Wednesday, February 26, 2014

DVD Review - Cal (Black History Month)

It might not make much sense to spotlight this film for Black History Month because there are no black people in it. However, there might be one exception. The star of this sequel, playing the titular character, is Wayne Virgo, a young, 20-something, well-fit boy who comes home to his mother's house in Bristol, England. Cal's mother is in the hospital and is a middle-age white woman. Yet, Cal, as illuminated in the bright and warm lights of the previous film Shank (2009), is not of pure white skin. His slightly darker skin tone could be explained away by tanning, but not his facial features and texture of hair. Virgo is most likely biracial. Therefore, that might make Cal biracial. Cal's mother is white, which would mean his father whom is never shown is most likely a black man. If Virgo's parentage isn't selfsame, then he's perhaps Arab or Middle-Eastern of some sort.

I point this out because some might assume that he's a white kid like all the others around him, but there are so many biracial people who are assumed to be white. Some such celebrities include Mariah Carey, Wentworth Miller, Vin Diesel, Derek Jeter and Carol Channing. However, even for Black History Month, it's perhaps important to take note that not having black skin doesn't mean one isn't black.

Even in the previous film, Cal is surrounded by all-white people, but if you look at his experiences, being part of a street gang and skipping school, and if you look at his experiences in this film, being unemployed and trying unsuccessfully to find a job, it's clear that his experience can be a mirror for many poor, black youths not only in England where this story is set but also in America where I'm observing it.

Writer-director Christian Martin never takes the opportunity to acknowledge race, neither Cal's nor the apparent race relations. Instead, Martin focuses on the anti-austerity protests in the UK, which have been analogous to the Occupy Wall Street protests in the USA, where often the protestors are colorless. Martin's film does make unemployment the chief issue at hand.

According to Pew Research, when it comes to unemployment in the USA, black people don't have jobs at a rate nearly twice that of white people. In an article for The Guardian newspaper, it reported that, percentage-wise, blacks are more out of work in the UK than the USA. Yet, Martin doesn't make this an overt factor in his film. When Cal goes to look for a job, on the surface, it appears to be due to a plot contrivance that his passport got stolen, which is the only identification he has since returning from Europe, but more resonance could have been found if it had been due to race.

Martin hangs a lot of the movie on the plot contrivance that Cal can't get a job due to lack of paperwork like a passport. As established in the previous film, Cal is a British citizen. It doesn't seem unlikely that he could apply for a new passport or ID card. He claims to have worked as a sous chef at various restaurants in Europe. It doesn't seem unlikely that he simply couldn't call those restaurants and ask for references.

Martin eschews these easy solutions to the plot contrivance because he'd rather lead Cal down a more dangerous and violent road. The man who steals Cal's passport is Ivan, played by Daniel Brocklebank. This is the second feature where Martin has employed Brocklebank as an actor. Previous to this was Release (2010) where Brocklebank played a bisexual priest. Martin perhaps wrote the role of Ivan here, specifically for Brocklebank, possibly riffing off Brocklebank's similarly named Ivan from the TV series Emmerdale who was also bisexual.

Brocklebank, however, is unrecognizable as Ivan here. You'd never know him from his previous roles. Ivan is perhaps meant to represent the same threat as the characters Jonno, played by Tom Bott, and Nessa, played by Alice Payne, represented in the previous film. Whereas Jonno and Nessa had both a personal connection and a homophobic and physical threat to offer, Ivan does not.

The personal connection and physical threats have been divided this time. The personal connection comes in the form of Cal's mother, Cath Miller, played by Lucy Russell. Sadly, Martin doesn't give Cal and Cath nearly enough scenes together to give much of an idea of their relationship or history.

Wayne Virgo (left) and
Tom Payne in "Cal"
In lieu of exploring new ground, Martin repeats old ground. Previously, Cal meets and rescues a skinny, white boy from physical danger. Cal does so again with Jason, played by Tom Payne. The only difference is that Jason isn't French like Olivier, played by Marc Laurent, who Martin doesn't even bother to explain what happened to that relationship, which was so vital and exciting in the previous film.

Everything in the previous film, aside from Cal, is practically dropped. It's almost as if the first film didn't matter. This is a sequel that stands alone, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. One is not required to watch Shank to understand or appreciate anything here, though one should because it's a far superior work.

Because Cal is so stoic and so resistant initially to Jason's advances, presumably due to remaining feelings for Olivier, this film is nowhere near as sexy. Never fear though! Virgo is still not shy about the full-frontal nudity, which was in abundance in Shank, and again he puts his whole self on display here.

This movie does show a level of maturity and growth on Cal's part. He has evolved. His chief problem in the previous film was non-acceptance of himself. In this film, Cal has taken a huge step forward, and in a more public way has come to terms with being gay.

Yet, Martin bleeds the brightness and warmth of the previous film for more depressing blues in his cinematography. Jason even points out that it's probably Cal's favorite color. It's clear then how Martin plans on ending things here. Martin trades optimism, which topped the previous film, with the cynical, "no good deed goes unpunished," but the final scene did invoke the final moments of Midnight Cowboy (1969), if only the writing and directing had risen to at least half-way match that of Waldo Salt and John Schlesinger.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 21 mins.

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