John “Derf” Back­derf’s fact-based graphic novel comes to life in a chill­ingly ef­fec­tive adap­ta­tion of My Friend Dah­mer

The Georgia Straight - - Contents -

Dis­ney star devours My Friend Dah­mer; off­beat In­fin­ity Baby glo­ries in im­ma­tu­rity;

non­ac­tors save Gabriel and the Moun­tain; Bad Moms Christ­mas is cov­ered in pubes.

MY FRIEND DAH­MER Star­ring Ross Lynch. Rated PG

Amer­ica’s fix­a­tion on se­rial killers mostly con­cen­trates 2 on the pro­ce­dural as­pect of play­ing god. My Friend Dah­mer sticks to the psy­cho­log­i­cal con­text that helped cre­ate an unusu­ally sen­sa­tional crim­i­nal, even­tu­ally con­victed for killing at least 17 young men (mostly of colour) and hav­ing sex with and/or par­tially de­vour­ing their bod­ies.

None of that hap­pens in this smartly crafted in­die fea­ture, based on the graphic novel by John “Derf” Back­derf, who hung out with fu­ture killer Jef­frey Dah­mer in their last year of high school, in late-’70s Ohio. Of course, you don’t need to know that writer-di­rec­tor Marc Mey­ers filmed in ac­tual lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the Dah­mer fam­ily home. But this mat­ters be­cause it’s an ex­cep­tion­ally creepy hide­away off a busy road, on the edge of dense woods. The iso­la­tion makes it pos­si­ble for him to col­lect road­kill and dis­solve the corpses of silent lambs in acid, cour­tesy of skills learned from his chemist fa­ther. (“I’m try­ing to quit,” the lad prom­ises, at one point.)

Said dad is played by The Good Wife’s Dal­las Roberts as a meek, stut­ter­ing fel­low, bul­lied by his hard­drink­ing, men­tally un­sta­ble wife (Anne Heche). Daily ten­sions take a toll on their in­tro­verted son, played in a break­out (if rigidly con­trolled) per­for­mance by young Dis­ney vet­eran Ross Lynch.

Young Jef­frey stalks school hall­ways with sunken chest and hoodie of blond hair hang­ing over his avi­a­tor glasses. Un­sure of his own sex­u­al­ity, he’s cur­rently fix­ated on a mid­dle-aged doc­tor (Mad Men’s Vin­cent Kartheiser) who jogs his stretch of high­way. The kid is notably pas­sive, but when he de­fuses a school si­t­u­a­tion by im­i­tat­ing his mom’s heav­ily palsied in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tor, he’s em­braced by the punky cool kids. They’re led by the com­pul­sive sketcher called Derf, played win­ningly by Alex Wolff—an­other for­mer child star (along­side his brother Nat). They adopt this weird mas­cot, but warn him to stay away from the lo­cal pot dealer, “be­cause that guy’s a to­tal psy­cho”.

Aside from its dead-on pe­riod feel, the well­paced movie’s main pull is the ba­nal­ity of the be­hav­iour on dis­play. It’s not aber­ra­tion that stands out but the ef­fort to blend in. “You want to seem nor­mal, right?” Jeff asks a geeky girl when he needs a beard for the prom. His lit­tle brother, by the way, turned out just fine. > KEN EISNER

BAD MOMS CHRIST­MAS Star­ring Mila Ku­nis. Rated 14A

For a movie that pre­tends to be against ex­cess—three ex­as­per­ated moms are go­ing to “take Christ­mas back”, dammit—this se­quel re­ally doesn’t know when to stop. Sail­ing on the sur­prise suc­cess of their 2016 hit Bad Moms, The Hang­over writ­ers Jon Lu­cas and Scott Moore are back and ready to get more crassly over-the-top with Bad Moms Christ­mas. So in­stead of just be­ing happy with their three cen­tral char­ac­ters—kris­ten Bell, Mila Ku­nis, and Kathryn Hahn—get­ting wasted at a food court, the writ­ers have them then dry-hump the mall Santa and steal a gi­gan­tic, sneaker-adorned Christ­mas tree from Foot Locker. Ku­nis’s wealthy mother (Chris­tine Baran­ski, do­ing her haughty shtick) doesn’t just take over re­dec­o­rat­ing her daugh­ter’s house in a sil­verand-blue scheme, but hires a gospel choir for door-to-door car­olling and a live camel for a cock­tail party. And Hahn’s aes­theti­cian, Carla, doesn’t just wax the pu­bic re­gion of a well-en­dowed male strip­per but ex­plic­itly maps her way back to the poop chute. (Cue one of the most cringe-in­duc­ing pickup scenes in the his­tory of film.)

The prob­lem is that so much about Lu­cas and Moore’s script feels fake here: start with an un­likely fam­ily out­ing that amounts to an ex­tended ad for a tram­po­line-park chain, then go on to the lit­tle kids say­ing “oh my fuck­ing god”, pe­nis-shaped cook­ies sud­denly ap­pear­ing at a church gin­ger­bread-house­mak­ing class, and the fact that most of these women don’t ap­pear to have worked a day in their lives.

This might all be fine if the guys writ­ing this had taken a page out of the equally of­fen­sive but blackly comic Bad Santa and didn’t in­sist on go­ing for the trea­cle at the end.

At least Hahn, Su­san Saran­don as her waste-case grifter mother, and Ch­eryl Hines as Bell’s creep­ily clingy mom do amus­ing work de­spite the script.

But Lu­cas and Moore’s ideas of what women feel like they have to live up to seem rooted some­where back with June Cleaver. And if the pube-happy, malestrip­per-gawk­ing, eff-bomb-drop­ping an­tics these women rebel with are what She Power is sup­posed to look like these days, then get­ting ham­mered at the mall food court sud­denly doesn’t look so bad. > JANET SMITH

GABRIEL AND THE MOUN­TAIN Star­ring João Pe­dro Zappa. In English and Por­tuguese, with English sub­ti­tles. Rat­ing un­avail­able

To get the most out of Gabriel and the Moun­tain, you need some back­ground. The most im­pres­sive thing about this long-form travel di­ary is that Brazil­ian film­maker Fel­lipe Bar­bosa (who made 2014’s Casa Grande) went to the same African coun­tries his friend Gabriel Buch­mann vis­ited on an al­most year-long trip, be­fore the lat­ter lost his way on a Malawi moun­tain­side and per­ished there, alone, in 2009. It’s an in­tense por­trait of courage and stu­pid­ity, and also a sym­pa­thetic in­tro­duc­tion to the real peo­ple our hubris­tic hero (played by João Pe­dro Zappa) met and gen­uinely be­friended in his trun­cated jour­ney. English is the lin­gua franca that con­nects the Kenyan farmer, Tan­za­nian truck driver, and Rwan­dan cus­toms of­fi­cials he meets along the way, among many oth­ers. These non­ac­tors still seem pleas­antly baf­fled that this odd fel­low came into their lives briefly and still has some res­o­nance to­day. The only other pro­fes­sional on hand is Caro­line Abras, as Gabe’s Brazil­ian girl­friend, shocked to see how mono­ma­ni­a­cal the guy has be­come on his trav­els. (Cu­ri­ously, these are the film’s flat­test scenes.)

The new movie has been com­pared to Into the Wild, about an­other naif who thought he was well pre­pared for sur­vival. But this doesn’t have a struc­ture built around a di­ary or any other singular source. The re­sult is more kalei­do­scopic, and the colours ex­tend to all the im­pres­sive places and cul­tures our pale-faced pro­tag­o­nist wan­dered through. (And to the most out­ra­geous ver­sions of “na­tive garb”, mak­ing him look like Barney Rub­ble while most lo­cals wear jeans and T-shirts.) At 130 min­utes, how­ever, the dy­namic is quite repet­i­tive: Gabriel ar­rives, pushes his way into peo­ple’s lives, some­times ob­nox­iously, and even so makes a pos­i­tive im­pres­sion. Ul­ti­mately, the movie does have sub­tle things to say about col­lid­ing worlds, class priv­i­lege, and hu­man un­pre­dictabil­ity. > KEN EISNER

JIG­SAW Star­ring Tobin Bell. Rated 18A

Af­ter a typ­i­cal cop/ac­tion–show open­ing

where a flee­ing scuzzball crim­i­nal gets shot and cap­tured, the eighth film in the Saw fran­chise takes on the ex­pected tor­ture-porn traits. Five freaked-out in­di­vid­u­als are shown in a big room with steel buck­ets on their heads and thick chains run­ning from the metal rings around their throats into a wall em­bed­ded with buzz-saw blades. As usual, the raspy voice of Jig­saw an­nounces that it’s game time, and that each cap­tive will be given a chance to con­fess to and atone for past sins—or die tryin’. The blades whir, the chains pull, and the dumb­est among the bunch gets taken out first.

While Jig­saw’s busy mak­ing up for lost time, a street-tough de­tec­tive (Canuck film vet Cal­lum Keith Ren­nie) gets on the case when the first vic­tim’s body ap­pears in the morgue. “He looks a lit­tle pail,” quips a foxy coro­ner’s as­sis­tant, set­ting the tone for hokey one-lin­ers to come. When they re­move the bucket we see that the guy’s been halfde­cap­i­tated length­wise, which is al­ways the worst way to lose half a head.

The rest of the film flits back and forth be­tween the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the tor­ment of Jig­saw’s

play­things, but doesn’t get half de­cent un­til the tit­u­lar bad­die, aka se­rial killer John Kramer, shows up in the flesh about two-thirds of the way through. Tobin Bell has al­ways been the best thing about the Saw movies—even bet­ter than those wicked tor­ture de­vices. He’s an elec­tri­fy­ing pres­ence, and his per­for­mance, a twist end­ing, and a fi­nal, hi­lar­i­ously over-the-top gore ef­fect make the last half-hour of Jig­saw quite en­ter­tain­ing.

On the way out of the the­atre af­ter an ad­vance screen­ing I over­heard a guy be­hind me say­ing that he liked the end­ing but wasn’t im­pressed by the film’s show­case death ma­chine, a large, fun­nel-like con­trap­tion with spi­ralling red blades pow­ered by a mo­tor­cy­cle. I couldn’t help my­self, turn­ing around and adding my two bits’ worth in a three-word com­ment.

“Yeah,” the stranger cheer­fully agreed, “bo­gus meat grinder!” > STEVE NEW­TON

IN­FIN­ITY BABY Star­ring Kieran Culkin. Rated PG

Texas-based writer-di­rec­tor 2

(and some­time ac­tor) Bob By­ing­ton has ex­plored the lim­its of sly laugh­ter in films like Har­mony and Me and Some­body Up There Likes Me, fea­tur­ing a reper­tory com­pany of re­source­ful farceurs like Nick Of­fer­man and Kevin Cor­ri­gan. They show up in By­ing­ton’s lat­est no-bud­get de­light, ac­tu­ally writ­ten by Turk­ish Amer­i­can Onur Tukel, but in the same style, which you could maybe call magic un­re­al­ism.

Of­fer­man plays the owner of a strange tech com­pany that ac­ci­den­tally came up with a gene that pro­duces chil­dren who never age. And Liv­ing in Obliv­ion’s Cor­ri­gan is pos­si­bly his worst em­ployee, al­though what the com­pany is sell­ing is pretty murky. Ap­par­ently, they pay you to take the ba­bies for three-month pe­ri­ods. Or some­thing. Don’t worry: they only poop once a week!

The Cor­ri­gan char­ac­ter’s part­ner in this en­ter­prise is played by Mar­tin Starr, and a Sil­i­con Val­ley vibe hangs around the edges, al­though the tech town here is Austin, by way of Slacker, with its Frank Lloyd Gone Wrong ar­chi­tec­ture grounded in low-con­trast black-and-white. Cor­ri­gan and Starr’s duo—they might be a ro­man­tic cou­ple, too, but still aren’t sure—an­swer to the boss’s nephew Ben, played by Kieran Culkin in a part that should be in­fu­ri­at­ing but sim­ply amuses at ev­ery turn. This ag­ing Peter Pan seem­ingly re­lies on his mother (Me­gan Mul­lally, mar­ried to Of­fer­man in real life) to dis­cour­age girl­friends from get­ting closer. He’s no sooner dumped Mas­ter of None’s Noël Wells this way than he meets a big­ger chal­lenge in a lov­able ditz played by Ban­shee’s funny Tri­este Kelly Dunn.

Mean­while, peo­ple drink too much, hurt each other, and oc­ca­sion­ally have to go to an un­der­ground bag man (Of­fice Space great Stephen Root) to fix po­ten­tially fa­tal prob­lems. Does any of it mat­ter? Of course not. At 70 min­utes, there’s just enough “plot” to keep the per­fectly matched cast snip­ing at each other with quips that feel ad-libbed but are ac­tu­ally tightly scripted. “Maybe be­ing self­ish and ir­re­spon­si­ble isn’t the best way to live,” some­one muses to him­self. The mo­ment passes quickly. > KEN EISNER

Ross Lynch breaks type big-time af­ter four years on Dis­ney’s Austin & Ally, mak­ing a meal of his lat­est role as one of Amer­ica’s most no­to­ri­ous se­rial killers.

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