Tag Archives: LGBT films

Latter Days-2003

Latter Days-2003

Director-C. Jay Cox

Starring-Steve Sandvoss, Wesley A. Ramsey

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.

Other People-2016

Other People-2016

Director-Chris Kelly

Starring-Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon

Reviewed August 24, 2017

Grade: B+

2016’s recipient of numerous Independent Film award nominations is equal parts a touching drama and equal parts witty comedy, providing a film experience that successfully transcends more than one genre- is it a heavy drama or is it a comedic achievement? Without being sappy or overindulgent, Other People is a film that will elicit both laughs and tears from viewers fortunate enough to see this film focused on a tough to tackle subject- a woman dying of cancer. The title of the film, which one character states he always thought cancer was something that only happened to “other people” is poignant.

Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon play son and mother in the brave film both written and directed by Chris Kelly. The very first scene is a confusing one and caught me off guard- we see the entire Mulcahey clan- father Norman (Bradley Whitford), three kids, David (Plemons), Alex, and Rebeccah, along with their dead mother Joanne (Shannon), all lying in the same bed, sobbing and clutching hands. Clearly Joanne has just succumbed to her battle with cancer. This powerful opening scene, which ironically is also the final scene, sets the tone for the entire film as Kelly, works his way back, beginning a year prior to the important “death scene”.

Cancer is a very tough subject to cover in film, especially going the comedy/drama route. The sensitive film maker must be careful not to trivialize the subject matter with too many comedic elements nor go for the heavy drama. Kelly successfully mixes the humor and drama well so that the film works as a cross-genre film. He achieves this by putting capable talents like Plemons and Shannon to good use- they share tremendous chemistry in every scene they appear in together. Scenes that show David and Joanne cry in each others arms work as well as others, such as when David takes a giddy Joanne to meet his comedy friends.

Most impressive is that the story in Other People is largely autobiographical- Kelly, a gay man like the character of David, moved from New York City to Sacramento, California, to tend to his ailing mother, who had also died from cancer. Actress Shannon reminded him so much of her that he had the fortune of casting the talented lady in his film- the part originally slated to go to Sissy Spacek instead.

Mixed in with the Joanne’s battle with cancer is also a nice story about David. A gay man, David has broken up with his boyfriend Paul, previously living together on the east coast (though still pretending to in order to spare Joanne worry), to return to the west coast. Over the course of the next year we see Joanne and Norman slowly come to terms with David’s sexuality- more so Norman than Joanne. In fact, the turbulent father/son relationship is explored during the course of the film as Norman, initially hesitant to even meet David’s boyfriend, Paul, in the end, pays for his airline ticket to attend Joanne’s funeral.

A slight miss with the film is the Norman/David dynamic-besides a few hints of Norman encouraging David’s struggling writing career and his obsession with David joining the gym and boxing, it is not really clear what issue he takes with his son being gay or why he is uncomfortable with it- other than the implication that the family is rather conservative no other reason is given. David’s sister’s and grandparents do not seem to take issue with David’s sexuality, though it is not made certain if the grandparents are even aware of it. Is it a machismo thing with Norman? This part of the story is unclear.

Still, in the end, Other People is a good, small, indie film, rich with crisp, sharp writing and a tragic “year in the life of a cancer patient” along with good family drama and the relationships that abound when a family comes together and unites based on a health threat. The film is certainly nothing that has not been done before, but thanks to good direction and a thoughtful, nuanced, approach, along with one character’s sexuality mixed in, the film feels quite fresh.

Beautiful Thing-1996

Beautiful Thing-1996

Director-Hettie MacDonald

Starring-Glen Berry, Scott Neal

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

Reviewed July 22, 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

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

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

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

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

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.

BearCity-2010

BearCity-2010

Director-Douglas Langway

Starring-Joe Conti, Stephen Guarino

Reviewed March 19, 2017

Grade: B

BearCity is a small, independent, LGBT, coming of age film that tells of a young man living in New York City, and his exploration of a sub-culture within the LGBT community and a subsequent romance that follows. The film is a comedy and has a “Sex in the City” or “Queer as Folk” approach to its storytelling- a group of close knit friends and  raunchy and gratuitous to be sure. The budget is very small and some aspects rather amateurish, but the film is enjoyable, especially for those exposed to the LGBT lifestyle. The film is not a heavy nor are any of the characters dealing with “coming out” issues, but rather it is a fun sex comedy romp.

Our central character, Tyler (Joe Conti), is a young man in his twenties, an aspiring actor, who moves to New York City to pursue his career, with a mind for casual dating. His roommates encourage him to date Abercrombie and Fitch types, but Tyler comes to realize he prefers “bear” types- mature, hairy men. On the sly he begins to pursue this sub-culture and makes many friends. The apple of his eye, handsome Roger (Gerald McCullough) is a popular mature man, distinguished in the bear circle, and risks his reputation with “the bears” by falling in love with Tyler. The two men spend the greater part of the film conquering their respective fears and finding their way into each others arms in a predictable ending.

BearCity is a fun farce and nothing very heavy and the featuring of a strong circle of friends is a nice, positive portrayal- all of the friends connect well and stick by each other through thick and thin. Comical sub-plots abound such as one couples (Brent and Fred) awkward parlay into the world of threesomes with unsuccessful results. Another bear who is unemployed, and grossly obese, decides to undergo weight loss surgery much to the chagrin of his hunky boyfriend.

The main story though, belongs to Tyler and Roger and their inevitable reunion can be seen miles away. The film throws various hurdles in their way, such as a third person briefly dating Roger, or Roger’s commitment issues, but the climax of the film will be no surprise to anyone. Tyler and Roger make a nice couple as a whole, but perplexing is how the film makes Roger the undisputed leader of the bear group, when he is actually a lean, muscular man- not a “bear” at all! This is odd to me, but BearCity is so light hearted that I suppose I can let this detail slide in favor of a good romance.

Critically, the film is nice, but quite amateurish, and super low-budget. The acting, especially by some of the supporting characters (the pre-surgery guys boyfriend is the most glaring example), is not great. I half-expected him to accidentally look at the camera. Additionally, the film has a low-budget look and feel, which on one level is fine, but combined with the not so stellar acting, enhances the inexperience of the cast and crew. The film is tough to take too seriously- if this is even the intention of the filmmakers.

The film is a logistical treat for anyone privy to popular gay hangouts in New York City- specifically The Eagle and The Ramrod, both locales are featured prominently, and the use of many real-life people who hang out at those establishments are used throughout the production.

BearCity is not a bad experience and certainly a film that is light and comical within the LGBT community seems rather fresh compared to the myriad of dramatic and heavy films that exist. At the same time the film teeters towards goofy too much with more than one bafoonish, sex-crazed, stereotypical gay man, that it almost gives a bad impression, so the film has mixed results for me.

The Children’s Hour-1961

The Children’s Hour-1961

Director-William Wyler

Starring-Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, James Garner

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

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.

The Kids Are All Right-2010

The Kids Are All Right-2010

Director-Lisa Cholodenko

Starring-Julianne Moore, Annette Bening

Reviewed July 29, 2010

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.

Moonlight-2016

Moonlight-2016

Director-Barry Jenkins

Starring-Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland

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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

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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.

Trash-1970

Trash-1970

Director-Paul Morrissey

Starring-Joe Dallesandro, Holly Woodlawn

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Reviewed March 7, 2011

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.

 

Gayby-2012

Gayby-2012

Director-Jonathan Lisecki

Starring-Jenn Harris, Mathew Wilkas

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Reviewed March 28, 2013

Grade: C+

Gayby is a sketch type comedy about two best friends ( a gay man and a straight woman) who decide to have a child together. Both have reached a certain age and are unhappy to have not found the perfect mate. The story is not a novel idea in film- or television for that matter, and feels more like a Saturday Night Live sketch. The film is also playing on the success of television comedies like Will and Grace- the obvious dynamic of the central characters.

The two leads are quite appealing in a comic way and have wit (Jenn Harris in a neurotic way) and great timing. The subject matter is an interesting one, though as years go by and more LGBT topics covered,  it is becoming rather dated and not novel any longer.

The negative is the frenetic, quick pacing of the film ultimately making it rather off-putting and annoying, to say nothing of the irritating stereotypical, supporting characters- written so over-the-top that it is tough to take the film as serious as it should be taken.

Behind The Candelabra-2013

Behind the Candelabra-2013

Director-Steven Soderbergh

Starring-Michael Douglas, Matt Damon

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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 Way He Looks-2014

The Way He Looks-2014

Director-Daniel Ribeiro

Starring-Fabio Audi, Ghilherme Lobo

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Reviewed June 4, 2016

Grade: B+

The Way He Looks is a foreign language film (Brazilian) from 2014 that tells a coming of age story about a blind high school student,  who develops feelings for the new kid in town. The other boy has rapidly become his new best friend and the boys, while unsure of the others sexual preferences, fall in love. The film is a charming story about a modern romance, now becoming more prevalent in film today.

Leonardo (known as Leo) is a blind high school student struggling to be his own person.  His close friend Giovana is in a similar situation as neither has ever been kissed, yet they feel adolescent desires- they are lonely, but share a close bond with each other. Regardless of his disability, Leo is quite independent, despite having parents who border on smothering. One day, a new student named Gabriel volunteers to sit behind Leo in class and they strike up a friendship. Giovana, unaware of Leo’s sexual preferences, develops a crush on Gabriel. The film then tells a sweet story about young, blossoming, romance. The main characters do not face particularly tough obstacles from outside sources, but rather from each other as their feelings and emotions are fragile. In addition to romance, the film focuses on the friendships between Leo, Gabriel, and Giovana.

The Way He Looks is a warm film. It is sweet and compassionate and tenderhearted. The viewer witnesses a budding romance between two teenagers and the fact that they are both male is really secondary- that is how charming the film is. The audience will root for Leo and Gabriel because they are nice kids. Giovana, the outsider, also has a rooting factor- she is in no way a villain, nor does she harbor resentment for either Leo or Gabriel, but rather, yearns for her own first romance and happiness. The film wisely does not turn her into an emotional wreck, or a psycho. Sure, she gets drunk at a party, but this is really only to temporarily escape her feelings.

I recoiled at scene after scene of Leo’s parents either fretting about something, worried sick about Leo coming home late, or simply worried that something may happen to their son. Relax already. Life is not meant to be spent frazzled because your son is blind. The parents are not the strongest written characters in the film and, in fact, are rather secondary characters. The case is the same for the bullies, the slutty girl, and the teacher. The film belongs to Leo, Gabriel, and Giovana wholly. The supporting characters in The Way He Looks are meant to merely react to the central characters issues.

A kind film about a same sex, young romance. Charming, not too heavy, with likable characters, who one can root for. There are no bombs, car chases, or explosions needed. The Way He Looks is a slice of life film that is simple, pure, and true.

The New Girlfriend-2015

The New Girlfriend-2015

Director-Francois Ozon

Starring-Romain Duris, Anais Demoustier

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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.

Monster-2003

Monster-2003

Director-Patty Jenkins

Starring-Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci

Top 100 Films-#83

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.