Tag Archives: child abuse

HONEY BOY is Shia Lebouf’s love letter to… Shia Lebouf.

Let me start by saying, the promos are misleading. The pie in the face imagery seems like something pulled off of some of the shots of Booksmart, and while I didn’t take issue with that, nothing could have prepared me for the untenable bag of insufferable cruelty masking as a cohesive narration that Shia LeBouf, an actor who at one point I thought had great potential, unleashes on his audience. This is something that tends to occasionally pop up in independent cinema: among the clever new entries and occasional borefest man the 1,000 coming of age stories there is one that is none of them. It’s about pain, and anguish, and the horror of surviving it, and while I don’t mind a good story being told, once in a while we get something so painful one feels almost dirty after the credits roll.

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I don’t want to eviscerate the movie because it seems to, at least in concept, to have been born from Shia LeBouf’s own painful story of growing up basically parentless while he worked as a child actor. A lot of actors have had horror-parents that pushed their kids to the utmost limit while cashing in on their fame and then shoving their acts of theft down their terrified kids’ throats with the logical explanation that if it wasn’t for them, the monster parents, those kids wouldn’t even be alive.

And that’s a sorry, unforgivable situation, one that I struggle with because abuse is abuse no matter how you color it. Once kids are subjected to any level of abuse, it will always be an uphill battle to escape that nightmare and hopefully emerge intact by virtue of spiritual fortitude at the end of the tunnel. Note that I say the word hopefully, because more often than not, the scars remain, and the child now becomes just as bad as the abuser, or repeats a cycle by marrying into it, or, as in Shia LeBouf’s case and as acted by Lucas Hedges in a performance and role that should have been expanded more on, acting out. That, in short, is just pain begging for attention and unable to express itself other than acts of mindless rage,.

The movie focuses on LeBouf’s alter-ego Otis (Noah Jupe as a child; Hedges as a young adult) and his often contentious relationship with his walking train-wreck father (Shia LeBouf). As an adult, Otis finds himself coming out of a violent altercation with the police and having to go into therapy to potentially remedy his situation. HIs therapist (Laura San Giacomo) suggests Otis revisit the past (like most therapists always do; find the source of the pain and then through immersion, get past it). We flash back to when Otis was a 12 year old at the mercy of his deadbeat father who believes himself to have been a lost prodigy of sorts and is not above stealing Otis’ earnings, or upheaving the boy’s life to serve his needs. Otis starts a tentative relation with an older woman he calls Shy Girl (FKA Twigs), which does not go over well with Otis’ father (or let’s say, Otis’ father’s unbelievably massive ego).

Undeterred, Otis attempts on more than one occasion to understand the sordidness of his life and in all builds up to a boil when he confronts his monster-father. That does not go down well, and Otis is left, again, destitute and helplessly codependent on his father.

The worse part of Honey Boy is that, even though it is autobiographical, it makes no attempt to resolve this untenable situation between father and son, and while the indie crowd might have applauded it for not going into easy resolutions, at one point one has to wonder, who did Shia LeBouf make such a horrible movie for? It brought me back to another, equally repulsive movie I saw years ago by Asia Argento, The Heart if Deceitful Above All Things, itself based on JT Leroy’s (Laura Albert’s) novel of the same name. That one was even crueler. Honey Boy serves as neither great cinema nor story telling; the characters flit in and out without any narrative purpose and we get only Shia LeBouf letting his father off the hook at the end (this is not a spoiler) and Otis in limbo. You can watch this for an experiment in how much torture you can stand. I just wouldn’t recommend it if I had any say in it.

MONOS: Movie recap, 2019 Chicago Film Festival

The betraying landscape of Alejandro Landes’ film “Monos”.

Alejandro Landes’ hallucinating version of William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ sheds light on the horror of child soldiers in Colombia.

MONOS, Colombia. Director: Alejandro Landes. Starring: Julianne Nicholson, Wilson Salazar, Moises Arias, Sofia Buenaventura. Language, Spanish, English. Runtime, 102 minutes. A Sundance, Berlin, Cartagena, and New Director-New Films premiere. Release date: September 13, 2019. Rating, A+

Welcome to a world where childhood exists only as a dim memory, and all hopes and ideals have been squashed. Alejandro Landes’ equally austere, lush, and frightening Monos is a fall through the rabbit hole into a place in the world where the conflict of those left behind has generated offshoots of perverse humanities who seek total anarchy, often without a clear explanation. The opening sequence is one of incredible, queasy deception. We get introduced first to the landscape, untouched and glowing in greens and blues, coated in mist and mysteries. Soon we see a group of adolescents enjoying a game of sports while blindfolded. We’re not sure why these kids happen to be in a place where no other people seem to be around, but progressive shots start to reveal a darker scenario.

These aren’t your regular kids, not one over the age of 18; these are human killing machines placed here because of unknown forces, serving a cause as-yet unrevealed to them. In this remote terrain they endure unbelievable tests of endurance, and learn the ways of the gun as they prepare mercilessly for war. Who could the enemy be, we don’t know, but we do know and witness a volatility in these unformed personalities that under normal, quotidian circumstances, would be less inclined to savagery, and more inclined to the usual: sports, movies, video games, dating, and hanging out in malls.

Not in this scenario. Under the iron-grip of Mensajero (Wilson Salazar) they rule the land, unleash their pent-up anger against each other in explosive ways, and pay homage and servilitude to their squad leader Pie Grande (Moises Arias), a wiry teen with a chilling stare and predatory stance. It also happens that amongst the teens is an American woman only refered to as Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). What could she be other than their prized hostage, is the first of several exclamation points. How did this unassuming woman who clearly has a family find herself in this mess? We never get to know her, but it doesn’t matter. It’s clear that the stakes are already at a fever pitch with her fleeting first appearance. When she appears again, it is to read them the news, and we get the impression that these kids, who can kill without any remorse, have no education. Her third appearance is even more disturbing as the kids force her to participate in the violent hazing of a teen who has turned 18. This one scene comes forth as vicious as brutal, and were it not because of the cinematography that often softens bestows a sense of nightmarish unreality, this could very well be some horror video from LiveLeak.

It is when a cow consigned to the group dies, followed by one of their own, that the cracks begin to show and the group starts to implode under the pressure. And it’s not a surprise: even with the most rigorous training, who could expect these teens to know how to manage even a simple task, let alone a conflict that goes beyond their very limited intelligence? Landes, with his almost surreal setup, makes his point clear: without the nurture, all these kids can do is live moment to moment. One exchange between one girl and Doctora is almost too painful. The girl confesses she wants to dance inside the television. However, the girl’s flat voice indicates she’s well aware that is not an option for her. All she’s known is the way of bloodshed.

Landes presents a tableau that has all the risk of flying off the rails into unbearable depravity and exploitation, especially in its scenes involving Nicholson as she battles for her life and attempts to keep her sanity. However, in leaving some of the horror to the imagination, and also bringing forth an unlikely hero like the gender non-comforing Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura), he still manages to paint a horrifying canvas of innocence perverted at the hands of unseen pupeteers. Monos, at times, is extremely uncomfortable to watch, and keeps us squirming, breathing shallowly, waiting for the moment some form of closure can take place. It doesn’t quite wrap things up, but then again, given the reality of child soldiers in Colombia, would any other kind of ending suffice?

55TH NYFF: THE FLORIDA PROJECT

THE FLORIDA PROJECT

USA
Director: Sean Baker
Runtime: 110 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies.com grading: A+

Do not let the garish color palette of Sean Baker’s new movie The Florida Project fool you; despite its Floridian setting, this is as neo-realist (and I’m talking about the kinds Vittorio De Sica, Luschino Visconti, and especially Roberto Rossellini produced in the 40s, 50s, and 60s) a picture as can be and for that, it is at a much higher level than the sea of indies being produced by the masses today. I’d even go to deny its inclusion in the genre; indie cinema can be a rather grey area where kitchen sink dramas and low budget stories get lumped together with tales of existentialism, horror, and romance.

Baker’s cinema, and I also include his breakthrough 2015 movie Tangerine which followed a pair of trans-women working the streets of an LA no one gets to see, fall under the former, Italian style. Subtract the colors in The Florida Project and you get something similar to The Children are Watching Us, or even Sciusia (Shoe-Shine), the latter filled with irreverent boys creating mayhem. The one thing separating these movies is this larger-than-life joie-de-vivre that carries these kids through their day to day. Their Italian counterparts emerge with their spirits crushed; here, Baker’s children are defiant to the very end.

The plot of The Florida Project is rather minimal in appearance only. In fact, it’s so minimal that it seems to be just a study of people in a forgotten little corner of the world as they go through their day-to-day activities. Set in the fringes of Orlando in what were at one time the equivalent of Choice Hotels or Best Westerns and have now devolved into weekly motels for people below the poverty line, We get introduced into its pastel universe via the three kids at the center of the story: Moonee (the superb Brooklynn Prince, who has arrived fully formed as an actress with a capital A), Scooty (Christopher Rivera), and Jancy (Valeria Scotto). Unschooled, they spend their days at play moving throughout the motels like a coven of mini-thugs looking for a thrill, causing all sorts of problems while their mothers scrape away just to bring food to the table. Moonees mother Haley (Bria Vinaite, also a force of nature, girlish, but a feral survivor), a waifish horror with shoulder-length blue hair and tattoos, is the least responsible, moving from hotel to hotel selling perfumes and scamming the unsuspecting. She has no sense of direction and could care less; she just wants a fix and will even use Moonee to get what she wants.

At the other end of this scenario, standing like an observer, is Bobby (Willem Dafoe) who might just be the only and closest thing Moonee will ever know as a father. Early scenes don’t seem to give him a lot to do; as a matter of fact all he can do is to nicely ask Haley for the rent money, or repair the AC that the kids blew out while keeping the place bright and colorful. However, if you look closely into Bobby’s face there is a worn-out sadness living there, magnified because we don’t know who the man is other than his part in the movie. We don’t know how he got here, what his private life is like. We just know and see him hovering protectively around the trio, chiding their mostly useless mothers, and acting like any father would do: stern, but clearly loving and warm.

So as I said, the story is minimal, but if you look closer, you will see an arc developing. The actions at the start look like a preview. The kids get into mischief, cause a problem, clean the mess, and move on. The next event is a little more brazen, as is the next. When they unwittingly (and innocently) cross the line into crime, the film takes a subtle turn: dynamics are broken, Haley finds out Scooty’s mother doesn’t want her son hanging out with Moonee anymore and denies them leftover food from the eatery where she works, which puts Haley in a bind and hell-bent on getting even, acting out even against Bobby who for a chunk of the movie has let her go scot-free. You can sense a pressure cooker building in the film’s final quarter, here, a noose tightening around the characters. Nothing — not even this delusion of endless summer and arrested development — and actions bring consequences. The way Baker handles this is again, a writer-director in full control of his story who isn’t unafraid of delving into a moment of fantasy even when it’s clear that the gig is up, and everyone has to get out of the pool.

The Florida Project opens in limited theaters October 6.