Funny women eulogize a not-so-funny year

A socially distanced group of female comics pay their respects to 2020 and all the ways it changed our lives (for the worse, of course). The result is Yearly Departed, a comedy special now available on Amazon Prime Video. For a review, visit the Columbus Free Press website.

Will Canada be led by a foot fetishist?

Mackenzie King (Dan Beirne) thinks he smells political success.

By Richard Ades

Years ago, I saw a film from Brazil that was filled with so many obscure references and in-jokes that no one from outside that country could possibly have understood it.

In much the same way, Canada’s The Twentieth Century is filled with references and in-jokes that no one could understand unless they had intimate knowledge of that country’s history. However, it’s also so weird and hilariously campy that ignorance of such matters is only a slight inconvenience.

Writer-director Matthew Rankin has taken a few historical figures from the turn of the last century and combined them in a tale that bears only passing resemblance to reality—fact-wise, that is. Appearance-wise, it bears no resemblance to reality, being a pastiche of expressionistic scenery and ancient movie conventions.

And, oh yes, it also features several characters portrayed by actors of the opposite gender, a detail they make little effort to hide.

Mackenzie’s mom (Louis Negin) is determined to see her son become prime minister.

The tale’s protagonist is Mackenzie King (Dan Beirne), played by a performer who may remind silent-movie buffs of baby-faced comedian Harry Langdon. Pushed relentlessly by his reclusive mother (Louis Negin), King has made it his life’s work to become prime minister. To that end, he enters a political competition that involves such odd challenges as underarm tickling, butter churning and clubbing baby seals.

 First, though, he makes a play for Ruby Eliott (Catherine St-Laurent), a mysterious harp player whom he feels destined to wed because she’s a dead ringer for the woman in a painting his mother gave him long ago.

Unfortunately for King, he knows nothing about music and repeatedly refers to Ruby’s instrument as a “trumpet.” Even more unfortunately, Ruby already has a fiancé in the form of one of his chief competitors for prime minister.

But King’s biggest hurdle is one he tries to hide: He has an insatiable foot fetish, which turns out to be a huge political liability.

Other characters we meet through King include a smitten nurse (Sarianne Cormier) and a tubercular child named Little Charlotte (Satine Scarlett Montaz). Spoiler alert: Fans of Dickens probably know that youngsters named “Little” seldom have a bright future.

The film apparently sees Canada through the eyes of a German expressionist.

Those curious enough to look up the details will find that Rankin’s delightfully dark tale is like a Bizarro World version of Canadian history. It’s largely based on real people, but presumably they didn’t act quite so oddly as they do here. And presumably, despite what Rankin claims, Canada wasn’t really teetering on the edge of fascism, its political contest didn’t really involve clubbing baby seals, and its banner wasn’t really called “the disappointment.”

The fact that Rankin gets away with distorting the country’s history in this way and getting laughs in the process shows two things: (1) He has a great sense of humor. And (2) so do Canadians.  

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

The Twentieth Century (no MPAA rating) can be rented through the Gateway Film Center in Columbus and will be available on VOD platforms beginning Dec. 11.

When will scientists learn to leave well enough alone?

Dr. Ethan Kochar (Sathya Sridharan) works on the machine he hopes will allow him to isolate parts of his personality.

By Richard Ades

Do you like an intellectual challenge? Then Minor Premise may be the film for you.

Do you like an intellectual challenge with a reward at the end? Then maybe it’s not the film for you—or maybe it is, depending on how you interpret the puzzling finale.

Eric Schultz, adapting and directing a story originally written by Thomas Torrey and Justin Moretto, has created a real brain teaser that has to do with—well, the brain. It centers on Ethan Kochar (Sathya Sridharan), a neuroscientist who’s trying to build on his late father’s work by creating a machine that allows a person to control his or her consciousness.

Ethan hopes the gizmo will help him isolate his intellect from other parts of his personality in order to aid his research. But, of course, something goes wrong, as he could have predicted if only he’d read Robert Louis Stevenson’s cautionary tale about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Ethan succeeds in isolating his intellect, but he also isolates nine other aspects of his personality, which then take turns controlling his body for intervals of six minutes each.

Complicating an already complicated situation, each version of Ethan has no memory of what the others have done, forcing him to rely on security cameras and other aids to figure out what’s going on. Fortunately for him, former girlfriend and fellow neuroscientist Alli Fisher (Paton Ashbrook) soon drops by and offers to help him sort things out.

Dr. Alli Fisher (Paton Ashbrook) helps Ethan chart the personality traits that take turns controlling him, though they haven’t quite figured out No. 8.

As difficult as it is for Ethan to understand his bizarre predicament, it’s nearly as hard for viewers, as Schultz likes to make sudden jumps in time and sometimes throws in flashbacks depicting the scientist’s difficult relationship with his late father (Nikolas Kontomanolis) and others. But once we grasp that each hour of Ethan’s life is now divided into six-minute segments respectively dominated by traits such as anger, libido and creativity, it’s kind of fun to guess how he’ll react to each—and whether he and Alli will find a way to end the relentless cycle.

In an attempt to add humanity to this overtly cerebral tale, Schultz suggests that at least some elements of Ethan’s psyche don’t want to return to normal, since normal is being a recluse whose suspicion and self-centeredness have alienated him from people who’ve tried to help him. This tack would work better if the flick’s frenzied style didn’t make it so hard to know and care about the scientist.

But a bigger problem is an ending that will leave many viewers wondering just what happened and how they’re supposed to feel about it. After sitting through a film that forces us to work so hard, it’s kind of a bummer.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Minor Premise (no MPAA rating) is available beginning Dec. 4 through theaters, virtual cinemas and VOD outlets.

Tale of teens’ ordeal takes on new significance

Never Rarely Sometimes Always, in which two teenage girls seek a solution to an unwanted pregnancy, becomes especially relevant now that a conservative-dominated Supreme Court threatens the future of abortion rights. A review of this subtly powerful film can be found on the Columbus Free Press website.