Tag Archives: Sexual Abuse

The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence)

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If one thing can be said for the third (and blessedly final) film in the Human Centipede trilogy, it’s that it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Tom Six is a narcissistic, self-congratulatory fucktard with a huge boner for his own presumed ‘edginess’. It’s too bad, since the first ‘pede was passable and the second actually had it’s outstanding qualities (mostly manifested in the superb lead performance by Laurence R. Harvey as ‘Martin’) that this one should be such a train wreck.

Yeah, you’re going, tell us what you really think. So I will, and don’t think for one moment I’m going to spare anyone who participated in this ‘movie”s feelings. I mean, whoever wrote this script needs to be waterboarded and centipeded x20. Oh yeah, that would be Tom Six. But the biggest ‘screw you’ doesn’t belong to Tom Six, but to his lead, Dieter Laser. Laser, in a tooth-grindingly manic film performance, is about as ‘scary’ a baddie as a toddler throwing a tantrum.

Picture a gigantic skeletal looking two-year-old with sunken features jumping about like a moron and spewing profanities, and you’ve pretty much got Dieter Laser in this movie. Laser should be banned from acting indefinitely. His performance makes Adam Sandler look like Sir Ian McKellan. But never mind. Laser plays Bill Boss, a racist, homophobic, misogynistic D-bag who happens to be the warden at George H. W. Bush maximum security prison (oh was that a little retarded political commentary? I never would have got that. Huh.)

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The prison is poorly run, understaffed, and the heat and the prisoners is driving Boss toward an inevitable mental breakdown. See how he jumps around like that and over-enunciates ever-y-thing? That’s the Texas heat getting to him and boiling his brain! Or maybe he’s just a chode. His meek assistant Dwight Butler (Laurence R. Harvey) hates him, the inmates want to rape him and the only thing from which he derives meager pleasures his his secretary and virtual sex slave, Daisy (former porn star Bree Olsen.) Ol’ Daisy’s expected to accommodate Bill in any way he sees fit (i.e. lots and lots of blow jobs, sometimes in front of the visibly uncomfortable Dwight,) and he continually blackmails her by holding her felon father’s prison sentence over her head. So suck my dick, bitch! And fix me a sandwich!

That’s right. The only woman in THC3, and she’s being treated like a dog and raped throughout the entire film. Her purpose is to be beaten senseless and be repeatedly assaulted and objectified. Weirdly enough, I actually felt embarrassed for Bree Olsen throughout this film. There’s a certain point while listening to Laser wheeze “Suck it, SLUT” as she tearfully performs fellatio on him that you begin to feel that Olsen was probably actually less humiliated and degraded in the adult film industry.

One day at the prison nightmarishly fades into the next when Dwight has a light bulb moment- inspired by the first two movies, he will convince Bill to turn the prisoners into a massive human centipede. This installment stands as kind of a film within a film within a film, with nods to the first two and a cast of characters oblivious (apart from a glib in joke at the beginning) that the two leading men look exactly like the antagonists from the first two films. Bill initially rejects the idea, but soon the gruesome twosome join forces to make the biggest human centipede the world has ever seen.

This is the kind of film where a doctor (Clayton Rohner) allows the construction of a human centipede (i.e. God-knows-how-many people sewn ass to mouth) but won’t allow them to be shot and put out of their misery because it’s against the Hippocratic oath. And Laurence R. Harvey, God knows I love the man (he tore up the screen in THC2 as the silent Martin Lomax) but he sports the worst fucking Texan accent I’ve ever heard.

On top of that, the character of ‘Dwight’ is wildly inconsistent.  So, he says he loves Daisy (Olsen) (an unrequited affection, sadly) but he has an opportunity to open the door and save her when she is cornered by the rioting prisoners. He doesn’t. Furthermore, after seeing Daisy’s sad fate at the end he mourns for exactly a minute and a half before gloating the the visiting Governor (Eric Roberts) about the completion of the centipede.

Maybe this is a intentional decision on the part of the filmmaker to show Dwight’s fickleness and amorality. However, it seems like he wants us to like Dwight on some level, as he plays the part of a hang-dog anti-hero, and it’s impossible to invest in him when his character has the emotional consistency of a squid.

“The Human Centipede 3” seems to want you to take it as a comedy, but it’s mix of horrific violence and hellish slapstick (like watching a Saturday morning cartoon from Hell) is about as funny as finding dog poo on the bottom of your shoe. There’s not a scrap of humanity or realism to the proceedings, and in the end THC3 is a thoroughly Schizophrenic, incomprehensible mess with dialogue that sounds like it was written by a thirteen-year-old in a psycho ward. So my advice to you is- even if you liked the first two movies, stay far away from this shit fest. It is to cinema what Hitler is to peace activism.

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The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

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Never wanted to kick a nun in the face? Think again.

Now I am sure there are many decent, loving, and compassionate nuns in the Catholic Church who live by Christ’s example, but they’re nowhere to be found in actor/director Peter Mullan’s unrelentingly bleak drama, The Magdalene Sisters. Three young Irish women are sent to a brutal convent where they are subject to myriad humiliations and made to work night and day in the laundries for no pay.

These are the heroines’ crimes. Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) got raped. Rose (Dorothy Duffy) got pregnant. Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone) flirted with some boys over the fence of the orphanage where she has been placed indefinitely. For these ‘crimes’ the trio are considered fallen women, but you’d think fallen women would at least get to have more fun then these girls do. Degraded, bullied, and beaten into submission, the womens’ ultimate crime was being born in the wrong time, at the wrong place, to the wrong people.

That’s right. Heartbreakingly, the girls at the convents’ have been shamed by their families and pretty much given off to a life of virtual slavery. When one girl, Una (Mary Murray,) makes a successful escape attempt from the convent, her dad (writer/director Mullan) drags her back, beating her hysterically all the while, and shrieks “You’ve got no home. You got no mother. You got no father. You killed us, you slut. you killed us both.” Remember in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when Billy Bibbit, played by Brad Dourif, kills himself because he is so shamed by the idea of his mama finding out he ain’t a virgin no more? This is that reality.

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I think this is why Kevin (Sean McDonagh,) Margaret’s first cousin and rapist, just stands impassively as Margaret tells her family what he did to her. This is the really disgusting thing. He knows he can get away with it. He knows that among many people in his society (1963 Catholic Ireland) that the men aren’t considered culpable for anything they do. While boys are casually told to keep it in their pants, women suffer the real brunt of it. And that’s not the most reprehensible thing on display in this movie.

 The Magdalene Sisters would seem totally out there if it weren’t reportedly based on a true story. How accurately based, I don’t know, and it’s easy to see why the Catholic church went nuts when this came out. What’s really interesting, though, is not the claimed attack on Christianity (which is a dime a dozen in movies and TV) but the performances (outstanding across the board) and the dynamics between the characters. Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan) is one of the most bone-chillingly evil villainesses in film history.

And there’s nothing worse than an evil person thoroughly convinced by their own moral superiority, who believes without a shadow of a doubt that they are going straight to heaven. Mostly Sister Bridget is someone you just want to punch, self-satisfied and heartless, who gets through her day with the loose-fitting mask of a urgently pedantic aunt or grandmother who knows what’s best for you, damn it. Occasionally (more often than occasionally) the mask slips and you see the complete hypocritical soullessness underneath.

Remove this as well and what do you get? Probably a woman who really hates herself. Because she is a woman and women, by definition, must be cleansed. She’s probably got a sad story beneath all the wickedness and bile (the movie at several instances, through the characters of Katy (Britta Smith) and Una, shows us that victimization is a cycle, only broken when someone has the strength to throw the towel in and choose not to hurt people,) but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.

It reminds me of what someone (don’t remember who,) once said, “Any true villain is a hero in their own eyes.” I have no idea how Sister Bridget and the other nuns could think they’re living in the example of Christ, but hey, you can convince yourself of anything if you believe it hard enough, Don’t make it so, I’m afraid.

If this movie has an overreaching flaw, it is that it sometimes seems a bit heavy-handed in it’s themes. But the drama will keep you glued to your seat and, as agonizing it is, you must watch to the end, just to see if the protagonists escape their circumstances. Ultimately, the free-spirited Bernadette is the most complex character, and her final act of defiance (simple and seemingly insignificant as it was) will give you goose pimples.

   The Magdalene Sisters will make you wonder what it would be like to have these girls’ strength, their resilience. And it will make you thankful you never had to come against these circumstances. Give me my comfortable life and my cowardice over their personal hell anytime, thanks. But still it will force you to think what you’d be made of under these conditions. And glad you’ll probably never have to know.

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Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

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Three childhood friends, reunited in adulthood and all marching toward a shared spiritual and psychological destruction. Sound cheerful? Clint Eastwood adapted this novel, so if you’re a fan of Eastwood’s directorial endeavors you might be familiar with this story of betrayal and revenge. The aging movie star’s filmmaking capabilities are undeniable, but there’s something about reading a novel versus watching it’s film adaptation, you know? Most of the time, anyway.

‘Mystic River’ is a dark read on a plethora of tough subjects (child abduction and the ensuing sexual abuse, latent pedophilic tendencies, a father’s grief over the violent death of his daughter,) but if anyone is up for the job of writing gritty urban realism featuring the tragic mistakes of regular people and their fatal repercussions, it’s Dennis Lehane.

The man has a gift- with dialogue, with character description, with prose so fluid and lush it’s reading is similar to the experience of watching a great movie. His characters never seem unrealistically colorful or contrived. They grab your attention honestly- through the strength of great storytelling. ‘Mystic River’ is about three boys- Dave Boyle, Sean Devine, and Jimmy Markum- who grow up into three damaged men. Where did it all go wrong? For these guys, the proverbial shit hit the fan when 11-year-old Dave was coerced into a car by two men pretending to be police officers as his friends looked on and molested for five days before making his escape, becoming quite the local celebrity in the process.

But Dave doesn’t want lurid, however short-lived fame. He wants his childhood back. Once an eager-to-please schoolboy and a bit of a brownnosing crony to the stronger, more well-liked Jimmy, Dave grows up to be a tormented adult who has experienced a splintering of self- some of him is still in that basement, yearning to escape. Hell, all the boys are haunted by that day, the unresolved questions that reared their ugly heads when that car came to take Dave away. Twenty-five years later, another tragedy occurs. Now-grown ex-con Jimmy Markums’ 19-year-old daughter, Katie, is brutally murdered in the park after a drunken night on the town.

Now, who should come back into Jimmy’s life but Sean- a cop investigating the Katie Markum case- and Dave- a suspect in her violent death. Katie’s death has many suspects, more the further you look from different angles (in classic detective story fashion.) While initially Katie seems like a girl with not an enemy in the world, further inspection produces a different, darker take on those she associated with. Confronting a case that seems increasingly personal the farther he digs forward, Sean must ask the ultimate question- who killed Katie Markum? And will the actual murderer’s insistence on keeping his identity under wraps spell destruction for the three men?

I found ‘Mystic River’ less confusing than the first novel I read by Dennis Lehane, “Gone Baby Gone” but also slightly less compelling. That might have been partially because I already knew the ending to ‘Mystic River,’ having seen the movie beforehand. It was just a matter of getting there. There is no real redemption in either story; if anything, every good thing that comes from ‘Mystic River’s ending is more detrimental that satisfactory- take, for instance, Sean’s reunion with his wife paired with his decision to take all the flack for their break-up. He got what he wanted, but will he really wind up happy?

I don’t think the mystery is too hard to solve if the reader pays close attention to the clues provided along the way. All three men are sympathetic In their own way (despite Dave’s impure, albeit unacted-on, carnal appetites and Jimmy’s astonishing capacity for violence) while still being deeply flawed and troubled. Dennis Lehane’s prose is so easy to fall in love with. It is strong, consistent, and descriptive.  He cares about these characters and he wants you to care about them too, but he doesn’t always make them easy candidates for compassion, if you know what I mean.

In the end, what has been gained? What has been learned? If you say zilch. you’re certainly on the right track. A continuing theme is loss- of innocence, of love, of family, of humanity. We move beyond our past tragedies, if we’re lucky. But do they move past us? More of a psychological study of guilt and grief than a hard-and-dry mystery, ‘Mystic River’ is simultaneously harsh, delicate, and haunting.

Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane

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The world can be an unforgiving, ugly place, and Dennis Lehane does a good job depicting this while also portraying the mordant sense of humor law enforcement officers and police detectives sometimes have to adopt to deal with the darkness ‘out there’ as well as inside themselves. Still, there are some things being a hardened detective with a life time of seeing some hardcore shit under your belt can’t prepare you for- for Detective Patrick Mackenzie, the events of “Gone Baby Gone” are comprised of some such times.

I went into this book warily; I have minimal experience with mysteries of any kind, and I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to follow the twists and turns that made up the novel’s plot (true, to some extent; recalling many of the intricacies of the story leaves me drawing a big fat blank.) Also, it is the fourth in a series, so I’m kind of starting in the middle of a continuing storyline. However, while the former had me perpetually confused (it should be a piece of cake for seasoned mystery readers though,) the latter did not distract me from the book, which is fairly stand-alone even among it’s predecessors  and sequels.

The plot of “Gone Baby Gone” focuses on detective Patrick Mckenzie and his willful and beautiful partner/lover, Angela Gennaro, searching through Boston’s toughest neighborhoods for the abducted daughter of a neglectful addict mother. Not for the squeamish, it portrays the shadowy world of pimps, pedophiles, whores, and crooked cops in such a way that it will make you frown at humanity. Have we really evolved that much? Or we a not very funny joke God played on the hitherto unviolated earth?

I think Lehane particularly has a gift with character description, and providing character details so acute and well-observed that we can picture the creations he has offered up to us. The people making up this twisted urban world are frighteningly believable, with the possible exception of Leon and Roberta Trett, two over-the-top pedophiles; but even the sordidly kitschy moments admittedly have their place. In the search for little Amanda McCready, the two leads not only have to fret whether the’ll find her, but whether she’d be better off staying gone, possibly exposed to unspeakable horrors or maybe spared from a slow spiritual death at the hands of Helene, her selfish crack ho mother.

Sparing my visitors from major spoilers, I’ll just say that the ending really got me furious, in a good way (which is to say, the writing and plotting were not at fault.) After some seriously disturbing and shocking events existing within the plot, I was hoping I could be satisfied by an ending that seemed ‘right,’ just and appropriately comforting. But justice, as it turns out, is a double-edged sword. Would any other ending have seemed as contextually appropriate? Hell no. But I want my evildoers vanquished, my ending wrapped up, my protagonists making a final decision I don’t want to throttle them for.

I seriously wanted to kick Patrick in the nuts at the end of this book. He was a likable lead for the most part, but the final choice he makes is certainly not the one I would have picked. Then again who knows, if I was placed in a crazy situation like that? The compelling thing about the conclusion is it isn’t a simple showdown between good and evil. Both decisions have consequences, and both sets of consequences will hurt someone regardless of how carefully the final course of action is chosen. Am I fit to judge? No, probably not, but I still want to kick him in the nuts.

“Gone Baby Gone” is a quietly harrowing look of police officers working child abuse cases who often have to stand by powerlessly, even impotently, lacking the power to save damaged young people in the face of a broken system. Does society owe the Amanda McCreadys of the world to provide them with a safe place to live, to protect them from the monsters and molesters as well as the coked-up fuck-up living in their own home? Can we be expected to take on the responsibility of every such child? Are some of these kids beyond help? Toeing the line between popular fiction and literature, “Gone Baby Gone” offers a fresh, even occasionally funny voice in Patrick Mckenzie and a suspenseful plot.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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Esteemed poet and memoirist Maya Angelou chronicles her life from lonely, isolated black girlhood to sexual awakening and teen motherhood in this sad, poetic true-life account. Little Maya never believed much in her own self-worth, and racism was as rampant in the small community of Stamps, Arkansas, that she lived in with her Grandmama and disabled Uncle Willie as the wrenching poverty of both blacks and whites. Her unwavering sense of fatalism  forced her into the belief that she would live a brief, harsh life of subjugation before dying in a crazy dramatic way (in this sense, she is more like the modern youngster than she might think.)

But Maya (AKA Marguerite) had a  way to escape her tough circumstances- her love of books and writing, which kept her spirit strong and her mind sharp in the face of myriad staggering adversities. Through prejudice, sexual abuse, and eventually teen pregnancy, Maya not only survived, but slowly developed her sense of self and the belief that she and the African-American race deserved better than what they had been given.

Good writing is a prerequisite in an autobiography, but it also helps to have an interesting story that will grab the reader’s interest. ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ has both. Angelou retreats so far into the mind of her younger self that the book seems free of Angelou’s adult beliefs and opinions. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how she felt about a situation at the time she wrote the book. Maya Angelou has had a fascinating, though frequently tragic life, and the prose she incorporates into the book rolls off the tongue like sweet honey.

I found the author’s own personal feelings of self-hatred and worthlessness following her rape at age eight at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend particularly heart-wrenching. No one should ever have to feel guilty for a act of sexual violence done unto them. But I was thrilled when Mr. Freeman (the name of the bottom-feeding pederast in question) was rubbed out by Maya’s mafioso relatives. Sweet justice! Of course, it would have been better if the abuse hadn’t occurred at all, but the killing of the child rapist gave me pleasure in an mostly bleak and depressing book.

The racism portrayed within these pages is shocking (the white dentist achieving a particular low,) but it makes the reader think about how far we’ve come as a society. Nowadays if someone cared to indulge in a ‘jigaboo walks into a bar’ joke they would be greeted by most with moral outrage and unlaughing silence. Back then racism wasn’t just a mindset- it was a way of life. People had never considered that blacks could be anything more than their drastically inferior dark-skinned servants,  and in many places- including the South- thinking that there might be an alternative to prejudice and hate was all too much for these white hicks to take in.

The only thing I didn’t like about this book is that it ended far too abruptly. It concluded on a hopeful note, but at the same time it just kind of left me hanging. It’s funny, a lot of the behavior exhibited by Maya’s most well-regarded relatives would be considered child abuse by today’s standards.

She just kind of laughs countless whippings and frankly psychotic behavior (for instance her stuttering Uncle Willie  threatening to burn her and her brother Bailey on the stove) off, but nowadays that kind of acting out by unhinged grown-ups would now be followed by a visit by CPS. People talk about the ‘good old days,’ where kids were hard-working and respectful and everything was more wholesome, but were the old days really that great? This book, and others, answer my question with an emphatic no.

If you like kind of slow books that love each word onto paper, rather than simply writing them in the way of popular writers, you’ll adore Angelou’s precisely, and gorgeously written memoir. And, grim as it is, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ is not without it’s humor. “Preach it, Brother Thomas!” In the wake of Maya Angelou’s death the world lost a great literary voice. She brings barbed honesty and haunting lyricism into what could have been a standard coming-of-age narrative.

The Tricky Part by Martin Moran

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Memoirist Martin Moran has a skillful touch when it comes to prose, but “The Tricky Part” is so disturbing and sad that it will probably end up being a read-only-once book for most people. What makes “The Tricky Part” different from most sexual abuse stories that feature heavily in books and TV and get paraded around the media is Moran’s ambivalent feelings toward his molester. It also makes it a whole lot more interesting than the average pervs-messing-around-with-kids book.

When Martin was twelve, he was an eager-to-please, bright-eyed boy who had his whole life to discover sex and intimacy all in due time. His camp counselor, Bob, took all that away from him. And yet… and yet what? Martin fell for Bob. He was a quite willing participant in a ‘relationship’ (a love affair only in the loosest sense) that lasted several years. Of course a twelve-year-old child cannot consent to sex with a thirty-something-year-old-man, but Martin believed he had something special with his abuser. He loved him. He hated him. He was so fucking confused and he sook out his attention like a moth to the flame, even when it was destroying him.

He felt like Bob’s one and only, even when there was a harem of young boys slipping in and out of Bob’s designated love nests under Martin’s nose. After a fraught adulthood rife with dysfunction and sex addiction, Martin decided to seek out his abuser. This is his story. The first half of this book can be a little hard to read because of the graphic depiction of pedophilia, but it articulates 12-year-old Martin’s confusion and desperation well. This isn’t just a tawdry ripped-from-the-headlines abuse story, it strikes the reader as extremely brave and cathartic for Moran to write.

Moreover, it is interesting to see how Moran got a career in musical theater and came to balance his childhood Catholic beliefs with skepticism and new-age curiosity. Martin is an extremely interesting person, though you can tell he’s been through the ringer emotionally and sexually. You might not agree with everything he does (trying to fuck a fifteen-year-old boy in the men’s lavatory anyone?) and his continual dishonesty to his lover, Henry, is as heartbreaking as it is reprehensible (I’d be so done with him for cheating on me multiple times with guys he didn’t even like, let alone want an intimate relationship with; but Henry never seems to give up on Martin.)

However, you can’t help but feel for Martin. I don’t think his continual abuse at the hands of Bob is an excuse to cheat on his lover repeatedly, but it helps you understand the heartbreaking compulsion that overtakes him again and again. It’s like what Atticus FInch said in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” You step into someone’s shoes and walk around in them. Books help you do that, which is part of what is so great about them. You look at someone’s action from the outside (like Moran’s infidelity) and you go “wow, that’s dickish” but looking inside his mind by reading something he wrote helps you understand.

The second half of “The Tricky Part” is more about Moran’s therapy and gradual healing, which is easier to read psychologically but can get a little wordy in terms of mental health and dream analysis. Despite the transitions between Moran’s childhood and adulthood the two pieces of the book fit together pretty well. It will come as a relief to hear less about Bob in the later chapters. He is truly a monstrous human being.

This book will twist your gut. It will break your heart. It might even make you laugh sporadically. It will make you wish Martin had castrated his abuser for the emotional damage he eked out, rather than forgiving him his transgression. But bloody revenge, as good as it might feel at the time, does not salve the soul like forgiveness does. Forgiveness isn’t just ‘letting it go’ or ‘pretending it never happened.’ It’s healing. And Martin needed all the healing he could get. He couldn’t just be two broken halves of a whole his entire life.

“The Tricky Part” isn’t my favorite memoir, but it’s one of the rawest and most honest. Martin Moran lays bare his soul all to see. There’s nothing not brave about that. I recommend this book to those interested in the effects of childhood sexual abuse and readers of memoirs in general.

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Enter the Dangerous Mind (2013)

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At times “Enter the Dangerous Mind” feels like an extended music video, but, for the most part, that’s okay. Just don’t expect a particularly accurate (or sensitive) portrayal of mental illness. This disturbing and somewhat exploitative psychothriller focuses solely on the most extreme and even deadly mental health crises, the James Holmes’ in a social group of mostly harmless individuals.

The story concerns a Paranoid Schizophrenic named Jim (Jake Hoffman, son of actor Dustin,) who makes… noise for a living. Well, technically jarring techno music, but I don’t want to get into semantics here. Jim develops these tunes to ‘drown out the noises in his head,’ but when he tells Wendy (Nikki Reed,) a cute social worker, that, it doesn’t seem to concern her. It should. Jim has a roommate (Thomas Dekker) who is the proverbial devil on his shoulder, urging him to get over his crippling shyness and get laid.

Jim begins a tentative relationship with Wendy, but an embarrassing bedroom incident triggers a downward spiral for the disturbed young man. As Jim becomes increasingly delusional, Wendy breaks off all ties with him, leading to horrific consequences for both of them.

The plot develops okay up til the silly ending (apparently not only do Schizophrenics kill dogs, murder people, and engage in horrific acts of self-mutilation, their disease is also as contagious as the common cold,) while actor Jake Hoffman does a good job as Jim, making his tics and affectations believable while keeping his character somewhat sympathetic despite the reprehensible things he does.

On the other hand, I didn’t like the jerky ‘hard-rock-music-video’ cinematography or the constant, grating electronica score. I don’t like electronic music; I never have, so you can imagine I found the omnipresent pulsing techno to be irksome, to say the least.

“Enter the Dangerous Mind”‘s commendable performances elevate it infinitesimally above average territory, and while the movie is not politically correct regarding the horrors of mental illness- not by a long shot- it does keep you guessing and capture your attention for it’s short duration.

It is similar in subject matter to the recent film “The Voices,” although “The Voices” is the superior film due to it’s visual verve and it’s cheeky sense of humor regarding the portrayal of extreme insanity. Both movies could easily be called “Dating a quirky, weird guy becomes a health hazard when…” Poor Wendy. like Anna Kendrick’s character in “The Voices” believes she can save her troubled beau from himself. But sometimes, girls, being nice and considerate and compassionate to a guy who is batshit crazy just doesn’t cut it anymore. Once in a while a restraining order does what all the kindness in the world can’t.

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Electricity by Ray Robinson

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Lily O’Connor’s neurology is a wild, untamed beast that knocks her on her face time and again. Afflicted with epilepsy, Lily knows the condition is more than the general public believes it be, and she determined to live as normal a life with the condition as possible. Saddled with a rough (and I mean rough) family (her mother is entirely to blame in causing the injury that led to her disorder, in an act too ghastly to mention,) Lily has learned to hide the hurt away, armed with a misanthropic wit. But the death of her beastly mother, grouped with the arrival of her gambler brother and the mystery of another sibling’s disappearance, shakes up Lily’s life in ways she never could have imagined and sends her on a quest for reconciliation on the dirty, chaotic streets of London.

So, apparently this is a movie now. It’s hard to picture how a film adaptation would work, to be honest. Electricity is a otherworldly experience, an journey through the senses shedding light on a condition no one would wish on themselves or their loved ones. How will a movie give us such an unyielding look into this woman’s mind? How will a movie explain how the seizures feel? But the miracle of this novel is that Lily O’Connor is so much more than her disability.

She’s tough, complicated, seriously flawed but fundamentally decent. The strength of Lily’s character ensures that Electricity will not a textbook slog through issues of disability and dignity. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever read so much onomatopoeia in one book. The book has an interesting feminine perspective on sexuality, as well as a heartbreaking take on sexual abuse (what if I didn’t fight back! What if I liked it?)

Lily believed she was in love with her mother’s boyfriend when she was about nine years old, and appreciated the attention in a time when she was all too often ignored and overlooked. But does that make it any better? Of course not. Sexual misconduct with a preteen is abuse whether or not the child thinks they enjoy it or not. In a way, Lily has to move past her own feelings and perceptions about the event just as much as she has to move past the abuse itself.

Lily is often a hard character to like. But you can’t hate her. You just can’t. She’s too vulnerable and damaged and real for that. However, the circumstances of her upbringing seemed a little too dire at times. That coupled with her truly horrific experience with men (only her wig-donning mentor, Al, emerges unscathed) makes Electricity a sometimes disturbing read. Lily is an often sexually ambiguous character; she reports to enjoy sex with men (although she can’t climax,) while her less-than-sisterly affections for her lesbian buddy Mel makes the reader wonder what side of the fence she’s really on.

The only parts of the book I felt were lacking were the sex scenes between Lily and her boyfriend, Dave. Here we are subjected to analogies such as “He licked my breasts like lollipops” that fall short on insight into a woman’s experience of sex. They were a little corny, to be frank. They didn’t quite fit in the otherwise smooth, flawless jigsaw puzzle that was this novel. Mostly, what stands out in Electricity was the close inside view of a misunderstood condition and Lily’s unique, dialect- and profanity-salted voice. Lyrical yet not tweedy, Electricity is a engrossing read.

The Captive (2014)

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All in all, “The Captive” is a pretty lame movie. It incorporates a ‘ripped from the headlines’ story with an admittedly good performance from Ryan Reynolds (who’s obviously trying to shed his ‘pretty boy’ image, with some success, but that doesn’t make this movie good,) but ultimately proves to be an unthrilling film that fails to be realistic or compelling.

Most of the fault seems to be with Kevin Durand, who plays a mustachioed pedo freak which such cartoonish abandon that one can only sigh and weep for the direction this movie takes. Durand’s Mika (but I’ll call him pedostache, mm-kay?) kidnaps young Cass (played by Peyton Kennedy as a child and Alexia Fast as a teen) from under poor Reynolds’ nose and does unspeakable things to her.

Reynolds, her dad, is blamed by his grieving wife (Mirielle Enos) for leaving Cass in the car for just a minute as he went into the pie shop to get dessert for his the three of them. Luckily, police officers specializing in child abduction and sexual abuse Nicole  (Rosario Dawson) and Jeffrey (Scott Speedman) are on the case.

It’s every parents worst nightmare, and great fodder for a thrilling, terrifying crime story, but something is missing. And it’s a shame that, with Reynolds performing so admirably, the central villains performance often lowers the film to ridiculousness.

Mika is an ever-so-slightly effeminate deviant with a pencil-thin pedostache, bleached buck teeth, a habit of crossing and uncrossing his legs constantly, and a penchant for opera, in other words, a live-action cartoon character who is impossible to take seriously in a film that is otherwise for all intents and purposes, earnest.

What the film doesn’t realize is that pedophiles look like regular people. They look like the kindly old man halfway down the block, the big bearish uncle who used to placate you with sweets and hug you a little too tightly. To portray an offender as a John Waters-esque creep is to do a disservice to reality. And Durand’s overly zesty performance doesn’t help.

Let me tell you about the ending. Obviously, **spoilers. Read at your own risk. Cass, who looks thirteen like Dame Maggie Smith looks twenty-five, is freed, and the baddie is smote. She returns to her regular life almost immediately, and the film closes on her ice-skating with a happy grin on her face. After years of Tina (Enos) psychologically abusing Matthew (Reynolds) and blaming him for their daughter’s’ disappearance, it seems like the duo will automatically get back together.

Aw, how Kodak. Bring out the camera, folks! Smile! Except all I can say is, really?!! Not only does the film completely fail to mention that Cass will be scarred for life and saying she will have trouble adjusting is a massive understatement, the revelation of Matthew and Tina hooking up at the end seems completely false. Their daughter is back, suddenly everything is swell! Never mind that the whole family has been completely through the ringer and will probably be deeply damaged for the rest of their lives. **end of spoilers

It would have been interesting to see Reynolds play the bad guy like he (sorta) did in “The Voices” (the “Voices” anti-hero wasn’t a pedo though, just a nice old fashioned serial killer.) To see Ryan Reynolds play a perv would be so totally different that I would kind of have to applaud it. As least “The Voices” felt like a unique experience. “The Captive” feels like a nighttime crime show that you half-watch while occupying yourself elsewhere. A really bad crime show. Ryan Reynolds, I don’t think this movie is the best way to further your career.  Although, I must admit, playing alongside Durand did make you look damn good.

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Short Term 12 (2013)

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A foster care center for at risk teens doesn’t seem like a setting for a movie about hope and redemption, but “Short Term 12,” a vividly realized and, above all, spectacularly real independent gem, finds beauty and human decency in unexpected places. The cast is so adept at slipping into these roles the filmmaker has created that they feel more like real people than characters in a movie, and you find yourself aching for their respective happy endings.

Grace (Brie Larson) is a grounded but damaged supervisor at a foster care facility, who is haunted by memories of her sexually abusive father but tries her best to make the kids’ at the homes stays as comfortable as possible. Compassionate but tough-minded, she is shown the beginning of the film guiding a new employee (Rami Malek) on his first day at the center.

Grace is being courted by Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.,) a happy-go-lucky co-worker who wants to help her move past her trauma. Grace soon recognizes a fellow victim of abuse in Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever,) an out-of-control adolescent dumped on the center by her uncaring dad, but must get past the uncaring bureaucracy to help the girl find her voice and testify against her abuser.

Subplots include Marcus (Keith Stanfield,) an urban teenager clinging to the support system of the foster home, and Sammy (Alex Calloway,) who has a penchant for attempting to run like hell from the facility and forcing its employees to chase him across the grounds. These characters are sensitively acted and realistically presented. “Short Term 12” also features a honest, nonexploitive portrayal of the lasting scars that come with surviving an abusive childhood.

The teens in the film are not sentimental or mawkish- they are often defiant, angry, and even violent, but director Destin Cretton shows genuine compassion for their individual dramas. I have a special preference for Marcus- he’s a well-intentioned young man trying to keep his head above water when the system deems him an adult and decides to throw him out of it’s relative comfort.

“Short Term 12” has almost a documentary feel; not a moment is wasted in this beautifully directed and acted independent film, and even a rather reckless act committed by Grace at the end manages not to be entirely out-of-character. It makes you care about its characters, incorporating fantastic performances from each and every cast member. I recommend it for any and all who are interested in the welfare of children, the resilience of  adults, or the inner workings of the human mind.

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