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Movie Review: Mommy

Mommy is an impressive story about a troubled son, a mother's iron will and a friend willing to help them all out.

Mommy is an impressive story about a troubled son, a mother’s iron will and a friend willing to help them all out.

I was hoping to see Mommy at this year’s VIFF. It was one of those films I really wanted to see. Unfortunately there was only one showing–I think it was the only film that had a single showing– and this was not open to volunteers and tickets sold out days before. Fortunately I was able to see it when it came out in theatres shortly after. I’m very glad I did.

The film begins telling us it’s 2105 and Canada is under a newly elected administration that has passed a controversial new law. The law states that government agencies can now decide the fate of a minor with mental conditions and the parent has no control over it which includes transporting them to hospitals and facilities.

Diane ‘Die’ Despres, a 46 year-old widow of three years has been given the news. Her 16 year-old son Steve, an ADHD child with a history of violent behavior, has been sent to a long list of list of juvenile institutions over the years. His violent behavior has gotten him constantly kicked out and transferred to the next. However his actions at his most recent institution– setting fire to the cafeteria which left one boy badly burned– led to the final straw: transfer to a more restrictive detention centre where she knows he’ll never be rehabilitated. She goes against all judgment and takes Steve into her own hands.

Die has to be a toughy with Steve if she wants to make this work all on her own. She’s even willing to risk losing her job to keep Steve from the alternative, which does happen. She knows it will be very hard to keep Steve because of his behavior and it’s his first violent outburst since taking him on that’s her first test. She stops him by throwing a bookcase on him and that leads to Steve having a gash. She can’t take him to a hospital but she finds help from Kyla, a neighbor from across the street who’s always been so private and only seen with her husband and children. She gives Steve the stitches.

Die is impressed with Kyla’s nursing skills.  The three form a friendship that’s very close as they do many things together. Kyla is especially beneficial as she’s a nurse who knows how to handle the behavior of people with ADHD like Steve. The three of them share many good times together. Die is finally smiling and happy, Steve is able to show off his enthusiasm and a passion for life, and Kyla is able to come out of her shell. Die is even impressed with how she knows how to handle Steve. She doesn’t have to do this alone. However all three know that they have to keep this top secret.  Die even meets with a lawyer to work on their case against the institution. It appears to look good until Steve is mocked at a bar during karaoke night. he becomes violent and threatens the heckler with a broken beer bottle. Steve even gives a further outburst towards the lawyer which causes the lawyer to drop the two.

Despite it all, the three continue on even after Die is served. She is given the warning to give Steve up or she will be charged. The three hope to keep things hidden and things continue to go well until Steve tries to slit his wrist in a store. That was the final straw. Die can’t take it anymore and has to take Steve to the institution. Changes also come for Kyla as her husband has a job in Toronto. The film does end not how one would expect.

Once again this is another entertaining film from Dolan. Like many of his films, it gives a lot of focus on the madness of his protagonist’s minds. However this is not just simply that. This is also a focus on the protagonist’s behavior problems associated with the mental condition. It gives some good focus on the ‘wild imagination’ associated with people with ADHD, especially in scenes with Steve having fun in the parking lot and skateboarding feeling free.  However it also focuses on behavior problems where Steve gets dangerously violent with his mother, verbally abusive with the lawyer who’s supposed to help the two out, impulsively suicidal in the store and even shows the lack of sexual restraint when Steve tries to come on to Kyla. The character of Steve does a good display of showing the positive side of ADHD but also its weaknesses, especially how many young people act like they don’t know their boundaries. We’re already made aware of the fire Steve set which left another teen badly burned at the beginning. However it’s in the film we get a better sense of the condition and a young person’s behavior patterns from sweet and loving to ruthless and nasty.

The film is also about a mother’s love for such a child and how it’s tested. I remember reading a book on parenting teenagers and it said a sentence that really stuck in my head: “If you can handle a teen with ADHD, you can handle any kid.” We know how much Die loves Steve to the point she’s willing to break the law to keep him. That opening scene when she unapologetically barges into Steve’s bedroom to wake him up even while she catches him masturbating already showed that she’s a tough-as-nails mother. However there’s no doubt that her love for him will be put to the test big time. The story shows the trials Die has to go to in order to keep Steve from his violent outbursts to the point of even throwing a bookcase on him. The story also shows how much sacrifice Die has to deal with to keep Steve such as losing her job and losing the lawyer that can help the two win the case. The story even shows how even the toughest of mothers like Die can just have enough of it all and turn Steve in.

It’s not even strictly about ADHD and a mother’s love. It’s also about the trio of a friendship. Kyla’s presence is also very vital as she is one of the few adults who know how to deal with Steve and she becomes Die’s first friend since the death. And to think Kyla was simply a loner wife and mother before the two met her. The film makes for a fascinating friendship between the three.

Interesting thing about this is that the story is in the near future but by a single year and talks of a law passed by the newly elected administration. The funny thing is that most Canadians, especially British Columbians, would expect a law like that to be passed by our current administration. Okay, enough of that. Back to focusing on the film, the one weakness about the film is that it gets us wrapped up in the story to the point we forget about this law that threatens to tear the two apart. And we’re only reminded of it near the end. I’m sure the law has a lot to do with Die keeping Steve to herself and Kyla keeping things hidden but the story makes it so easy to forget.

Once again, this is another triumph for Quebec wunderkind Xavier Dolan. I still remember five years ago when he burst on the scene as a 20 year-old with I Killed My Mother and caught loads of attention at that year’s Cannes. I saw it. Excellent film. Dolan has since proved he’s no one-trick-pony as he has delivered other consistent films like 2010’s Heartbeats, last year’s Tom At The Farm and this film. It’s no wonder he’s become all the buzz at Cannes these past few years and has even caught the attention of Brad Pitt. However this is something unique as this is the first Dolan film where Xavier does not act at all in it. It’s a very good film and another accomplishment from Xavier.

The funny thing about this film is that there have been times I wanted to compare it to his breakthrough film I Killed My Mother. It’s not an easy thing to do as both have a lot of things in common. I do admit that I Killed my Mother is still my favorite film from Dolan. Also looking back, I’ve been trying to see if Mommy shows a filmmaking maturity in Dolan in the five years since. It was very hard to pinpoint out in all the retrospective thinking I’ve been doing. Mind you for those who saw I Killed My Mother, I’m sure you were all surprised how well-directed it was. It easy makes you forget it was done by a 20 year-old.

Actually there were some differences and even some challenges between the two. And not simply because Xavier doesn’t act here. First was creating a story involving a character with a common mental condition. Dolan had to know it inside out and deliver a character that displayed those traits but didn’t come across as insulting to those that had it. Another difference was the focus of a teen boy’s heterosexual feelings. Most of Dolan’s films have focused on homosexuality. And another trait of the movie was Dolan trying to portray the essence of being a teenager even as Dolan was 24 at the time of making the film. Dolan shows she still hasn’t forgotten that essence five years later.

Antoine-Olivier Pilon did an excellent performance with a character very complex. It’s good to see someone that young do a great acting job. However Anne Dorval was the standout of the film. She also delivered well as a mother who is easily tested despite her rebel side. Suzanne Clement is also excellent as the friend who comes out of her shell. The three of them together had the right chemistry to make the film work. Even the minor characters added to the movie. Like Kyla’s husband added to it as one who could say a lot without speaking a word. The mix of music in the film was an excellent mix of common hits and neo-classical compositions and it fit the film well.

Mommy has already won some good accolades. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and won the Prix du Jury. It even won awards at a Francophone film festival in Namur, Belgium and has made almost $3 million at box offices around the world.  It’s also Canada’s official entry in the Best Foreign language Film Category for this year’s Oscars.

Mommy also further confirms my belief about the Canadian motion picture system. For those who don’t know my belief about it, my belief is there are two different types of movies coming from Canada: the films from Quebec and the films from English Canada. The films from Quebec have their own distinct style and consistently display creativity and professionalism. The directors themselves have gained universal recognition and even won awards including an Oscar. The films from English Canada are also professional lack the eye-catching ability of Quebec and have to do lots of effort in order to win attention even in Canada. There isn’t even much of a legacy for the films of English Canada. I believe Mommy further adds to the legacy of Quebec filmmaking and further proves the films of English Canada have a lot of catching up to do.

Mommy is another accomplishment for Xavier Dolan. It quite possibly even makes him the biggest ‘young gun’ director in the world right now. Twenty-five years old and this is his fifth critically-renowned film. I can’t think of another young gun with as much accomplishments right now.

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Sochi 2014: Making Press For More Than Just The Games

The Sochi Olympics has made news who won what medals. And a lot more.

The Sochi Olympics has made news who won what medals. And a lot more.

DISCLAIMER: I’ll admit that I originally planned to post this blog on the day of the opening ceremonies. In retrospect, I’m glad that I waited until the halfway point because I learned more about them in the last while.

The Olympic Games are being held in Sochi, Russia from February 7th to 23rd. 2800 athletes from 88 countries will be competing in the 98 medal events in fifteen different sports. In this, I will look at the city of Sochi, the new events, what Russia and especially Putin plan to get out of these games and the side-news that has been making headlines before the Olympics.

SOCHI THE CITY:

Sochi is a city in Russia with a population of 420,000. Sochi sits at the foot of the Sochi River on the east coast of the Black Sea just 20 miles north of the Russia-Georgia border with the Caucasus Mountains on the horizon. The city had been formed over various years of wars and conquering tribes. It was after both  the Caucasus War and the Russo-Turkish War that was ceded to the Russians back in 1829. British intervention would occur in monitoring the weapons of the war. The Fort of Alexandria would be constructed in 1838 at the mouth of the Sochi River. That would later have an impact on forming the city. Many more forts would be set up close to the Fort of Alexandria including the Fort Dakhovsky. Fighting would continue until the end of the Caucasus War in 1864.

Starting in 1866 people of various ethnicities settled around the coast of the Black Sea. In 1874 the first Russian Orthodox church was built on the former Fort Dakhovsky and the settlement was renamed the Dakhovsky Posad. The Sochi Lighthouse was built in 1890 and the Dahkovsky Posad renamed themselves the Sochi Posad and incorporated themselves into the Black Sea governate. Sochi opened its first sea resort in 1909 and the town was granted full town status in 1917. Then came the war between Russia and Georgia. The war ended in 1923 with Sochi declared Russian territory. Joseph Stalin helped promote Sochi as a fashionable resort. After the fall of the USSR, Sochi has been promoted in Russia as the capital of summer.

THE GAMES AND THEIR HOPES:

These Olympic Games cost $51 billion to build: $39 million more than originally anticipated and more than any other Olympic Games in history. This was not only for the sake of building more facilities for hosting events. This also included telecommunications improvements in the region, power infrastructure upgrades, transportation improvements on all means of transportation, over 10,000 additional hotel rooms and six additional post offices.

The Olympic sites have been divided into two clusters: the Coastal Cluster inside the town and the Mountain Cluster into the Caucasus Mountains. The Coastal Cluster consists of the Olympic Park containing the Olympic Flame, the Fisht Olympic Stadium, two hockey arenas, a figure skating arena, a speed skating oval, a curling centre, the Olympic village, and the International broadcasting centre. The Mountain Cluster–located in the area called Krasnaya Polyana or ‘Red Hills’–consists of five venues including a Nordic skiing complex, a ski jumping centre, an alpine resort including an extreme park for snowboarding and freestyle skiing, a sliding centre and an Olympic village.

This isn’t all completely in vain for the sake of these seventeen days, or at least they’re not intended to be. The city of Sochi is expecting to make big improvements and grow considerably after the Olympic Games. Fisht Olympic Stadium plans to be continued as a football facility after the Olympics and is even one of the venues for the 2018 World Cup. The city of Sochi itself is signed on to be host of the Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix from 2014 to 2020. The RusSki Gorki ski jumping hills are to be used as a training facility for jumpers and two smaller hills for youth training are planned to be added after the Games. The ski hills at Rosa Khutor have been designed by a 1972 Olympic champion and plan to be part of future World Cup seasons. In fact Vladimir Putin is hoping to have Sochi become a winter resort that can compete with the resorts of France, Switzerland and Italy. In fact Putin had a conversation with one world leader where he said: “The rich travel to France and Switzerland to go skiing. Why not Krasnaya Polyana?”

Even as shown in the Opening Ceremonies, the Games hope to present a positive picture of Russia especially since it has made a lot of bad news in terms of politics, social problems, alcoholism, poverty, crime and even terrorism. Putin is hoping to improve ties with other countries. Putin is also hoping to improve the family structure in Russia with declining birth rates. Putin is also hoping these Games will stimulate the Russian economy. Let’s hope those $51 billion pay off, Vlad.

Even for venues planned for just those seventeen days, they too have post-games uses planned for them. The Bolshoi Ice Dome, the biggest of the hockey/skating venues, has plans for further ice events and concerts. Shayba Arena is a temporary hockey venue which is planned to be dismantled and shipped off to another city. The Iceberg Skating Palace has two post-games options of remaining an ice arena or a cycling velodrome. The Adler Oval for speed skating is slated to be an exhibition centre after the Games. The Ice Cube Curling Centre plans to stay a sports facility but can be moved to another location. Whether the plans will follow through and whether they will pay off in the end is something only the future will tell.

NEW TO THE PROGRAM:

Back in Vancouver there were 86 events. Here in Sochi there were an additional 12 events added to the program:

  • Figure Skating Team Event-There will be three mixed events where both men and women compete together contested for the first time here in Sochi. The Figure Skating Team event consists of ten countries competing in both short programs and free skates of men’s singles, ladies’ singles, pairs and dance. Points are based on the country’s entry’s placeage in each program. Team with the highest total of points wins the gold.
  • Freestyle Skiing Halfpipe (men and women)- The halfpipe event that’s one of the highlights of the snowboarding events have now been added to freestyle skiing.
  • Slopestyle events in snowboarding and freestyle skiing (men and women)- It’s like skateboarding on snow. Consists of first skiing or boarding on rails and then doing daring jumps off the three kickers. Points are scored on difficulty and execution.
  • Snowboarding Parallel Slalom (men and women)- Since 2002, snowboarding has had the Parallel Giant Slalom where two racers are paired together for two runs with last racer standing as winner. This Olympics marks the debut of the Parallel Slalom with tighter turns. Same method of deciding the winner as the Parallel Giant Slalom.
  • Biathlon Mixed Relay-two women on each team ski and shoot for 6 km, two men ski and shoot for 7.5 km. Not even cross-country skiing has a mixed relay.
  • Luge Team Relay-the relay consists of a men’s singles sledder going down first, touches a touch-sensitive pad that releases the gate for the next sled, the ladies’ singled sledder, to go down and then she touches the pad to let the men’s doubles sled go. The team with the fastest combined time wins.
  • Women’s ski jumping (normal hill)-You may remember before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics there was a brouhaha about getting Women’s Ski Jumping added to the Olympic program. The IOC decided the event wasn’t competitive enough to be added to those Games. Since then the event has become competitive enough to be added to the Olympic program. Women will compete in one event: the normal hill.

GAMES PROBLEMS:

With every Olympic Games come problems and they will get a lot of notice in the months leading up to an Olympic Games. Same with Sochi and there were two issues that received huge notice:

PUTIN’S ANTI-GAY LAWS

The administration of Vladimir Putin has not sit well with the many human rights groups on various issues but the biggest firestorm in the last few months came because of recent laws passed against the GLBT population and didn’t appear to make tourists immune to those laws. The laws were the prevention of distribution of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors, which effectively makes it illegal to suggest that gay relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships or to distribute material on gay rights and even bans gay pride parades. The media has reported of an arrest of a gay rights activist and an increase in ‘hate crimes’ against the GLBT population including against GLBT minors.

The laws have been protested against a multitude of people including GLBT rights activists and their supporters, famous celebrities like Lady Gaga and 27 Nobel Prize winners from arts and sciences. Putin has responded to the pressure by saying that GLBT tourist during the Sochi Olympics will not be under threat. Some heads of state chose not to come to these Olympic Games allegedly because of the laws. Thomas Bach wants to keep the Olympic arena free of politics just like past presidents of the IOC and has even threatened to ban athletes who protest the laws. As harsh as that is, we shouldn’t forget we’re dealing with the same IOC that punished the two black sprinters from 1968 that gave the ‘black power’ salute on the victory podium. I’m sure most of you know the story. Bach has responded back to the protests both in pre-Olympic announcements and in his speech during the opening ceremonies: “Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue and not on the backs of these athletes.”

My Personal Vent: Personally I wasn’t happy about all those protests over Putin’s anti-gay laws. Now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, it is a problem. However it’s one of a whole whack of human rights problems inside the Russian Federation under Putin right now. The GLBT community isn’t the only set of people being hit hard or legally punished in Putin’s regime. Remember the free speech problem many months ago involving feminist punk band Pussy Riot? Even that’s one of many. The reason why I found it irritating is because I saw it as another case of the GLBT community ‘hijacking’ issues. Much the same way they ‘hijacked’ the issue of Eminem’s lyrics in 2000 while the GLBT people were one of many groups of people verbally slammed in Eminem’s records. And how they ‘hijacked’ the bullying suicides issue in 2010. It didn’t last as recent suicides from bullying involving non-GLBT teens like Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons reminded the public that bullying suicides occur indiscriminately. I don’t have a problem with pre-Olympic protests but I do wish other groups of people were just as loud at speaking their concerns rather than GLBT activists hogging the show.

ETHNIC CIRCASSIAN DISSENT:

A bit of a history lesson. The Circassian peoples used to have the area around Sochi and the Krasnaya Polyana as their own centuries ago. Unfortunately most Circassians were killed during the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Russian-Circassian War from 1763 to 1864. Today there are 900,000 ethnic Circassians in Russia.

Some Circassian groups objected to the Games being held on land that was held by their ancestors before the war. There are two other factors that also leave many Circassians unhappy with the Games. One is the fact the Games are being held in 2014 which coincides with the 150th anniversary of the end of the Russian-Circassian war. The second being events held on the Krasnaya Polyana which were named the ‘Red Hills’ because of the bloodshed of a group of Circassians that attempted to return to their homes in a bloody battle in 1864.

Reactions amongst Circassians have been mixed. Some demand the Games be moved outside Russia unless Russia apologizes. Some accept the Games but want symbols of Circassian history be included the same way indigenous culture was included in past Games like Vancouver in 2010 and Sydney in 2000. There has been no response as to what has been done in this matter.

THREATS OF TERRORISM

The threat of terrorism has been taken seriously since the death of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Sochi is located in an area prone to terrorism. It’s located close to a set of provinces in the North Caucasus such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia to name a few. A lot of them have been fighting over their rights of their ethnicity and of their religion. Chechnya has been in the news the most firstly because of the First Chechen War that occurred between 1994 and 1996 just as Russia was defining itself in the post-USSR era. Wars have continued and Putin has responded with many human rights group call brutal force.

Islamic Chechen terrorists have declared a jihad and created a lot of terrorism since the First Chechen War which first started with hotel bombings in Russia in 1999 and has consisted of many incidents since. Most within the past five years like numerous car bombs, an express train bombing, Moscow subway bombings, an attack on Chechen parliament, a bombing at Moscow’s international airport and even links to last year’s Boston Marathon bombing.

The Chechen Islamist commander Dokka Umarov called for an attack in the Games back in July 2013 stating that the Games will be held: “on the bones of many Muslims killed.” Athletes that were to compete before the Games and many national Olympic Committees received threatening e-mails from terrorist groups threatening to blow them up. It got to the point the US ski and snowboard agency hired a private security agency to protect them during the Games. Even the US government added to the scare a week before when they talked about the possibility of ‘toothpaste bombs’ that can be made in tubes of toothpaste of 100ml or more.

Security during these Games will be handled by 40,000 law enforcement officials including police and the Russian Armed Forces. Putin even signed a Presidential Decree at the beginning of the year declaring that any protest in Sochi or the surrounding areas be approved by the Federal Security Services. There’s also an unmanned aerial vehicle squadron with defense rockets to protect Olympic airspace. There are four gunboats along the Black Sea to protect the coastline. Forces are also set up along the Russia-Georgia border and even the US has agreed to lend Navy ships and other assets for security purposes.

The closest thing to an incident was on February 7th during the opening ceremonies when a Pegasus Air Line from Kharkiv, Ukraine to Istanbul, Turkey was hijacked by a person claiming to have a bomb and wanted it flown to Sochi. The plane arrived at its destination in Istanbul and the passenger was arrested with no weapons or bombs found on the place. Since then there have been no incidents occurring.

The Sochi Olympics sure made a lot of news in the months leading up to their opening. They are currently making news mostly for the good in the days of competition held. The Games end on February 23rd with the Paralympics opening on March 7th. It remains to be seen whether the Games will pay off, whether they will continue to run smoothly without incident and whether Sochi and Russia itself make improvements in the months and years after.

WORK CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: 2014 Winter Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Winter_Olympics>