Tag Archives: LGBTQ+

Spoiler Alert-2022

Spoiler Alert-2022

Director Michael Showalter

Starring Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, Sally Field

Scott’s Review #1,399

Reviewed September 15, 2023

Grade: A-

Spoiler Alert (2022) comes dangerously close to being classified as a Hallmark Television Movie of the Week tearjerker with standard cliches and a predictable storyline. While the ending is no surprise the film works incredibly well and fires on all cylinders.

I laughed, cried, and felt an enormous connection to the central characters in what could become a seasonal holiday watch.

I recently reviewed another film that on the surface sounded saccharin and contrived but pulled me in nonetheless. The lesson learned is not to make assumptions about the quality of films.

The direction is conventional but the story and characters absorbing and heartwarming with spectacular acting, especially among the two lead actors, Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge. An added gift is the appearance of Sally Field in a supporting role as an overbearing but lovable mom.

In 2001, Michael Ausiello (Parsons), a writer for TV Guide, begrudgingly goes to a gay nightclub with his best friend in Manhattan. There, he meets photographer Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge), and the two instantly connect.

As they begin dating, Michael struggles with insecurities about not being attractive enough for Kit, since he was an overweight child. Kit is athletic and good-looking, oozing confidence. Michael was a ridiculed kid watching soap operas with his mother and creating a pretend sitcom family.

He also overindulges in the Smurfs collection.

They both admit their fears of being in a long-term relationship since neither of them has been in one before, but they decide to continue dating.

Hurdles then plague the couple as Kit must come out to his parents, Bob (Bill Irwin), and Marilyn (Field), to explain who Michael is, and ultimately they all must face Kit’s stage IV cancer diagnosis.

I recognize how Spoiler Alert doesn’t possess the most original screenplay, written by David Marshall Grant and LGBTQ+ advocate Dan Savage and based on a story written by real-life Michael Ausiello.

The tried and true story point of a gay male character struggling to come out to his parents has been done for decades in LGBTQ+ films.

The insecure partner feels inferior to the more confident partner and it affects their relationship story point has also been before. Michael is convinced that Kit will dump him for someone else.

Hell, we’ve seen both of these cliches as recently as 2022 in Bros. a fantastic LGBTQ+ mainstream film that used both.

In Spoiler Alert they work because of Parsons and Aldridge and the chemistry they have together and the nuanced delivery of the characters separately.

While they each want love and a relationship neither is desperate. As they banter back and forth Michael awkwardly removes his clothes during their first intimacy the actors playfully frolic immediately at ease with one another.

Many cute scenes follow.

Events then grow serious as we move beyond Kit’s uneven coming out to his parents (of course they embrace Kit and Michael instantly!) and dive headfirst into Kit’s cancer battle.

The film makes no secret that Kit will die of cancer. It’s practically shown in the opening scene as he and Michael lie in a hospital bed together and Michael narrates the story.

It’s called Spoiler Alert for a reason. But instead of ruining the film it only enhances the love story to come. We know that Kit and Michael become soul mates and the pleasure is watching them grow and flourish together.

Since Michael’s mother, and presumed best friend, died of cancer only strengthens the investment in the character.

As Kit becomes weaker, my fondness for the two men becomes stronger. The maturity and love for one another are apparent especially when Michael selflessly invites a man whom Kit had an affair with to say goodbye to Kit.

It’s a touching scene but not as touching as the scene where Michael and Kit’s parents sob over Kit’s hospital bed.

Yes, Spoiler Alert (2022) may have manipulated me with a conventional film but Parsons and Aldridge have better chemistry than most opposite-sex couples.

I thoroughly enjoyed my way through the film without dry eyes.

O Fantasma-2000

O Fantasma-2000

Director João Pedro Rodrigues

Starring  Ricardo Meneses

Scott’s Review #1,363

Reviewed May 25, 2023

Grade: B

The target audience for a film like O Fantasma (2000) can only be gay men or anyone macabre enough to want to see male pornographic eroticism mixed with sadomasochism.

There is more than one scene that is straight-up pornography. I’ll spare the details but most kinds of sex are on full display and do not look staged or faked.

It’s the type of film that I’m still digesting and ruminating over. I suppose that’s better than having forgotten it.

The director, a gay man named João Pedro Rodrigues, doesn’t sugarcoat the film’s subtext, which is a young man’s painful journey into self-awareness and homosexuality.

The film is set and shot in and around Lisbon, Portugal. Unfortunately, any palatial, lush, or culturally significant landmarks are not used. Instead, seedy, dark, and industrial areas are.

During the night, brooding, lonely Sergio (Ricardo Meneses) works as a trash collector. In between garbage dumps, he embarks on an increasingly dangerous journey of anonymous sexual encounters. Soon, he becomes fixated on one handsome stranger and ‘plows’ down a haunting path.

The opening scene immediately plunges the viewer into a subversive world. Two men, one clad completely in leather, the other naked, are engaging in rough anal sex. We do not who they are or how they figure into the story…….yet.

Speaking of story, O Fantasma doesn’t have much of one. Besides the brief synopsis listed above, Sergio spends a good amount of time playing with his dog, having sex with a policeman, and rebuffing his female co-worker Fátima (Beatriz Torcato) advances.

Oh yeah, Sergio also has time for more rough outdoor sex with his male boss, Virgilio (Eurico Vieira), drinking from puddles, and taking a dump in his clothes.

O Fantasma all seems rather pointless when its shell is peeled back and it’s dissected a little. I get that Sergio is a gay male who is self-hating and conflicted but I feel like I’ve seen that angle played enough times, and no, O Fantasma doesn’t turn about face and offer a happy ending.

Young men struggling with their sexuality in any way need not see this film. It will undoubtedly veer them off the next nearby cliff.

With that footprint relayed, a more mature gay man will find erotism and some titillation to experience and what’s so bad about that? But, O Fantasma is for grown-up audiences and tastes only.

To say that there are enough bare asses displayed to go around is a severe understatement. The naked front male appendages make frequent appearances both erect and flaccid. Oral and anal sex are given equal screen time and one poor bunny rabbit doesn’t stand a chance again an angry and hungry man.

I’m still cringing from that scene.

O Fantasma is a disturbing viewing but never boring. It’s not quite cerebral or artsy but boy does it mesmerize. I’ve never seen a film quite like it nor do I think I ever need to see it again.

This film would never have been made in the United States but European filmmakers get away with so much more skin and sex. That’s just a known fact.

Actor, Ricardo Meneses, doesn’t possess much acting range nor does he need to. He simply needs to glare, sulk, and stalk to make his character’s intention clear. He’s got a great body and even looks good when he sniffs a shower stall and licks Fátima’s face.

A peculiar dog reference abounds throughout the film, the sniffing, licking, and using of two real dogs among its cast. Does Sergio feel dog-like because of shame over his sexuality and/or his need for depravity and degradation?

I both liked and disliked O Fantasma (2000) but longed for a less ambiguous conclusion and a happier resolution for Sergio.

Major props to Rodrigues for crafting an innovative if not haunting production.

When Love Comes-1998

When Love Comes-1998

Director Garth Maxwell

Starring Rena Owen, Dean O’Gorman, Simon Prast

Scott’s Review #1,340

Reviewed February 3, 2023

Grade: B+

When Love Comes (1998) is a New Zealand film, spoken in English, by filmmaker Garth Maxwell.  It starts slow and muddled but quietly captures me with its thoughtful and humanistic tones of emotion, conflict, and sexuality.

There are no subtitles which makes the dialogue hard to follow given the accents and may knock the film down a smidgen for me but the main stories are enthralling with deep texture.

More or less an ensemble of six acquaintances, and three of the characters get the most screen time.

The main character is washed-up singer Katie Keen (Rena Owen) who struggles to create a new life for herself while coping with her absent admirer Eddie and living with her best friend, Stephen.

Stephen is in love with sexually confused ex-hustler Mark, while, band members Fig and Sally, smitten with each other, yearn for success while traipsing around town and the beaches together.

The most interesting storyline is LGBTQ+ centered. Given the time was 1998 when gay films were just starting to make their presence known, Stephen and Mark have the most depth.

Admittedly, a couple of story points are disjoined like why the men have trouble admitting their feelings for each other and Mark’s anger issues cause him to smash a window. In the end, their story wraps nicely and Maxwell gets points for making the audience appreciate the couple.

The lesbians get short shrift. Are they gay or bisexual? If bisexual, are they a couple or what is their arrangement? Don’t get me wrong, they are fun to watch shred the guitar and beat mercilessly on the drums as they raucously perform but little is known about their lives.

Even though When Loves Comes is an ensemble the lead character is Katie. I fell in love with her character because she is the most well-written. At one time a big pop singer, her star faded and she is at a crossroads.

As she whimsically gazes at the crashing waves the expression on her face reveals the deep thought and regrets in her life.

Unfortunately, her love interest, Eddie, is heard from but does not appear in the flesh until pretty deep into the film. Therefore, there is not much rooting value for the couple and we don’t know much about Eddie.

Surprisingly, despite this miss, there is a connection I felt for Katie and Eddie. Rena Owen is a terrific actress revealing expressions and a veneer we deeply want to explore.

There is a decent amount of flesh in the sex scenes which makes for some fun but the wise move is to stick to the character motivations and watch them develop.

This can be said with only three of the characters and I wished for more grit from Eddie, Fig, and Sally.

When Love Comes feels lopsided at times but succeeds as a slow-build film. Nothing is done quickly or forcefully instead crafting long scenes of dialogue but the conversations have something to say rather than existing as filler or a bridge to get to more important scenes.

I respect the cinematography because it has a softer independent film look which is of course what it is. A big budget is not needed for a film about people and the sequences showing Aukland are wonderful.

Keeping the time frame in mind, I wish I saw When Love Comes (1998) at the time it was released. It would have packed a harder punch than it does twenty-five years later when plenty of similar-toned films have been made.

Single All the Way-2021

Single All the Way-2021

Director-Michael Mayer

Starring Michael Urie, Philemon Chambers, Luke Macfarlane

Scott’s Review #1,325

Reviewed December 21, 2022

Grade: C+

Single All the Way (2021) is an LGBTQ+ romantic comedy film released by the streaming behemoth Netflix, though I swear the film feels like a Hallmark or Lifetime television movie of the week offering.

The film is a Christmas-themed romantic comedy about gay men and is the streaming service’s first gay holiday film.

As inspired and momentous as this may sound please hold the accolades and champagne for just a hot second. I hoped for at least a bit more danger, complexity, or even darker drama from Single All the Way being that it’s the first of its kind.

Instead, I was presented with a childish, cliched, saccharine-induced, run-of-the-mill story that swaps the standard straight-laced, blue-eyed, blonde-haired straight couple from the midwest, USA, with gay characters.

Everything else remains the same.

Since the LGBTQ+ is to be celebrated, the result is a marginally enjoyable romantic comedy featuring gay men and a timid triangle where the audience knows all along how it’s going to play out.

Desperate to avoid his family’s judgment about his perpetual single status, Peter (Michael Urie) who lives in Los Angeles, convinces his best friend Nick (Philemon Chambers) to join him for the holidays in snowy New Hampshire and pretend that they’re now in a relationship.

But when Peter’s mother (Kathy Najimy) sets him up on a blind date with her hunky trainer James (Luke Macfarlane) the plan goes awry. Peter becomes caught in a quandary about either confessing his feelings for Nick or pursuing relations with James while his family schemes to unite Peter and Nick.

Let me just make clear that the only reason Single All the Way rates as high as a ‘C+’ is that I applaud the decision to write, produce, and release an LGBTQ+-themed film. It’s about damn time, but I wish it were a better film.

Nick being light-skinned black is also a way to promote at least a bit of diversity, although the other characters and environment feel as white as the fake snow draping the wintry set design.

Despite being slightly effeminate he works as a rugged handyman which somehow completely doesn’t work.

The main issue is that there is no chemistry between any of the three men. Unbelievable is how Nick and Peter have been roommates for years and it takes a trip to New Hampshire for them to suddenly realize their undying love for one another.

Macfarlane, well-known for appearing in Bros. (2022), the first gay romantic comedy released by a major studio, is almost distractingly good-looking. Hunky and drop-dead gorgeous, to believe his character would be the odd man out against the semi-cute Peter and Nick is laughable.

It’s like someone wanted the average joe to finally beat out the hunk.

Realistically,  Peter would have at least slept with James instead of hemming and hawing before declining an invitation up to James’s apartment after a date.

The family, led by Peter’s mother Carole (Najimy) is beyond irritating. Wanting desperately for her son to find love, she is what every gay man doesn’t want his mother to be. Landing Jennifer Coolidge, a gay icon, is a major win wasted by casting her in the cliche-riddled role of Aunt Sandy, a man-hungry diva.

If that isn’t bad enough, Peter’s two sister’s scheming to separate Peter and James’s burgeoning romance and unite Peter and Nick is silly and not worthy of a daytime soap opera.

At the end of the day Single All the Way (2021) is barely even a cute film. It’s as safe as can be with every cliche (straight and gay) imaginable as if someone was so thrilled to be making an LGBTQ+ film that they didn’t dare take one single risk.

Bros-2022

Bros-2022

Director-Nicholas Stoller

Starring Billy Eichner, Luke Macfarlane 

Scott’s Review #1,304

Reviewed October 5, 2022

Grade: A

Even if Bros (2022) was a bad film it would still hold the monumental distinction of being the first LGBTQ+-themed romantic comedy released and supported by a major distributor.

In the year 2022, years after the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States and various other firsts that would take way too long to list, surprisingly, Bros is the first of its kind.

Fortunately, Bros is not a poor film but an exceptional one with brazen confidence and a lot to say.

Led by crisp and intelligent dialogue, lovable lead actors, a cast solely made up of the LGBTQ+ community, strong characters, and hilarious moments, it has something for everyone, gay, straight, or otherwise.

Before readers pigeonhole the film as one only to be seen by the  LGBTQ+ community, I will cry bullshit.

Straight audiences will fall in love with the characters and learn valuable lessons about stereotypes and deep seeded emotions of gay men who are not always comfortable in their skin.

Unfortunately, Bros was not the box-office smash hit the studio hoped it would be. Some straight viewers felt the film was not for them and that’s a shame.

There’s more work to do to eliminate conscious and unconscious bias and education others to embrace differences.

Billy Eichner, who co-wrote the Bros screenplay along with director, Nicholas Stoller, stars in the film, alongside Luke Macfarlane.

Eichner plays a sardonic, gay Jewish male named Bobby Leiber who resides in New York City.  We meet Bobby while he is doing another episode of his New York podcast and radio show The Eleventh Brick at Stonewall, talking to callers about his written works on gay history and gay icons.

He claims to be fine with being single and not having found love, instead hooking up with random men over a dating application called Grindr, though he is successful in his career and has good friends.

He awkwardly meets Aaron Shepard (Macfarlane), a hunky masculine guy deemed ‘hot but boring’ by those in Bobby’s circle, in a gay club.

The two men slowly develop a romantic relationship despite commitment problems and hectic schedules that seem designed to put the kibosh on love.

Despite all the other aforementioned wins for this LGBTQ+ film is that the screenwriting feels fresh and intelligent. Above all else, it wisely paints the struggles that most gay men seeking a relationship of substance face.

As in other romantic comedies, some setups and situations cause conflict that risks Bobby and Aaron not getting together. Bobby feels Aaron is out of his league preferring other muscular men to his overbearing and critical approach.

One can understand Bobby’s angst but in one of the film’s most poignant and beautiful scenes, Aaron tearfully reveals that Bobby constantly challenges him and it feels good.

He needs to be with Bobby because it is right. Bobby serves as a mentor to Aaron as he wrestles with being true to himself. Stuck in a depressing yet financially secure job, Aaron instead longs to be a chocolate maker.

Beauty is only skin deep. Regardless of occasional insecurities, the two men are strongly connected and that beats everything else.

On a personal level, both characters resonated with me making me feel their angst. One would assume that Aaron the hunk would be more confident but is that the case? Both men teach and learn from each other which makes their relationship powerful.

Other than the romantic moments, Bros has its share of raunchy comical scenes justifying its ‘R’ rating. In typical Judd Apatow (the film’s producer) form, the sex scenes are revealing.

There are enough orgies, toe-sucking, and fist-sucking, to make the prudish blush. The planned ‘rimming’ scene didn’t make the final cut. Does one wonder what that would have been like?

The film follows a distinct comedy formula and includes a helping of standard annoying, clueless, or over-the-top colorful characters that appear to justify its mainstream comedy placement.

The genius is that Bros works.

I implore straight audiences to give the film a chance if for no other reason than to show that gay people are as different from each other as apples and oranges. As Bobby makes clear some are nice and some are assholes.

Bros (2022) treads conventional but with a twist, and shows that gay characters are as genuinely funny as straight characters. It provides laugh-out-loud moments and teary sentimental ones.

I can’t wait for the next project from Billy Eichner.

Flee-2021

Flee-2021

Director-Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Scott’s Review #1,274

Reviewed July 7, 2022

Grade: A-

Flee (2021) has the distinction of being the first film that is a documentary, an animated movie, and also classified as international since it was made in Denmark. It was nominated in all three categories for icing on the cake at the Academy Awards.

It’s a unique telling of one man’s journey out of war-torn Afghanistan as a refugee and his eventual safe destination of Denmark. He eventually goes to Princeton University in the United States.

This is pretty impressive for a man who could have easily died in Afghanistan before he even had a fair shot.

The film also depicts stories of his family and his realization that he is gay is made further complicated because of the country he is born in.

Flee contains beautiful graphics and art design and shifts focus from the present-day to the past and back again and includes real-life footage of various soldiers and battles (hence the documentary status).

It’s one of a kind and a tremendous effort, though I longed for a bit more of the LGBTQ+ storyline, and was curious for a glimpse of what the real-life figures looked like, which usually comes at the end of a biography-type film.

In this case, it never did.

But the gripe is small potatoes when stacked against the meaning and inspiration that Flee provides.

The focus of the story is on Amin Nawabi who wrestles with a painful secret he has kept hidden for over twenty years, one that threatens to ruin the life he has built for himself and his soon-to-be husband, Kasper.

Recounted mostly through animation by director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, he tells the story of his extraordinary journey as a child refugee from Afghanistan.

Because of the animation, I was at first thrown by Flee since it starts with the interviewer and interviewee having a conversation. In a traditional documentary, we would see the two people face to face but instead, we hear their voices in animated characters.

I quickly got used to this and it’s the way the film is throughout. The real-life characters like Amin’s family and future husband are all animated and real human beings never appear except for the newsreel-type footage.

Surprising, and also a deepening of the story is when Amin admits that he initially lied about his family all being dead. The reason he does this is out of instinct and a survival technique (for both him and his family).

Flee is perfectly paced at one hour and thirty minutes. There is ample time to discuss and showcase Amin’s decision to leave Afghanistan and the terrible journey his mother and sisters were forced to endure.

They traveled by boat from Russia to the safety of Sweden as human traffickers.

What a horrific way to escape a country especially as many stories of deaths due to suffocation follow human traffickers.

Amin is a man of secrets and anyone who has ever harbored some out of desperation will assuredly relate to Amin’s plight.

He keeps many even from his husband to be and the viewer can understand his secrecy and deep-seated fear of a return to Afghanistan and certain execution.

His story is tragic and courageous but I yearned to know more about his life with Kasper. How did they meet? Did Amin have trouble realizing his homosexuality? He mentions that he was a ‘different’ child and openly wore girls’ dresses but how else did he deal? What obstacles did they or do they continue to face?

There is a beautiful scene where he comes out to his understanding brother and sisters but I guess I wanted more.

Visually, the graphics are modern and edgy. The different countries of Afghanistan, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark all take on distinctive identities and the animation during the boat sequences is quite nerve-racking.

If a standard documentary can provide adequate emotion and storytelling, the way the filmmakers decided to make Flee (2021) is remarkable and worthy of praise.

For those desiring a humanistic story of one man’s valiant plight, Flee will leave you very satisfied.

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best International Feature Film

The Object of My Affection-1998

The Object of My Affection-1998

Director Nicholas Hytner

Starring Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd

Scott’s Review #1,249

Reviewed April 24, 2022

Grade: B

The Object of My Affection (1998) is a romantic comedy riddled with the standard cliches and obvious situation setups of similar types of film.

As a whole, it is plot-driven rather than character-driven.

The redeeming factor is that it adds a left-of-center approach and delves into LGBTQ territory, albeit in a soft touch, which more mainstream American films were only starting to do in the late 1990s.

The best part of the film is the casting of Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd who have tremendous chemistry as a potential couple who has no chance of riding off into the sunset together. At least in any romantic sort of way.

He is gay and she is straight and nothing can change that.

Though fluffy, The Object of My Affection deserves some level of praise. Several gay men can easily relate to a situation where they find a female friend enamored with him and experience a return of affection differently.

It’s common to fantasize about what might have been if feelings were different and as the film explores, even try to go straight.

The film itself has a definite Will & Grace vibe, a popular television program emerging at this time, and even has the same location. The main characters become the very best of friends, watching movies together and sharing intimate moments just like a romantic couple would do.

The late 1990s was a time when gay characters took center stage so The Object of My Affection gets a thumbs up for being part of the herd.

Nina Borowski (Jennifer Aniston) lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works as a social worker. She invites her new gay friend, George (Paul Rudd), to move into her apartment after he breaks up with his longtime lover, Robert (Tim Daly).

Meanwhile, Nina gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby, but ends her relationship with the child’s father, her controlling boyfriend Vince (John Pankow).

As Nina and George live and experience her pregnancy together, they grow close and Nina realizes she’s beginning to fall in love with her friend.

Aniston and Rudd work well together as a couple, friends or otherwise, and the chemistry tones are terrific. Even during the sappiest of scenes, and there are many of them, I always smiled a bit at their bond.

When Nina and George have the inevitable dramatic scene and express their feelings it doesn’t feel as forced as one might expect. Their bond is solidified and the film unsurprisingly has the pair remain in each other’s lives, presumably forever.

In satisfying form, Nina and George do ride off into the sunset along with little Molly but in solid relationships with other mates. Each character finds their destiny and soulmate while keeping in each other’s life.

While nice, there are many hurdles the filmmakers could have gone further with but don’t. The message is clear- regardless of sexuality, race, religion, or politics, a friend is a friend and a bond is meant to be forever.

It’s a warm message which is the basis for what the intent was and the film delivers a heartfelt story that eases the conflict of real life and perhaps that is needed sometimes.

As much as The Object of My Affection (1998) has its heart in the right place with a progressive and inclusive slant, the film is bogged down by standard cliches and a fairy tale ending.

It’s a nice, fulfilling fantasy film but skates over hard-hitting realistic issues in favor of kid gloves-type situations making it feel dated nearly twenty-five years later.

Other films in the years ahead would supersede the premise and take it to different and more interesting levels delving outside the box further and further.

But, a nice attempt.

I Love You Phillip Morris-2009

I Love You Phillip Morris-2009

Director John Requa, Glenn Ficarra

Starring Jim Carey, Ewan McGregor

Scott’s Review #1,235

Reviewed March 5, 2022

Grade: A-

Easily the most daring and arguably the best film role of Jim Carey’s career, I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) is a delightful romantic comedy featuring same-sex characters in the central roles.

At the risk of being too fluffy, there is a sardonic and wry wittiness that I fell in love with.

Those criticizing the film as ‘gay porn’ are silly since there is hardly a sex scene to be critical of or anything more than would appear in a traditional male/female romantic comedy.

Prudes wouldn’t see a film as I Love You Phillip Morris anyway.

It is based on the 1980s and 1990s real-life story of Texas con artist, impostor, and multiple prison fugitive Steven Jay Russell who was clever beyond belief and successful at outwitting his opponents.

I Love You, Phillip Morris, is the directorial debut by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra who received a nomination from the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Steven Russell  (Carrey) becomes a cop, gets married, and starts a family, but after a terrible car accident, he vows to be true to himself. Thus far in his life, he has played by the rules and done what is expected of him and because of the crash, he pivots to an emotional bloodletting.

The key irony is that Steven is telling the audience his story from his deathbed so most of the activity is in the past. This is the hook because it made me wonder how and why he died. But is there a twist?

He comes out of the closet, moves to Florida, and finances a luxurious lifestyle with bad checks and credit cards. Arrested and now in prison, Steven meets Phillip (Ewan McGregor), a mild-mannered inmate who becomes the love of his life.

Determined to build a beautiful life with his partner, Steven embarks on another crime spree.

The film caters to the LGBTQ+ audience but has a crossover appeal so that all audiences can enjoy it. This is in large part thanks to the screenwriters and whoever had Carey and McGregor in mind for the film.

Too often films centering around gay characters are deemed second fiddle and not profitable but with bigger stars, the audiences will come.

I Love You Phillip Morris is an independent film that builds momentum when the message is that big stars are comfortable in gay roles, something Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal taught us a few years earlier in Brokeback Mountain (2005).

Jim Carey, fabulous in The Mask from 1994, and having his share of hits and misses over the years, is perfect in the role of Steven. It’s the most interesting role he has portrayed since he gets to provide his usual physical humor in a role that matters.

LGBTQ+ audiences see a character who makes them laugh without the typical gay stereotypes.

Straight audiences will see a character whose sexual identity doesn’t matter to them.

Props go to McGregor as well who makes a perfect counterpart for Carey as the calm, cool, and collected ‘straight man’. The film could not have worked without him.

He meshes so well with Carey that the audience instantly roots for Steven and Phillip to ride off into the sunset despite being criminals.

The stereotypes are limited but the subject matter of AIDS, especially given the time in which the film is set, is given notice. This is a win and Requa and Ficarra are very careful not to teeter too close to the edge of doom and gloom while respecting the disease.

At its core, I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) is a romantic comedy, and the trials and tribulations of Steven and Phillip are told. I immediately fell in love with them and viewers will too.

It’s a film that feels fresh and alive with the exploration of character richness that is not easy to come by.

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 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 sexuality. He has spent his life 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. 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 delivers 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 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 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. Do 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 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 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.

Director, Ryan Murphy, has become a favorite of mine for creating both extremely dark and light-hearted projects alike 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), 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 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 even 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.

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 2010s, most independent productions enough exist to please nearly everyone striving for good diversity in film.

Over the years in cinema, it was tough to find specific genre films, rather than 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, and 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 plagued with outside challenges. It began in 1998 and ended 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 composed 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 sees 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 the 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 daring camera angles or unique uses of light that Stanley Kubrick might use.  He creates a steady affair that will appeal to the American heartland, getting 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), whom he makes an awkward pass 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 he died 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.

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 of showing the demons he wrestles with.

The relationship between Hoover and lawyer, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) is my favorite part of J. Edgar because it’s 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 straightforward 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 that exists for this.

Instead, we get to see the inner workings 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 a 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 were.

The 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 principal 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 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 of 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 things 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 a 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 regularly.

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 is 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 Rannells), 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, the 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 a torturous fashion. This is when the film gets interesting. Bernard and Emory bear the brunt the hardest as their phone calls take a tremendous toll on each other.

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 mere 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 it was to be gay in another time.

Thanks to Ryan Murphy for adapting this project to Netflix as part of his the 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 1960s style with 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 explore 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 affection 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.

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 1940s through the 1980s 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 suicide.

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 1940s 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 wisecracks, 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 1980s- 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 throughout the film and I imagined 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, but 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. Preferably 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 1980s 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, and 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 had 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 a 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 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 toward 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 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 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 with who they anticipate soon going all the way. 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 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 have mutual respect. Both characters’ struggles are pointed out by Carly angrily lashing out that Ray was certainly not gay when she married him; Ray experiences 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 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 friends 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 one starts yearning for more depth, which never comes in this film.

The filmmakers do get some props for crafting a diverse film, but the story ultimately sucks.

The urban setting of Barcelona, Spain is the backdrop of the film as a student, Bruno (Llorenc Gonzalez), is saved by karate instructor, Rai (Alvaro Cervantes), 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 the song. Was this necessary? Rai has an interest in the genre, we get that, but the needless scenes seem like attempts to fill time.

Better use of time might have been additional scenes of Carla and her mother. A passing scene or two and a situation involving Carla’s father cheating on the mother is limiting and could have been an interesting sub-plot, perhaps even figuring into 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 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 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 1990s 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. They intend 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 the present day the film feels genuine with a 1990’s feel and flavor. The gray Parisian locales though gorgeous and picturesque also portray a hint of 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 1980s and 1990s.

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 become 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 1980s and the 1990s 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 of 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 the 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 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 the macabre subject matter.

The Favourite is the director’s most mainstream affair yet and is quickly becoming one of my favorite modern-day filmmakers. 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 being 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 attention.

Anne, known for fits of emotion, stuffing her face with cake and vomiting, and berating the servants, offers her 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 is what works best as every scene sparkles with exceptional delivery 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), is 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 students’ 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 were released during the same year and both feature a young, popular coming-of-age character who struggles with the repercussions of revealing their sexual preference.

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.

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 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 the 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, 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 is 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, 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 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: 1 win-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 being one of self-discovery and a personal journey toward happiness. These qualities do not only apply to Bree but also to 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 fulfilling.

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 of 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: 2 wins-Best Female Lead-Felicity Huffman (won), Best First Screenplay (won), Best First Feature