TLA Releasing,

Sean Abley

Derek Long,
Matthew Montgomery, Alexandra Billings, Rasool J'Han, Allie Rivenbark, Sean Abley, Victor Lopez

Unrated, 90 minutes

The James Brighton Enigma
(Amnesie: L'enigme James Brighton)

TLA Releasing,

Denis Langlois

Bertrand Lachance,
Denis Langlois

Dusan Dukic, Norman Helms, Karyne Lemieux, L. Kalo Gow, Julian Casey, Eric Cabana

Unrated, 90 minutes


Madagascar Skin

Waterbearer Films, 1996

Chris Newby

Bernard Hill, John Hannah

Unrated, 93 minutes

Now For Something Completely Different
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted Online, March, 2008
A shorter version of Socket appeared in abOUT, April, 2008


Fans of David Cronenberg's films will find much to admire in Socket, a bizarre, yet interesting, science fiction/horror thriller - with a queer twist - from first time director, and self-professed horror film freak, Sean Abley.

Bill (Derek Long) is a surgeon who has miraculously survived being struck by lightning in a freak accident. While recuperating in the hospital, a handsome intern named Murphy (Gone, But Not Forgotten's Matthew Montgomery) takes more than a passing interest in the equally handsome doctor. Murphy tells Bill that he was also hit by lightning and that it changed his life. He cryptically gives the doctor a card with a phone number, and tells him to call when he realizes that things aren't the same anymore and starts to get restless.

It isn't long before Bill, formerly a disciple of Oscar Madison, has become obsessed with "order," cleaning his house, and organizing and shelving the books that used to litter his living room floor. His television set is always on, displaying static, and he finds himself touching its screen and feeling... something. One night he calls the number that Murphy gave him and then drives to a tenement in an industrial part of town. There he meets Murphy and a mysterious group of people who have all survived being hit by lightning. After introductions, the assembly joins their hands in a circle, clamps jumper cables onto a large generator, and shocks themselves into a state of ecstasy.

Okay, this is not as silly as it might sound. Honest. Socket, beneath its sci-fi trappings, is actually a pretty harrowing film about addiction. Before long, Bill is unable to get enough of the juice and shocks himself at any opportunity he can find - like a junkie who needs a fix. And then the audience is swept into bio-mechanical Cronenberg territory when Bill fits each group member surgically with an outlet in one wrist and retractable prongs in the other. Watch the sparks fly now when they all plug into each other and fire up the generator.

Parts of this film are genuinely creepy. When Murphy's group describes their "rebirths" when each was hit by lightning, and how they began to crave electric shocks, it almost sounds like an AA meeting. Substitute heroin or crystal meth for electricity and you can see that some of them have serious substance abuse issues. Picture Trainspotting re-imagined as a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode.

Derek Long, as Bill, at times resembles a young Jack Nicholson, and this is a plus when the film dips more into horror for its third act. I found the horror elements to be less convincing than the addiction allegory we watched for the first 2/3 of the film's length, but I also didn't feel these scenes were just tacked on to provide gratuitous thrills. There is also a development near the end that is very sad, and very moving, and this scene could not have existed without all that came before.

And, for those who demand ample eroticism in their thrillers, Socket won't disappoint. Bill, with his hairy chest and Murphy, with his stubble beard, are two very sexy men and they are hot together. Their passion is believable, even when they are plugging themselves into wall sockets for an extra kick.

For the most part, the leads and their shock-loving friends give credible performances. I wish the same could be said for all of the acting however. One of Bill's two lesbian friends is especially annoying but I can't fully blame the actor's performance given the lines she has to deliver - why is it that so many gay men can only write stereotyped and cliched lesbians? But it's interesting to note that the film is not about being gay; Murphy and Bill talk about plugging into the juice but never about being queer. Despite an uneven script, Socket is actually quite sophisticated and its central idea is interesting enough to make up for any flaws. A lot of rapid cutting and subliminal imagery, along with a loud heavy metal soundtrack, works to create a frenetic and nervous atmosphere. Far from perfect, but better than you'd think. A guilty pleasure perhaps, but one that I kept thinking about after it was over.


Matthew Montgomery also appears in:
Back Soon
Long-Term Relationship
Pornography: A Thriller

Flight Of The Cardinal

Derek Long also appears in:
3-Day Weekend
Make The Yuletide Gay


Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma begins by asserting that, while the film is a work of fiction, it is based on actual events. A young American man wakes up, naked, in a parking lot outside of the Black and Blue Rave, one of Montreal's biggest gay circuit parties. The man has no memory of anything, except that he is gay. After a series of social workers produce no results - except for helping him to remember that his name might be James Brighton - Gay SOS, an outreach group, takes the man in and tries to help him recover his identity. Through their efforts, his family comes to reclaim him after he appears on television.

Everyone whom James comes in contact with is drawn to him. James tries to establish a new identity while dealing with a conflicting mess of emotions inside, compounded by flashes of memory that he is unable to make sense of. During one dramatic scene he breaks down, crying that "I feel like a blank screen with no past and everyone projects their fantasies on me - and I don't matter." Without giving away the entire plot, something unexpected makes everyone start to question the young man and wonder if he hasn't been faking the whole thing all along.

Framing everything is a story about a young criminologist named Sylvie who, a few years later, is writing her doctoral thesis about James. Much of the film is composed of her interviews with his doctors and the police. The post-it notes about the case which she rearranges on a wall makes a nice visual metaphor for his confused mental state.

The first 2/3 of Amnesia is quite gripping but then it comes to a grinding halt. (I won't reveal why because, again, it would give away too much.) It picks up again during Sylvie's summary narration, with accompanying flashbacks, about the trauma that happened to James on the road to Montreal. It solves the mystery for the audience but, unless I missed something, it is all speculation and she couldn't possibly know anything about this since James has no memory of the events himself.

But, aside from a few third act problems, this was quite an engrossing film as well as a nice change of pace from most of the new queer films I've watched in 2007. Dusan Dukic is compelling as the amnesiac, masterfully underplaying the confusion, frustration, and terror that his character experiences. Norman Helms is also a standout as the caretaker who develops feelings for him while being treated like a doormat. There are many nice subtle touches in Amnesia; too many to list. One of the best involved a closeted policeman who also finds himself drawn to James. Later we learn that he comes out and resigns from the police force.

This one also isn't about homosexuality, it simply features a man who happens to be gay. Apparently the true events are well known in Montreal. In fact, it's also the basis of another Canadian film (that I haven't seen) entitled Saved By The Belles (2003). It features the same man being rescued by a drag queen and a party girl, and is described as being a frothy comedy.


One of reviewing's challenges is learning to recognize the difference between new, innovative, ground-breaking, works of art that trash all the established "rules," and the ones that simply are just incoherent junk. No critic alive nails it every time. Nearly all of the establishment film critics panned Hitchcock's Vertigo and Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey on their first releases. A critic once penned this famous two sentence review when Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot premiered on the French stage: "Nothing happens. Twice." Back in the stone age, when I was still taking writing and graphic design classes in college, professors always insisted that we communicate our ideas clearly but we all know that many of the greatest works of art do just the opposite. Name me one person who can pick up Ulysses or Finnegans Wake by James Joyce and figure them out without a guide.

So... how do we know when a film is a new avante-garde masterpiece or if the writer was just smoking too much pot? Sometimes we just don't. And that brings me to my third review, Madagascar Skin. This is a film that, on the surface, makes little narrative sense, yet I can't get it out of my mind.

John Hannah (Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Mummy) plays Harry, a young guy whose face is scarred by a giant red birthmark on one side. Rejected by the men he meets in a gay club, he drives his car to the beach to... commit suicide? Or perhaps to just drop out from the human race? He burns his birth certificate and other mementos, and sleeps in his car; which is now covered with seaweed. He discovers a man buried to his neck in the sand, when he picks up a pail on the beach, (shades of Beckett again) and rescues him before the tide comes in to drown the poor wretch.

And so the strange "love story" between Harry and Flint (Bernard Hill - The Lord of the Rings) begins. Harry, obviously attracted to the tattooed man he rescued, nurses him back to health. Flint knows that he is being cruised and, while seemingly oblivious, teases the poor Harry with tales of a girl friend that he may or may not really have, Yet, he finds an abandoned cottage for the two of them to live in. Sexual tension abounds. Will they wind up in the sack together or not?

I said that Madagascar Skin makes little narrative sense. Well, neither do Beckett's plays. What one remembers in this film are searing images. Amazingly, not a word is spoken for the film's first 12 minutes. The photography of the English seaside is stunning but one doesn't recall picture postcard views. Instead, bleakness. The beach is strewn with the flotsam of the sea - dead jellyfish and squids; at one point, Harry's foot steps on a dildo discarded amongst the debris. Symbolic of the barren relationship between the two men? A finger rips away at countless layers of wallpaper. A tattoo of a sun rises and falls on Flint's belly as he lays shirtless in a lawn chair while a Mozart opera plays on an antique gramophone. In one long unbroken camera take, Harry tries to climb quietly into bed with his beloved and then falls out when Flint rolls over in his sleep.

While one has difficulty discerning a plot, one can't help but notice the numerous parallels between the two men - the most obvious one being Harry's birthmark and Flint's tattoos. Next up are their peculiar eating habits; Harry licks his plate like an animal while Flint displays exquisite table manners - except when he swallows a live spider, crunches on a lightbulb, or devours a dead mouse. Flint is supposed to be a lowlife criminal but yet it is Harry who put the pail back, when he first discovered Flint buried in the sand, and was going to leave him there. Flint seems, at first, a tad cruel but Harry shows how nasty he can be when he talks about hating beautiful people and wanting to watch them get crushed under the wheels of a subway train.

What is going on between these guys? Why does Flint let Harry groom him? Why does he say that he is a third generation Steeple Guy because "we're mad on erections?" Most cryptic is Flint's remark that he likes how Harry looks and that the birthmark on his face "stops you from looking like a pouf."

This may be the strangest "buddy movie" ever made, but there is something moving about their friendship. Is it a love story? Not by most definitions. Madagascar Skin lost me at many points but then something would jar me back into the film's rhythms. Without giving anything away, the final scene between Harry and Flint charmed me and I ended the film on a high note. A bit dazed and confused too, but on a high note.

I'd like to point out that writer/director Chris Newby's odd little opus was co-produced by Britain's Channel 4, which, in the past, has also brought us such groundbreaking faire as Stephen Frears' My Beautiful Laundrette and the original Queer as Folk.

This is not a conventional film. Most viewers will probably be irritated by it. But, if you're weird like me, and have a little patience, the film yields many riches. No one grasped in 1960 that Michelangelo Antonioni's long endless scenes in L'Avventura were intentionally designed that way to mirror the characters' ennui. So, I pose the question again, how do we know when a film is a new avante-garde masterpiece or if the writer was just smoking too much pot? I'll be honest, I don't know what the filmmakers were trying to say, but I can't stop thinking about it. And sometimes it's fun to take a walk on the wild side and go on an adventure.