FILMS

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

THE KID BROTHER Directed by Claude Gagnon

CELINA BELL,Brian D. Johnson,PATRICIA HLUCHY October 19 1987
FILMS

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

THE KID BROTHER Directed by Claude Gagnon

CELINA BELL,Brian D. Johnson,PATRICIA HLUCHY October 19 1987

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

FILMS

THE KID BROTHER Directed by Claude Gagnon

The first sight of Kenny Easterday in The Kid Brother is disturbing: his body ends where his legs should begin. But Kenny, a strongwilled 13-year-old, is determined not to let his handicap set him apart.

He refuses to wear leg prostheses, which he calls “dead sticks,” to make himself less noticeable in public. Pushing his torso around on a skateboard, he displays astounding physical agility and a seemingly invincible inner strength. “I want to be my normal old self,” he says. “They’ll get used to me when they get to know me.”

Kenny being himself is what makes Kid Brother so endearing. And getting to know him is a pleasure that grows as his story unfolds.

Quebec director Claude Gagnon avoids turning a thinly fictionalized story about a handicap into sentimental sugar.

Instead of focusing on Kenny’s disability, he examines the reactions of others, including the boy’s working-class parents and his older brother and sister.

Kenny and his real-life brother,

Jesse Jr., play themselves, often outshining the professional actors in the cast. Despite that unevenness, Kid Brother, which won the Montreal World Film Festival’s Grand prix des Amériques, is pleasantly raw and unusually uplifting.

-CELINA BELL

THE LAST STRAW

Directed by Giles Walker

A sequel to the National Film Board’s gentle 1985 comedy, 90 Days, The Last Straw is a fullblooded farce that draws humor from a fertile premise. The world has suffered an unexplained increase in the number of couples unable to have children; human artificial insemination has suddenly become a growth industry. Enter bull-necked, bull-headed Alex (Sam Grana), whose highly aggressive sperm makes him the most potent man in Canada—perhaps the world.

Soon Alex is the prize bull in a stable of sperm donors at an artificial insemination clinic; his natural resource turns into a national treasure. The booming sperm-bank business even becomes an issue in the free trade talks. Alex acquires a manager, Alfie McAdam (Wal-

ly Martin), who plans to parade him on a pink elephant through shopping malls. His nurse at the clinic (Beverley Murray) takes an unusually proprietary interest in his frozen ejaculate. And even Alex’s best friend, Blue (Stefan Wodoslawsky)—learning that his own sperm count is hopelessly low—is dragged to

the clinic by his ingenuous mail-order bride (Christine Pak).

Mixing comic wit with strains of science fiction and documentary, The

Last Straw has several hilarious moments. Especially inspired is a cameo in which military expert Gwynne Dyer, acerbic host of the NFB’s acclaimed War series, an-

alyses the superpowers’ Walker: comic wit battle over world sperm supplies. Unfortunately, the script’s intelligent satire is derailed as the plot elements converge in a forced ending. The climax is too silly—even for farce—and the final twist that knots the loose ends is far too cute. But by then The Last Straw has more than proven its comic strength.

-BRIAN D. JOHNSON

The man who created a movie about a stud and his million-dollar sperm struggles to be a liberated male. “It’s a hell of a lot of work,” National Film Board director Giles Walker told Maclean’s. A father of two and husband of Montreal film editor Hannele Halm, Walker says that The Last Straw lampoons men who wish that women had never demanded equality. The movie is his third venture into the contemporary minefield of sexual roles, following The Masculine Mystique (1984) and 90 Days (1985). All were co-written with David Wilson; Walker describes the new movie as their most ambitious comic effort so far. “What’s tricky about humor is that you’re running as close as you can to the line of going too far. In The Last Straw, we deliberately teeter on the edge.”

The film was also inspired by Walker’s visit during the shooting of 90 Days to an artificial insemination plant for cattle. “There was a glossy catalogue for bulls, and they could tell you exactly what effect Starbuck would have on your cow,” he recalled. Concerned that humans would adopt the technology, he and Wilson conceived a world in which designer babies are a reality. Walker was born in Scotland 41 years ago. A 15-year veteran of the NFB, he has won nine awards for his films. The Last Straw is his third project in the NFB’s alternative drama program, which he developed with Wilson and film board colleague John N. Smith ( Train of Dreams). Using small crews, unscripted dialogue and

_ nonprofessionals in

many major roles, they created a style both fluid and economical: The Last Straw cost only $900,000. Now Walker plans to shift his focus from the nuclear to the royal family, shooting a feature about Canadians’ fixation with the monarchy. It may displease royalists—Walker has a history of crowning his films with irreverence.

-PATRICIA HLUCHY in

Toronto