Category Archives: LGBTQ+ Films

In the Name of-2013

In the Name of-2013

Director-Malgorzata Szumowska, Mateusz Kościukiewicz

Starring-Andrzej Chyra

Scott’s Review #1,159

Reviewed July 8, 2021

Grade: B+

In the Name of (2013), not to be confused with In the Name of the Father, a 1993 film starring Daniel Day-Lewis, is a Polish independent LGBTQ+ genre film directed by a female, Malgorzata Szumowska. I point out the gender only because the subject matter skews heavily towards male homosexuality which is an interesting one for a female to tackle.

Szumowska does so with gusto providing wonderful cinematography and quiet dialogue.

She casts her own husband, Mateusz Kościukiewicz, in the central role of an outsider who stirs up the sexual feelings of a priest struggling with his long-repressed sexuality.

If one looks carefully, each character struggles with conflict and self-acceptance in some way, restless and hungry for peace of mind and satisfaction. We wonder if any of the characters will ever find this.

The priest in question is played by Andrzej Chyra. It’s revealed that Adam joined the House of God at age twenty-one to escape issues he wrestled with concerning his own sexuality. He has spent his life basically running away from his true self.

Now in his forties, he currently leads a rural parish having been transferred from the lively city of Warsaw, and is still tormented by desire. To make matters even more difficult he mentors troubled young men with lots of testosterone.

When Adam attempts to help troubled teen Lukasz (Kościukiewicz), long-suppressed feelings begin to surface as the men grow closer. A townsperson catches wind of possible shenanigans and Adam is transferred yet again to another location. This has happened before. But, will Adam and Lukasz have a chance at happiness if they play their cards right?

The obvious comparison of In the Name of is to Brokeback Mountain (2005) which set the standard and paved the way for many LGBTQ+ films to be made. All of Adam’s and Lukasz’s dalliances, and there are romantic suggestions, but nothing animalistic is secretive. Both men are repressed but are at different stages of life.

I can’t say In the Name of hits the mark in this regard because the film is less about a male romance than about the characters being unhappy. In fact, it’s not until the end of the film that any blossoming develops between Adam and Lukasz. I wanted more meat between the characters, pun intended but was left knowing almost nothing about Lukasz specifically.

I also yearned for more backstory from three supporting characters. Ewa (Maja Ostaszewska), an attractive local woman, flirts with Adam and the coach on occasion and drinks too much, later regretting her actions. How does she happen to be in the town and why is she without a man already? Is the coach gay or straight? It is suggested he is gay but this remains unclear. Finally, Blondi is a bleached blonde troubled boy played by Tomasz Schuchardt. He beds another boy and senses Adam’s sexuality filling Blondi with venom. I wanted to know more about Blondi.

Despite these slight yearnings for more the film is very good. Chyra does a terrific acting job in the main role of Adam and easily wins over the audience who will root for his happiness. During a great scene, the typically reserved Adam explodes with self-deprecating rage while on a video call with his sympathetic sister. He struggles for self-acceptance that many of the LGBTQ+ community can relate to.

I sense that having seen In the Name of when it was originally released in 2013 would have made the experience even more powerful. By 2021 the cinema world has been saturated with films containing similar story points and religious conflict issues so that appears a commonality rather than originality.

But I’ll never complain about too many LGBTQ+ films being made.

Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and recommend it to anyone seeking a quality character-driven experience.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire-2019

Portrait of a Lady on Fire-2019

Director-Céline Sciamma

Starring-Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel

Scott’s Review #1,114

Reviewed February 19, 2021

Grade: A-

A film with tremendous artistry and a cool LGBTQ+ vibe, gay director Céline Sciamma interestingly deliver the goods with Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019). She takes modern-looking actors and transplants them to the era of France during the late 18th century. The film tells the story of a forbidden affair between an aristocrat and a painter commissioned to paint her portrait.

The viewer will ask themselves the following questions. What would become of two young gay women in this long-ago age? How many people repressed their true feelings and desires because of the times they lived in? Would their different classes and backgrounds cause strife within their burgeoning relationship? I know I constantly asked myself these questions.

To those with limited cinematic patience be forewarned. A Portrait of a Lady on Fire is very slow and plodding. I didn’t mind this aspect but some might. The payoff is not bombastic in an act of violence or an explosion sort of way but it’s well worth the effort put in.

In a common approach in modern film that is feeling more standard than special, the first scene actually postdates the events in the rest of the film so that we sort of know-how events will turn out. But we do not know the how’s and the why’s. It is immediately assumed that one character has suffered some loss or misfortune related to a painting.

Painter, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is summoned to a remote island inhabited by very few people. She is commissioned to paint the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haene) who is destined to be married to a nobleman in Milan, Italy. Héloïse is depressed and despondent, wanting nothing to do with her intended whom she has not met. The portrait is a gift to the never-seen husband-to-be. It is revealed that Héloïse’s sister leaped to her death from the cliffs on the family estate so it’s suggested throughout that she may suffer the same fate.

Needless to say, Marianne and Héloïse fall madly in love.

Their love is hardly ever a question as the chemistry is immediately noticed. Sciamma, who wrote the screenplay, avoids stereotypes that would give away the sexuality of the main characters. They are not butch nor do they possess masculine qualities. In fact, we wonder if they are bisexual? They never struggle with their sexuality, a dramatic cliche in other LGBTQ+ films.

I adore this because it makes the love story more powerful rather than one character pursuing the conflicted other.

As brilliant and artistic as I found Portrait of a Lady on Fire to be there are a couple of unexplained or unclear aspects. I am not even sure how they relate to the main story.

Waifish housemaid Sophie has an abortion with assistance from Marianne and Héloïse. Later, the three go to a bonfire gathering where women sing, during which Héloïse’s dress briefly catches fire (just as shown in the painting featured in the beginning). When Sophie is having the abortion there is an infant and child nearby. Are they her children? Who are the women who sing?

I didn’t understand the point of these items.

Fortunately, these missteps can be forgiven for the grander piece is amazing filmmaking. The final shot of Héloïse sitting in a theater is phenomenal and clearly borrowed from Call Me By Your Name (2017) which featured an identical scene. The camera focuses on the face of actress Haene as she emits many emotions during the flawless scene. What a win for an actor!

Despite some side story flaws, I adored Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019). The film is exceptionally shot and almost all shots could be portraits in their own right. Especially lovely are the beach sequences as when Marianne and Héloïse first ignite the flames of their passion. My takeaway is that it tells the story of fate but doesn’t feel like a downer. Rather, it feels like life.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

The Prom-2020

The Prom-2020

Director-Ryan Murphy 

Starring-Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman

Scott’s Review #1,101

Reviewed January 17, 2021

Grade: A

Hollywood legends Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman take on singing and dancing roles in the lovely and timely film, The Prom (2020). James Corden joins them in a prominent role in a musical based on the popular and recent Broadway production of the same name. The LGBTQ+ storyline is important and powerful but doesn’t overshadow the colors and the fun. The message is perfectly incorporated in the delicious comedy romp.

The Prom reminds me of John Waters Hairspray from 1988 or even the fun remake from 2007. Instead of racism, the topic is now homophobia, with a few characters rebuffing the lifestyle. Most of the performances are over-the-top, but the film works on all levels. The one-liners are crackling and polished, especially by Streep and Corden.

As should be the case, the homophobic characters are written as fools and finally come to realize the error of their ways.

Director, Ryan Murphy, has become a favorite of mine for creating both extremely dark and light-hearted projects that usually slant towards LGBTQ+ recognition and inclusion. His treasured FX series American Horror Story (2011-present) and miniseries The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story are excellent examples of this. I drool with anticipation over what his next offering might be.

High school student, Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman), wants to bring a female date to the upcoming prom. Chaos has erupted after the head of the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association), Mrs. Green (Kerry Washington) has canceled the prom. The setting is Indiana and the same gender coupling conflicts with the town’s traditional beliefs and values. Little does she know that her daughter, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) is Emma’s secret girlfriend. The school principal, Tom Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key) supports Emma and has leaked the story to social media outlets.

Meanwhile, in sophisticated New York City, snooty broadway stars Dee Dee Allen (Streep) and Barry Glickman (Corden) are devastated when their new musical flops. They join forces with struggling performers Angie Dickinson (Kidman) and Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells) and take a bus trip with the cast of Godspell to remote Indiana to champion Emma’s cause, and drum up sympathy from their fans and critics.

The rest of the film is as one might expect with bursts of song and dance combined with teaching the stuffy residents of small-town Indiana to accept and embrace Emma and her LGBTQ+ brethren. Amid a flurry of misunderstandings, mainly between newly dating Tom and Dee Dee, Emma and Alyssa, and Alyssa and her mother, a lavish prom is funded for the town, high school students straight and gay, to flock to and co-mingle in unity.

While The Prom is sheer fantasy and real-life doesn’t usually work out so perfectly, the sentiment is meaningful and the film takes a progressive stance.

I adore the song and dance numbers with my favorites being rapturous “It’s Time to Dance” and “Tonight Belongs to You”. They match well with the meaningful “The Acceptance Song”.

My curiosity wonders how residents of Indiana or other small towns might react to The Prom. While the film depicts a stuffy, close-minded viewpoint by many of the residents- besides the ones already mentioned, two male students, and two cheerleaders bully and ridicule Emma, other characters like Emma’s grandmother (Mary Kay Place) are kind and accepting. The bullying is a soft touch and Murphy keeps the plot light.

The contrasts of Dee Dee and Barry’s derision of Edgewater is comical and delightful, the main fun of the film. Dee Dee has never heard of the restaurant, Applebees, or knows not what it is. Barry and Dee Dee are horrified to have to stay in the local hotel because it is beneath their standards. The hotel is pretty nice.

A beautiful moment occurs towards the end of the film when Barry reunites with his mother, played by Tracey Ullman. Distant for years because of his parent’s inability to accept him as gay, the old woman comes to terms, and the two reunite with tears. A sad reality is that the dad still cannot come to terms with his son’s sexuality. This is surprising and hurtful that some parents still have a tough time with lifestyle choices in the year 2020.

The Prom has heart and the side story of the blossoming romance between Dee Dee and Tom, opposites, is charming and sweet.  Learning to curb her narcissism and doing for others as tough as that might be for her, Streep is a hoot and has tremendous chemistry with Key. The interracial match is a bonus for a film keen on promoting diversity and inclusion.

Related to this, one preposterous notice is the small Indiana town having oodles of Hispanic, black, and Asian townspeople. A real small town in Indiana would almost certainly be 99% white. But, the message is diversity so Murphy does what he sets out to do. I just don’t feel it’s accurate.

Those desiring a pulsating, riotous comedy musical with snippets of cutting humor are in for a treat with The Prom (2020). The musical numbers may fade and are not as memorable as instantly recognizable songs from classics like West Side Story (1961) or The Music Man (1962), but enough is on the table for pure enjoyment for the entire family. And the strong message is enough reason to tune in.

Keep the Lights On-2012

Keep The Lights On-2012

Director-Ira Sachs

Starring-Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth

Scott’s Review #1,100

Reviewed January 16, 2021

Grade: A

With such a healthy dose of LGBTQ+ films released during the 2010’s, most independent productions, enough exists to please nearly everyone striving for good diversity in film. Over the years in cinema, it was tough to find specific genre films, rather being forced to seek out subtle clues that filmmakers would incorporate. LGBTQ+ films are now a dime a dozen, which is good but makes some films fall under the radar.

Keep The Lights On (2012) is a romantic drama, rather mysterious, about two men and the nine-year-long love affair they share. It’s not a happy watch because drug addiction is a large part of the story. It portrays the men as human beings with passion, feelings, and experiencing joys and pains, instead of being written as caricatures or comic relief. This is progress, and worthy of much praise.

The only issue with the film is that by 2012, and the decade as a whole, there were so many similar films being made that there’s not enough to distinguish it from other high profile works. The LGBTQ bar was set very high with Brokeback Mountain in 2006, and recent offerings like Carol (2015) and Moonlight (2016) thrust the LGBTQ+ community into the spotlight. Keep The Lights On has many positives, especially cinematically, but it risks getting lost in the shuffle matched up against other genre films. Advisable, is to check out this gem.

It might best be compared to the exceptional same-sex love story, Call Me By Your Name (2017). Both are character-driven and are both happy and tragic.

Keep The Lights On is technically an American film. It feels like an international film, though, because it centers around a Danish filmmaker who lives in New York City. Erik (Thure Lindhardt) is a troubled, creative soul, struggling to complete a documentary about an artist named Avery Willard. He meets and enters into a loving but complicated long-term relationship with Paul (Zachary Booth), a lawyer in the publishing industry who struggles with drug addiction. Therein lies the complicated nature of their relationship. They are bonded but plagues with outside challenges. It begins in 1998 and ends in 2006.

They meet via a phone sex chatline which adds to the sexual mystique. Erik is gay and happily out, but Paul indulges in both men and women and is conflicted sexually. He gets Erik high. Will he lead Erik down a dark path? Will Paul clean up his act or die? Erik and Paul bed numerous other men throughout the story. This is an intriguing addition to the complicated events.

Since the film is about a filmmaker it ought to include cool and inventive camera angles and trimmings, and it does. Ira Sachs, an American director, provides flourishing shots of New York City and gazes through the lens of an actual creative spirit, which justifies the character of Erik.

The story builds quite slowly and plenty of times I awaited something exciting to happen. But real-life is compiled of many small moments and I loved how the film simply is instead of big momentous scenes being added for effect.  The audience is meant to root for Erik and Paul to trot into happily ever after territory. This may or may not happen. Keep The Lights On has a vague ending open to interpretation.

Erik and Paul look similar to each other which I found very interesting. They say that many same-sex couples are attracted to individuals who look like themselves. I’m not sure how true this is, but I wondered if Sachs had a point to make. Can a person have multiple sides to themselves they see through other people? Keep The Lights On is told more from Erik’s perspective and seeing in Paul the dark side of himself.

Key to the honesty that exudes from Keep The Lights On is that the story is based on Sach’s relationship with a publisher he met and fell in love with. The truthfulness comes across on screen, which is a main appeal to the overall experience. I love the title which can be interpreted in a few different ways, especially once the conclusion is upon us.

I admire the fact that Keep The Lights On (2012) was made and the characters provide a longing and yearning that is quite humanistic. It feels like it was created based on fact rather than a studio idea conjured up around a boardroom table. Ira Sachs creates an excellent, quiet film about two men and the love story they share. Their troubles come and go but their passion and bond never waver.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Ira Sachs, Best Male Lead-Thure Lindhardt, Best Screenplay

J. Edgar-2011

J. Edgar-2011

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts

Scott’s Review #1,099

Reviewed January 12, 2021

Grade: A

When director Clint Eastwood and actor Leonardo DiCaprio align, exceptional things can happen. This is evidenced by J. Edgar (2011), a compelling and well-constructed drama with a biographical and character driven focus. One gets inside the head and psyche of the title character, J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, with DiCaprio playing him flawlessly.

The film is left-of-center, surprising for the mainstream director, though his film-making style is familiar. Eastwood does what he does best by constructing a slick and “Hollywood” experience. There are not the daring camera angles or unique uses of light that Kubrick might use.  He creates a steady affair that will appeal to the American heartland, getting viewer’s butts to the movie theater on his name alone.

The film opens in 1919, when a young Hoover (DiCaprio) is tasked with purging radicals from the United States and obtaining their secrets, something he’d carry with him for decades. He meets a new Secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), who he makes an awkward pass at, and an even more awkward marriage proposal. She refuses, and they become professional and personal allies. The story then plods along with historical stops through the decades like the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, Martin Luther King Jr., and Richard Nixon. Hoover is always involved in these escapades.

Hoover, who served as the head of the bureau from 1924 until his death in 1972, was a powerful and ruthless man. Eastwood carefully dissects him, professionally and personally. He never married, lived with his mother, traveled and enjoyed dinners with one man who in death, bequeathed his estate to. You do the math. He was a gay man when one couldn’t be an openly gay man. Thus, he is conflicted, and Eastwood does a great job at showing the demons he wrestled with.

The relationship between Hoover and lawyer, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) is my favorite part of J. Edgar because it is interesting and humanistic. DiCaprio and Hammer give outstanding performances with flawless chemistry and charisma. When Hoover professes his love for Tolson and quickly recants his statement then professes love for an actress, we view his turmoil. He loves Tolson but cannot bear to accept it even though it would free him from his chains.

Despite the tender nature of the sequence above or that his mother was a traditional, no-nonsense, shrew, Hoover is not portrayed as a hero. He was a complicated and damaged man and Eastwood hits this point home. He blackmailed Martin Luther King Jr., kept sexual secrets on several Hollywood stars, and participated in various abuses of power. The film does admit that the director also instituted fingerprinting and forensic measures that reduced crime.

Those who desire a straight-forward lesson in history may be slightly perturbed by the focus on Hoover’s personal life. Eastwood could have easily made Hoover’s career the only facet of the production-enough material exists for this. But instead, we get to see the inner working of the man. Kudos for this.

Dustin Lance Black, who wrote Milk (2008), a portrait of a gay man, is back at the helm serving as screenwriter. But the two films are not modeled after one another. They are very different animals. While Milk celebrates a man refusing to deny who he and others are, demanding their just civil rights, J. Edgar provides the narrative of a man fleeing from who he is.

Offering a rich and complex biography of a tortured man, the audience is exposed to a person wrestling with inner turmoil. Hoover was a famous man, but the film could easily represent those thousands of men who could not bring themselves to accept who they really were. Largest praise goes to DiCaprio who makes us sympathize, pity, and admire the complexities of his character. J. Edgar (2011) hits a grand slam.

The Boys in the Band-2020

The Boys in the Band-2020

Director-Joe Mantello

Starring-Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer

Scott’s Review #1,073

Reviewed October 21, 2020

Grade: A-

One may ask themselves why bother checking out the 2020 version of the legendary (and dark!) 1970 stage turned cinematic rendition of the sniping and vicious gay drama The Boys in the Band? Mostly because of the wonderful cast- a cast featuring the troupe who starred in the recent 2018 stage revival. But more than that the film feels surprisingly modern and relevant and provides a message of hope that the original did not contain.

Crucial and historical to point out is that every principle actor is openly gay and their characters are gay, or bisexual. My, how much progress has been made for actors when not too long ago an “out” actor risked both reputation and career for the price of his truth. This is monumental.

The remake wisely keeps to the crucial time-period of 1968, and really, how could a modern setting work at all? Being gay in 1968 is nothing like being gay in 2020, I don’t care if it is the Upper East Side of Manhattan. To bring this film to any other time would diminish its power and importance. If anything, it makes one proud how far the LGBTQ+ community has come, though there are further advancements left to make.

Alas, the Vietnam era is safely intact, during a time when a strip of gay bars and a group of gay friends were the only thing to keep a gay man from going crazy regardless of how abusive they were. This will hopefully teach young gay viewers, or anyone else, what being a gay male was like over 50 years ago. When the rest of the world was deemed “normal” and you were cast aside as either a sexual deviant or a head case this is powerful. Self-hatred, denial, or the closet were commonalities.

The Boys in the Band has no females save for a blink and you’ll miss it moment featuring a snooty neighbor. Important to realize is that the film is pre A.I.D.S epidemic in a time of carefree love and endless hookups, where booze and drugs were a necessary escape and usual was to feel out of sorts on a regular basis.

A few characters are effeminate. One is presumably bisexual and closeted, and one is masculine and recently divorced from a woman, now cohabiting with a male lover, one is black, and one is an escort. Each character comes from a different walk of life but are bonded. The running of the gamut of unique types and personalities is part of why I love this story.

The events commence one evening when Michael (Jim Parsons) throws a birthday party for friend Harold (Zachary Quinto) at his apartment. They are joined by other friends Donald (Matt Bomer), Hank (Tuc Watkins), Larry (Andrew Rannalls), Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington), Emory (Robin de Jesus).  Guests include Cowboy (Charlie Carver), a “birthday present” for Harold, and Alan (Brian Hutchison), a college friend of Michael’s. As the booze flows talk gets vicious and the claws come out.

The men, prompted by a drunken Michael, play a daring game of “telephone”. Each guest is dared to call the one person he truly believes he has loved. With each call, past scars and present anxieties are revealed in tortuous fashion. This is when the film really gets interesting. Bernard and Emory bear the brunt the hardest as their phone calls take a tremendous toll on each.

Parsons and Quinto are the standouts. As the lead, the character of Michael seems stable at first. He is stylish, well-dressed, and lives in a reputable apartment. Though unemployed, he once traveled the world. Parsons slowly unleashes the vicious fury contained within Michael the more he drinks. He enjoys hurting others just as he has been hurt. The catalyst to his character is Alan. Are they in love? Is Michael in love with Alan? Alan takes a fancy to masculine Hank.

Quinto, as Harold the self-professed “ugly, pock-marked Jew fairy”, is becoming increasingly morose about losing his youthful looks and his ability to attract cute young men. The catalyst to his character is Cowboy, who has those qualities that Harold lacks. Strangely, Harold and Michael are best friends, both loving and hating each other. After brutalizing each other with words, Harold exits the apartment announcing he will call Michael tomorrow. They’ve been through this before and probably will again.

No, The Boys in the Band circa 2020 is not quite on par with The Boys in the Band circa 1970, but this is merely because brilliance is a tough act to replicate. The modern telling is an absolute joy and will hopefully recruit fresh audiences to the perils and brutality is was to be gay in another time.

Thanks to Ryan Murphy for adapting this project to Netflix as part of his United States $300 million deal with the streaming platform.

Sunday Bloody Sunday-1971

Sunday Bloody Sunday-1971

Director-John Schlesinger

Starring-Glenda Jackson, Peter Finch, Murray Head

Scott’s Review #1,062

Reviewed September 15, 2020

Grade: A

Whether it’s the late 1960’s style or the British sophistication or the ahead of its time subject matter, John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) is a brazen and mature piece of filmmaking. With fantastic acting mostly on the part of Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch, the film is subdued enough to contain the drama while letting the underlying plot marinate and flourish rather than being forced or overdone.

That’s not to say Sunday Bloody Sunday is an easy watch. The main characters stew and simmer rather than explode as the audience comes to grips with their feelings, emotions, and motivations as painful as they can be. Schlesinger offers the complexities of the characters as we get inside their heads during multiple scenes as cameras carefully pan in on their facial expressions. The intention is to read their minds or think we know what they are thinking.

The three characters featured are Alex (Glenda Jackson), a divorced and restless recruitment worker, a young, free-spirited artist, Bob (Murray Head), and a gay, Jewish, doctor named Daniel (Peter Finch). Bob openly dates both Alex and Daniel, who are aware of the existence of the other and even have common friends. Instead of scheming against the other in hopes of poisoning their character with Bob, they deal with acceptance and a host of other emotions.

A triangle ensues, though not one with a clear couple to root for, nor is it clear who we want to root for. Sunday Bloody Sunday is not that trite or simplistic and this is the beauty of the film. Each character can be analyzed for individual motivations, peculiarities, and desires that sometimes overlap. The added perk of one character being straight, one character being bisexual, and one character being gay only adds flavor and lustful desire. Sunday Bloody Sunday is a character study if ever there was one.

Screenwriter, Penelope Gilliatt, writes a piece so bristling with the unpredictability that the characters and situations are deep and troubling. My favorite character is Daniel, the most adjusted of the three, but a character who would typically be written as the most maladjusted. Schlesinger had directed the brilliant Midnight Cowboy (1969) two mere years earlier, a film that depicted gay characters as troubled and self-hating. Gilliatt crafts Daniel as confident, successful, and masculine, avoiding all stereotypes.

I immediately had thoughts of Ken Russell’s masterpiece, Women in Love, made only one year earlier in 1970, and starring Jackson. Featuring four characters rather than only three, both films are British and feature the complexities of sexual orientation, jealousy, and loneliness. Women in Love is a slightly better film, but only by a small margin, probably because there is one additional character to consider. Both charter then barely touched territory when it was still taboo to explore homosexuality in film.

Adorable is a scene at a Bar Mitzvah given to Daniel’s nephew. As the merriment commences several women are bound to be interested in Daniel, what with him being a successful doctor. He doesn’t have any interest naturally, but politely makes small talk with one woman. The scene is so natural and at ease that it is wonderful and reaffirming to see a gay character treated with such dignity and richness, his problems not being a result of being gay but of being a human being.

Daniel and Alex compete for Bob’s affections but in a polite way. Instead of hating each other, they hate the situation. Bob is not the nicest guy in the world so the question can be raised as to why they both feel the way they do about him. But this hardly matters when the heart wants what it wants. The most interesting and realistic scenes occur when each couple lies in bed together or makes small talk over a meal. This offers a glimpse of what day-to-day treasures they each could enjoy.

For those in the mood for a film rife with emotion and psychologically complex feelings wrapped inside a good drama will find Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) a pure treat. Trimmings like glimpses of the gorgeous city of London lend themselves to added nuances. Each time this film is viewed it could easily be watched from the perspective of either Alex, Bob, or Daniel.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-John Schlesinger, Best Actor-Peter Finch, Best Actress-Glenda Jackson, Best Original Screenplay

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood-2018

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood-2018

Director-Matt Tyrnauer

Starring-Scotty Bowers

Scott’s Review #1,048

Reviewed August 3, 2020

Grade: B+

Based on the scandalous tell-all novel from 2012, “Full Service”, a clever play on words of the fetishist subject matter, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2018) is a juicy, entertaining documentary about one man’s experiences managing the deepest and darkest secrets of Hollywood’s glamorous A-list stars.

The documentary is gossipy and dripping with saucy details and is also a titillating affair, grabbing hold of the viewer and leaving them wondering who did what with whom? Any audience member who doesn’t desire to learn the sexual appetites of greats like Katharine Hepburn and Carey Grant is either lying or repressing themselves.

Scotty Bowers, who served as an unpaid pimp from the 1940’s through the 1980’s is today a spry ninety-something-year-old who gets around like a man in his seventy’s and even climbs a ladder now and then (carefully!). He served in the United States Marines during World War II and decided to go to Hollywood directly after, landing a job at a gas station, eventually owning it. He and closeted military friends became confidantes and aids to stars preferring same sex entanglements. Scotty, clearly either bi-sexual or “gay for pay” is now married to a woman.

Before viewers pass judgment and think of Scotty as merely a pervert or sexual deviant looking for favor with the stars, a closer examination reveals the heroism of a man such as Scotty. Without him many stars and their sexual conquests would have had no outlet to express themselves or their sexuality. While hidden and contained, they were allowed some brief freedom to be themselves and explore desires otherwise left unfulfilled leading to further depression, drug use, or suicides. Closeted gays had to endure enough as it was.

The director of the project, Matt Tyrnauer, wisely segments the Hollywood portions of the documentary into two sections, the then and the now. He explains how different the industry was in the 1940’s when a scandal or an outing would have ruined a star’s career. While those in the scene were “in the know” and cavalier about the tastes of a Hepburn or a Grant, the small-town public would have cast stones.

Now, as shown, things are very different, and a bevy of entertainers are out and proud. As Scotty, yes still working at ninety-years-old, makes appearances at book signings and meet-and-greets, he occasionally skirmishes with an upset fan who feels Scotty’s revelations will hurt the star’s surviving family members. I feel that truth is truth and have no issues with the stories or any doubt that the secrets Scotty spills are true.

The personal side to Scotty is left murky. An admitted opportunist left unclear is Scotty’s true motivations. He is a humorous man and laughs at his own wise cracks, fondly driving down memory lane with former hustlers. His wife adores him but prefers not to read his book or pay much attention to his life before he met her since he never admitted this side of himself. Some tension exists between the pair but is it merely bickering or unresolved tensions bubbling beneath the surface?

The documentary lags slightly when it spends too much time and energy on Scotty’s hoarding obsession. He owns a house filled with stuff collected over the years leaving it uninhabitable. After a couple of separate occurrences related to this issue, I thought to myself, “who cares”? as it parlays too far from the delicious topic at hand.

As of July 2020, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2018), the documentary, has been purchased to be developed into a feature film based on Bowers’ life. Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name-2017), is hired to direct. An acclaimed director familiar with telling a truthful and poignant LGBTQ story, will assuredly do wonders to bring honesty and delight to the silver screen. One can hardly wait.

Law of Desire-1987

Law of Desire-1987

Director-Pedro Almodovar

Starring-Antonio Banderas, Eusebio Poncela, Carmen Maura

Scott’s Review #1,021

Reviewed May 8, 2020

Grade: B+

Law of Desire or La ley del Deseo (as translated in original Spanish) is a 1987 film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Quite groundbreaking for its time and penned by a respected director, the film was rich in offering what was rarely presented in films during the 1980’s- a complex love triangle between two men and a trans woman. The fact that the trans woman is the sister of one of the men is a bonus to the buttery soap opera premise.

In 2020, when LGBTQ+ films are more plentiful in cinema (at least at the indie level), Law of Desire suffers slightly from a dated feel and parts drag along. It’s tough to heavily criticize a piece so brazen as this one was when it was released to art-house theaters and musty metropolitan theaters. As groundbreaking as the film must be given credit for, the story now feels sillier than it should, and more outlandish than it probably intended to be over thirty years ago.

The fabulous setting of Madrid, Spain is the backdrop for the luscious tale of love, obsession, jealousy, and revenge, think the prime-time television series Dynasty on steroids. Cocky Pablo (Eusebio Poncela), a successful gay film director with his pick from a bevy of young, good-looking gay males, is madly in love with Juan (Miguel Molina), though he has a roving eye. Suave Antonio (Antonio Banderas), who comes from a conservative family, is new to the gay scene and falls madly in love with Pablo when Juan goes to find himself. Tina (Carmen Maura), who likes men and women, has just been dumped and is vulnerable.

Besides the obvious daring gender-bending, this story could be a simple one told many times across many genres. Almodóvar spins things into a frenzy as the plot unfolds adding manipulations, sub-plots, and bizarre characters into the mix.  For example, Ada is Tina’s surrogate daughter and is a precocious ten-year-old girl in love with Pablo. Ada refuses to go back with her mother (Bibi Andersen) when she comes back to whisk her off to Milan to meet a man she just met.

The gay subtext is what is center stage here. Back in the 1980s, the term LGBTQ+ was on nobody’s radar, and having any representation at all in cinema was still territory barely scratching the surface. This point kept returning to me over the course of the film and imagining how fresh the experience would have been to any gay man or gay woman fortunate enough to have seen it. I am not sure any of the characters would serve as great role models, but the representation is nice. Almodóvar adds in a good deal of naked flesh for an added treat.

Several comic scenes arise with gusto. Antonio, who lives at home with a religious zealot of a mother, convinces Pablo to sign his letters from “Laura P”, a character from his latest play, to trick Antonio’s nosy mama. Tina, not much of an actress, is cast in Pablo’s one-woman theatrical productions. She thinks her performance is great, Pablo thinks she stinks. The comical moments are the ones that work best, giving the plentiful offbeat characters a chance to let loose and shine.

Towards the conclusion, Law of Desire takes a tragic and Shakespearean turn. A drunken Juan is thrown off a cliff to his death prompting an investigation with Antonio and Pablo both prime suspects. Finally, a kidnapping and police stand-off ensues with a murder/suicide providing the film’s final moments.

I am not a fan of the title that Almodóvar chooses. Preferable would be a title that is a bit more titillating. Even Lust of Desire or Object of My Desire would have been better choices. Law of Desire screams of a tepid episode of television’s Law & Order. For a director with such an outlandish approach and such bizarre characters, the title is bland, banal, and tough to remember.

Those seeking a kinky and provocative late-night affair will find Law of Desire (1987) a good old time. It lacks much of a clear message instead providing a sexy romp and dreary ending. Running the gamut of adding musical score pieces as unique as the 1970s The Conformist, a film also shrouded in same-sex desire, to cheesy 1980’s synth laden beats, adds some confusion. Nonetheless, diversity and inclusiveness are good recipes to chow down on and celebrate.

Death in Venice-1971

Death in Venice-1971

Director-Luchino Visconti

Starring-Dirk Bogarde, Romolo Valli

Scott’s Review #1,014

Reviewed April 22, 2020

Grade: A

Death in Venice (1971) is a haunting and tragic story of a depressed middle-aged man who becomes obsessed with a fourteen-year-old Polish boy while on holiday in Venice. The story on the surface is dark and dour and not for the judgmental or the closed-minded. With a deeper dive and a haunting musical score, the film provides beauty and impressionism. The film is based on the original novella Death in Venice, written by German author Thomas Mann, published in 1912 as Der Tod in Venedig.

Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) is a lonely composer who travels to Venice for health reasons and a recipe for recovery. His maladies are unclear at the start but are assumed to be sent to the picturesque city as a form of therapy. While enjoying a tranquil holiday, he spots and becomes obsessed with the stunning, youthful beauty of Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen), who is staying with his family at the luxurious Grand Hôtel des Bains, just as Gustav is. Their encounters run rampant as they are viewed by the audience from afar but never speak to each other.

This is the brilliance of Death in Venice. A more standard approach may have been to make the story more forceful. If Gustav dared to have approached, harassed, or even molested Tadzio, the direction of the film would have vastly changed, and he would have been deemed a pervert. Suddenly the film would have been about a pedophile preying on a youngster, rather than incorporating a beautiful subtext of longing and unfulfilled passion. The masterful classical numbers that open and close the film help to achieve this mindset.

The controversial subject matter, still taboo by today’s progressive standards, is not gratuitous but is quite obsessive. Worthy of mention is that Gustav’s plight begins harmless enough as he appreciates a beautiful image, almost like gazing at a sculpture- think Michelangelo’s David-since we are in Italy. But when he begins to follow Tadzio and see him more and more his desperation increases as his health deteriorates. For a while, it is unclear whether the boy even realizes he is an object of affection. It is Gustav’s feelings and emotions that are most explored.

As a side-story, the city of Venice is gripped by a cholera epidemic, and the city authorities do not inform the holiday-makers of the problem for fear that they will flee the vital city. In 2020, with the vicious Covid-19 pandemic gripping the world with savage ferocity, this classic film takes on whole new importance. When the Venice officials downplay the epidemic as tourists increasingly fall ill, a modern realism is conjured to the audience.

Death in Venice, as the title should make clear, is not a love story, otherwise, it would be called Love in Venice. Gustav’s lust for Tadzio is unrequited. Neither is Gustav’s own sexuality clear, though he is assumed to be bisexual. In one of the film’s saddest scenes, also the finale, Gustav lounges on the sandy beach in ill health dressed in an improper white suit. He sees Tadzio playfully frolicking with an older boy and afterward walks away and turns back to look at Gustavo. As Tadzio outreaches his arms towards the water, Gustav does the same as if he is enveloping the boy. The moment is breathtaking.

Many symbolic and meaningful scenes occur like when Gustav visits a barber who insists he will return his customer to his youth. The results are ghastly. Dyeing his grey hair black and whitening his face and reddening his lips to try and make him look younger leaves a macabre and somber image of a man feebly attempting to turn back the hands of time, something all of us can relate to. His heavily made-up face is meant to hide his insecurities.

Incorporating an ingenious mix of beauty, tragedy, obsession, and loneliness, Italian director, Luchino Visconti crafts a brilliant and painful dissection of human emotion. The subject matter of Death in Venice (1971) will not appeal to all viewers, but those brave enough to traverse the sometimes-rocky waters will find an underlying treasure and a meaningful cinematic experience.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design

Giant Little Ones-2019

Giant Little Ones-2019

Director-Keith Behrman

Starring-Josh Wiggins, Darren Mann

Scott’s Review #1,000

Reviewed March 13, 2020

Grade: B+

Giant Little Ones (2019) is an independent LGBTQ film about both coming to terms with one’s own sexuality and accepting and embracing other people for whom they love, and how they wish to spend their life. It’s an honest and resilient coming-of-age story, most reminiscent (but rawer) of the recent Love, Simon (2018), told from a teenager’s perspective and the pressures and emotions of youth. The subject matter has been done to death at this point in cinema but there is still something fresh and meaningful that is offered.

High school chums Franky Winter (Josh Wiggins) and Ballas Kohl (Darren Mann) have been best friends since diapers. They joke around, go bike-riding, and knock back a six-pack together. They are handsome, integral parts of the swim team, and popular with girls. Each has a steady girlfriend who they anticipate soon going all the way with. Any teenage miscast would love to trade their lives with the boys.

On the night of Franky’s seventeenth birthday party, Franky and Ballas get drunk together and spend the night crashing in the same bed. An unclear incident, sexual in nature, occurs, changing and damaging their friendship. Each boy has one sister and a set of parents, but Franky’s are more prominent, with a story of their own. His father, Ray (Kyle MacLachlan) divorced Franky’s mother, Carly (Mario Bello) after coming to terms with being gay.

While the focal point is on the teen set, and on Franky more than Ballas, it is nice to see parents in these types of films with more to do than pour coffee or dole out unheeded advice. MacLachlan and Bello are fascinating to watch, carefully distant from each other, but also having a mutual respect. Both character’s struggles are pointed out- Carly angrily lashing out that Ray was certainly not gay when she married him; Ray experiencing guilt at wounding Franky emotionally.

The film is careful, admiringly so, to include two high school students who are already outwardly gay. The characters are not ridiculed or repressed, and one, Franky’s best friend Mouse (Niamh Wilson) is assumed to be slowly coming to terms with being transgender. The other is a popular boy on the swim team. These representations are strong, though both characters face some level of opposition, so their plights are not easy.

The best and most heartfelt scene is when Franky and Ray reconnect as father and son in treasured dialogue where Ray explains how he met his partner. The beautiful moment blossoms because it’s Franky who asks Ray how he and his partner met. Any LGBTQ person can attest to the powerful and heartwarming moment when they are asked about their significant other. The proud look in Ray’s eyes and the quiet cadence in which he carefully warns Franky not to label himself, but rather stick with those he connects to, is lovely and sentimental.

I like how Giant Little Ones is not a love story between the two boys and ambiguous is not only whether their friendship can be fixed, but whether one or both is gay, bi-sexual, curious, or merely experimenting with their individual sexuality. The film avoids labels or boasting a clear-cut angle avoiding anything too preachy or defined. This supports its overall point.

A small criticism is that, despite the boys being best friend’s and on equal footing, Franky becomes the central character and Ballas is not explored very well. Ballas borders on sociopathic behavior and has a ton of anger, but why? Is it only his sexuality? The character remains mostly a mystery and I was dying to know more about him and what makes him tick.

Giant Little Ones (2019) is a heartfelt and intimate coming-of-age story about friendship, self-discovery, and the power of love without labels. The young actors are both natural, believable, and earnest, and the seasoned supporting cast lends credibility to a very small, low-budget picture. The LGBTQ community will embrace this film while anyone else will be touched by its honesty and poignancy.

Angels of Sex-2012

Angels of Sex-2012

Director-Xavier Villaverde

Starring-Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Alvaro Cervantes, Llorenc Gonzalez

Scott’s Review #934

Reviewed August 23, 2019

Grade: C

Angels of Sex (2012) is a Spanish LGBT drama that attempts to create an intriguing romantic relationship between its characters, but slowly teeters into a plot driven soap opera mess, leaving the viewer unsatisfied.  Casting good-looking actors and showing plenty of skin only goes so far before one’s attention span begins to wane and start yearning for more depth, which never comes in this film. The film-makers do get some props for crafting a diversity film, but the story ultimately sucks.

The urban setting of Barcelona, Spain is the backdrop of the film as student, Bruno (Llorenc Gonzalez), is saved by karate instructor, Rai (Alvaro Cerventes), and begins to question his sexuality as the men grow attracted to one another. Throwing a hurtle into their blissful affair is Bruno’s girlfriend, Carla (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who is drawn to both men while shunning their romantic attraction to one another. The three characters interact and carry on affairs with each other leading to a series of emotions that influence their decisions.

The premise is intriguing, at the beginning of the story anyway, as a “straight man meets gay man” moment immediately occurs, and sparks fly between the men.  When Bruno accepts his attraction to Rai while also continuing his attraction to Carla a unique bisexual premise is offered. Why can’t Bruno spend equal time with Rai and Carla? Which one will he decide to choose or will choose him? Will each of the three be okay with the arrangement? These are the sorts of interesting questions offered by the film until it slips about halfway through.

Each character begins to crumble and become banal and wishy-washy, especially Carla. She accepts the “time-sharing” relationship, but then gets mad when she sees Rai and Bruno kiss, finally falling for Rai and having an affair with him. Huh? This is character assassination 101. Bruno’s motivations become unclear as he hedges on nearly every decision, while Rai becomes more brooding and indecisive. It’s as if the writers did not know which direction to take the characters in or thought their good looks would carry the film.

Other gripes include the title of the film having nothing meaningful to do with the story, and rather seems like a weak effort at gaining some attention (and viewers) by incorporating such a title. Another irritant was the constant inclusion of unknown characters break-dancing to song. Was this necessary? Rai has an interest in the genre, we get that, but the needless scenes seem like attempts to fill time.

A better use of time might have been additional scenes of Carla and her mother. A passing scene or two and an alluded to situation involving Carla’s father cheating on the mother is limiting and could have been an interested sub-plot, perhaps even figuring in to the main story. Carla’s group of friends add little to the film especially her slutty friend bedding two others in the group. The situation seems more like an add-on or a time filler more than rich writing.

Props go to any film with the desire to showcase an LGBT themed story as, despite the film being made in 2012, most LGBT films are still indie projects. I hoped for and expected more from the film especially the culturally interesting location of a European hotbed of sexuality and parties.

Angels of Sex (2012) starts off well until disintegrating into a bad LGBT episode of “As the World Turns” or “Days of our Lives” with poor character writing, unnecessary supporting characters and a feeble attempt at a twist ending that merely turns into a red herring and thereby a disappointment.

BPM (Beats Per Minute)- 2017

BPM (Beats Per Minute)- 2017

Director-Robin Campillo

Starring-Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois

Scott’s Review #884

Reviewed April 11, 2019

Grade: A-

BPM (Beats Per Minute) (2017) is a film that is both exhilarating and heartbreaking to watch. Churning out emotional reactions such as empathy and empowerment the film channels a potential life-saving cause. Of French language and shot documentary style the film is not an easy watch as the viewer is transplanted back to the early 1990’s when the AIDS epidemic was ravaging the world in general and the gay community specifically. A mixture of a community- oriented movement amidst a love story makes this project worthwhile viewing.

The immediate focal point of the story is an impassioned and aggressive Paris based chapter of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), a unified gay and lesbian organization intent on speeding up the French government’s response to the unwieldy AIDS epidemic. The group resorts to extreme public protests consisting of fake blood throwing and invading prominent pharmaceutical company meetings. Their intent is to get them to release trial results immediately instead of waiting until the next year. The various debates and infighting among the chapter are heavily featured.

As the film progresses BPM (Beats Per Minute) slowly shifts its focus from the protests to the personal lives of the ACT UP members as a romance brews between nineteen-year-old HIV positive Sean (Perez Biscayart), who already exhibits visible infections from the disease, and HIV negative Nathan (Valois), a newcomer to the group. The pair quickly become inseparable as Sean’s body becomes ravaged by the disease resulting in a poignant and dire conclusion sure to elicit tears.

Director, Campillo and co-screenwriter Philippe Mangeot drew on their personal experiences with ACT UP in developing the story enriching the authenticity of the experience. Despite being shot in present day the film feels genuine with a 1990’s feel and flavor. The gray Parisian locales though gorgeous and picturesque also portray a sadness and bleakness. As Sean gazes outside we sense his fear and anguish. Through this character Campillo and Mangeot provide personal stories representing the plight of many during that time.

A particularly racy scene erupts approximately halfway through the film as Sean and Nathan’s love story takes center stage. Foreign language films are not known for shying away from nudity or sexuality the way many American films do. As the impassioned pair make love for the first time, little is left to the imagination. Despite the gratuitous nudity and the overt sexual tones, the duo’s relationship is not solely physical, and the audience will undoubtedly come to care for both men the way that I did.

The two-fold story is a wise choice and the overall message that BPM (Beats Per Minute) presents is both inspiring and a good telling of the LGBT community’s struggles at notice and inclusion during the 1980’s and 1990’s. This point is both a positive and a negative as the story beckons back to a day in the community’s history dripping with pain and loneliness and this comes across on film. The film is hardly a happy experience and quite rather the downer.

The main drawback to the film is its length. At nearly two and a half hours the story and principle points begin to become redundant which causes the overall message to lose a bit of thunder. The constant bickering and debate among the ACT UP group becomes tedious to watch as fight and clash after fight and clash resurface repeatedly.

Though painful to experience and not very uplifting, BPM (Beats Per Minute) is an important film to view given how far the treatments of HIV have progressed over several decades. Not taking things for granted, a trip down memory lane for those alive during the epidemic is recommended. For those fortunate enough to have missed the 1980’s and the 1990’s the film is a necessary reminder of how life once was for the unfortunate victim of a devastating epidemic.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

The Favourite-2018

The Favourite-2018

Director-Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring-Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

Scott’s Review #843 

Reviewed December 17, 2018

Grade: A

The Favourite (2018) is a deliciously wicked comedy about greed, jealousy, and rage during early eighteenth century England. The primary rivalry consists between two feuding cousins, each jockeying for position and “favor” with the Queen, both resorting to dire methods to achieve these goals. With splendid acting and grand designs, director Yorgos Lanthimos adds to his growing collection of odd and compelling works with the dark comedy offering.

The film takes place amid the British and French war of 1708 as a physically and mentally ill Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) rules the country by way of her confidante and secret lover, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). Though deals and modifications must be made with the ruling Parliament Anne has final say in all decisions including doubling the state tax to pay for the war. When Abigail (Emma Stone), a distant cousin of the Duchess, and of former royalty herself, arrives seeking work as a servant, she quickly plots her way to the bedside of the Queen at all costs.

Lanthimos, known for such bizarre treats like Dogtooth (2009), The Lobster (2015), and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), is not afraid to get down and dirty and wrestle with macabre subject matter. The Favourite is the director’s most mainstream affair yet and is quickly becoming one of my favorite modern-day film makers. As he now charters into royal territory the possibilities are endless in a world of politics and scheming. Some morose highlights include an abused bunny, naked tomato throwing, and pheasant shooting. The film is not kind to animals.

Despite being a mainstream affair in the world of Lanthimos, The Favourite is a bizarre and brazen experience. The heaps of award nominations are quite remarkable given the film will not be enjoyed by all audiences. Despite categorized as a comedy (see more below) the film is not an easy watch and none of the characters are likable. Abigail is sympathetic at first and quite humorous but as the plot develops her true colors and motivations are exposed. Conversely, Anne and Sarah are initially despicable, but garner support as the story evolves.

The comic elements are the best elements and clever lines come at a deliciously rapid pace. The best dialogue is the sparring between Sarah and Abigail as the women realize they are bitter enemies and each attempt to one-up the other in a chess game for Anne’s attentions. Anne, known for fits of emotion, stuffing her face with cake and vomiting, and berating the servants, offers her own comic wit. The language is salty bordering on vulgar, but that is what makes the experience so stellar and morosely enjoyable.

The musical score adds muscle and the diabolical string arrangements give The Favourite a gruesome, morbid atmosphere. The feeling of dread is prevalent and downright haunting at times as the audience, knowing that some sort of shenanigans will soon occur, does not know when or how. This quality enhances the overall product and gives ambiance to an already superior piece.

Finally, the acting in The Favourite is brilliant and worth the price of admission. With heavyweights like Colman, Stone, and Weisz this is unsurprising, but the gravy is in the individual moments. The chemistry the women share together is what works best as every scene sparkles with exceptional deliver and a sly sense of humor. When the three women appear together-these are the best scenes.

Deserving of all the accolades lauded upon it The Favourite (2018) is an experience that contains all elements of a fine film though one that is quite the unconventional work. With glistening art direction, set pieces that shine with authenticity, and costumes that would make Scarlett O’Hara drool with envy, The Favourite takes all of its parts and spins a crafty tale that encompasses the entire film.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Yorgos Lanthimos, Best Actress-Olivia Colman (won), Best Supporting Actress-Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

Boy Erased-2018

Boy Erased-2018

Director-Joel Edgerton

Starring-Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe

Scott’s Review #834

Reviewed November 22, 2018

Grade: A

Before I ventured to the movie theater to view Boy Erased (2018) I heard from more than a few folks who decided not to see the film due to the difficult subject matter. While parts of the film are admittedly tough to watch and the true story stifling, the overall message is poignant and hopeful, the central character one to be championed. In other words, while a serious matter, director Joel Edgerton (who also co-stars) is careful not to make the overall experience dour or wholly downtrodden.

Based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name and taking place as frighteningly recent as 2004, the setting is rural Arkansas. Our main character is a handsome, popular young man, renamed Jared (Lucas Hedges) for the film.  Interspersed with numerous flashbacks then back to present times, we see Jared as a high school kid and blossoming as a freshman college student, interested in writing. He is expected to follow the word of god since his father, Marshall (Russell Crowe), is a respected preacher at their local church and his mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman), a housewife.

Jared’s college experiences are both good and bad. He befriends fellow runner Henry, who ultimately rapes him, and embarks on an enlightening friendship with Xavier, who challenges Jared’s belief in god. These scenes are preceded by the point of the film, in which Jared admits his thoughts about men to his parents and is sent to a Love In Action gay conversion therapy program. His experiences there are chronicled.

Many scenes involve the treatment the school provides the students (or rather makes the students endure) and Jared’s realization that he is gay and cannot change. He ultimately questions and challenges the school. The chief therapist, Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton), teaches that god will not love anyone who is homosexual. In a bit of rich irony, the film later reveals that Victor finally denounced his teachings and married a man. Fellow student’s lives are featured, one suffers a terrible fate as he cannot come to terms with his sexuality nor can he change.

A comparison to the popular film Love, Simon (2018) is fun to draw. Both released during the same year and both feature young, popular coming-of-age character struggles with the repercussions of revealing their sexual preference. Clearly Boy Erased is the heavier of the two as Love, Simon has many comic elements, but worth noting is that both are mainstream films garnering large audiences- a win for the LGBT community.

The acting in Boy Erased is flawless and perfectly cast all around. With Hedges, Kidman, and Crowe in the mix, we know the performances will be outstanding, and all three characters possess their share of empathy. Clearly Jared is the most to be concerned with and Marshall and Nancy are support players, but the film does not portray either as bad people, which is interesting. They are nurturing towards Jared and want him to be happy. While Nancy is more instrumental in rescuing Jared, Marshall does also come around in the end as his son’s sexuality is tougher for him to accept.

The main song used in the film is the appropriately named “Revelation” by Troye Sivan. The singer also appears in the film as Gary, a student made to be “cleansed” of his sexuality.  The tune is sentimental, smoky, and acoustic, perfect for the southern setting. Heartfelt and fraught with meaning, it encompasses Jared’s struggles and strong will to question the school’s motivations, powering through the toxic approach the school has.

As with many recent biographical films telling stories of real-life people, Boy Erased features a young Jared in homemade video clips as the film begins. This immediately triggers a rooting value for the character as we see the child, cute, happy and full of life, without a care in the world. Additionally, the conclusion shows the real adult Jared, Marshall and Nancy.

Boy Erased (2018) is an important film firmly nestled in a time-period crucial for the LGBT community. As LGBT awareness is now commonplace in cinema, this film does not necessarily go the route of sharing a gay character’s “coming out” story, but rather depicts a brilliant story of how perilous and repressive being gay can still be for some people. Jared is a main character who will undoubtedly be a hero to many young people wrestling with their identity.

The Hours-2002

The Hours-2002

Director-Stephen Daldry

Starring-Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep

Scott’s Review #803

Reviewed August 17, 2018

Grade: A

The Hours (2002) is a film containing the ultimate in acting riches. With names like Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Julianne Moore associated with the film this is not surprising. Not solely belonging to the ladies, however, Ed Harris, in particular, is dynamic in his role as are all the other males who appear in the film. Told in three different sections in chronological order, but going back and forth, the stories all share connections via the novel Mrs. Dalloway, written by Virginia Woolf. One of the best films of the decade!

Each segment of the film takes place within a single day, but decades apart. Wisely, director Stephen Daldry switches between the stories frequently leaving sort of a cliffhanger, making the drama more compelling and spicy. In 1923, a depressed Virginia Woolf is portrayed by an unrecognizable Nicole Kidman in a role that won her the Best Actress Oscar. Woolf resides outside of London and struggles to complete her novel amid nervous breakdowns and the watchful eye of her husband, who is aware of her mental pain.

In 1951, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) seemingly has it all, living the “American Dream”. Residing in a nice neighborhood with a loving husband, she is pregnant with her second child, spending the days at home raising her young son, Richie, whom she is very close to yet does not understand. After a fleeting lesbian dalliance with a neighbor, Laura goes off to a hotel with bottles of pills, intending to kill herself. She changes her mind after reading Woolf’s novel and dozing off, deciding instead to make a different decision.

Finally, in 2001, Clarissa (Meryl Streep), is bisexual and in a same-sex relationship. She lives with Richard (Harris), whom she dated in college, now the best of friends. He is gay and stricken with the AIDS virus and close to committing suicide as he plans to jump out of a window. This story (present times) is crucial to the film because it involves two characters from the 1951 story. These characters intersect with others in a touching and heart-wrenching way.

The greatest parts of The Hours are the brilliant acting and the richly written storytelling. Arguably, Kidman, Streep, and Moore all could have won Oscars for their performances, and I must mention that as brilliant as Kidman is (she the sole Oscar recipient), and Streep is just universally good, I would have given the Oscar to Moore- the standout in my opinion.

Glamorous and intelligent, warm to her son, she makes a monumental and controversial decision. The character should not be sympathetic- yet she is. This is a testament to Moore’s infusing the character with confidence, reasonable thoughts, and even some empathy. We finally understand why she does what she does.

May I boast for a moment about Harris’s performance? Richard, and once known as Richie as a kid (this will give something away), has lived a difficult life. Abandoned, wounded, and suffering much loss, he is a tragic figure, pained beyond belief. His suffering is so monumental that we almost welcome his demise, and Harris offers so much of himself in this difficult role. He is both physically and emotionally hurt and Harris portrays this in spades.

Uniquely, all three stories work independently of each other. Yes, characters from one appear in another, but they are like well-crafted vignettes. Similarly, they each begin with breakfast, then involve the planning of a party or celebration of some sort, and culminate in sadness. Yet, the film does not feel like a downer or preachy in any way, but rather, good, solid, humanistic story-telling, which I adore.

Sure, the film is considered a drama, but it also contains multiple gay or bisexual characters and therefore must be included in the chambers of LGBT filmmaking. With an A-list cast, the film helps lead the charge (successfully so) to bring more rich LGBT films to center stage and garner mainstream audiences. The great aspect of The Hours is that it actually is a mainstream film- a good solid drama.

Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham, The Hours (2002) does not try to draw parallels with each story or necessarily connect them in an obvious fashion. Rather, the film version provokes thought both with LGBT and feminist approaches. Each female central character lives in a world run by men, as Woolf argues in her novel. The film brilliantly adapts the novel and brings it to large audiences in a fantastic, riveting fashion.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Stephen Daldry, Best Actress-Nicole Kidman (won), Best Supporting Actor-Ed Harris, Best Supporting Actress-Julianne Moore, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing

Transamerica-2005

Transamerica-2005

Director-Duncan Tucker

Starring-Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers

Scott’s Review #795

Reviewed July 25, 2018

Grade: A

Transamerica (2005) is a brave and topical independent drama effort. By 2005 the LGBT genre was in full force with a multitude of similarly themed films gracing silver screens everywhere.  One prominent mainstream production (Brokeback Mountain-2005) was in theaters everywhere. So in a year celebrating diversity, how wonderful and touching to witness a film focused on a transgender woman come into play.

Mixing drama with some needed humor, the film succeeds in large part because it does not take itself too seriously, never becoming too preachy, it merely tells a story. The film’s brilliant casting of Felicity Huffman in the role of a pre-op male to a female transsexual is a success as the decision to cast a female rather than a male in the important role pays off in spades.

The premise allows for a story of both adventure and humor as the film mixes an important issue.

A transgender woman, Bree (Huffman) decides to go on a road trip with her long-lost son, Toby (Kevin Zegers). The intrigue is that Toby is unaware that Bree is both transgender and his father, the fun coming by way of the relationship between the individuals. Adding to the setup is that a week before Bree’s scheduled operation, she has no idea who Toby is.

Encouraged by her therapist, Bree decides to throw caution to the wind and travel to pick up her son- however, does not realize that Bree (being transgender) is his real father. Talk about complicated material!

I love the overall message of the film; the theme clearly being one of self-discovery and a personal journey towards happiness. These qualities do not only apply to Bree, but also Toby. Being a teenage boy, abused and neglected, he has his share of issues, which the film does not skirt over. The areas of male prostitution and gay porn are featured and the film does its best not to shy away from these sensitive matters.

Therefore, even though the tone of the film is light and more of a coming-of-age story, there are underlying painful emotions suffered by the characters. This makes their bonding easier and more fulfilled.

Without a doubt, the film belongs to Huffman, who was honored with a Best Actress Oscar nomination. No offense to that year’s winner (Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line (2005), but the rightful owner of the statuette should be Huffman.

The actress simply comes out of nowhere and slays this role. Known for playing a different type of role on the hit television series, ABC’s Desperate Housewives, Bree is in a different league entirely. Huffman possesses strength, vulnerability, and sarcasm, while physically undertaking a transformation that makes her both feminine and masculine while not becoming a “joke.” All of this she pours into the character.

Transamerica (2005) is an unconventional film that on the surface feels mainstream, like many other road trip films made over the years. With a twist and thus a breath of fresh air considering the importance and relevance for the time-released, the film should be championed. When combined with the tremendous performance by Huffman, the film is a heavyweight and should be viewed and celebrated for its influence.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Felicity Huffman, Best Original Song-“Travelin’ Thru”

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Female Lead-Felicity Huffman (won), Best First Screenplay (won), Best First Feature

Love, Simon-2018

Love, Simon-2018

Director-Greg Berlanti

Starring-Nick Robinson

Scott’s Review #789

Reviewed July 17, 2018

Grade: B+

Love, Simon (2018) is a nice, mainstream, LGBT film focused on a likable central character. The film is quite refreshing given the myriad of dark films within this genre- usually ensconced in the independent genre. Finally, a wholesome, family oriented “coming out” story is upon us and the film succeeds in spades. Perhaps a shade too “happily ever after” with a couple of stereotypes among the supporting characters, Love. Simon is a film to be heralded and certainly recommended.

Popular high school senior, Simon (Nick Robinson), has a close circle of friends, hip parents, and lives an affluent existence in suburban USA. Seemingly “having it all”, he is nonetheless filled with angst and harbors a deep secret- he is gay. Closeted, he finds solace with a similarly closeted male student by way of the school website. Determined to find out who his classmate is, he embarks on a way to discover his secret crush’s identity while being blackmailed by another school mate.

Young newcomer, Nick Robinson, is an absolute gem and carries the movie successfully. This is in stark contrast to another 2018 release starring a newcomer that failed (A Wrinkle in Time). Alas, Robinson has charm, charisma, wholesome looks, and an earnest persona, which are perfect traits for a coming of age film such as Love, Simon. In this way, the audience will instantly root for the teen to find happiness and come to terms with the dreaded coming out to family and friends, which any gay person can relate to.

An enormous positive to the film is that Simon is really okay with being gay- it’s the telling of other people that bothers him. He daydreams about starting fresh next year as an out and proud college freshman. He worries that coming out will ruin his final year of high school and change his relationships with his circle of friends. But he is never ashamed or self-harming in his preference for men.

Other lesser, but still important, high points to the film are the rich diversity among the supporting players. Several of Simon’s friends are black, and his parents are liberal, open minded, and well rounded. Of course they will be accepting of their son’s chosen lifestyle. Love, Simon also features diversity among the teachers as the theater teacher is not only black, but she is a champion for LGBT fairness. These qualities are always a breath of fresh air in film, especially when the target audience undoubtedly is of a younger demographic.

The film makers succeed at breaking a key barrier with Love, Simon. As often is the case, LGBT themed films target the LGBT audience, which makes sense. In the case of Love, Simon, the film is an experience that the entire family can watch together, regardless of anyone’s sexual preferences. This detail is incredibly important as LGBT matters should be taken as every day factors in life. At the risk of pigeon-holing, the fact that Simon is masculine and popular and not the slightest bit effeminate or girly is undoubtedly a key to the film’s success.

On that note, the film does add in an extremely effeminate, and out, supporting character named Ethan. I am not sure this character is necessary other than to contrast with Simon. Perhaps to drive the point home that Simon is a cool, macho guy and Ethan is not? In one scene it is assumed that Simon and Ethan are boyfriends and Simon seems mildly disgusted by this. I’m not sure this sub-plot works or serves the film’s overall message very well.

Otherwise, Love, Simon contains frequently seen supporting character types that bring us seasoned film goers  back to the days of the 1980’s teen coming of age films like Pretty in Pink (1986) and Sixteen Candles (1984). Several subplots involving characters having crushes on other characters while another character likes them are added to the mix for fun and a little drama.

The conclusion is sweet as the initial mystery of “who is the other gay student?” is finally revealed amid a nice scene of Simon waiting on a Ferris wheel for his online admirer to arrive. In a purely inclusive moment, the entire school surrounds the newly united couple and beams with pride as the duo tenderly kiss. It’s a heartfelt moment and an enormous lesson in dignity and spirit that mass audience members are exposed to.

Director Greg Berlanti creates a lovely Hollywood film, rich with diversity, a powerful story, and a strong inclusive element. Sure, the film is not a heavy and either skims over or misses discussions of powerful emotions that many gay youngsters face, but is nonetheless a brave and necessary story in its own right. Love, Simon (2018) is classy, tender, and quite a nice experience.

Philadelphia-1993

Philadelphia-1993

Director-Jonathan Demme

Starring- Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington

Scott’s Review #782

Reviewed July 3, 2018

Grade: A

Having the powerful distinction of being one of the first Hollywood LGBT films to deal with heavy issues such as HIV/AIDS and homophobia, Philadelphia (1993) is a film to champion.

The film does contain some less than positive stereotypes across the board, but was a tremendous box office success and more importantly introduced a large audience to a still (at that time) taboo subject. Hopefully, this had a tremendous effect on creating understanding towards a vicious disease and its ramifications.

Tom Hanks deservedly won the Best Actor Oscar for his lead performance of an AIDS and discrimination victim as did the heartbreaking theme song “Streets of Philadelphia”, penned by Bruce Springsteen, win for Best Original Song.

Director Jonathan Demme creates a world quite realistic in portrayal at the corporate level. Hotshot attorney Andrew Beckett (Hanks) has a promising future at one of the country’s largest law firms in Philadelphia.

Assigned a high-profile case, it is noticed that Andrew has developed lesions across his body and is subsequently fired from the firm. After deciding to sue the firm and having no luck finding an attorney to represent him, he finally meets struggling black attorney, Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), who begrudgingly takes the case to gain exposure.

Philadelphia is a film that is clearly a courtroom drama with a cause and is firmly ensconced in the “message movie” genre.  A lesser version, and perhaps one made even a decade or so after 1993, might be reduced to the Hallmark television movie category. Fortunately, the timing is perfect and Philadelphia can be remembered as a film championing LGBT rights.

Hanks’s performance is just dynamic- his character is meant to be empathetic, a victimized man unjustly suffering not only discrimination but a death sentence. The audience knows what is to come and as Andrew loses more weight and appears more sullen and haggard, the tale increases in sadness.

The final act of Andrew’s court victory is to be celebrated, but also is heartbreaking as a feeble and dying Andrew now lies close to death. Hank brilliantly infuses Andrew with courage, heart, and values, so much so that he becomes a hero to the audience even if their sexuality is different than his.

As much as the undying love for Hanks is deserved, the powerful supporting cast is a treasure. Washington is not as sympathetic a character as Andrew is, but learns a lesson and eventually leaves his machismo on the sidelines.

The heart-wrenching death scene culminating in the hospital room involves lover Miguel (Antonio Banderas), surrounded by Andrew’s family, all-embracing as one. There is beauty mixed with tragedy in this one scene alone. Even Mary Steenburgen as the tough defense lawyer shows some heart. And who can say more about the dynamic Joanne Woodward as Andrew’s mother?

Unfortunately, there are a few stereotypes to endure, and sadly many early LGBT films (and some still do!) include these for emphasis- or perhaps ignorance? Nonetheless, these make the film seem slightly dated given the LGBT progress made in the decades since the film was released.

Joe Miller is portrayed as a macho guy afraid to be viewed as gay- he even jokes around about being a “man” with his wife. Joe also grimaces when he shakes hands with Andrew and suddenly realizes Andrew has AIDS. Nearly all of Andrew and Miguel’s gay friends are effeminate- this hardly seems possible.

Such is a monumental achievement when a film breaks barriers by telling a story of critical importance. Philadelphia (1993) does just that by patiently asking its audience for tolerance, understanding, and heart. In return, the film educates, floods with emotion, and breaks hearts. Other LGBT films would come along that were arguably even better, but Philadelphia is a groundbreaking experience sure to be remembered as the first of its kind.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Tom Hanks (won), Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song-“Streets of Philadelphia” (won), “Philadelphia”, Best Makeup

God’s Own Country-2017

God’s Own Country-2017

Director-Francis Lee

Starring-Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu

Scott’s Review #773

Reviewed June 13, 2018

Grade: B+

God’s Own Country (2017) is a British, romantic, LGBT themed drama directed by Francis Lee, making his directorial film debut. The setting is farming land in the Yorkshire (northern England) territory making the film quite lovely to watch and the pace of the film therefore is slow. Lee does not rush the pace of the story either so it mirrors the slow life that farmers must endure. The film is somewhat autobiographical to Lee’s own life.

The connection and chemistry between the two leads is palpable and the love story endearing, especially impressive to show two different cultures coming together and merging as one. The film is a nice watch and an above average story making it worthy for LGBT audiences worldwide. Those believing in true love and finding ones soulmate will be deeply satisfied.

Twenty something Johnny (Josh O’Connor) lives a dull existence on his father’s farm in remote Yorkshire, England. His grandmother (Gemma Jones) also lives there and due to his father’s recent stroke, the success of the farm is in question. Johnny is depressed; drinking regularly and engaging in sexual encounters with men. Romanian migrant worker, Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), is hired to help out and the two young men eventually fall in love. After some ups and downs in their relationship, they decide to live on the farm together and presumably live happily ever after.

God’s Own Country is a rich story of romance and the only real obstacles that Johnny and Gheorghe face are internal struggles. In unique fashion for LGBT films, neither of the men are necessarily unhappy with their sexual identities nor do they face hurdles by other characters because of their sexuality. Gheorghe faces harassment because he is Romanian and deemed an “outsider”. Besides Johnny’s grandmother and perhaps his father, no characters seem aware that the men are a couple.

The cinematography is gorgeous and a perfect backdrop for the love story. The farm is lush with spacious green rolling hills for miles and miles. The animals the family raise are lamb and cattle and more than one scene features a beautiful birth and the nuzzling of the parent to its newborn baby. Sadly one birth is also a breach, which is tough to watch. The themes of life and birth perhaps mirror the feelings and emotions that Gheorghe and Johnny experience- new love.

Throughout God’s Own Country I frequently drew comparisons to arguably the most mainstream and revolutionary film in LGBT history- that of 2005’s Brokeback Mountain. Certainly similar elements of animals, farming, and the outdoors are featured in both films. Additionally, commonalities like loneliness and loss are heavily featured. Finally, the rough and tumble, machismo fueled wrestling scenes that result in rough sex between the men are used in both Brokeback Mountain and in God’s Own Country. In fact, both films could be companion pieces.

The film does not delve too much into the back story of the main characters; at least I did not catch many mentions. Admittedly, viewing the film on DVD with no closed captioning or subtitle capability made capturing all of the dialogue very difficult. Especially with English and cockney accents this was made doubly challenging. Regardless, both men are lonely, even despondent, but why? What happened to Johnny’s mother? Where is Gheorghe’s parents or his family?

Upstart Francis Lee carves a quiet, thoughtful yet compelling story of unexpected love that develops between two lonely men in a remote area of the United Kingdom. God’s Own Country (2017) paints a nearly perfect experience, slow yes, but featuring exceptional acting from both leads, as well as the two supporting turns. A film recommended for those seeking a poignant and fulfilling story of love.

Shelter-2007

Shelter-2007

Director-Jonah Markowitz

Starring-Trevor Wright, Brad Rowe

Scott’s Review #758

Reviewed May 16, 2018

Grade: B+

By the mid-2000s independent LGBT films were coming fast and furious as the genre was still relatively new and ripe for the picking with good ideas.  With Shelter (2007) we have a sweet film that focuses on the new romance between two young men, one of whom is coming to terms with his own sexuality. The lead characters are not gay stereotypes and could easily pass for straight men, a characteristic impressive in LGBT film- and other mainstream films for that matter.

Rather than focusing on discrimination, the characters may face, or any obstacles from other characters (family and friends), the film wisely makes the story a character study and the demons one man wrestles with while “coming out”. The small film is written intelligently save for one supporting character plot-driven decision. Also, in the modern age, we are beginning to see a bevy of similarly themed films emerge from the LGBT community, and Shelter offers nothing we have not seen before.

Set in sunny southern California, our main protagonist is Zach (Trevor Wright), an aspiring artist in his early twenties. The ultimate “good guy” he is popular with friends and girls and frequently babysit his five-year-old nephew Cody while his sister parties and has one-night stands. When Zach meets his best friend’s older brother Shaun (Brad Rowe), the pair fall in love as Zach wrestles with his sexuality and conflict with his plans. The sexual and family struggles of Zach are the main themes of the film.

Shelter (not sure I get the title’s meaning) is a solid slice of life story. Zach initially dates a pretty girl, Tori, who is blonde, wholesome, and a girl next door type. This is done intentionally to show that Tori is a girl any young straight man would have an interest in. We never see Zach show interest in any other men besides Shaun so the film leans towards a solid romantic drama once the fellas get together. Still, we see Zach’s internal struggles and accepting himself for who he is played out. Actor Wright and director Jonah Markowitz, capture this successfully.

Shaun, arguably second fiddle to Zach, is a character that I feel is very well written. Avoiding negative stereotypes, Shaun is handsome, masculine, and charismatic. Completely confident and exuding great poise, he is a character that any gay male should look up to. He is openly gay yet “one of the guys” as he should be. He immediately connects with Cody becoming a father or cool surrogate uncle figure for the lad. A quick concern of Zach’s sister Jeanne’s of having the boy around a gay man is trivialized in a quick form.

Another positive to the film is the multiple scenes showing Zach, Shaun, and Cody as a happy family and how normal this is. Examples of this are frolicking around the beach playing football or horseplay. A quiet dinner of barbeque steaks and red wine for the men and macaroni and cheese for Cody elicit images of a connected family unit despite some in society still poo-pooing this idea. The film presents the connectivity as normal.

A tiny flaw in the character of Jeanne shows her willingness (almost eagerness) to leave Cody (and her ailing father) behind when she decides to take off to Oregon with her brand new boyfriend. This point seems rushed and out of character. While a party girl with a crappy job in a grocery store Jeanne did exhibit heart and written as sympathetic and caring throughout the film. Surprising and unrealistic to me is that she would up and leave her life. A paltry excuse of “Oregon not allowing kids” was left unclear and unexplained.

Part coming of age story, part coming out story, Shelter (2007) is an example of the little film that could with an appreciation of independent cinema. The film tells a nice story of one man’s journey to self-discovery and the individuals he surrounds himself with.  With impressive California oceanfront and working-class principles as a backdrop, the film has a calming texture and weaves a solid experience for viewers to enjoy.

Milk-2008

Milk-2008

Director-Gus Van Sant

Starring Sean Penn, Josh Brolin

Scott’s Review #744

Reviewed April 18, 2018

Grade: A

Milk is a 2008 film that successfully teaches its viewers both a valuable history lesson about the introduction of gay rights into the United States culture, as well as to the prolific leader associated with this, Harvey Milk.

The film really belongs to Sean Penn, who portrays Milk, but is also a fantastic biopic and learned experience appreciating his wonderful journey through the 1970’s- mainly in San Francisco and New York City. Moreover, Milk portrays a gay character not played for laughs as many films do but portrayed as a hero.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person ever to be elected to any political office, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

The film, however, opens in 1978, after a stunning announcement of Harvey Milk’s assassination along with the Mayor of the city, which was met with much heartbreak. The film then returns to 1970 as we meet Penn as Milk and follow his decade-long battles and prosperity of changing the gay culture.

Having seen actual footage of Harvey Milk, Penn perfects the mannerisms and the speech patterns of Milk giving him an immediate passionate and likable persona. The political figure had such a whimsical and innocent style all his own that Penn perfectly captures. His determination for honesty and fairness is admirable and inspiring and Milk seems like he was an innately good person.

Particularly heartbreaking is Penn’s facial reactions during his assassination scene-a scene that director Gus Van Sant brilliantly shoots as a follow-up to a joyous scene when Proposition 6 is defeated.

As a troubled colleague, Dan White (Brolin), (rumored to be himself closeted and struggling with self-identity), fires several shots into Harvey at City Hall, the scene is filmed in slow motion for additional dramatic effect and poignancy. The look of pain and sadness on Milk’s face will undoubtedly bring tears to even the most hard-hearted viewer.

The film shows the many close relationships which Milk formed throughout the 1970s, including his steady lover Scott Smith, played by James Franco. The two actors share solid chemistry as they are both fun-loving and driven in what they hope to achieve.

Sadly, Milk’s drive eventually outweighs Smith’s as they ultimately drift apart, but retain a special bond. Emile Hirsch is nearly unrecognizable as Cleve Jones, a young man who Harvey inspires and mentor throughout the pivotal decade.

A minute criticism noticed while watching Milk is that, except for Penn, many of the supporting characters (Hirsch, Franco, and especially Alison Pill) seem to be “dressed up” in the 1970’s costumes, giving a forced rather than authentic feel. The costume designers seem intent on making them look so realistic that it backfires and looks more like actors made up to look like they are from the 1970s. Penn, however, looks and acts spot on and stands out from the rest of the cast by miles.

An inspiring biography of a legendary political figure, Harvey Milk, led by a fine lead actor (Penn), deserving of the Best Actor Oscar he was awarded, Milk is an astounding story of both triumph and tragedy. The film successfully portrays a time when a class of people was not treated fairly and equal rights were barely a possibility and the uprising that occurred in large part due to one man and his followers. Milk is a wonderful testament to a time gone by and the accomplishments achieved since then- a truly inspiring and tragic message.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Gus Van Sant, Best Actor-Sean Penn (won), Best Supporting Actor-Josh Brolin, Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Original Score, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Male Lead-Sean Penn, Best Supporting Male-James Franco (won), Best First Screenplay (won), Best Cinematography

A Fantastic Woman-2017

A Fantastic Woman-2017

Director-Sebastian Lelio

Starring-Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes

Scott’s Review #729

Reviewed February 27, 2018

Grade: A

A Fantastic Woman is a 2017 Chilean film that is groundbreaking in subject matter and has rightfully received heaps of accolades including an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Especially worthy of mention is the films lead actress, Daniela Vega, the first transgender woman to present an award at the Oscars and a dynamo performance in her represented film. Besides all of the cultural achievements, the film succeeds in its own right as a compelling drama.

The film gets off to a sweet and romantic start as we meet Marina (Vega), a young waitress and aspiring singer, and Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a mature, affluent man thirty years her senior. Surprising her with a lovely birthday cake, the pair are beginning to embark on a serious relationship as Marina has recently moved in with Orlando. When tragedy strikes and Orlando is rushed to the hospital after collapsing, Marina must face the harsh reality of her partners narrow minded family and suspicions from law enforcement.

What a wonderful starring vehicle for this astounding young talent that is Vega. The film shares a story that has never been told before, though the transgender genre is slowly coming into its own- think 2015’s brilliant Tangerine. With A Fantastic Woman though, the story telling is more intimate and personal and clearly from Marina’s point of view. Faced with both financial issues and losing her love, she is forced to hurdle obstacles centered around her lifestyle that she had thought had been conquered through her open life with Orlando, who loved her for who she is.

Vega expresses so much with her wide-eyed stares and introspective glazed looks. A performance that is remarkably subdued, she does not have a traditional blowup or dramatic, emotional scene. Instead, she calmly goes from scene to scene with her anger and heartbreak brimming under the surface. As she is verbally insulted and degraded by Orlando’s bitter ex-wife, Marina stands her ground and calmly accepts the verbal attack. Even when Orlando’s thuggish relatives physically assault her with tape, she is calm in her reaction. This is a testament to Vega’s talents.

Perhaps the most touching sub plot involves Marina’s struggle to retain the dog that Orlando had kindly given to her. When Orlando’s son refuses to let her keep the dog, Marina reaches her breaking point and begins to fight dirty, refusing to hand over the keys to Orlando’s flat until she gets her way. The tender affection she has for the animal is wonderful as, despite having a few people in her corner, the dog is her pride and joy and best friend.

As stellar as Vega is, and the film does clearly belong to her, credit and mention must be given to the supporting players, who are largely unknown actors to me. Though we feel no sympathy for Orlando’s ex wife or his relatives, they are competently portrayed and we do feel their anger and spite. We do not know much about the back-story, but we do know that Orlando has revealed to all his involvement with a trans woman and he is proud of Marina. Actor Reyes is a dream as Orlando and we wistfully imagine a different film centered  solely on his romance with Marina. In their short time together, the audience falls madly in love with the duo.

A Fantastic Woman succeeds as a nuanced, level headed drama with a powerful message and a timely approach. Never veering over the top or being too preachy, the film is a wonderful telling of a topical subject matter. I only hope that more stories surrounding this genre are told in the future, since it is a goldmine of uncharted story-telling with so much potential.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film (won)

Beach Rats-2017

Beach Rats-2017

Director-Eliza Hittman

Starring-Harris Dickinson

Scott’s Review #719

Reviewed January 26, 2018

Grade: A-

Beach Rats is a 2017 coming of age film penned and directed by Eliza Hittman, a young female director from Brooklyn, New York, who incorporates her familiar geographical settings into only her second feature film. 2013’s It Felt Like Love was awarded two Independent Film nominations and Beach Rats has followed suit- garnering a Best Actor nomination as well as a Best Cinematography mention. The film is a very good story of conflict that its target audience will surely relate to.

The film is very low-budget, but a successful character study of a young man named Frankie, played by newcomer Harris Dickinson, wrestling with family issues while also in the midst of wrestling with his sexuality, all while hanging out with his troubled friends and dating his sometime girlfriend. Beach Rats is not a downer, but rather, an interesting glimpse into the life of a teenager and his struggle with self identity.

Mirroring It Felt Like Love, Hittman uses plenty of locales unique to Brooklyn, with the most identifiable being the watery, night time beaches of the borough, which gives the film an authentic feel. Many scenes are shot outdoors and is a strong point of the film. Similar to many independent films, Beach Rats clearly uses several “non-actors” in small roles, which also adds depth to the blue-collar, sometimes harsh, Brooklyn feel.

With only two features to her credit, Hittman is successful at having her own hand-print on her films, making them identifiable as her own. Interesting is how the director chooses a male character to write for. Similar to the female Liza in It Felt Like Love, both she and Frankie are vulnerable and coming terms with their sexual feelings and desires. The fact that Liza is straight and Frankie, at most, bisexual, is only a strength of the evidently complex writer/director.

Dickinson is perfectly cast as Frankie. Good-looking, with chiseled features and a lithe, toned body, his bright blue eyes are expressive, as the audience is empathetic to his many dilemmas. Beach Rats is much more than a traditional “gay film”, which is admirable- it is more complex than that. By 2017, the common theme of coming to terms with ones sexuality has been explored. According to Frankie, he “just has sex with men” and refuses to identify as either gay or bisexual. It is implied that because of his group of trouble-making friends, who only want to get high, he might be faced with resistance if he ever came out to them.

The supporting cast is well represented- Frankie’s mother, Donna (Kate Hodge), is faced with a tough predicament as her husband, Frankie’s father, has just died of cancer, ripping the family apart. She knows that Frankie keeps things from her- is she figuring out Frankie’s sexual secrets? Donna implies that it is okay for Frankie to tell her anything- admirable combined with her own problems. Frankie’s girlfriend, Simone, is coming into her own as Frankie is, and despite the fact that the duo share a sweet relationship, it appears doomed for failure.

The most interesting scenes that Beach Rats feature take place between Frankie and the mostly older men  he meets either virtually or in person. Though Frankie is quite nervous, Dickinson always makes the character of Frankie appear confident and well beyond his years. Being street-smart, he is never taken advantage of as is common with young men and older men. Why he mostly prefers older men is never explained, but might it have anything to do with seeking to fill the void left by his deceased father?  Or is it simply to reduce the risk of running into anyone he might know within his own age group?

Hittman is not shy about featuring nudity, yet each scene is tastefully done and never seems to be for either shock value or to elicit a gasp. Full frontal nudity is featured. as well as scenes of Frankie engaging in sexual acts with both the men and his girlfriend. Sure Dickinson has a perfect body, but his assets do not seem to be on display unnecessarily.

Independent films, more often than many “box office” films, are given much creative freedom to simply tell a good story. Thankfully, in the case of Beach Rats, the audience is lucky enough to view a quiet, introspective tale of a conflicted adolescent, and how he deals with demons and complex feelings that he is faced with. Particularly for the predominantly LGBT audience who will see the film, Beach Rats will have much to offer.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Male Lead-Harris Dickinson, Best Cinematography

Call Me By Your Name-2017

Call Me By Your Name-2017

Director-Luca Guadagnino

Starring-Timothée 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,  (Timothée 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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Timothée Chalamet, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Original Song-“Mystery of Love”

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Luca Guadagnino, Best Male Lead-Timothée Chalamet (won), Best Supporting Male-Armie Hammer, Best Cinematography (won), Best Editing