Tag Archives: Gender Bending

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

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This is one of those rare cases where the book can not compare artistically with its movie adaptation. Sure, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s “Let the Right One In” has more detail, and even works to a certain extent. But I actually think the movie was improved somewhat by being stripped down to its bare essentials, and eliminating extraneous subplots. The book is a pretty good read, but it hardly seems to be in league with the masterpiece the Swedish film version was.

Twelve-year-old Oskar Eriksson is a bullied misfit kid who wants to get back in a big way at his cruel tormentors. He is a overlooked resident of Blackeberg, whose surrounding areas have been plagued by a series of ritualistic killings. Oskar is fascinated by the sense of unease and the corresponding murders and even keeps a scrapbook containing clips of violent crimes. Neither Oskar’s fragile mother or his alcoholic, divorcee dad seem to notice Oskar is harboring a Antisocial streak. But when you’re afraid to go to school every day, life can do that to you.

Then Oskar meets Eli, a strange, thin, androgynous child who encourages him to fight back against his bullies. Eli’s frail façade hides an insatiable bloodlust, but Oskar finds himself strangely drawn to her. How far will Oskar go to protect Eli’s secret? “Let the RIght One In” is a compelling take on vampire lore, but I think it tries too hard to scientifically explain vampirism. Some things are better left unsaid.

The book also offers descriptions of what it feels like to be bitten by a vampire and to turn into a vampire, which is pretty cool. However, it also contains too many characters and feels unnecessarily long. Some passages better explain things left ambiguous in the film, like the role of Eli’s caretaker, Hakan, or the relationship between Oskar and his dad.

In the film, Oskar had a certain innocence and vulnerability that mad him very compelling, despite the indisputable fact that he was a very troubled little boy. The child actor gave that innocence creditability. In the book, Oskar is mostly creepy, someone you don’t want to meet in a dark alley despite his youth and small stature. In this novel, Oskar harbors a fantasy of seeing someone executed in an electric chair and even sets some desks in his classroom on fire (okay, his bullies’ desks, but still, that’s a big safety hazard!)

Oskar still certainly isn’t a completely unsympathizable character, but maybe you have more of a propensity to feel for him when you aren’t looking into that troubled little mind of his. Eli, however, is as compelling as ever, and you get a better sense of who she is the novel, as well as get a more complex look into the grey areas in between the elements of her ambiguous gender.

There’s is some interesting further development of the side characters, but mostly the wealth of detail on the supporting players seems a little ‘meh.’ Despite my quibbles, this book may be still worth reading if you want a more complete picture of a story that proves the vampire genre is not dead. The murderous, predatory class of vampires, not the sparkling one.

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Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

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Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey, who seems to being turning up a number of good movies and performances lately) is a hard-living, white-trash, uber-masculine cowboy type- who has just been told he suffers from AIDS and has only a short time to live. Ron is initially indignant and waist-deep in denial- the year is 1985 and AIDS is still widely considered a primarily ‘gay’ disease. Woodroof is not gay, He is, however promiscuous and an intravenous drug user, and his hard partying proves to be fateful and eventually, deadly.

Okay, so Ron Woodroof dies. But this isn’t the story of his death. It is about his remaining time, and how he spends it. The only drug the FDA permits for treating AIDS, AZT, is pure poison to whoever consumes it. So Ron starts trafficking non-approved drugs to treat AIDS patients. He is aided by HIV-positive Trans woman Rayon (Jared Leto,) which he is initially not pleased at all about.

Meanwhile, Ron romances doctor Eve (Jennifer Garner) (though nothing can happen because of his disease) and predictably begins to grow as a human being. Eve questions her boss Doctor Sevard’s decision to approve AZT, which leads to her getting fired from her job. Rayon continues to abuse drugs and alcohol even though she’s sick, and soon falls apart.

I understand that the real Ron Woodroof was bi and not even close to the mean sonofabitch he was portrayed as in the movie. The director obviously wanted to push the ‘homophobic-cowboy-finds-his humanity’ redemption story. And it IS a good film. A little obvious in that Hollywood way, but it works, led by two great performances by Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey (I found Garner and Eve a little dry, though.)

Both lost a ton of weight and were clearly committed to their roles. “Dallas Buyers Club” keeps it real and never tries too hard to make either lead a tragic figure, and only hints once at Ron’s less-than-ideal childhood (a lesser movie would be all over that.) “Dallas Buyers Club” finds inspiration in subjects that initially seem only dark and dismal, and comes out a winner with the help of its actors.

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The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

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    Hands down, the craziest book I have ever read, an unnerving combination of Lord of the Flies and The Butcher Boy that never fails to appall and shock. You will hate Frank Caldhaume, the narcissistic, murderous, deluded, misogynistic teenager at the center of this slim volume, but at the same time you’ll be slightly in awe of his gumption; his refusal to live any semblance of a normal life. Frank lives with his weak, disabled father on their own personal island in rural Scotland.

Frank is by no means an ordinary boy. By the age of ten, he disposed of his younger brother Paul and two cousins without a blink of an eyelash. He wanders the island, engaging in bizarre ritualistic activities that invariably end in the destruction of of the wildlife. He mounts animals’ heads on stakes as sick trophies, and the eponymous ‘Wasp Factory’ is a contraption of singular brutality.

Frank’s half-brother Eric is, so they think, safe and sound in a mental hospital. At the beginning of the book, Eric escapes, leaving a trail of burned and eaten dogs in his wake. Meanwhile, Frank copes with his unusual disability that has made it impossible to live a normal life, not that he’d want to, mind you. Cheeky freak, Frank is.

The only two complaints I have with this book were that it ended rather abruptly, and also (though this was a minor quibble) the circumstances between the Frank Caldhaume’s murders were highly unlikely. I may have thought Frank was a despicable human being, but he made a dynamite narrator. He was brilliant, merciless, and cuttingly articulate. Many aspects of the book were horribly disturbing, but that would not dissuade me from recommending this great book, a brilliant first novel and a penetrating psychological thriller.

One scene in one chapter particularly turned my stomach and made me put down the book in disgust. However, there are moments of black humor that leaven the murky darkness. The telephone conversations between psychopathic Frank and madman Eric, in particular, had me laughing out loud. Frank is not your everyday, mundane protagonist, and you (and he, presumably) would not have it any other way.

The twist at the end of the novel is so relentlessly unmitigatedly weird that I was tempted to do a double take of the words on the page. Iain Banks had quite an imagination, but what a twisted, pitch-black psyche it was. I DEFINITELY will be seeking out more books by this author, with a sincere  hope that they will be every bit as tweaked and creative as this one. A glowing recommendation, weak stomachs need not apply.

Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

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If you can get past the improbability that transgendered Hilary Swank could go on months without anyone suspecting ‘he’ was a ‘she,’ this is an effective and powerful movie. Brandon Teena, the protagonist of this movie. does have a boyish charm regardless of his biological gender, and he struts into town and befriends some shady types after having a few run in with the law in different locations. The thing is, Brandon’s not a bad kid, just a little misguided, and after he begins a romantic affair with shady type #1’s love interest., there are a series of confrontations that finally, and perhaps inevitably, lead to tragedy.

Lana (Chloe Sevigny) is the love interest. John Lotter (i.e. Shady Type #1, played by Peter Skarsgaard) is her possessive admirer. John is tailed by Shady Type #2 Tom (Brendon Sexton III,) a troubled young man who is a bit of an idiot (not developmentally disabled, you see, just not all there upstairs.) John is the ringleader, and Brandon falls for the social experience that comes with hanging with them a bit too easily.

On the way to sympathizing with Brandon, I had a little trouble getting past the fact that he tricked girls into having sex with him (ditzy girls who couldn’t tell the difference between a girl with a strap-on and a man with a penis, but still.) I’m certainly not implying Brandon deserved the things that happened to him at the films conclusion, far from it, But it was still an unfair thing to do to your sex partners. You will also facepalm at Brandon’s Naivete and the things he does to gain acceptance.

Everything changes with Lana. Lana falls so madly head-over-heels in love with Brandon that she doesn’t care what gender Brandon is. It”s actually kind of romantic, actually. I didn’t like Lana at first because I thought she was an ineffectual sloppy drunk hick, but she ended up being my favorite character. She’s a romantic soul stuck in a shitty Nebraska town, and all the men around her are vile pigs. In hindsight, why wouldn’t she fall for the handsome Brandon?

I heard the director of this, Kimberly Pierce, discuss the MPAA’s attempt to slap it with an NC-17 rating in the documentary “This Film is Not Yet Rated.” According to Pierce, their biggest qualm was not the violent and degrading events at the end of the film, but the ‘long orgasm’ scene where Brandon goes down on Lana. “Who was ever hurt by an orgasm that was too long?” demands Pierce. People sure have funny priorities, especially when they involve homosexuality and sex.

“Boys Don’t Cry” is sad but not needlessly so. Based upon the real-life 1993 rape/murder of Teena Brandon/Brandon Teena, a transgendered youth who identified as male but had female reproductive organs, the film benefits from a great performance from Hilary Swank. I weirdly have never noticed Swank before, but she now takes on a role too raw and subversive for many female actors.

Instead of being tawdry and sensationalistic, “Boys Don’t Cry tells a horrible story poignantly, but celebrates Brandon Teena’s life and spirit as well as grieve his loss. Kimberly Pierce movingly and  depicts the transgendered experience, and we should be grateful for her candor. A worthwhile story. profoundly told.

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The Last Summer Of La Boyita (2009)

    “The Last Summer of La Boyita” is a sweet and humane film about a willful young girl struggling to understand the complexities of sex and gender. Despite content involving burgeoning sexuality and youthful curiosity, “La Boyita” never seems exploitative or tawdry. On the contrary, it is a wonderful film about the friendship between the girl, Jorgelina (Guadalupe Alonso) and an intersexed farmer’s son, Mario (Nicolás Treise.)

   Jorgelina is a somewhat entitled little girl living in Argentina who spends the summer with her doctor father (Gabo Correa) in a rural area. While vacationing there, she immediately takes an active interest in Mario, the low-key son of a farmer who has been pulled out of school to work full-time on the farm. Living with few joys or options, Mario is further burdened with a destructive secret- he is intersexed (popularly coined a hermaphrodite.)

   Cursed with both male and female reproductive organs, he must live in fear that someone will discover his secret. Jorgelina takes a prepubescent fancying to Mario, and becomes curious when his strange sexual status is almost accidentally revealed. Meanwhile, Mario prepares for a horse race that will prove his manhood to the other young lads.

   The child actors are wonderful, but the stand-out performance is Mirella Pascual as Elba, Mario’s mother. She effortlessly plays a woman to whom life has dealt a shit-ton of pain and sadness. Mario’s father, a rather brutish man (Guillermo Pfening) seemingly humiliated by his son’s gender abnormality, refuses to take Mario to a professional for fear of embarrassment. He’s good too. Actually, the whole cast is quite fabulous.

   I honestly don’t have anything bad to say about this movie. Beautiful cinematography, natural acting, delightful leads… It’s sad and sweet and wistful all at the same time. The plot can be a little slow, but if you like nuanced, slow-paced movies like I do you will forgive the film it’s occasional sluggishness.

   What impressed me most about “The Last Summer of La Boyita” was the natural way the dealt with the boy’s affliction. It’s easy to take a schoolboy’s stance on a subject like intersexuality, snickering and clowning around a serious topic. It is also easy to turn the whole thing into a lurid melodrama. It is harder to show restraint and sensitivity to a rare but still prevalent issue. I highly recommend this movie to anyone.
                                                   

 

Let the Right One In (2008)


It’s no secret that “Let the Right One In” is my second favorite movie of all time, and was, in my opinion, in no need of a remake. The experience of watching this movie is akin to that of reading a great book — afterwards you want to recommend it to everyone, in hopes that they will feel the way you did watching it for the first time.

Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), an unhappy twelve-year-old boy, is bullied by his peers and fantasizes about making them pay, though for the time being the violence stays within the confines of his imagination. While outside his apartment complex at night, he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a strange twelve-year-old who offers him, for the first time, a chance to dream of a different life.

Eli is not like other girls. She goes outside into the bitter Swedish winter wearing no shoes. Occasionally she smells like a putrid corpse. Animalistic growls emanate from her gut. But she floors Oskar with her concern for him and her insistence that he must fight back, no matter what the cost.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, Eli is a vampire, which doesn’t stand by itself as a big spoiler, as it is alluded to in the first twenty-or-so minutes. Eli is not twelve, but rather thousands of years old, and her intentions toward lovelorn, nerdy Oskar are ambiguous throughout.

This is a extraordinarily well-shot film — the snowy, coldly beautiful backdrop is the perfect setting to tell this story, and the cinematography is gorgeous without being showy or pretentious. It is the kind of story that makes you fall in love with its characters. It doesn’t matter if Eli is a vampire or a zombie or even a robot — she is an undeniably real presence, and you root for her as she carries out what must be done.

Lina Leandersson is surprisingly good and carries most of the acting duties on her small, vampiric shoulders. Kåre Hedebrant is a little underwhelming at times but still makes a decent effort, and acts much better than Daniel Buttcliffe is the early HP years. He pulls off the mix of darkness and pain in Oskar’s heart combined with his ultimate naivete.

There’s a lot of symbolism in the second half of the movie (Oskar closing the doors of his toy cars, anybody?) which you may not catch if you are overly literal-minded or are not paying attention. The film never lets us forget the suffering of Eli’s victims, including Lacke, a local drunk she ensnares with a nasty trick and makes a snack out of.

The strength of “Let the Right One In” is that it cares as much about its characters as its blood and special effects. The small bit of controversy it earned with its content involving children is unfounded, and should not deter you from watching what is most certainly one of the all-time greats in modern horror.

Forbidden Zone (1982)

“The Forbidden Zone” takes place in a world entirely unlike our own. From the bizarre recreation of California to the freaky-deaky “Forbidden Zone” of the title, nothing looks the way it should look and none of the characters act the way a normal person would act under any given circumstances.

This is absolutely one of the weirdest movies I have seen in my life. If this intrigues you, this may be the movie for you. If not, maybe not. This bizarre surrealist musical follows Susan B. “Frenchy” Hercules (Marie-Pascale Elfman), a Californian with a pretentious French accent, who passes through a door in her parents’ basement to the “Sixth Dimension” a bizarre world ruled by a jealous queen (Susan Tyrrell) and amorous dwarf king (Hervé Villechaize,)

Frenchy quite willingly becomes the dwarf’s sex slave, but the queen, Doris, becomes determined to destroy her. Meanwhile, Frenchy’s dunderhead brother Flash and Grandpa enter the Sixth Dimension, hoping to rescue her.

The acting ranges from okay (Hervé Villechaize, Susan Tyrrell) to poor (Matthew Bright, as twin brothers Rene & Squeezit). The music, however, was quite good. I especially liked the voices of Marie-Pascale Elfman and Susan Tyrrell, whose throaty tune “Witch’s Egg” was strangely captivating.

This movie is not for the easily offended. There are racist stereotypes (thought by many to be a satiric portrayal of bias in Hollywood) and out-there sexual content. As a comedy, it’s a little weak (certainly not a laugh-out-loud movie). As a musical, it’s quite strong (with songs composed by the director’s brother, Danny Elfman, who later became a composing regular in Tim Burton films.)

“Zone” will divide audiences. For die hard fans of surrealism and cult weirdness, the film will offer subversive pleasures; for the average person, it won’t offer much. For people to whom “Inception” is hard-core weirdness, it will shock and repel. Regardless, it is a polarizing experience and a original picture, if not a particularly coherent one. I leave this one up to you.

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6.0/10