Tag Archives: GLBTQ Issues

Love is Strange (2014)

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“Love is Strange” is a solid little film whose finale nevertheless left this viewer feeling somewhat half-satisfied, puzzling on whether that was ‘it.’ To be fair, the good far outweighs the bad for this project- writer-director Ira Sachs infuses “Love is Strange” with an honesty and a subtlety that is sometimes frustrating, sometimes heartrending, and the leads perform admirably in true-to-life, non-showy roles.

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are an aging gay couple who have just tied the knot. Good for them, bad for George’s career- the Catholic School where George teaches music is displeased that George’s sexuality is now made known to everyone by his getting married. George is a believer and a well-loved teacher, but what does that matter to the fat cats who run the show, and are overeager to push George back in the closet?

Nothing it seems. Worse, now Ben and George can’t keep up payments on their apartment, so they are shuffled off to live with friends and family. Absent-minded artist Ben goes to live with a distant relative where he is treated like an unwanted stray and an annoyance in their cramped apartment. George, on the other hand, stays with a gay cop couple who party long and hard day in and day out, befuddling the old man.

“Love is Strange” is a quiet film with lots of static long takes, and it seems ‘real’ to a startling extent. Ben and George’s relationship is very sweet and passionate without being graphically sexual. The movie also has some interesting things to say about fidelity and ageism, and the value (or lack thereof, in some cases) of family.

I would have liked a bit more resolution to the plotline concerning the boy (Charlie Tahan) stealing the French books (though the father (Darren E. Burrows’) hysterical and accusing reaction is priceless.) The lovely Marisa Tomei plays the role of the boy’s mother and the wife of the relative taking Ben in, and the whole cast does a uniformly great job, including the young boy actor as the moody teen who doesn’t take to Ben’s presence famously.

The more I think about the ending, weirdly, the more ‘right’ it seems- the tenderness and the grit and the bittersweet melancholy of it- and my initial miffed reaction to the speediness of the wrap-up has more to do with my own personal response than anything to do with the quality of the writing or directing. That said, I think there could have been a little more added to the conclusion.

I don’t think “Love is Strange” is one of the best gay-themed movies of all time, but it certainly holds it’s own in a subgenre whose movies range from fantastically good to woefully poor. Lithgow and Molina portray aging New Yorkers equipped with a tenderness and a good humor that spits back in the face of mounting obstacles. If you’ve never heard about it until now, you’re not the only one; “Love is Strange” was miserably under talked about, and it’s certainly ‘strange’ that it hasn’t gotten more attention than it received.

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Summer Storm (2004)

Tobi (Robert Stadlober) is at that age when young adults wonder who they are, what they want, and where, if anywhere, they fit in. Unfortunately, what Tobi wants is quite obvious and unattainable: his straight best friend, Achim (Kostja Ullmann), who seems oblivious to Tobi’s affections.

“Summer Storm” is the story of Tobi’s coming out, Tobi’s boat rowing team championship, and Tobi himself, a fragile young man who hides behind a mask of goofball lovability to avoid confronting the world head-on.

Similarly compelling are the trials of Tobi’s girlfriend Anke (Alicja Bachleda), who tries to understand the deep feelings Tobi has for his best bud. The only subplot that I thought did not work was the attempts of a member of the openly gay opposite team, Queerstrokes (cute, huh?) to seduce an apparently straight homophobe.

I found this to be silly and cartoonish, and to reinforce negative stereotypes about gays (they want to “convert” you.) I think that the director should have dropped that and concentrated on Tobi, who is, to be a fair, a compelling and likable character.

He can be naïve, he can be a jerk sometimes, but Tobi is well-realized and sympathetic. Robert Stadlober, who is bisexual in real life, gives a sensitive and restrained performance. I also liked his romance with Leo, a Queerstrokes member. Although I initially felt that Tobi was using Leo, I liked the direction their relationship took.

“Summer Storm” is a good if unexceptional drama with mostly realistic characters, humor, and heart. Some aspects ring false (such as the apparently straight Achim masturbating in the shower room with Tobi) but most of it was believable. It is a movie for people who like gay cinema and true-to-life films about growing up.

East is East (1999)

Incorporating a blend of humor and heartbreak with ethnic issues, “East is East” sometimes seems awkward and wrong-headed, but it’s successes are more plentiful than it’s failures. The talented cast is a big plus, led by Om Puri and Linda Bassett as the wildly divergent parents, and Jordan Routledge as the adorable youngest child, Sajid.

Manchester, 1971. George (Puri) is an old-fashioned Muslim and stern father of seven rebellious children, who are more white than Muslim and resent their father’s interfering ways. Their mother, Ella (Bassett,) is an fairly assertive and modern British lady who tries to work out disagreements within the family. When Nazir (Ian Aspinall) panics during an arranged marriage ceremony and walks out on his bride, the clan is thrown into discord.

As George becomes increasingly domineering and abusive, Sajid clings to his childhood like his well-worn parka that he never takes off. Ella tries to maintain some control over the deteriorating situation, and George becomes determined to marry off two of his oldest sons to two ugly brides.

The odd mixture of strident comedy and domestic drama doesn’t always work. Something like a amorous Great Dane or a vagina-shaped art project might seem mildly funny, but seems discordant among frank scenes of domestic violence. The acting is strong from the leads, and they help the movie quite a bit along the rough patches.

Jordan Routledge is cute and expressive as the youngest lad of the family. Linda Bassett is convincing playing the frustrated, beleaguered matriarch, and while I didn’t agree with all her decisions, I sympathized with her for the most part. George is not a cartoon cutout villain, but I think his treatment of his family might have been treated a bit more seriously if he weren’t a ‘traditional Muslim man.’

Ella might defend her husband, but we modern girls know better- if a man gives us a black eye and menaces our children, he is O-U-T out! Religion is neither a defense or an excuse. *SPOILER ALERT* I don’t like how she gets back together with him at the end. I guess it happens, but it wasn’t a satisfying ending. She should have shown that b**tard the door. *END OF SPOILER*

For the most part, “East is East” is a charming movie. I liked the character-based humor and the kids’ antics. It would be annoying growing up in a big family like that. You wouldn’t have any privacy! The kids were pretty much stacked on top of each other like a cheese sandwich. I had some problems with the film but overall I liked it.

I think the treatment of the unattractive women in the film could’ve been a little less cruel, but like the ending, it’s a reality of life that might not be pretty to face, but exists all the same. The world has a long way to go when it comes to being unbiased and dispelling shallow values. Overall a good movie.

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

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A good movie can find humor in tragic circumstances and goodness in extremely flawed characters; “The Skeleton Twins” does both. Twins Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) have not spoken for ten years when the near-suicides of both bring them together, for better or worse. Milo is a gay, unemployed aspiring actor still enamored with the former teacher (Ty Burrell) who seduced him when he was fifteen; Maggie is a depressed, unhappily-married dental hygienist who doesn’t love her husband Lance (Luke Wilson.)

Lance is a total sweetheart and I think Maggie is in love with the idea of him (a kind, caring hubby who doesn’t treat her like shit,) but for a sexually frustrated serial adulterer like Maggie,  the idea of true love and the reality of a sparkless relationship isn’t going to cut it. Milo begrudgingly moves in with Maggie and her husband, and exacerbates Maggie’s personal drama, but it is the conflicted relationship between the two siblings, who have been torn apart by the suicide of their dad years before,  that might pull them together or destroy them.

This all sounds like some very heavy crap, and I guess it is, but director Craig Johnson sprinkles some laughs and light-heartedness among the dark drama. Milo and Maggie are extremely sarcastic and acerbic, and yes, they can be grade-A douchebags sometimes, but they end up coming through for each other and are ultimately each loyal to the other one’s needs, whether or not a loved one’s intervention is what the person in crisis was looking for.

The humor leavens the moments where the movie seems like it’s going in the direction of pure familial nastiness (I can go to my Aunt’s house and bring up politics for that.) There’s a definite realism to the proceedings and the filmmaker never tries too hard to get a sniffle or a laugh. I found the acting from everybody, from Milo and Maggie to Lance to even the “Modern Family” guy as a pedophilic schmuck, to be very effective.

Don’t go into “The Skeleton Twins” expecting belly laughs and wild escapades resembling those of Wiig’s breakout hit “Bridesmaids.” If you hadn’t guessed from all the suicide talk. “The Skeleton Twins” is rather low-key and sad. It’s real life, as filtered though the lives of some seriously troubled human beings. It’s love and family and emptiness and the trials of two fuck-ups trying to maintain their own sanity. In the end, all they have is each other. God help them.

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Jesus Henry Christ (2012)

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Unfairly bashed by critics as self-consciously quirky and “hipster,” “Jesus Henry Christ” is a entertainingly quirky little film, featuring highly intelligent characters who must find their own way towards being happy.

Henry James Herman (Jason Spevack) is an enigma, a brilliant youngster raised by his single mother Patricia (Toni Collette.) Henry has a keenly incisive mind and a photographic memory, but there is one thing he doesn’t know… who his dad, an anonymous sperm donor, is.

Enter dweeby professor Slavkin O’Hara (Michael Sheen), whose latest mistake is putting his 12-year-old daughter Audrey (Samantha Weinstein)’s face on his new book, Made Gay or Born That Way? Audrey, as it turns out, is gay, but she’s not ready to be outed just yet, and Slavkin’s bug-up provokes the merciless taunts of her peers.

Henry decides to locate his father, which leads to a series of sometimes sweet, sometimes sad, sometime revelatory occurrences, which in the long run brings Henry’s makeshift family together.

But first Henry must contend with his skeptical mother and furious half-sister, while Henry’s appearance dredges up old memories in Slavkin, who must come face-to-face with how fractured he and his daughter’s relationship has become.

This film is not a masterpiece. I didn’t like parts of it. For instance, the white character who thinks he’s black and refers to the other characters as “white Devils” was kind of silly. The scene where Henry is bullied for writing an atheistic paper in Catholic school was a little obvious (Will there ever be a movie where the kid is bullied for being Catholic? Probably not.)

The movie I’d compare “Jesus Henry Christ” to is “Amelie.” The dark/cutesy whimsy and off-beat narration tie the two films together, but Jason Spevack’s Henry is simply not as likable as Audrey Tautou’s Amelie Poulain.

I mean, Jason Spevack is fine, but the real discovery here is Samantha Weinstein as Audrey, Slavkin’s defiant adolescent daughter. It’s hard to make a character of a preteen who hates everything and everyone not seem like an entitled brat, but Samantha Weinstein makes you sympathize with Audrey.

There is also a scene where Henry and Audrey go on a carnival ride, and Audrey’s shrieks of fright become joyful screams, that I thought was beautifully done. “Jesus Henry Christ” is an unfairly bashed addition to the genre of offbeat indie movies.

North Sea, Texas (2011)

Back in the 50’s and 60’s, any movie that dealt with gay themes was radical and ahead of its time. A GLBT film didn’t have to be insightful or even particularly good — the filmmaker was risking his credibility and his career just putting himself (or herself) out there.

Now, however, things have changed, with entire gay film companies making movies available at the click of a button. Directors of these movies must not merely be willing to make movies — they must be the best they can be, and no less. Movies about the gay experience are in high demand, and makers and distributors of these films don’t need to be afraid anymore.

There have been some extraordinary films made about gay issues the last few years- “Weekend,” “Tomboy,” “Pariah,” and “Gun Hill Road,” to name of few … and  Belgian filmmaker Bavo Defurne’s “North Sea Texas” has garnered some acclaim. Unfortunately, “North Sea Texas” is a disappointment, marred by uninteresting characters and a rushed pace.

Pim (Jelle Florizoone), a pixyish, and disturbingly, often meagerly clothed teenage boy, is first seen played by Ben Van den Heuvel as a child, putting on a sash and a tiara for his own enjoyment. The son of a irresponsible mother (Eva van der Gucht) and a father who has long been out of the picture, Pim longs to escape is dull life. Mom is a frequent visitor of the Texas tavern, where she and her boyfriend get liquored up.

As a fifteen-year-old, Pim hates his mother’s loutish boyfriend but loves Gino (Mathias Vergels), his boy neighbor and best friend. Unfortunately, Gino’s sister Sabrina (Nina Marie Kortekaas) is in love with Pim, and can’t understand why Pim shows more interest in her motorcycle-riding brother.

When Gino breaks Pim’s heart and leaves, a love triangle develops between Pim, his mom, and handsome Gypsy Zoltan (Thomas Coumans). But Pim’s trials are not over, and his painful experiences lead to a eventual reconciliation.

I never really cared about Pim or any of the other characters — I guess that was one of the main problems with this film. Pim was nothing special — just your average soft, sensitive gay boy with a affinity for walking around unclothed. His apparent youth made his sexualization at the hands of the filmmaker seem somewhat skeevy.

Gino was a unsatisfying romantic interest who was willing to betray Pim just to go “Yeah, I’m straight” to the rest of the world. I didn’t like him either. Sabrina was okay, but she was a bit of a whiny busybody brat. I mean, who just goes into a person’s and starts browsing through papers?

The only things I liked about “North Sea Texas” were the decision to cast a fat person as Pim’s mother, Pim’s performance, and the scene at the end where Pim and Sabrina come to a silent truce. Otherwise, the movie was startlingly mediocre, and I hope you’ll take a pass on this one in order to watch a more worthy likewise-themed movie.

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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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 Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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Witty and intelligent, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is a must-read for anyone who has ever felt trapped by their own isolation. It also has one of the most genuine teen voices I’ve ever seen. The protagonist. Charlie, is a good student but is never really noticed by his peers, and he lives inside of his head most of the time. Until the epic year that he meets Patrick and Sam, two free-spirited freshmen who encourage him put himself out there. Charlie promptly falls head-over-heels in love with Sam (a girl,) though she initially rebuffs him. The story is told from the point of view of a bunch of letters Charlie sends to a teenager he has never met. Charlie struggles with his psychological difficulties, dates. and comes to terms with a traumatic memory from his childhood he has repressed.

If that sounds boring to you and you would rather read a book with James Bond-style spy gear and car chases, maybe this isn’t the book for you. This is a book about life, teens, dating (but not that superficial teen stuff a lot of young adult books are about.) Charlie is a sensitive vulnerable kid, and doesn’t don the usual jaded teen voice that YA literature is rife with. He really wears his heart on his sleeve, and he is easy to love, although his naivete and immaturity can be troubling at times. The gay subplot between Patrick and a popular football player who won’t acknowledge him in school is sensitive and well-written.

I actually thought Patrick was a more vibrant character in the movie. I guess without Ezra Miller to play him, he falls a little flat. Also, some aspects were a little more fleshed out in the film. But there’s a on of great scenes and side-plots that weren’t in the movie. And actually, I liked and got to know Charlie a lot better in this. This book makes me a little melancholy (not in a bad way) because all the things Charlie is doing- getting out there, taking risks- are things I was told but never really did as a teen. I would have loved to have friends like Patrick and Sam. I would’ve loved to have one of those ‘infinite’ moments in a pick-up truck with the radio playing just the right song.

But overall. Charlie is not a character to envy. He’s just as messed up, confused, conflicted, etc. as any 15-year-old. He’s extremely bright and insightful, but sometimes those two things can be just as much a hindrance as a help, and he spends way too much time in his head. He is a very relatable character for me. Some people might not like the writing style, but I find that the somewhat juvenile way of telling the story helps it remain plausible. You really believe it could be being told by a 15-year-old.

‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is one of the better young adult books I’ve come across the last few years. Maybe this sounds corny, but it really restores my faith in the genre. Also, I added a wonderful sketch by a deviantart user. I’m going to add a link to the picture so you can visit her page.  I recommend both the book and the movie version to book and movie fans everywhere.

L.I.E. (2001)

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Despite a rocky start, L.I.E. proves to be a powerful movie in the long run, with great performances from Brian Cox and a young Paul Dano. Dano plays a Howie Blitzer, a fifteen-year-old juvenile delinquent whose dad is an inattentive swindler, and whose friends are leading him down the wrong path quick. The school guidance counselor senses that Howie is different, but Howie thinks that it is too late to be saved, and spirals deeper and deeper into disaffected adolescent crime.

One day Howie and his friends break into the house of Big John Harrigan (Brian Cox,) Irish-American Vietnam veteran and pedophile and steal two valuable guns from him. Harrigan finds Howie and tricks him into thinking he’s a friend of Howie’s late mother’s, and he grooms and attempts to seduce the boy, using threat of legal action for the missing guns to his advantage. Thus begins a icky, and very odd turn of events where the kid realizes that a monster is his only lifeline.

   L.I.E. was originally rated NC-17, and probably crosses the line with child actors as much as it can be crossed in an American movie. Even more disturbing than the pedophilic content and the sweaty, horny, hazed portrayal of out-of-control teen behavior, is the ambiguity concerning the relationship between an adult and a child. It is easy to portray a child molester as a teeth-gnashing sex fiend. It is hard to portray them as human. Don’t get me wrong, I think pedophiles are evil and will get their karma in the afterlife. But many of them were made that way, not born bad. They have human attributes and psychological reasons for doing what they do- to portray them as solely mustache-twirling villains is to deny the complexity of life.

The first ten minutes or so of this movie disappointed me- it seemed like they were trying way too hard to be shocking and edgy. It’s Harmony Korine syndrome- let’s show just how disgusting people can be! The scene where the boy is talking about screwing his sister didn’t ring true to me, nor did the scene with the boys being blown behind street signs. You have to get a little farther in to get to the good part. Brian Cox is chilling. He vacillates between being charming and repugnant. The fact that you begin to like him- just a little- shows the brilliance of the character dynamics.

L.I.E.‘s terrifying. It’s more terrifying than The Conjuring or the Human Centipede movies because it can happen, and is happening… outside our doors, in our neighborhoods, and maybe, just maybe, in our houses. Because Big John is only as scary as the society he inhabits, which neglects our children, raises a generation of ‘latchkey kid,’ and grows them up to be disaffected and attention-starved. It allows these things to happen. An abrupt ending makes you question what it all really meant. Not easy or kid-friendly, but relevant.

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