Tag Archives: Mental Retardation

Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)

Bloody and brilliant, “Dead Man’s Shoes” is an emotional rollercoaster from beginning to end. The 57% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is both a crying shame and a sacrilege, because this is Shane Meadows’ masterpiece — a film that transcends the revenge genre, delivering a heart-pounding, intense story that lets events unfold in a way that is anything but simple.

Richard (Paddy Considine) returns home from military service with no intention of living a nice quiet life and settling down. The target of his rage: a low-rent drug gang that did some terrible things to his borderline simple brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) some time before.

After Richard threatens a drug dealer and later gives him an unsettlingly twitchy apology, the gang of thugs suspect that ol’ Anthony’s brother might be a few screws short of a tool box, but don’t know how to react. Sonny (Gary Stretch), the most sadistic and smartest (and in a group like this, that’s not saying much), takes charge as best as he is able, but they are no match for Richard’s cool-headed brutality and military training.

This is when things get decidedly more ambiguous. What exactly happened to Anthony? What parts of Richard’s viewpoint are unreliable? When he faces the thug who has broken off from the gang and raised a family, Richard grows less and less sure of himself, leading to a shocking conclusion that rivals the majority of thrillers in its freshness and great writing.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Paddy Considine’s performance here is one of the best acting jobs I’ve seen. He makes Richard thoroughly believable and doesn’t stoop to any tough-guy cliches. What Richard lacks in size, he makes up for in calm, calculated violence. His performance is powerful and a testament to lesser-known actors who seem to slip through the cracks all too often.

Toby Kebbell, who gets overlooked all too often is also very good as Anthony, a simple-minded fellow whose naivete proves to be dangerous as he navigates a rough area without his older brother, who he looks up to, to protect him. He is very believable playing a mentally retarded character, and doesn’t overplay his hand or make his character a ham-fisted caricature.

The other actors never match up to Considine’s ferocious portrayal of a vengeful loner, but they do fine on their own. There’s a scene between the reformed drug dealer and his wife that is very powerful and moving, and the thugs do good job as their drug-hazed obliviousness turns to fear.

There is also some humor (mostly derived from the stupidity of the antagonists) and some tender moments between Richard and his brother. “Dead Man’s Shoes” proves there is still some smarts left in the thriller genre, and boy do I love it for that. It benefits from a smart script and a blistering performance from Paddy Considine. Watch it, and you will not be wasting your time. I didn’t waste mine.

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.

The Living & the Dead (2006)

Not your first pick for Mother’s Day, The Living and the Dead is morbid and horrifying, and I mean that, strangely, as a compliment. It is a family drama, a psychological thriller, a tragedy, an art film, all these things at once, and and despite it’s flaws, it doesn’t overextend.

The film opens with Lord Donald Brocklebank (Roger Lloyd-Pack), a worn-down, silent shell of an old man, pushing an empty wheelchair through a quiet room. The image delivers the same feeling as a dark grey painting, lonely and despondent. He watches, lip quivering, as an ambulance pulls into his massive estate. Cut back an undetermined amount of time. Donald stands straighter. He maintains a kind of pride that must come with being one of the British elite, but he is grieving. He has a lot to grieve about.

His wife, Lady Nancy Brocklebank, is terribly sick and probably won’t be with him much longer. The bills are piling up, and they will soon lose their mansion. His son James (Leo Bill, in an over-the-top performance that works), dashes around the house with little clear purpose.

James is in his mid-to-late twenties. He is stuck in a kind of permanent childhood, the kind of childhood that is made up of nightmares, not whimsy. Although Simon Rumley, the director, describes him as “mentally challenged,” I suspect paranoid schizophrenia.

James is by far my favorite character in the film. He is a complicated movie creation, and his emotional limitations do not hold back his complexity or ambiguity as a person. Donald treats James with the casual cruelty that is most likely inflicted on the mentally ill more often than we think, condescending to him, forbidding him to use the phone or answer the door. James is desperate to prove to his father that he is an independent adult and plans to do so by taking care of his mother.

His father understandably rejects the idea. In an matter of days, James will have locked the door, shut out the nurse, skipped his pills, and may have destroyed the lives of those closest to him. Soon, as his lucidity deteriorates, the viewer begins to wonder if the past events were only in James’ head. This is a film for a patient audience — it’s a while before anything happens and the reality of the events is questionable.

The atmosphere is palpable, and the characters are well developed. There are many plot holes and unanswered questions throughout the film, as the story itself seems on the edge of reality, with its Gothic features and abstract images.

People have had different opinions on whether James is “good” or “bad.” He is a disturbing character, to be sure. He is not a sex maniac, mad slasher, or stony-faced killer, but an exceptionally childlike and deeply disturbed man. This movie might make you feel differently about a crime, in the paper, in which mental illness was a factor. Despite naysayers, The Living and the Dead is an emotional bombshell and thought-provoking film.

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.