Tag Archives: Mothers and Sons

I Killed My Mother (2009)

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Yes, the mother depicted in this film is a chode. But, to be perfectly honest, so is her completely self-involved, angst-ridden son. Nature and nurture, one does not necessarily cancel out the other. Although actor/director/writer Xavier Dolan’s semi-autobiographical first feature is sometimes burdened down by largely unsympathetic characters (the son’s big-hearted, sarcastic boyfriend was the only one I can say I ‘liked,’) it does strike a chord with it’s real and darkly funny portrayal of that gray area between childhood and adulthood where your parents seem to be the worst people on earth.

The difference being, of course, that Hubert (Xavier Dolan)’s shrill mother (Anne Dorval) is a pretty awful person, not to mention a piss-poor parent. Initially I was repelled by Hubert’s cruel antics toward his cold, passive-aggressive mama but I will admit that I came to a sort of understanding of him halfway through the film. That’s not to say liked him, ‘like’ would be too strong a word and not at all accurate to what I’m feeling, but I had a moment of realization where I was like, “Yeah, she’s awful.”

A little background on the plot- Hubert is a gay high school kid who considers himself quite the intellectual, constantly filming himself jabbering about supposedly ‘deep’ subjects. Okay, some of his musings are significant, but not as witty or clever as the self-obsessed Hubert imagines them to be. Hubert is a bright kid, but he needs to realize he’s not the center of the universe. He really needs to show appreciation for his boyfriend Antoine (Francois Arnaud,) who is super supportive and cool but doesn’t get nearly the respect he deserves.

The bane of Hubert’s existence is his mother, Chantale. Chantale seems quite put out that she has a kid to look after, let alone this contemptuous, heatedly angry man-boy, and Hubert in turn hates everything about her- the way she eats, the way she puts on lipstick, the way she lashes out at him with ice-cold rebuttals. Although I can relate to Hubert’s angst to some extent, having been an angry, sullen teen, I always knew deep down that my parents had done more for me than I would ever be able to realize.

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I never ‘hated’ them- more just treated the pair of them with indifferent annoyance. And I never would have gotten away with screaming obscenities at them the way Hubert does. My adolescent relationship with my parents doesn’t even skim the surface of the dysfunction portrayed here (although I do have some mental health stories that would make your toes curl) ūüėõ The difference is, I was never out of control hateful and disrespectful. In our house, I knew that there were things you could get away with, and there were things you couldn’t. And my parents were, and continue to be, awesome people. ūüôā

I wasn’t sure what the role of the teacher (Suzanne Clement) was in this story. Initially I thought she had a ladyboner for Hubert that made in of interest for her to help him (it’s not completely¬†unheard of- she’s young, he’s cute, and maybe it hasn’t struck her yet that (a she could go to jail and (b he’s like, totally gay.) I didn’t trust her intentions; thus, I didn’t find her a likable character. I liked the fantasy sequences strewn throughout. They flesh out Hubert’s character.

The main things that puzzled me about “I Killed My Mother” were the sudden and unexplained shifts in the character’s behavior and the abrupt ending that didn’t really resolve anything. I think if this film were a novel I might have been able to understand the motivations behind character’s behavior better.

It’s painful to to watch a teen behave in a disgustingly disrespectful way to his mother, but it is even more painful to see that the cold, distant parent has created an emotionally impotent monster. We reap what we sow I guess. What’s particularly interesting is that assuming this movie’s protagonist, Hubert, is based on Dolan as a¬†teen, the director makes little attempt to justify his self-absorption or all-around terrible behavior.

That’s nothing if not brave. Not portraying his mother, who was obviously in many ways emotionally abusive, as a claws-out harpy, devoid of redeeming qualities, adds gravity to a story that could have been just another ‘shitty relationships in a pretty language’ miseryfest. Another thing that strikes me is the contrast between the boyfriend Antoine’s permissive, fun-loving mother, whom Antoine has an almost peer-like relationship to, and the chilly, emotionally distant Chantale.

It seems we should strike a balance if are to become parents. “I Killed My Mother” (the killing, luckily, is metaphorical; there’s no matricide to be found here) is certainly promising, occasionally infuriating, and rife with dark humor. It seems increasingly like a handbook on how not to parent, lest we continue the cycle of dysfunction that raises it’s ugly head in far too many families.

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The Babadook (2014)

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How do you review a horror film that has excellently creepy buildup, but you’re just not feeling the ending? That was the question posed to me as the credits of “The Babadook” rolled. The be fair, it’s not a new dilemma- so many horror movies have awesome first halves and just kind of fall apart in the finale, but I felt the pain of this missed opportunity more keenly because the first portion of the movie was so damn good, a slitheringly sinister maternal nightmare topped by a great performance by Essie Davis.

Davis plays Amelia, a browbeaten widow and mother of a severely emotionally damaged six-year-old boy, Samuel (Noah Wiseman, who valiantly manages to mostly live up to the script’s demanding expectations.) Amelia works at a rest home and lives a decidedly stressful working-class existence. She cannot pretend that her son doesn’t add significantly to her multitude of worries, but she loves him with the fierce love of a mother who does all she can to raise her son¬†. She is sexually frustrated. She looks perpetually bedraggled.

Amelia is romanced by a co-worker (Daniel Henshall), but she’s afraid to let him in, and when he comes by the house with flowers the kid scares him away. Samuel is expelled from school when he brings a homemade weapon, but things get really bad with mysterious arrival of a seriously disturbing children’s’ book The Babadook, which Amelia ill-advisedly reads to her so without really knowing what it’s about. Samuel and his mother are quickly taken over by dark forces, and under the Babadook’s watchful eyes Amelia starts making a horrifying transformation from supermom to mommie dearest.

The buildup in this film is exceptional- the dark palate and use of eerie editing and imagery propel the movie past typical horror fare, as well as the excellent character development. Amelia is not a perfect woman or mother, but she is an admirable one. Although she has never gotten over the death of her beloved husband, she raises Samuel as best she can in a increasingly¬†forboding environment. Samuel¬†puts you in a position¬†somewhere between ‘wanna tell him it’s all going to be all right, even if it isn’t’ and ‘wanna strangle him,’ and Noah Wiseman plays on this balance effectively. You sorta want to hug him, you sorta want to hit him- in other words, he’s more of a typical child than you might think.

However, the scenes where the possessed Amelia chases Samuel around the house as he tries to fight her with his homemade crossbow are slapsticky enough to put the viewer in mind of a particularly dark “Home Alone.” (Admittedly, “Home Alone” was dark to begin with, but it got nothing on this.) Yes, folks- it seems that when the film hits it’s crescendo, all subtlety goes out the window. Which it a¬†frickin’¬†shame, because the film up to then is outstanding. The ending doesn’t really work, but after a sub-par supernatural showdown¬† that isn’t really a big surprise.

Overall, “The Babadook” doesn’t work as well as it should but is still helluva a lot better than standard horror fare. The actors excel in their roles, the sense of fear is palpable but things get a little silly in the last twenty minutes, and isn’t that a shame.¬†I still think the film is worth a watch for horror fans. It’s not half bad, but I guess after all the hype, I just set my expectations too high.

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Room by Emma Donoghue

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Resourceful youngster Jack is the dynamic protagonist of “Room,” a compelling offering from Irish writer Emma Donoghue. The initial premise of “Room” is at once¬†heartbreaking and¬†luridly fascinating- 5-year-old Jack and his mother, known merely as “Ma” for the duration of the novel, are prisoners at the hands of “Old Nick,” the psycho pervert who abducted Ma when she was a freshman in college. Jack has never left the small shed where he lives with his mother and is visited nightly by old Nick. who continually violates Ma while Jack hides in the wardrobe.

Despite his potentially traumatic upbringing (he has never come into contact with another person and believes that the outside world he sees¬†on the television¬†is imaginary,) Jack is sustained by his Mom’s¬†love and manages to be innocent to most of the more horrific implications of his life. He has had a troubled childhood,¬†but possesses a soul both intrinsically healthy and capable of¬†giving and receiving love.

The dynamics shift when Ma¬†starts having a reason to believe that her and Jack’s lives¬†are in danger, and in her desperation, ¬†she¬†calls upon Jack to help carry out a daring escape plan. “Room” is narrated by Jack, who believes in the sentience of inanimate objects. Because of this and Jack’s youth, the book is written in fragmented, often confusing phrases. If you can handle the broken English, however, “Room” is a arresting and heart-pounding piece of fiction.

Emma Donoghue has a way of making potentially horrifying subject matter beautiful rather than sleazy. “Room” reminds me of “The Lovely Bones” in that way, treating the subject with lyricism and compassion rather than ickiness and shock value. I found Jack’s voice to be mostly plausible, with very few exceptions. There were¬†only a couple of moments where I felt he was¬†too precocious for a young child of his situation and the prose tipped me off that it was merely an adult telling the story.

Ma’s the truly remarkable character in this novel though. Building a life for her son under horrendous circumstances could not have been an easy feat, and Ma loves the child of her¬†abductor with an intensity and devotion that is inspirational, to say the lest (although I never expect to find myself in that kind of situation.) Only in the scene where Ma is being interviewed on the talk show does the book get a bit preachy.

Mostly, though, it is Jack’s strong and idiosyncratic voice that propels “Room” beyond general ‘ripped-from-the-headlines’ fodder. Grappling with issues of motherhood and media sensationalism,¬† “Room” is a profound and heart-grabbing read.

Devoured (2013)

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The first time I saw “Devoured” I¬†loved it and was fully prepared to write a rave review, but the second time I was a little less enamored. I still think the film¬†invokes a genuine feeling of dread and has a terrific lead performance by leading lady Marta Milans, but it also occasionally utilizes worn horror tropes and just takes a little too long to get itself going.

The unnamed heroine is a Latina immigrant who seems to be going insane… but is she? The woman¬†dreams of saving up enough money to pay for surgery for her extremely ill son, who still lives in Mexico with his grandmother. She also aspires to bring the boy and her mom to the states to live with her. She struggles to make ends meet and accomplish her goal working in a little restaurant in the city.

But something is amiss. Doors slam, figures prowl, her antagonistic boss nettles, and most of the men take a purely physical or even predatory interest in our heroine. Spooky things seem to happen when she goes into the basement of the restaurant. And what exactly is behind the unopened door in the back of the cellar?

We can’t help but root for our heroine, despite her less-than-charitable attitude toward the upper-middle class customers who frequent the restaurant. She obviously would do anything for her son. But is she the woman she seems to be? And are her visions figments of an overactive psyche, or something more sinister?

“Devoured”¬†maintains a palpable sense of unease, boosted by a powerful performance by Marta Milans. You can genuinely feel Milan’s anxiety and fear as she walks the unfamiliar streets of the unforgiving urban city in which she dwells. Hopefully MIlans will draw attention to herself in the moviemaking world with this film and will get some more roles soon. She’s attractive, which doesn’t hurt.

There are a few too many claustrophobic close-ups of foods being prepared and chopped in this flick.  It works for a certain length of time (and is perhaps, like the title, and commentary on American decadence,) but after a while seem like filler. Bruno Gunn lends a certain creditability as a guy who befriends the lead and the only man in the movie whose not a total scumbucket.

“Devoured” is an effective low budget horror who mysteries and secrets lead to a surprisingly innovative twist ending. It comes down to this… if you can find it, see it, and pay no heed to the one-star reviews circulating around the internet. It is slow, maybe to a fault at moments, but its got verve and heart and the director obviously knows what he’s doing. If his first narrative feature holds this much promise, God knows what kind of cool shit he’ll come up with for his next movie. I’m personally excited for him. Maybe, after seeing this clever little chiller, you will be too.

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Dead Alive (Brain-Dead) (1992)

Be forewarned, this is grade-B all the way, so if you are a no-fun fuddy-duddy like my mom or need an Oscar pedigree for every film, you watch, you will probably find this equal parts tedious and repellent. However, for those with a subversive wit and tolerance for bad taste and a ridiculous amount of blood and gore, look no further. This is your movie.

Lionel (Timothy Balme) is just your ordinary Bates-ish momma’s boy who is astonished when cute Hispanic shopkeeper Paquita (Diana Pe√Īalver) takes an interest in him. Now this is the 1950’s, so whites and minorities were not the best of friends, but Lionel is about to face a lot more than close-mindedness when his domineering mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody) gets herself bitten by a mysterious Sumatran rat-monkey and becomes a flesh-eating zombie.

Instead of killing his mother like most people would do, Lionel lets her fester, much to the misfortune of everyone around him. Meanwhile, sleazy Uncle Les (Ian Watkin) prowls around, trying to steal Lionel’s inheritance, and the body count rises.

This is early Peter Jackson, before he became a Hollywood bigwig and brought to life the Hobbits of the shire. Now I’d like to say that “Lord of the Rings” means a lot to me, and that I am a LOTR nerd who owns a life-size replica of Saramaun’s staff and can speak elvish. Okay, maybe not. But I’ll be damned if I don’t prefer “Dead Alive,” with all its bile and guts and mounds of intestines and rotten flesh.

I’ll be damned if Frodo and Sam’s touching friendship doesn’t make me fall asleep. Maybe it was all my Dad’s “Lord of the Rings” marathons (featuring the four-hour extended editions), but I think I’m just about Shired out. And now that I’ve turned in my movie fan card and revealed myself as the charlatan and the fraud that I am, I concur.

The acting is… meh. Nobody’s going to winning any academy awards, but the actors seem to be having a good time and so are we. There are many memorable scenes (the kung-fu priest being a particular favorite) and there are some creative shots. Gorehounds will find more than enough gore n’ guts to satisfy their bloodlust.

“Dead Alive” is the ORIGINAL Rom-Zom-Com, before “Shaun of the Dead,” before “Zombieland,” before “Warm Bodies,” and before the many additions of the genre to come. In 1992 it was considered by many to be the goriest film of all time, and I wonder what progressions have been made, especially in the Japanese horror genre.

People who enjoy “bad” movies that are actually good movies with a subversive sense of humor will find a lot to like in “Dead Alive,” and if you don’t like it, shame on you. Go watch “Citizen Kane” or “Gone With the Wind,” and stay off my blog, which is way too cool for you. Fin.

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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.