows up and, P.O.-ed and dangerous, takes a shotgun to a couple she believes participated in her torture and their teenaged children.

This movie is super brutal and fairly realistic, and establishes itself as such in the home invasion scene. Unlike a American movie, Lucie runs out of shotgun shells and needs to reload, and the reaction of the family radiates terror, but perhaps, not surprise. The movie a sick (let me rephrase that- sicker) turn after Anna is captured by Lucie’s tormenters.

The ending is a ‘What the Hell?’ moment and will leave you thinking about what it all means. The cinematography is very professional and overall well-done. The scenes involving Anna’s entrapment last a little too long, frankly. How many times can we watch a woman be smacked around and degraded when it doesn’t advance the plot?

The movie makes the decision to focus on young Lucie rather than her captors in the flashbacks, which is a good cinematic choice considering Lucie is traumatized by the experiences and initially doesn’t remember her victimizers. In many of the later scenes with Anna, we see her abusers very clearly, constrasting with with the earlier scenes with Lucie.

I thought this was a very well-made movie, but only watchable for people with very strong stomachs. It’s not a popcorn movie, and neither does it intend to be. I liked it, but I don’t think I could watch it again anytime soon.

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