Category Archives: LGBT Drama Films

Call Me By Your Name-2017

Call Me By Your Name-2017

Director-Luca Guadagnino

Starring-Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer

Scott’s Review #708

Reviewed December 27, 2017

Grade: A

Call Me by Your Name is a gorgeous film, simply beautiful in story-telling, cinematography, and acting. A humanistic film that crafts a lovely tale of young love, friendship, and emotions, that is simply breathtaking to experience. In fact, in the LGBT category, I would venture to proclaim that this film is groundbreaking- leaving behind any tried and true homophobic elements and instead telling a good story that is fresh, sincere, and simply flawless.

The time period is summer of 1983 and the landscape is the beautiful Italian Riviera. Seventeen year old Italian-American, Elio,  (Timothee Chalamet) dreams the summer away living with his parents in a small village.  They are affluent and his world is rich with culture and learnings- his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) a professor and his mother a translator. A brilliant student, Elio wiles away the days reading, playing music, and flirting with girlfriend  Marzia. When a handsome, twenty-four year old American student, Oliver, (Armie Hammer) arrives for a six week stay assisting Elio’s father on a project, desire and first love blossoms between the young men, as they struggle with their burgeoning relationship.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino, having also directed the lovely 2009 film, I Am Love, is a man known for stories of desire in small Italian villages. Call Me By Your Name is the third in a trilogy- I Am Love and 2015’s A Bigger Splash being the others. The setting is incredibly important to the story as both the summer heat and the world of the intellectual scholars are nestled into a grand shell of culture and the philosophical nature of the story is palpable- the film just oozes with smarts and sophistication.

By 2017, the LGBT genre has become populated with films in the romantic, drama, and comedy sub-genres, but many use the standard homophobic slant to elicit drama and conflict. Not to diminish the importance of homophobic discussions to teach viewers, Call Me By Your Name stands alone in that homophobia is not an issue in this story.  Given the time period of 1983 this may be surprising- at the very cusp of the AIDS epidemic, this topic is also not discussed- rather, the subject matter is simply a love story between two males and the coming of age story that their love expresses.

The film is quite moving and both Elio and Oliver are characters filled with texture and raw emotion. Oliver is confident, charismatic and a great catch for any lucky young lady in the village. Hammer fills the role with poise and humanity. Chalamet, a beautiful young man, gives the complex role his all as so much can be conveyed not by dialogue, but by expressions on the actors face. As Oliver slow dances with a local girl, the wounded look that Chalamet reveals, his eyes welling up with tears, is heartbreaking. Seventeen is a tough age for most young men, but when coming to terms with ones sexuality it can be excruciating. The final scene is poignant as it features at least a five minute long scene gazing into the eyes of Chalamet as many emotions are expressed in this sequence.

Enough credit cannot be given to Stuhlbarg as Elio’s father as he gives one of the best speeches ever performed in film history. What a subtle and poignant performance the actor gives as the sympathetic and knowing father. His speech of understanding and warmth is riveting and inspirational- to be cherished. Mr. Perlman is a role model to fathers everywhere and any gay sons ideal parent.

One scene that could stir controversy is the sure to be controversial “peach scene”. Involving an innocent peach used during a sex act, the scene is erotic and borders on “icky”, but is also important to foster the connection between Oliver and Elio.

Another potential risk to the film is the fact that Oliver is twenty-four and Elio is seventeen, meaning that Elio is underage. However, the film never plays Oliver as more the aggressor and the relationship remains tender and consensual.

Call Me By Your Name is not just a great LGBT film, but it is a film for the ages.  Beautifully crafted with gorgeous landscapes and nuanced, powerful acting, the sequences are subtle and carefully paced. The film is simply a treasure.

Latter Days-2003

Latter Days-2003

Director-C. Jay Cox

Starring-Steve Sandvoss, Wesley A. Ramsey

Scott’s Review #679

Reviewed September 7, 2017

Grade: B

In the now saturated genre of LGBT film, novel little more than a decade ago, Latter Days, released in 2003, tells a story with an interesting religious spin and the first LGBT film to my knowledge to depict a clash of religious values, which deserves kudos. The film was popular among film festival goers, yet critically, received only mixed opinions. There are both positives and negatives to this film.

When rigid Mormon innocent meets plastic Los Angeles playboy, anything is bound to happen as a surprisingly sweet romance develops between the two young men. While the overall feeling of the film is rather “cute”- not exactly a rallying cry of cinematic excellence- Latter Days suffers mostly from some sophomoric acting, and an odd combination of a soft-core porn film and a wholesome Hallmark channel television movie quality. This, in turn, allows the film to achieve only slightly above mediocre as a final score.

Young Mormon missionary, Aaron Davis, just out of Idaho, is sent to Los Angeles with three fellow missionaries, to spread the word of faith. Soon, he meets openly gay waiter, Christian, promiscuous, brazen, and proud of it. After a silly bet with friends predicting how long it will take Christian to “deflower” Aaron, the young men become enamored with each other as Aaron’s secret desires for men are exposed. This leads to a test of faith for Aaron, especially with his religious and rigid parents, waiting with fangs drawn as he is banished back to small town Mormon territory.

The romance and chemistry between the lead actors is the best part of Latter Days. Though Aaron and Christian could not be more opposite, there is a warm chemistry that actors Sandvoss and Ramsey successfully bring to the screen.  Sandvoss’s “aww shucks” handsome, innocent looks compliment Ramsey’s extroverted, pretty-boy confidence and the film succeeds during scenes containing only the two actors. As much is gained from a throwaway laundry scene as the young men chat and get to know one anothers backgrounds, as during the brilliant soft-porn scene as the nude men thrash around a hotel bed making love. Though, admittedly, neither actor is the best in the acting department.

The nudity in the film is handled well- explicit, yes, but never filmed for cheap or trashy effect. In fact, while the nudity is sometimes sexual in nature, the men also lounge around nude in bed while chatting about life and their various ideals.

Also a positive is the casting of Jacqueline Bisset in the motherly role of Lila. Suffering from her own personal drama (an unseen gravely ill romantic partner, and admittedly an unnecessary add-on to the story), she is the sensible, liberal minded owner of Lila’s restaurant, where Christian and his friends work and socialize. The film creates a “family unit” in this way that is rather nice. Bisset and her British sophistication add much to the film.

Contrasting Bisset’s character is the fine casting of Mary Kay Place as Gladys, the rigid mother of Aaron. Hoping to “pray the gay away”, she and her husband banish Aaron to a garish rehabilitation facility to turn him straight after a suicide attempt. The character does show unconditional love for her son, but simply refuses to accept his sexual preferences. There is no question that director C. Jay Cox slants the film in one clear direction as the Mormon characters are portrayed as stodgy and bland.

Latter Days slips when the focus is on the other supporting characters. I tend to champion large casts and neat, small roles, but Christians friends are largely self-centered, bantering about either their sexual escapades or their career aspirations as they wait tables hoping to get a big break. Worse yet is when a silly side story is introduced focusing on a misunderstanding between Christian and best friend Julie. I could have done well without many of these secondary characters.

In the final act, the film goes the safe route with a brief red-herring about a character’s death only to then quickly wrap the film in a nice happy ending moment featuring a nice Thanksgiving dinner at Lila’s restaurant. Latter Days contains a good romantic story between two males that does just fine without the added trimmings that occasionally bring the film down. All in all a decent effort.

Beautiful Thing-1996

Beautiful Thing-1996

Director-Hettie MacDonald

Starring-Glen Berry, Scott Neal

Scott’s Review #675

Reviewed August 20, 2017

Grade: B

Based on the play of the same name, Beautiful Thing is a heartwarming 1996 British LGBT film written by Jonathan Harvey and directed by Hettie MacDonald. Incorporating music from the Mamas and the Papas, and specifically Mama Cass, the film undoubtedly was groundbreaking upon release in the 1990’s due to its taboo (at that time) gay romance, but in the year 2017, this film suffers a bit from both a dated feeling and a play it safe vibe.

The action, just like a play would be, takes place almost entirely within a working class London apartment building-present times. The lead character is Jamie (Glen Berry), a high school student, intrigued by his male classmate and neighbor, Ste (Scott Neal). He also must keep an eye on his flighty mother, Sandra, who changes boyfriends like the weather, and aspires to open her own pub- she is currently dating neighbor and understanding hippie, Tony.

Ste is the other central character. Shyer than Jamie, he has a difficult upbringing, living next door to Jamie with an abusive father and brother. Ste and Jamie eventually bond and a secret love story begins as the young men conceal their relationship from everyone else. In the mix is a vivacious black teenage neighbor girl, Leah, who is obsessed with Mama Cass records, which her grandmother owns and frequently plays. Leah and Sandra are engaged in a lightweight feud, in large part because Sandra believes Leah is a bad influence on Jamie.

Keeping in close mind when Beautiful Thing (1996) was made, the film deserves an enormous amount of praise for, at the time, simply existing during a time when LGBT films were hardly the norm. Watching in 2017, though, the film loses a bit when compared with subsequent LGBT releases that broke more barriers with their mainstream viewership and much darker themes (LGBT masterpieces like 2006’s Brokeback Mountain and 2016’s Moonlight immediately come to mind).

Beautiful Thing also contains a safer, lightweight touch than the aforementioned films, making it now seem too much like fluff. Director, MacDonald, mixes in humor so that while the message of a same sex relationship is important, it is softened a bit by the comedy. Specifically, the sidekick character of Leah, lightens the message. In fact, the supporting characters may get a bit too much screen time. Sandra’s giggle-worthy job interview attempting to do “respectable work” in an office environment, or her man-hungry escapades, take away from the main story.

I also never felt any real threats or danger to the same sex relationship. Sure, there is some brief disapproval, and a quick mention of Jamie not liking football (a negative gay stereotype that is unnecessary) combined with Ste’s abuse at the hands of his family, but even that is not perceived as a major obstacle to their, at that time anyway, shocking relationship.

On the other hand, the chemistry between the two leads (Berry and Neal) is wonderful and the best aspect of the film. Both actors convey the characters emotions perfectly- both coming into their own individual sexuality, Berry’s Jamie is the more confident one, asking Neal’s Ste, in a sweet scene, whether he has ever been kissed. This leads to a sleep-over scene that is innocent and tender rather than steamy or sexual. I completely buy the characters as young lovers, coming to terms with their own identities while supporting the others needs, becoming a good team.

The final scene, naturally accompanied by a Cass Elliot song “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”, is a touching, wonderful scene. Jamie and Ste dance together in broad daylight, for their entire complex to see, and subsequently are circled by both supporters and the curious. As their own show of support Sandra and Leah join the boys and end their dispute. It is a heartwarming conclusion to a fine, yet lightweight by modern standards, LGBT romantic film.

Closet Monster-2016

Closet Monster-2016

Director-Stephen Dunn

Starring-Connor Jessup, Aaron Abrams

Scott’s Review #665

Reviewed July 23, 2017

Grade: B

Closet Monster is a 2016 Canadian LGBT drama that had the honor of being featured at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was crowned the Best Canadian Drama winner. Upstart director, Stephen Dunn, directs the film and adds some interesting visual techniques as well as some imagination. The story is a compelling coming of age piece, but the film as a whole is uneven at times, mainly with some character underdevelopment. Still, for the subject matter, a nice film for LGBT teenagers to be exposed to.

The film is set in Newfoundland, where eighteen year old Oscar Madly (Connor Jessup) is a closeted, creative, teenager, with aspirations of being accepted into a prestigious school in New York, designing special effects makeup. Through the opening scenes, featuring Oscar as an eight year old child, we learn that his mother has left the family to begin a new life, and that Oscar witnessed a vicious beating of a gay teen, leaving him terrified of his own developing feelings towards the same sex.

Oscar has issues with both of his parents- his mother’s abandonment, and his father’s temper and homophobia. He frequently escapes into a private tree-house he and his father have built and daydreams of happier childhood times with his father. Oscar’s best friend is Gemma, who his father mistakenly assumes is his girlfriend. When Oscar meets suave co-worker, Wilder, he immediately becomes smitten with him.

Director, Dunn, creates a talking pet hamster for Oscar, voiced by actress Isabella Rossellini, a wonderful, creative add-on to the film. Buffy is a source of advice and wisdom throughout Oscar’s constant trials and tribulations and has been with him through the years. In a clever revelation that goes over his head, Buffy reveals to Oscar that she, in reality, has been replaced several times by other hamsters over the years.

Closet Monster has its positives and negatives. Certainly, for teenagers, or for any age group, struggling with either sexuality issues or for children of divorce, the film hits it out of the park, and serves as a relatable film. Dunn successfully makes Oscar an empathetic character, with wit and charm, and just the perfect amount of vulnerability. In many ways, Oscar is mature beyond his years. For the most part a careful character, he is surrounded by a world of chaos and disorder and uses escapism (his fantasies and secluded tree-house) to get through life. In this way Oscar is a very strong and well-written character.

Also a hit is the love interest of Oscar’s- the sexy Wilder. More of a bad boy, and assumed to be straight, Wilder, while rebellious, also becomes a sweet and trusted friend to Oscar. When he realizes Oscar’s sexual preference and that he is the object of Oscar’s affections, he does not freak out or dismiss Oscar. Rather, the young men become even closer. In a tender scene, Wilder offers to be Oscar’s first kiss, so that he can experience the monumental moment in a special way.

Still, the film would have been wise to develop Oscar’s parents better. At first, the father (Peter Madly), appears to be a decent man, dumped by his wife, and forced to raise his son alone. Conversely, the mother (Brin), is written as abandoning her child to selfishly start a new life with a new family (Oscar even spits in her face!). Somewhere along the line, Peter becomes a reckless homophobic with severe anger issues and Brin is painted as the sympathetic one who suddenly is “there for Oscar”. Better development would be recommended for these characters as I found their motives either unclear or perplexing. Why did they split in the first place?

Dunn is great at making Closet Monster an atypical film. He does not pepper the story with predictability or tried and true story points when it comes to the same sex romance, which is a brave choice. Rather he fills the film with non cliche moments. Closet Monster is a worthy entry in the LGBT film category and a must see for those struggling with identity issues- the film acts as a form of therapy.

In the Flesh-1998

In the Flesh-1998

Director-Ben Taylor

Starring-Dane Ritter, Ed Corbin

Scott’s Review #663

Reviewed July 10, 2017

Grade: B

In the Flesh is a steamy, pre-Brokeback Mountain, LGBT film from 1998. The budget for this film is very small and the acting quite wooden. My initial reaction was that In the Flesh is a terrible film, yet something sucked me in as a fan, whether the crime theme or the romance (or both). The atmosphere is quite dreamlike and moody, which I find appealing and the addition of a whodunit murder mystery amid the romantic drama is highly appealing- therefore I hesitantly recommend this film for perhaps a late night adult viewing. But be prepared for endless plot holes and unnecessary sub-plots.

Oliver Beck (Dane Ritter) is a handsome college student who works as a hustler in a dive bar named The Blue Boy in Atlanta, Georgia. He has his share of loyal, older men who use his services and adore him, especially a lonely man named Mac- a barfly at the watering hole. When closeted Detective Philip Kursch (Ed Corbin) begins an undercover assignment to bust a drug ring at The Blue Boy, their lives intersect, as Philip falls in love with Oliver and investigates his past.

As the drug investigation seems to be quickly forgotten, a murder mystery develops when Mac is murdered at the ATM machine- Oliver looks on, panics,  and speeds away. When Philip covers for Oliver as an alibi, the plot really thickens. Other side stories like a flashback sequence involving Oliver’s past- while driving drunk he killed his best childhood friend, the introduction of his sometime boss and girlfriend, Chloe, and his caring of Lisa, his sister, addicted to heroin- are brought to the table, but really have little to do with the main story and only confuse the plot.

The most compelling element is the relationship between Oliver and Philip and their dysfunctional love story, but many questions abound. Is Philip secretly married or dating a female? We know nothing about his personal life. Oliver, hustling and hating every minute of it, merely as a way to support Lisa’s habit is ridiculous- why not get her help?

Neither actor Ed Corbin nor Dane Ritter will ever be accused of being the world’s greatest actor, and can hardly act their way out of a paper bag. Both actors performances are wooden and unemotional, even when emotion is required in the scene. Still, oddly this somewhat works in the film.

Regardless of In the Flesh being riddled with plot holes and sub-par acting, the film has some charm. The moody Atlanta nights, rife with sex and secrets , is quite appealing. A murderer on the loose and disguised save for a green watch is intriguing. The film also has a mysterious, almost haunting nature, and the muted camera work, whether intentional or the result of a poor DVD copy, works very well.

Since the time is 1998, a time period where more and more LGBT films were beginning to be made, but not overly so, In the Flesh and director, Ben Taylor, deserve credit for even being able to get this film produced and made. The mainstream success of LGBT juggernaut, Brokeback Mountain, undoubtedly was helped, albeit in a small way, by this film. Though, strangely, I never noticed the two main characters ever kiss- too soon for 1998?

Not the finest acting nor the best written screenplay, In the Flesh is a bare bones film that will be enjoyed largely by an LGBT audience seeking a peek into a time when these types films were not running aplenty and typically made in the independent film venue.

The Boys in the Band-1970

The Boys in the Band-1970

Director-William Friedkin

Starring-Kenneth Nelson, Frederick Combs

Top 100 Films-#80

Scott’s Review #658

Reviewed July 4, 2017

Grade: A

An excellent counterpart to the equally brilliant, and equally unpleasant, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Boys in the Band is also a stage production made into a feature film. As such, shot very much like a play and seemingly in one long take, the film is highly effective and delicious in wit and dark humor. With a macabre and bitter element, the characters snipe and ridicule each other during a birthday party.

The Boys in the Band is a groundbreaking film on many levels as it is one of the first LGBT films to feature gay characters in prominent roles. Furthermore, it has the dubious honor of being the first film to use the word “cu##”. Regardless, the film is fantastic and a must see for anyone intrigued by LGBT film history. All of the actors appeared in the stage production and reprise their roles for the film version.

The setting is the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the late 1960’s. Michael, a writer, is hosting a birthday party for his good friend, Harold. When Michael receives an urgent call from his straight and married college chum, Alan, he begrudgingly invites him over at the risk of having his lifestyle exposed. One by one, the guests arrive for the party. Emory is quite effeminate and loud, Hank and Larry and straight-acting and a couple, but with monogamy issues and Hank’s marriage as obstacles. Bernard, a black bookstore clerk is an amiable, nice guy. “Cowboy”, a dim-witted hustler, and Harold, the sarcastic, bitter, guest of honor, round out the attendees.

As the night wears on, the party turns into a free for all of insults, bad feelings, and vicious conversation. Alan and Emory get into a fistfight, and later a hurtful telephone game forces everyone to call the one person they have truly loved which results in anxieties and sadness for most of the guests.

The key aspect to The Boys in the Band is that it is shot like a play would be, with a highly effective result. In this way, especially mid-way through the film when the guests are all in the same closed room, the action becomes suffocating and stifling as the fangs are bared by a few of the guests. Director, Friedkin, uses many close-ups of his characters to further portray their raw emotions.

My favorite characters are Alan and Hank as these characters are the most complex. Both are married, and both hit it off famously, although Alan’s sexuality is never completely revealed. He is married, but clearly troubled, and the audience never learns why, although we could wager a guess that he is, indeed, conflicted by his sexuality. What will become of him? Will he accept his sexuality or live a repressed existence?

Hank, in the midst of a divorce from his wife, lives with Larry as a couple. Hank is complex because he is transitioning from a straight life to a gay lifestyle and that must have been very difficult in the late 1960’s- for this reason I find the character of Hank quite brave. The film does not explore this angle as much as it could have, but a character such as Hank fleshes out the cast in a positive way. Alan and Hank are multi-dimensional characters whereas some of the others contain gay stereotypes.

I would have enjoyed a deeper dive into the personal lives of some of the characters, but the film is really about the emotions many of the characters possess and feelings of love, some unrequited, and there are too many characters for each to receive his due focus. Plus, the main focus of the film is the back and forth banter between the characters.

Spa Night-2016

Spa Night-2016

Director-Andrew Ahn

Starring-Joe Seo

Scott’s Review #645

Reviewed May 19, 2017

Grade: B+

On the surface, Spa Night may seem like a straight-ahead independent LGBT themed film (of which in recent years there is no shortage of), but the plot of the film is really twofold. Sure, it tells the coming of age story of a young man’s sexuality, but Spa Night is also a story of the boy’s Korean parents financial struggles and their desire to raise a son into a successful young man, sacrificing their own happiness in the process. The films tone is very subtle and the action moves slowly, but it is a sweet story and a relevant one.

David Cho is a shy Korean-American high school student on the cusp of going to college. His parents (who only speak Korean) have sadly recently lost their take-out restaurant in Los Angeles. The parents struggle to make ends meet (she by waitressing, he by doing odd moving jobs), while David takes SAT classes to ensure he get into a great college. David is also struggling with his sexuality and one night visits a local male spa with drunken friends. He gets a job there and begins to experience male on male shenanigans taking place on the sly in the spa, all the while developing his own blossoming sexual feelings.

David’s development in the story is key- he is resistant to coming out as gay because his parents are traditional Korean, constantly mentioning David finding a girlfriend and succeeding in school, becoming what they have failed to achieve. When, at one point, he fools around with another male in the spa, David insists on a no kissing policy. This reveals to the audience that he has issues with the intimacy with another male and in one compelling scene some self-loathing occurs. When he stares too long at a buddy in the bathroom, while both are inebriated, this clues in the friend, who is then distant towards David.

The film is enjoyable because there are two stories being told rather than one, which helps the film succeed. We also care a great deal about David’s parents, compassionately portrayed rather than the stereotypical “tiger mom” and a rigid father. Wanting only the best for him, and having no clue about his sexuality struggles, they trudge along with their own issues. The father drinks too much and the parents frequently squabble. This is a clue to the film because it explains why David is hesitant to mention anything to them, despite the fact that he is close to his parents.

I also enjoyed the slice of life and coming of age appeal that the film possesses. Several shots of day to day life in Los Angeles are shown, mainly as characters go about their daily routines. The budget allotted Spa Night must have certainly been minimal, but the lesson learned is that some really fantastic films are made for miniscule money, but as long as the characters are rich and the story humanistic, the film succeeds- this is the case in Spa Night.

Almost every single character is of Asian descent- I am guessing all Korean actors. This is another positive I give to Spa Night. In the cinematic world, where other cultures and races are woefully underutilized or still stereo-typically portrayed, how refreshing that Spa Night breaks some new ground with an LGBT centered film with Korean characters.

Spa Night was deservedly crowned the coveted John Cassavetes award at the 2016 Independent Spirit awards (for films made for under $500,000) and director Andrew Ahn is certainly a talented novice director to be on the watch for. He seems destined to tell good, interesting stories about people.

Free Fall-2013

Free Fall-2013

Director-Stephan Lacant

Starring-Hanno Koffler, Max Riemelt

Scott’s Review #641

Reviewed May 3, 2017

Grade: A-

Free Fall is a 2013 German language film that is very reminiscent of the highly influential LGBT film, Brokeback Mountain, only set in Germany- during present times. The loneliness, struggles, and deceit that the characters face are similar in both films and both are arguably bleak as overall films. I, however, truly enjoyed this film and embraced the touching aspects and truthful writing.

In the case of Free Fall as compared with Brokeback Mountain, only one of the male characters is a family man- coming to terms with his sexuality in very bad timing, while the other male character is more comfortable in his own skin. A case could be made that a similar characterization is apparent in Brokeback. In both films, a love story develops between two men and outside forces thwart their happiness. The film is a very good watch and the love scenes particularly steamy and emotional.

Marc Borgmann is a young police officer, fresh out of the academy, living with his very pregnant girlfriend, Bettina. They are temporarily staying with Marc’s parents until the baby is born. Seemingly happy, Marc befriends a new recruit, Kay, and they begin a ritual of jogging together in the forest. Both men are young and handsome and very masculine- an aspect in a LGBT film that I personally find as a positive. Kay is much more brazen about his sexuality than Marc, and they eventually fall in love with the added pressure of their very macho surroundings, and Marc’s pregnant girlfriend to contend with.

Free Fall, as the title implies, is not a cheerful, romantic film, as a whole- nor is it completely bleak either. Yes, the love affair between Marc and Kay has some happy moments, but more often than not they face some sort of peril and do not get much time to relax and enjoy each other. As circumstances begin to unravel, Marc’s girlfriend slowly suspects something is going on with Marc, but when Kay is outed (the film suggests he purposely outs himself) during a gay nightclub raid, their lives spiral out of control.

The film itself is very realistic and does not come across as forced nor plot driven. The acting by both principal actors (Koffler and Riemelt) is quite strong and I buy their attraction instantly. The scenes where Marc questions whether the pair are buddies while internally fighting his attraction for Kay, are excellent and very passionate. The range of emotions on the face of actor, Koffler, is excellent. In fact, passion is felt during each and every scene the pair share together.

The way many of the supporting characters are portrayed, however, is disappointing,  yet also a brutal strength of the film. Marc’s parents are quite unsympathetic to either Marc or Kay and are written as stereotypical, anti-progressive and rigid. When Marc’s mother catches Marc and Kay kissing, she coldly chastises Marc for being “raised better than that”. In her mind being gay is bad- the father wholeheartedly sharing her beliefs. Another of the cops in the police academy is written as homophobic, but the film wisely writes Marc and Kay exceptionally well, proudly with none of the unfair effeminate qualities films and television still seem to cling to. The characters are not written for laughs, nor should they be. They are strong men.

The film wisely throws in a handful of supportive characters, like the police force as a whole- teaching and recognizing diversity and inclusion, and a fellow cop who is supportive of the situation with Marc and Kay, but most of the characters come across as harsh and unfeeling to same sex attraction.

The conclusion of the film is slightly disappointing as the story ends abruptly and in a rather unsatisfying way- rumors of a proposed sequel have circulated around the film. Certainly shot on a very small budget, the funding for a follow-up film must still be raised, which hopefully will occur. A nicer (and happier) ultimate resolution would be great.

American LGBT films, sometimes going too much the comical, or worse yet, the sappier route, can take a lesson from this treasure of a German language film. Free Fall is a humanistic, realistic, and brave film that I hope more people find themselves experiencing. The film will touch those who are either involved in or sympathetic towards the LGBT community.

The Visitor-2011

The Visitor-2011

Director-Tor Iben

Starring-Sinan Hancili, Engin Cert

Scott’s Review #630

Reviewed April 4, 2017

Grade: B-

The Visitor is a 2011 LGBT centered film that is set in Berlin, Germany, but features mainly Turkish characters. While the film tells a nice story and features some cool shots of the metropolitan city, it is rather amateurish in style,. The pieces of the film do not always come together or fit very well and there is no character development to speak of, but still, the film does have good intentions with a nice message and theme that deserves at least a few props.

The story involves a young male and female couple, Cibrial and Christine, who are dating. Cibrial works as a policeman and the pair seem to be in a happy relationship, enjoying walks and dinners together. One day, when Christine’s gay cousin, Stefan, comes to town, the relationship between Cibrail and Christine sours. The cousin is openly gay and comfortable with his own sexuality, while Cibrail secretly harbors feelings for the same sex, which he dares not tell Christine about, though she eventually catches on in dramatic fashion. Stefan is looking for action, cruising the city and parks for sex and companionship, while Cibrail is both lustful and jealous of Stefan.

Many scenes involve Cibrail looking longingly at Stefan and fantasizing about him. In that regard, the film teeters on being quite steamy and features more than one nude shower scene- this smoldering element helps the film avoid complete doldrums. Specifically, Cibrail showers alone during one scene, washing and presumably daydreaming about Stefan. But too many other scenes show a character jogging or walking around the park- too much like filler material.

The climax of the film is highly predictable as the two men find their way into each others arms, though the passion is not exactly evident to the audience. The lack of buildup is a negative aspect to the film because there is very little rooting value and too many questions. Is the film a love story? Is it supposed to be about Cibrail coming to terms with his own sexuality? Why do we not see more of a blowup scene between Cibrail and Christine? He simply moves out once she catches him in bed with Stefan and before we know it, Stefan and Cibrail passionately embrace and the film closes in celebration.

A side story involving a dead body found in the park- a park known for gay shenanigans- is included as Cibrail investigates the crime with his police partner, but this seems to have nothing to do with the main plot, unless we are to suspect one of the two men as the killer, but this is hardly focused on. Another shot of a gay pride parade in Berlin is included, but is this to make it known that The Visitor is a gay film? Apparently so. Additionally, a statue of two men is shown in several scenes for seemingly no other reason than to reinforce that the film is gay themed.

The Visitor is a simple story of two men finding each other, which is a nice message, but the film’s run time is a brief seventy minutes, hardly enough time for character development. A muted, videotaped look does not help the film seem very professional, and in fact, seems downright amateurish as an entire film, so much so that I would not be surprised if a film student might have made The Visitor.

The Children’s Hour-1961

The Children’s Hour-1961

Director-William Wyler

Starring-Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, James Garner

Scott’s Review #620

Reviewed March 3, 2017

Grade: B+

The Children’s Hour is one of the earliest films to center around an LGBT theme and the subsequent scandals that the subject matter would provoke in the innocent year of 1961-pre Civil Rights and pre Sexual Revolution. However, since the film was made in the year that it was, homosexuality was presented as something that was dark and bad rather than something to be accepted or even embraced. Still, the film, and director William Wyler are brave enough to recognize the topic- with limitations to spin a compelling film rich with well written characters and some soap opera style drama. The Children’s Hour is based on a play from 1934 and written by Lillian Hellman.

The setting of the film appears to be somewhere in New England, perhaps Connecticut or Massachusetts, though the film never really says the exact area. College friends Karen (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha (Shirley MacLaine) open a private all girls boarding school, catering to the affluent community they reside in. They run the school along with Martha’s Aunt Lilly, a faded Broadway actress, who oftentimes hen-pecks the women. Karen has been dating handsome obstetrician, Joe (James Garner) for two years when he proposes marriage and she hesitantly accepts, which saddens Martha.

All the while, spoiled brat child, Mary, furious over being punished by her teachers, plots revenge against Martha and Karen and embellishes a heated discussion between the ladies into a scandalous lie that she whispers to her grandmother (Fay Bainter). The grandmother promptly tells the parents of the other students, who remove their children from the school en masse. The lie, of course, is that Karen and Martha are lovers and that Mary has witnessed the two women kissing. Meanwhile, Mary is blackmailing fellow student, Rosalie (Veronica Cartwright) over a stolen bracelet. Martha and Karen are then ostracized by the small town.

The Children’s Hour becomes even more compelling when one of the women begins to realize that she does indeed have homosexual feelings towards the other woman and has always harbored anger and resentment as well as feeling “different” from other women.

As well written as the film is, the fact that the audience does not get to hear what Mary whispers to her grandmother is rather telling and prevents the film from being even more powerful than it is. Also, the downbeat conclusion to the film sends a clear message that in 1961 audiences were not ready to accept lesbianism as anything to be normalized or to be proud about. In fact, the decision was made to make it abundantly clear that one of the central characters is clearly not a lesbian. Any uncertainty may have risked freaking out mainstream audiences at the time.

Since the traditional opposite sex romance between Karen and Joe is at the forefront of the film, I did not witness much chemistry between actors Hepburn and Garner, but might have this been the point in achieving a subliminal sexual complexity?

The Children’s Hour and William Wyler deserve heaps of praise for going as far as censorship in film in 1961 would allow them to and successfully offering nuggets of progressivism mixed into a brave film. Incidentally, Wyler had made another version of this film in 1936 named These Three. Because of the Hays Code any hint of lesbianism was forbidden causing Wyler to create a standard story of a love triangle between the three with both Martha and Karen pining after Joe. What a difference a couple of decades make!

MacLaine and Hepburn must be credited with carrying the film and eliciting nice chemistry between the women, though it is too subtle to be realized if the chemistry is really of a friendship level or of a sexual nature. And, I adored how Wyler decided to make both characters rather glamourous and avoid any stereotypical characteristics.

Holding the Man-2015

Holding the Man-2015

Director-Neil Armfield

Starring-Ryan Corr, Craig Stott

Scott’s Review #612

Reviewed January 24, 2016

Grade: B+

Holding the Man is a brave love story centering on two young men and spanning fifteen years as the men begin as high school sweethearts and progress into adulthood and sadly both contract AIDS. This is a pivotal aspect to the film as it is set during the 1970’s and 1980’s- a time when this disease was dreadful and more or less a death sentence. The film is tender and poignant, but despite these characteristics, I felt at times something with more vigor was missing from the film- I did not have the exact emotional reaction that I thought I might have, and felt a slight blandness. The film is set in Australia and adapted from a 1995 memoir of the same name.

The action begins in 1976 as we meet Tim and John- both high school students. They are from opposite social groups- Tim a theater student and John captain of his soccer team. Surprisingly, they connect romantically as Tim asks John out on a date. For the time period it was, the pair receive little hassle and are quite open with their relationship. Certainly, they face a bit of opposition from officials at the school, but this is not a main aspect that the film goes for. Instead, the main problems come from John’s family- specifically, his father, but this is certainly played safely. Tim’s family is much more accepting. Over the next fifteen years, the couple encounter death directly when they are simultaneously told they have acquired HIV.

The film is mostly told chronologically, but does go back and forth at times- specifically, we are reminded of John’s youthful good looks in flashbacks, when he is close to death-now bald and sickly looking. The main point of the film is the men’s enduring love for each other, which is a really nice message. Otherwise, the film (2015 and long since the AIDS plague), goes for a reminder of how harsh those times were for gay men, though there is a softness to the film that I felt-instead of the brutal reality.

The actors playing John and Tim (Craig Stott and Ryan Corr, respectively) have decent chemistry, but this may have been stronger than my perception was, and the reason I did not feel emotionally invested in the film. The film was nice and sweet-the romance part, but when one of the men succumbs to AIDS I should have been a puddle of tears and I just wasn’t.

I did enjoy how the film does not focus too much on the opposition by John’s father (Anthony LaPaglia). He certainly would wish his son’s sexuality differently, but is more concerned with how his son’s relationship with a male looks to Dad’s friends and neighbors. The deeper story was the love between the men that knew no barriers.

It was nice to see Geoffrey Rush and Guy Pearce in supporting turns as a drama teacher (Rush) and as Tim’s father, Dick (Pearce). Both do well with limited roles and I adored how the film portrayed Dick as a supportive father- even dancing a slow dance with his son at a wedding- free of embarrassment. Also notable is the sweet ending of the film where a photo of the real Tim and John is shown during a narrative from an interview the real Tim did before his death.

Holding the Man is a nice film, but does not quite have the power that other LGBT films in recent decades had- Brokeback Mountain immediately comes to mind as a similar film, but one which was more emotional and engaged me much more. A nice, honest effort, though.

A Single Man-2009

A Single Man-2009

Director-Tom Ford

Starring-Colin Firth, Julianne Moore

Scott’s Review #577

Reviewed January 1, 2017

Grade: B+

A Single Man is a dark film fraught with meaning and honesty-it is a very good movie. It is certainly a melancholy film and a bit surreal, but absolutely worth seeing. The acting, especially from star Colin Firth, is first rate. The subject matter involves being gay in the 1950’s and 1960’s and ramifications of living a forbidden and secretive life.The intelligent film is based on the novel of the same name, written by Christopher Isherwood.

The film is written as a sad tale of a day in the life of a gay man living in the 1960’s. Firth portrays George Falconer, a British college professor living in liberal minded Los Angeles. When his much younger lover (presumably a student) dies, George plans to commit suicide. Moore plays his best friend and confidante, Charley, who is dealing with her own demons.

Through flashbacks we learn about George and lover Jim’s secret life together and challenges that ensued. George also had a strange relationship with a male prostitute. We learn the path of life George leads following Jim’s tragic death- we also see them happy at one time.

A Single Man is a bit of a downer and contains a definite dream-like feel and is heavy on the flashbacks, but this is intriguing to the picture and not a complaint. A very good, but not an uplifting, film.

The Kids Are All Right-2010

The Kids Are All Right-2010

Director-Lisa Cholodenko

Starring-Julianne Moore, Annette Bening

Scott’s Review #560

Reviewed December 24, 2016

Grade: A

The Kids Are All Right is a fantastic film! In my opinion the film is one of the best of the year 2010 and was rewarded with a deserving Best Picture nomination. Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo were also honored with acting nominations. Bening gives the best performance in the film.

Continuing the trend of more exposure to LGBT issues, The Kids Are All Right tells of a same sex centered family dealing with real issues. Though not dark, the film is not light or played strictly for laughs. It is a family drama that shows how same sex family units face problems like everyone else, and how they deal with them, never forgetting how much they love each other.

The writing is intelligent, deeply layered, and rich. The acting superb, and the characters complex.  The best scene is one where the entire family is eating dinner- suddenly the camera focuses on one person, goes in slow motion, the other voices become muffled and distance, and a painful emotion is portrayed on one of the character’s faces as a revelation comes to the surface. Brilliant.

Even the seemingly unimportant dialogue throughout the film is smart as it shows the bond of the family that cannot ultimately be broken. The Kids Are All Right is a worthwhile and compelling film.



Director-Barry Jenkins

Starring-Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland

Scott’s Review #512


Reviewed November 6, 2016

Grade: A

Moonlight is a wonderful film, rich with character and grit, that tells the story of one man’s life- from childhood, to teenage years, to adulthood, sharing the bonds he forms, and the demons he wrestles. The acting all around is fantastic and the story poignant and truthful. The film is not preachy, but rather tells a story and leaves the audience to sit and observe- quietly formulating their own opinions. Moonlight is a mixture of beauty and heartbreak and is told very well.

The film is divided into three chapters- in chronological order of the central characters life. Chiron is a shy, docile, young boy of six or seven living in a drug-filled world of Miami, Florida in the 1980’s. He is bullied for being “different” though he knows not why he is shunned. Chiron is introverted and distrusting.  A kind hearted drug dealer named Juan (Mahersala Ali), takes a shine to Chiron, whose own mother becomes more and more absent and emotionally abusive to her son. Naomie Harris plays Paula, mother to Chiron and herself a drug addict. Juan and his girlfriend Theresa (Janelle Monae) become surrogate parents to Chiron and share their home with him as needed.

Chapter two focuses on Chiron as a teenager- still bullied and coming to terms with his sexuality and feelings of insecurity. By this time his mother has spiraled out of control and his life is a sad one. He is filled with emotions such as rage, despair, and confusion. He has an experience with his best friend Kevin that changes the direction of his life. Kevin is his saving grace and a decent person amidst his troubled life.

In chapter three, we are re-introduced to Chiron as an adult- having completely reinvented himself and become a changed man, but is he changed for better or for worse? People from his past resurface at this time and Chiron must face various demons and emotions, and come to terms with himself and others surrounding him. Will his story have a sad or a happy ending is the question we are left wondering.

The aspect that left me impressed the most is the storytelling and the ground that is broken with this film. From an LGBT perspective, by this time (2016), we have experienced numerous offerings on the subject, but the fact that Moonlight is not only a character study, but a love story between two black men has not been done to this degree yet in cinema, or arguably at all, especially in mainstream fare. Happily Moonlight is receiving critical praise. The fact that Chiron lives in a macho, male driven society, makes his self acceptance all the more challenging for him.

The direction in Moonlight is impressive and director Barry Jenkins deserves much praise. Quiete scenes of Chiron as a boy asking Juan and Theresa why the bullies call him a certain name are heartbreaking. Another scene, muted and in slow motion, reveal an abusive Paula calling Chiron a degrading name leaving him confused and hurt. Otherwise, tender scenes between Chiron and Kevin are sweet and passionate and told on such a humanistic level.

Moonlight delves into such territory as loneliness and self identity and  is an interesting film to view for anyone who has struggled with these issues or anyone who is empathetic to those who have.  Moonlight breaks stereotypes and molds a film that is subtle and low-key, but speaks volumes.

Show Me Love-1998

Show Me Love-1998

Director-Lukas Moodysson

Starring-Alexandra Dahlstrom, Rebecca Liljeberg

Scott’s Review #496


Reviewed October 22, 2016

Grade: B

Throughout the latter part of the 1990’s, films with more of an LGBT perspective (then simply referred to as the gay and lesbian genre) were being released more readily, though it was not until the 2000’s when mainstream offerings on the subject (Monster, Brokeback Mountain) hit the big screen to wide acclaim. Show Me Love is a Swedish coming of age story about two high school girls, polar opposites in social acceptance, who find love. Interestingly, the film was directed by a male- Lukas Moodysson.

Show Me Love originally had a different title, a crude reference to the town the film is set in, in western Sweden, but when the film was considered for Academy award contention (it did not make the cut), filmmakers were advised to modify the title for the film to have any shot. The film contains a grainy look- using hand held cameras in parts and, of course, is in the Swedish language.

Agnes is sullen, introverted, and brooding. Known throughout the high school hallways as the angry, weird lesbian, she has few friends, and the ones who are kind to her, she shuns away. Elin, by contrast, is popular, lively, and charming- everybody loves her. However, Elin is restless in the tiny Swedish town where she lives, and yearns for excitement. When Agnes develops a crush on Elin, she confesses all to her computer, but nobody else.

The film is nicely put together and given the time period of 1998, is quite brave. Today, many years having past and progress within the LGBT community made, a film like Show Me Love is a more common occurrence. Director, Moodysson, does not go for anything gratuitous or steamy in nature, but rather spins a sweet coming of age tale, not only of teen love and hormones, but of outcasts and feelings of loneliness. It’s a film that most can relate to in some way.

The actresses portraying the leads (Dahlstrom and Liljeberg) are fantastic in their roles and play the parts with conviction and believability. Despite being opposites, we buy their attraction and chemistry. Nothing is forced or dishonest.

Favorite scenes of mine are the awkward 16th birthday party for Agnes, thrown by her well meaning yet clueless parents. When nobody except a handicapped girl show up, Agnes viciously insults her, causing her to leave. The family sits in the living room eating the food that was planned for anticipated guests. It’s a poignant moment and rather sweet. Despite Agnes’s unpopularity at school, she has a very strong, loyal family unit- that is nice to see.

Later, Elin and her sister to attend the party, but more as an excuse to avoid another one. Finally, Elin and Agnes share a kiss, but is it a mean dare or is it authentic?

A clever aspect of the film is how Moodysson distinguishes both Elin and Agnes’s sexuality. Agnes is clearly gay and is open and out. Elin is very different in this way and has boys interested in her for days. The girls could not be more different and this adds a layer of complexity as each is in a different place in self discovery. This feature also makes Show Me Love very honest in its storytelling.

The film is not a masterpiece and certainly could have dared to venture into more controversial territory. Could they be harmed for being lesbians given the town they live in? Why is Agnes so sullen? This is a stereotype (the brooding lesbian) that needs to be changed- though given the time of the film, I will give a slight pass. Why not make Agnes a happy, cheerful girl who is gay? How will Elin’s sister deal with Elin’s sexuality or is it merely a phase for her? All sorts of darker issues might have been explored, but Show Me Love is tender, sweet, and lighter fare, but still an adventurous offering.



Director-Paul Morrissey

Starring-Joe Dallesandro, Holly Woodlawn

Scott’s Review #490


Reviewed October 7, 2016

Grade: B+

Trash is a very unique movie. It needs to be experienced firsthand to be believed. Produced by icon Andy Warhol, it is both creative and raw, and certainly not for those seeking a basic film that can easily be digested and contained in a box.  Rather, the gritty and controversial aspects percolate into something edgy and creative. In essence, it is a day in the life of a junkie.

An indie drama with documentary  aspects, made in 1970, and set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Trash tells the story of a young heroine junkie named Joe (Joe Dallesandro) along with his sidekick Holly, who wander throughout the city picking through trash in desperate need of their next heroin fix .

The film is hardcore and is what I admired most about it. Not always compelling and certainly not always story-like, it is an experience. Trash would likely not be made today, but, alas in the 1960’s and 1970’s films like this could be made.

Its rawness, explicit nudity (and I mean full frontal, folks) and blatant IV drug injections are not for the perky or conformists. It reminds me quite a bit of a John Waters cult exploitation film, but interestingly preceded John Waters. Very well made and Id like to see it again sometime.


Behind The Candelabra-2013

Behind the Candelabra-2013

Director-Steven Soderbergh

Starring-Michael Douglas, Matt Damon


Reviewed July 14, 2013

Grade: A

I thoroughly enjoyed this HBO film based on the life of Liberace, whom I was too young to know much about before viewing this movie. The excesses of his lavish lifestyle are explored completely.

The standouts are Michael Douglas and Matt Damon who are both exceptional in their portrayals of Liberace and his young lover. Both were unrecognizable at times and completely embodied their characters. I can’t attest to the absolute truth to the story, but the HBO film does a nice job of mixing joy, passion, heartbreak, sadness, and competition throughout.

The story undoubtedly bears a likeness to many Hollywood troubled relationships past and present.

The New Girlfriend-2015

The New Girlfriend-2015

Director-Francois Ozon

Starring-Romain Duris, Anais Demoustier


Reviewed March 5, 2016

Grade: B

The New Girlfriend is a French, and lighter, version of The Danish Girl, a similarly themed film also released in 2014-2015. The story involves gender identification confusion among the central character, though the time period in The Danish Girl is the 1920’s, The New Girl is set in present times.

The film begins with a brief montage of the lives of two best friends- Laura and  Claire- sharing a life together and inseparable as children, young adults, and even as married women. Sadly, we learn that Laura has recently died of a terminal illness and this is where the film really begins. Claire embarks on a unique friendship with Laura’s husband David, when she catches him wearing female clothing and acting as a “mommy” to his infant daughter. They form a bond and Claire agrees to harbor David’s secret and even accompanying him in public as he slowly takes on the persona of “Virginia”.

I found the film quite compelling throughout most of the running time as we see David’s burning desire to both dress as a woman and feel like a woman. We mostly see the bond develop between Claire and David, who sometimes is Virginia, other times David. Claire is happily married to her successful, handsome, husband Gilles and the three individuals are friends- sharing dinners, tennis matches, and evenings consuming wine. Gilles is unaware of David’s secret and begins to fear an affair has ensued between his wife and his friend. Likewise, during moments, Claire imagines David and Gilles beginning a torrid affair.

Interestingly, the film does not go full steam ahead with the love triangle between Claire/Gilles/David (Virginia) and this is a wise choice. That would have made the film more typical and generic, and perhaps even one-note. Rather, the point of the film is the struggles David goes through to feel right as a woman and how his friends support him. When he kisses Claire and snuggles with her, it is not sexual in nature- it is to feel close to another woman. This makes the film more character driven.

As with many foreign language films, The New Girlfriend is liberal with nudity, both male and female. When nudity is featured in American films, typically it is in a gratuitous or in a sexual way. This film being French, the nudity was tasteful and even beautiful. When Claire is topless it is more expressive as the mystique of the female body than in a showing of a buxom woman, which Claire is not.

The ending of the film slightly disappointed me. The idyllic, fairy tale way that the film wrapped was romanticized and unrealistic. I would have liked to have seen even more of David/Virginia’s struggles and how his in-laws might have wrestled with the idea of their granddaughter being raised by a single man dressing as a woman.

Another flaw was the lack of explanation as to whether David- as a male-desired and yearned to biologically become a woman or if he was satisfied to dress up and publicly look like a woman. The film chose not to go this route and it undoubtedly would have made the film darker, containing a much deeper story. Instead The New Girlfriend was light, fun, and wholesome in its overall story.



Director-Patty Jenkins

Starring-Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci

Top 100 Films-#83


Reviewed January 25, 2017

Grade: A

Monster may feature one of the best acting performances of all time-Charlize Theron simply embodies the role of notorious female serial killer, Aileen Wuornos, in a simply astounding triumph. The mannerisms, the anger, and the charisma that Theron portrays is nothing short of brilliance. This brazen acting is simply the best aspect of Monster and the main reason to witness the film. Besides this, the film itself is also great.

The film immediately focuses on Theron- we meet the down on her luck prostitute sitting in tatters underneath an overpass. Suicidal and with five dollars to her name, she goes to a dive bar for one last beer- having blown someone for the five dollars she surmises that the money will go to waste if she does not spend it.

Her older confidante is Thomas, a grizzled man assumed to be an occasional client of hers, is played by Bruce Dern. She goes to a gay bar and meets Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), a lesbian. Aileen insists she is not gay, but winds up spending the night with her in Selby’s family home. The two form a connection and bond immediately, spending more time together and becoming immersed in each other’s lives.

When Aileen is brutally raped and beaten by a client, she begins down a dark and murderous path, killing men she meets after she steals their money. Selby eventually catches on to this and is conflicted over whether to turn her friend in or serve as an accomplice to her crimes as the police close in on the pair.

Enough cannot be said of Theron’s performance. She simply becomes Wournos- from her walk, to her infamous manic mannerisms, and her hair flip. Theron, a gorgeous woman, gained weight, used false teeth, and became simply unrecognizable in the role as a brutal, angry, and trashy looking woman.

Ricci also deserves praise, but plays her role as a bit clueless or dimwitted, counterbalancing Theron’s manic, in your face role. It works well. Both characters are longing for love and companionship and both are clearly misfits. In a sweet scene the pair go roller skating together, hand in hand, to the famous rock song, “Don’t Stop Believin”. This is a great scene.

One can argue the fact that director, Patty Jenkins, softens the way that Wournos is written. Known as a hardened, mean woman, Jenkins writes her as much more sympathetic. This can also be attributed to the fact that Theron emits some vulnerability to the character- the woman really never knew love until she met and bonded with Selby.

Needless to say, Monster is a dynamic, energetic film, thanks in large part to the powerful performance of Charlize Theron- a role that obviously awarded her the Best Actress Academy Award.

Boys Don’t Cry-1999

Boys Don’t Cry-1999

Director-Kimberly Peirce

Starring-Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny

Top 100 Films-#73     Top 10 Disturbing Films-#10


Reviewed February 8, 2017

Grade: A

Boys Don’t Cry is a fitting tribute to real-life figure Brandon Teena, a transgender man from Nebraska, who adopts a male identity and attempts to find love with Lana, played by Chloe Sevigny. Brandon is played by Hilary Swank. Sadly, Brandon was brutally raped and murdered at the hands of some local men- a fact that the film does not gloss over. Boys Don’t Cry is a heartbreaking and tragic film that will disturb some with its shocking and violent content- sadly it is a true story. Swank deservedly walked away with the Best Actress Oscar statuette.

Set in working class Nebraska and right smack in the midst of the heartland, Brandon has the cards stacked against him from the start. Not exactly the most open minded of areas, the film also sets a working class environment for Brandon as most of his friends are poor factory or bar workers. Born as Teena Brandon and female, Brandon (Swank) is a drifter and in trouble with the law for various unpaid tickets. He befriends ex-convicts John and Tom and becomes part of their crowd, falling in love with Lana- they are all unaware of Brandon being a female. When Brandon’s secret is revealed, Lana is accepting and the pair decide to run away together, but Tom and John decide to murder Brandon.

Swank’s portrayal of Brandon is brilliant and believable and very few actresses could successfully pull this off. Swank has angular, androgynous features to begin with, but her drastic physical transformation is jaw dropping. Having closed cropped hair and a male swagger, Swank immerses herself in the role, so much so, that as I watched the film I completely forgot that Brandon was not physically male. Her physical transformation is not the sole reason for the fantastic performance though- Swank is emotionally there in the role and in a heartbreaking scene, after being beaten and raped, is treated poorly by a sheriff handling the accusations- just when Brandon could use an understanding ear.

What a cold world it can be for someone who is different from most others as Boys Don’t Cry reveals in brutal, honest fashion. Anyone who knows the true story of Brandon Teena, knows he led a painful, tragic life, but was also filled with life and love- mainly for Lana. Worth mentioning is Sevigny’s performance as Lana- in love with the person that was Brandon, not so much the gender. Sevigny plays Lana as supportive, confused, and loving.

Director, Kimberly Peirce, became obsessed with the real-life case and does a fantastic job at tackling the film in a true, compelling way. To say nothing of the writing and the acting, Peirce also successfully uses a hand-held camera during Brandon’s strip scene and a surreal, muted light to portray the gloomy mid-west and the cold, hard lives that most of the characters lived. Impressively, Peirce accomplished all of this on a shoe-string budget, and took a wealth of inspiration from independent film legend John Cassavetes, who proved that gorgeous films can be made for very little money.

Many scenes take place in bars as Lana, a devoted karaoke singer, croons one tune after another, the highlight being Restless Heart’s 1988 country hit, “The Bluest Eyes in Texas”, which Lana sings in Brandon’s presence. The use of somber or sad songs gives the film as tragic soundtrack. Famed film critic, Roger Ebert, described Boys Don’t Cry as “Romeo and Juliet set in a Nebraska trailer park”.

Boys Don’t Cry is an enormous victory in film for the LGBT community and, along with Brokeback Mountain, is a perfect double-feature, as both are similar films, only one featuring males, the other females. Both are tragic, bleak, and all too real.

Brokeback Mountain-2005

Brokeback Mountain-2005

Director-Ang Lee

Starring-Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal

Top 100 Films-#46


Reviewed January 16, 2017

Grade: A

Brokeback Mountain is a revolutionary film and certainly one of the most important films to be released during the 2000’s. Never before had a LGBT film been given as much exposure and widespread viewership as this film did. Certainly robbed of the 2005 Best Picture Academy Award (the great, but not as great, Crash won), Brokeback Mountain received other tremendous accolades and word of mouth buzz that helped it achieve great success. A treasure that must always be remembered and appreciated.

Perfectly cast, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal play two cowboys who fall madly in love with each other. The time period of the film runs from 1963 until the early 1980’s. Through the years we see their unbreakable bond tested by outside factors- namely being gay is certainly forbidden at this time and location- Wyoming and Texas.

Jack Swift (Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) meet one summer in 1963 when they are both hired by grizzled Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) to herd sheep one summer on Brokeback Mountain in remote Wyoming. They immediately form a friendship which turns physical one drunken night. From this point the men are inseparable and share a passion insurmountable. Due to the times there is no possible way they can openly share a life together, so they arrange for periodic “fishing trips”, away from their wives and children so that they can spend time together in secret.

The chemistry is evident between Ledger and Gyllenhaal, which is extremely important to the success of the film. The audience needs to truly buy their bond and director Ang Lee is successful at eliciting wonderful performances from each actor. This is especially crucial during the first forty-five minutes of the film as all the scenes are only the two actors together. The famous “tent” scene, in which Jack’s and Ennis’s passion first erupts is perfectly choreographed- it is as much animalistic as it is passionate and this sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Eventually, other characters are introduced and Ennis and Jack live lives largely separate from each other. Michelle Williams plays Alma, a kind-hearted country girl, married to Ennis. She accidentally stumbles on to Jack and Ennis’s secret and keeps this hidden throughout the years. Williams is fantastic in the role- sweet, yet saddled with the pain of knowing her husband is in love with another man causes her to mistrust and eventually destroys their marriage.

Jack forges a life in Texas and marries well-to-do Lureen (Anne Hathaway), but the marriage is a sham, Lureen’s father hates Jack, and Jack cannot forget Ennis. Jack is the aggressor, the one more confident with his sexuality, and one would surmise, would be the one more likely to be “out” if circumstances were different. He looks for other men, even going to Mexico to find some companionship.

The ending of the film is tragic and heartbreaking and we witness Ennis being a good father to his now grown-up kids. A wonderful scene is written between Ledger and Kate Mara, who plays his daughter. She asks the lonely Ennis to attend her wedding and the scene is sweet and tender. Another scene involving Ennis meeting Jack’s parents is monumental- as important as what is said in this wonderful scene is what is left unsaid.

Brokeback Mountain is an honest, graceful, and brave film, that thanks to the talents and direction of Ang Lee, was actually able to be made. The exceptional cast-led by Ledger and Gyllenhaal is dynamic and enables the film to come together as one masterpiece, that will surely never be forgotten.

Far From Heaven-2002

Far From Heaven-2002

Director-Todd Haynes

Starring-Julianne Moore, Dennis Haysbert

Top 100 Films-#53


Reviewed February 2, 2017

Grade: A

Far From Heaven is a gorgeous film, set in 1950’s upper class and sophisticated Connecticut, that tackles not one, but two, separate social issues, in wonderful story-telling fashion. An interracial couples fraught with discrimination, and a homosexual husband hiding his secret lifestyle encompass this amazing film by acclaimed director Todd Haynes. In years to follow, Haynes would also direct such masterpieces as the similar in time period (and story) Carol.

For starters, the cinematography and art direction are simply breathtaking- the beautiful and colorful small town in Connecticut, on the surface, prim and proper, is oozing with secrets and scandal just waiting to bubble to the surface. An aerial view of the town allows the viewer to see this perfectly carved town in sweeping motion. Far From Heaven contains many similarities to All That Heaven Allows, made in 1955, and also focusing on great scandal in a small, seemingly idyllic New England town.

Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) seems to have everything-a  perfectly styled and kept home in affluent Connecticut, a successful husband named Frank (Dennis Quaid), who is an advertising executive, beauty, and a neighborhood filled with friends. One night when Frank is working late, Cathy surprises him with dinner at the office, only to be surprised herself by catching Frank passionately kissing another man. In a terribly awkward scene, Frank admits to Cathy that he needs conversion therapy, but instead turns to alcohol and continues to secretly see men. Devastated, Cathy befriends her gardener, Raymond Deagan, a handsome black man, and slowly begins a relationship with him. Needless to say, this causes gossip and scandal amongst the townspeople.

Far From Heaven is fantastic story-telling, weaving, in essence, two main social stories together. Frank questions his sexuality, afraid to admit he is gay and risking his reputation and career. Undoubtedly, he is a tormented individual and we see him slowly come to terms with his sexuality. Haynes, fantastic at crafting worthy story, carves a similar tale in 2015’s Carol, only she is a woman confident about her sexuality, but nonetheless hiding it from society. Since the time period in both films is the 1950’s, the sexual revolution had not occurred, let alone anything gay related.

The center story though belongs to Cathy and Julianne Moore portrays her to perfection. I would argue that Cathy is Moore’s best role- along with Amber Waves from Boogie Nights. Hurt and betrayed by her husband, she suddenly is filled with new and dangerous emotions- falling in love with a black man in a not very open minded time. Moore and Haysbert have fantastic chemistry from their very first scene together.

I love how Haynes showcases the perfection of the town- the lawns are perfectly mowed, the flower beds flawless, and everyone appears cheerful and colorful. But when something in their little town becomes amiss (in this case Cathy going against the grain) the fangs come out and the animals bear their teeth. A wonderful scene showcases Cathy and Raymond slow dancing in a solely black bar. They sway as one and Cathy is accepted by the black patrons. Raymond (and his daughter) are not treated the same way among the white folks of the town once they catch wind of the shenanigans going on between the interracial couple.

Far From Heaven is a beautiful film- from the way it looks and is shot, to the powerful acting performances all around. Moore may be the star and the central character of the film, but Quaid and Haysbert certainly deserve their due. They each give layered performances as wounded and tortured men- and the conclusion of the film- perceived as open ended- is also not a happily ever after climax.


The Danish Girl-2015

The Danish Girl-2015

Director-Tom Hooper

Starring-Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander


Reviewed December 29, 2015

Grade: A-

The Danish Girl tells the loosely based story of Danish painters and married couple Lili Ebe and Gerda Wegener and recounts Lili’s struggles as the first known recipient of sex reassignment surgery, unheard of at the time that it was (1930). The film is a showcase in terrific acting (Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander especially) and a journey of one person’s struggle with gender identity. The subject matter is quite important and timely as the recent transgender movement has emerged to the forefront in social issues today.

A happy, young couple living in Copenhagen, and married for six years, Gerda and Einar are inseparable and madly in love. They are best friends and help each other with their art. In a pinch because of a female models tardiness, Gerda convinces Einar to stand in for the model, wearing female clothes. This event triggers a lifelong identification as a female named Lili Elbe. Apparently Lili has emerged sporadically since childhood. Through painful self assessment and encouragement from progressive loved ones, Lili decides to go through with a highly experimental and risky sex change operation.

Gushing with sensitivity and tenderness and groundbreaking in a sense, though I bet even moreso if made ten years ago, one feels for both lead characters as it is important to note that they both go through emotional turmoil. It would be easy to lessen Gerda’s emotions and, perhaps with a lesser actress this might have happened, but Vikander (unknown to me before seeing this film) gives an emotional performance that is raw and exudes empathy. One can imagine how they would feel if their spouse identified as the opposite sex. Confusion, blame, anger, sorrow, would all be common reactions. Gerda is strong, brave, and helpful, all the while crumbling beneath the surface. Vikander brings all of this to the screen flawlessly.

Similarly, Redmayne brings depth and empathy to his role.  Redmayne’s Einar is masculine, but there is something sensitive and slightly feminine to him from the start. Was this purposely done to soften the blow? He also appears to be very slightly built. Clearly, Redmayne lost a bit of weight to portray this role and have a softer appearance. Actors can easily dress up in drag, but the emotional investment needs to be there and Redmayne makes the viewer care about Lili a great deal. One is teary-eyed along with Lili as she sees no other choice, but to undergo the risky operation. We see the desperation in Lili’s eyes and this is thanks to Redmayne’s acting skills.

I loved how supportive the characters are in the film. Granted, Einar/Lili and Gerda travel in liberal and progressive circles, but for 1930, this was wonderful to see. Of course, Copenhagen and Paris are open minded cities, but Lili’s childhood friend Hans, a sophisticated, macho guy, offers nothing but support. Same goes for the Doctor taking on Lili’s surgery. These aspects lend to a delicate, peaceful film of encouragement.

To be clear, Lili is not gay, and this is made crystal clear during the film as she meets a gay man and the distinction between them is made. She does, however, identify and feel that she is a woman. She was simply born with the wrong parts.

The greatest aspect of The Danish Girl is its powerhouse acting and compelling subject matter. One’s gender is a given for most, but watching a riveting drama about someone who is at unrest with their gender is eye-opening and still rather taboo. 2015 was a year of progressive transgender films and The Danish Girl is towards the top in its class and gracefulness in dealing with the subject matter in a calm non judgmental way.




Director-Todd Haynes

Starring-Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara

Top 100 Films-#90


Reviewed December 27, 2015

Grade: A

My comparison would be that this film is the female version of Brokeback Mountain, if you will. Carol is a story of hidden romance and secret lives in the early 1950’s, a time in which it was very difficult to lead an alternative lifestyle openly (or even in hiding!). The film is a marvel in its honest storytelling, exquisite class, and its gracefulness, with excellent cinematography and a nice, heartwarming tale. Carol is directed by Todd Haynes, a director known for films about doomed romances faced with societal challenges. Carol is a wonderful piece of work.

The film really contains two equal female lead roles- Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) is a gorgeous, sophisticated socialite.  She exudes confidence and style in everything that she does. Always perfectly dressed, well made up, perfect fingernails, her mannerisms relay confidence and control. She is married to a wealthy businessman, Harge (Kyle Chandler), who is madly in love with her, yet they are divorcing because of her “problem”. The fact that Carol is a lesbian is known to Harge and they share somewhat of an understanding…..and also a five year old daughter. The divorce they are going through is difficult.

Therese Belevit (Rooney Mara), on the other hand, is the polar opposite of Carol.  Young, naïve, she is a part time shopgirl, who is fascinated by photography. She dates men and goes to parties, living out a typical young girls life. When Carol and Therese meet at the store where Therese works, they are immediately enamored with one another and a friendship develops. Both seem to be caught off guard and the chemistry between the two actresses sizzles.

The focus of the film is the budding romance between Carol and Therese, but also the societal differences that they face, not to mention the age difference between the two women. I found the chemistry  quite evident and this is thanks to Blanchett and Mara. Worlds apart, the two women somehow find their way to each other and form a bond. Their relationship is tender, gentle, and carefully laid out for the audience. They are neither animalistic nor barbaric in a sexual way, but rather- sweet. When Therese takes a spontaneous car trip from New York to Chicago, leaving her boyfriend, Richard, perplexed, she is conflicted. He wants them to run off to Paris- Therese wants to be with Carol. He breaks up with Therese and accuses her of having a crush on Carol.

Therese and Carol’s romance is finally consummated in a mid-western hotel. It is New Year’s Eve and Todd Haynes chooses to shoot this scene in a romantic, spontaneous way. They are celebrating the holiday, but both are blue and vulnerable. It makes perfect sense that they would turn to one another in this moment.

The film delves into many different emotions that Carol and Therese face- love, glee, anger, rage, confusion, rejection, and loneliness. These adjectives and the aforementioned examples of the tone of the film are why it succeeds.

From an acting perspective, both Blanchett and Mara are great, but I am more partial to Blanchett’s performance. She embodies this character. From the way she confidently orders a martini dry with one olive, to how she brazenly approaches Therese, she is a woman in control. But faced with family issues she becomes vulnerable and we see her as a human being.

Besides the interesting story of a love faced with many challenges, the look of the film is grand. The sets, hairstyles, clothes, and makeup are all graceful and rich. To summarize- everyone looks great and it portrays a perfect picture of the 1950’s.

A progressive Hollywood tale done very well, Carol showcases glamour, great acting, and sends a powerful message of acceptance and struggle during a difficult time to be “different”,  in order to fulfill ones lives.



Director-Sean Baker

Starring-Mya Taylor, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez


Reviewed December 17, 2015

Grade: A

On the very rare occasion that I am lucky and privileged enough to stumble upon a gem like Tangerine, it reaffirms my faith in film and creative film makers in general. Here is a universal lesson- it does not take oodles of money to make a great film. This film was shot with three smartphones!! It takes talent and creativity. Tangerine is a groundbreaking film- the first (that I am aware of anyway) to feature transgender actresses at the forefront of the feature. The film has been honored with multiple Independent Spirit award nominations.

Shot documentary style, with grittiness and a frenetic pace, while mixing in unique styles of music (hip hop to classic) as the musical score (a child-like tune begins the film), Tangerine is unique from both a story perspective and a visual style. The films first scene begins with two transgender sex workers- Sin-Dee Rella  and Alexandra, having a conversation in a coffee shop. Sin-Dee has just been released from jail and learns that her boyfriend, and pimp, Chester, has been cheating on her. It is Christmas Eve. The crux of the film explores Sin-Dee’s rage and subsequent search all over Los Angeles for Chester, and the girl he has been with. She vows revenge on them both.  However, beyond this story point, the heart of the film is of loneliness and isolation that most of the characters (trans and otherwise), share, in one form or another.

Interspersed with the Sin-Dee story, are stories involving Alexandra’s feud with a “john”, and her pursuit of a singing career. Another very interesting story is that of straight male, Razmik, an Armenian cab driver who is infatuated with transgender sex workers. This may sound bizarre or too out there for some, but Razmik’s story is quite tender and compelling. He has a wife and baby at home, along with various other relatives, and is clearly the bread-winner. He is also very conflicted. He does not “use” the sex workers, but rather cares for them and admires them.

I found all three principal characters interesting in different ways- Sin-Dee and Alex are over-the-top, yet sensitive. While Sin-Dee is aggressive and vengeful, Alex is the kinder of the two and the more sensible and rational. She is a sex-worker, but aspires to more out of life. Razmik is even more interesting- does he have a fetish? is he shameful for spending money on prostitutes while supporting a wife and child?

All of the characters are victimized in one form or another and all are dysfunctional- at the same time they are all weirdly likable. I witnessed moments of Quentin Tarantino’s film style coming across the screen- most notably in the coffee-shop scenes (the beginning and final scenes) as all hell breaks loose, and the characters delve into all sorts of crazy behavior, though Tangerine is a sweet tale about friendship too. It is a memorable and powerful film experience.

In the end, all the characters are hurting, living such sad lives, and especially since the time period is present day Christmas Eve, which I guess might make this film sound depressing, but it is not. I found it almost uplifting in a way.  Tangerine is a completely original, groundbreaking film that I hope is remembered and appreciated 50 years from now.