Tag Archives: Domestic Abuse

Book Review: The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon

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Rating: A-/ I can’t remember the last time I felt this emotionally drained after reading a book. It’s a tricky business to write a novel in an intentionally childish and grammatically incorrect style so as to capitalize on the narrator’s illiteracy, but I think this book pulled that off wonderfully.  Although that sounds like it would be difficult to read, I found myself getting pulled into the pragmatic and plain-spoken heroine, Mary’s world without too much confusion. Moreover, I fell in love with Mary’s voice and, withholding spoilers, it broke my heart that things didn’t work out better for her than they did. Continue reading Book Review: The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon

Book Review: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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Rating: B/ Celie isn’t a slave, but she might as well be. At the tender age of fourteen, Celie’s abusive father passes her off to an equally abusive man in an marriage the two have already arranged. Celie’s only joy comes from her younger sister, Nettie, so when Nettie is sent away and becomes a missionary in Africa, Celie is understandably devastated and writes her sister hundreds of letters in order to keep in touch. The Color Purple is written in epistolary format, and the narrative comes either in the form of letters Celie writes to God attempting to reconcile with her horrid living situation or notes that Celie and Nettie write back and forth to each other, attempting to provide comfort in sad and desperate times. Continue reading Book Review: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Book Review: Push by Sapphire

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Rating: A-/  There is occasionally something cathartic about reading books that are real downers, if they are well done. A truly bleak book does something that a funny or light book can’t, which is to put the shittiness of the reader’s life into perspective. If nothing else, Push by Sapphire, an excellent book that was also made into an excellent movie called Precious, will make you want to hug your mom and buy her flowers. Whatever issues you might have had with her at the moment, by the end of this book you’ll probably be buying her free passes to the spa so she can treat herself. Continue reading Book Review: Push by Sapphire

Book Review: Behold the Many by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

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Rating: B/  Behold the Many is kind of a strange book, and one that is hard to summarize and describe, but I’ll try my best to put my feelings about this novel into words. I had never heard of it when I picked it up but I was immediately sucked in by the beautiful cover art, featuring an a black-and-white picture of an innocent-looking Asian girl overlaid with colorful flowers. The image, much like many examples of cover art on the front of novels, has very little to do with the actual story, seeming in this case to have been randomly picked out with little correlation with the plot itself. Continue reading Book Review: Behold the Many by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

Book Review: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

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Rating: B/ There isn’t much funny about Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, it’s a somewhat bleak and depressing book narrated by a ten-year-old unsupervised hell raiser who runs with a group of kids who are more Lord of the Flies than Our Gang. The lack of plot or traditional structure offered in this novel can be initially jarring and frustrating, but Paddy Clarke’s idiosyncratic, often tangential voice rings true and there is a real artistry hidden behind the seemingly random and directionless prose. Continue reading Book Review: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

Together (2000)

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    Together is a comedy of small events and big characters, which is sure to have you laughing and cringing at the same time. The premise is a mix of the dramatic and absurd; the year is 1975, and Swedish housewife Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren) is a downtrodden mother of two who gets smacked around by her alkie husband (Michael Nyqvist) (again.) So she grabs the kids, Stefan and Eva (Sam Kessel and Emma Samuelsson) and moves into her brother  Goran (Gustaf Hammarsten)’s commune.

No sooner has she shacked up there than personalities clash big-time. The brother, a kind-hearted but ineffectual communist-sympathizing beatnik, wonders why everybody can’t just get along. But in a group of the Liberal, the very very Liberal, and the even more Liberal arguing on profound matters such as whether washing dishes is bourgeois, the arrival of a relatively strait-laced mother and her two young kids might be more than the odd  little family can handle.

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As the commune’s resident free-spirited lesbian Anna (Jessica Liedberg) encourages Elisabeth to reclaim her feminine power and independence, the deeply unhappy kids try to reconnect with their father, who has sunk into a drunken despair; and the group must find some way to balance the children in their crazy lives. This leads to a disagreement between the hippies when meat eating, television, and war games are thrown into the mix.

Although the film makes fun of hippies to some extent, it kind of embraces them too, and this juxtaposition is handled evenly and consistently throughout. While Elisabeth is getting out of a bad relationship, her brother Goran is stuck in one, and the two siblings inspire and aid each other to some extent. Together is somewhat disturbing at times because of the borderline neglect the hippies inflict on their own children in the commune. One little boy of about six claims to have built a tolerance to alcohol by stealing wine from the kitchen, insisting that the adults ‘never notice,’ and the kids witness the grown-up’s self-absorbed drama as members of the commune have indiscriminate sex, experiment with homosexuality, and show no discretion about anything around their children, who seem more like an afterthought than a important facet to their lives.

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It’s preferable to, say, growing up in a crack house, but that’s a discernment no child should ever have to make. Out of the hippies, Goran is the most likable and sympathetic- he’s a sweet and all-around good guy who genuinely cares about his companions and wants to make everyone happy. The character arc dictates that he will eventually learn that you can’t make everyone happy, no matter how nice a guy you are. Elisabeth’s character arc is a little bit more questionable, especially when you see the decision  she makes at the end. The kids give charming and charismatic performances, particularly Sam Kessel as little Stefan, and a cute ‘forbidden’ romance between the son (Henrik Lundsrtom) of prudish, repressed neighbor parents and Elisabeth’s daughter is a welcome escape from some pretty dark subject matter.

As a decidedly non-Hollywood fish-out-of-water comedy, Together definitely has it’s moments, but it’s as a bittersweet drama that it really seems to excel. It’s obviously a low-budget effort; it looks cheap and the sound editing could really use some work, but the actors do a good job and the characters alternately charm you or infuriate you with their craziness, sometimes at the same time. The movie offers up the message that even the biggest radical needs to give and take a little to find balance in life. Although from vastly different worlds, Goran’s commune and Elisabeth’s family find goodness and personal enrichment in each other’s company. Sometimes the perfect combination of values isn’t far left or far right, but somewhere snugly in the middle.

Warning; this movie has full-frontal nudity and a disturbing scene where an adult tries to seduce a child. However, if you are a more adventurous and less sensitive film goer, these aspects should not deter you from watching an engaging and likable film.

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Nil By Mouth (1997)

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Holy shit. This film is so… fucking… bleak. But it is a must watch for people who think Ray Winstone can’t act. Keep the rubbish in the trash bin, Britain. And don’t under any circumstances let Raymond (Winstone) near your unborn baby. Rage, alcoholism. The relentlessly grim cycle of domestic violence passing from one generation to the next. This drama takes place in the South London projects, but it is by no means confined to that setting. It’s universal, and it won’t stop unless women stop settling for men who beat the shit out of them.

Raymond (Ray Winstone) and Mark (Jamie Foreman) are two South London bros who are also both pretty horrible people. They hang out in Ray’s apartment, drink and drink, and talk shit. Oh yeah, and Ray occasionally takes enough time off drinking and talking shit to beat his wife, Valerie (Kathy Burke) senseless. Ray’s also a father to a little girl (Leah FItzgerald,) and the kid is all too often a witness to Mommy getting her ass handed to her. Ray’s subhuman, a screaming, emotionally impotent cretin, but he thinks he gets off free because he’s all tormented and complex and shit. To listen to his talks with his friend puts you in mind of witnessing something scintillatingly grotesque, like the dietary habits of wild animals.

Valerie has an exhausted mother, Janet (Laila Morse) and a spirited grandmother (Edna Dore) who doesn’t take bunk from anybody, even when Ray threatens to knock the geriatric old bird out cold. She also has a brother Billy (Charlie Creed-Miles,) who’s slightly more likable than the other men, mostly because he doesn’t talk much, and also because he’s not a violent criminal or consciously cruel as much as a weak and pathetic loser. Billy also has a methamphetamine habit he supports by stealing and mooching off his mother.

The five characters converge throughout this practically plotless Brit drama, not as much living as surviving, and it soon becomes clear that something’s going to have to give before all fucking hell breaks lose. Because this life they’re living is not as much of a life as a fox trap where they’re chewing their collective leg off.

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The action feels real, like all the best British realism films. The conversations sound like real conversations, and even though the number of curse words is staggering (if you were offended by the bad language in my review, trust me, this isn’t the movie for you) they don’t seem excessive in the context of the film. Writer/director Gary Oldman (yes, that Gary Oldman) has an ear for dialogue, the meaningless yammering bullshit people talk, and the lies people tell themselves to get through the day. Except in his adept hands, the rambling dialogue becomes something really special. Even when Billy’s tattooed hooligan friend Danny (Steve Sweeney) lovingly recites dialogue from “Apocalypse Now” while blitzed out of his mind, the scene has a certain gravity to it, almost touching. It feels like you are seeing something important, something only you are meant to see.

There are a handful of truly amazing scenes in this film, moments so hardcore you forget to breathe, when you see what these fucked-up people’s lives are really about. Several of these involve Ray Winstone monologues, particularly the one about his father where we find out what the title of the movie pertains to. Tight, focused acting there. The kind that takes raw talent. One of the scenes that sticks out to me is the one where Janet, defeated, takes Billy to pick up meth from his dealer. She sits and watches him as he sits in the back of the van doing the drugs,  his expression the shallow smile of a satisfied addict, her’s of exhaustion and resignation.

That, to me, is the epitome of desperation. Watching your son shoot up with the crap that you provide? The thing is, nobody wants to be an enabler to their own kid. Nobody wants to be a beaten wife. But in an absence of hope, people settle for so much less than they could be; so much less than they deserve. It’s an ugly cycle, one that is both self-perpetuating and never-ending.

The only thing that keeps me from wholeheartedly recommending this movie is the ending. The whole thing is just bizarre. Whether it’s a happy ending or another plunge into the Hellish abyss of domestic violence, who can tell? I’ll settle for the latter. Regardless, it just made me mad. “Nil By Mouth” is no more a popcorn  movie than a film by Michael Haneke or Lars Von Trier is. However, if you like hyper-realistic kitchen sink dramas with amazing actors, this is the movie for you. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you, the level of domestic violence is daunting. This is a harrowing look at people with nothing left to lose, people for which violence is not a distant thing to dread but an inevitable side effect of being alive.

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