Tag Archives: Transgendered

Book Review: Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe

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Rating: B+/ Call me crazy, but I count Patrick McCabe’s 1992 novel The Butcher Boy among my favorite and most influential books of all time. Sure, it’s Bleak with a capital B, but it turned me on to my current fascination with books featuring unreliable narrators. It was made into a 1997 movie by Neil Jordan, and while it was surprisingly good with a convincing performance by Eamonn Owens as the book’s mentally disturbed narrator, Francie, some of the book’s brilliance was lost in translation. Continue reading Book Review: Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe

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Boy Meets Girl (2014)

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As progressive as Boy Meets Girl might be for featuring a romance between a transsexual in the midst of making the transition from male to female and a young sexually ambivalent woman, it’s pretty much a bust in terms of pure filmmaking. I have to say, the Southern accents of the characters really threw me off. They were awful. However, the most dire thing about this movie is the way it presents it’s message with the force of a blunt sledgehammer. It’s a worthy message, one of inclusion and tolerance, but there’s a marked lack of subtlety in the way it’s delivered.

The film (a kind of ‘transsexual love triangle romantic comedy’ for the supposedly young and hip) involves Ricky (Michelle Hendley,) a young transgendered woman living in rural Kentucky who dreams of being a successful fashion designer. Ricky still has guy parts, and finds herself disenchanted with her romantic endeavors with men. Her lifelong friend and confidante is Robbie (Michael Welch,) a guy’s guy and womanizer with whom she owns a small coffee shop. When Ricky meets the Christian, wealthy, and very engaged Southern Belle Francesca (Alexandra Turshen,) the two buck expectations by becoming feverishly attracted to each other. But Francesca’s uber-masculine and homophobic marine fiance David (Michael Galante) looms over their chance at happiness.

Michelle Hendley is an actress who deserves a better movie. She’s fairly natural and actually pretty enchanting as Ricky. She’s really transgendered, so maybe that helps her relate to Ricky’s experience (although of course every trans person’s experience is different.) However, I can’t say the same for the other actors. Turshen is just so fake as Francesca, smiling madly and forcing her way through the entire film. As Robbie, Welch’s accent is dreadful, and although he steps up his game acting-wise about halfway through the movie, his very presence leaves a certifiable bad taste in one’s mouth.

Another problem is the matter of the fiance. David is made into the biggest a-hole possible for most of the movie; just an over-the-top racist, homophobe, and judgmental prick to justify Ricky and Francesca sleeping with each other. Nothing that comes out of David’s mouth seems genuine, it just seems so artificial. Granted, there are bullies and generally awful people in this world, but shouldn’t they be portrayed in movies as people played by capable actors and not one-dimensional cartoons? Of course, after Ricky and Francesca break it off David has a big-time road to Damascus, in other words, exactly when the plot requires him to.

The characters in Boy Meets Girl are caricature-like and shallow. Francesca’s the daughter of a rich politician (Christopher McHale,) and the moment we meet him he’s bitching about Obama to his wealthy Republican friends, just to show us how conservative he is and how out of her element Ricky is. As if fiscal beliefs and values about gender identity and sexual preference have jack shit to do about each other. This movie is just too one-dimensional and too strident in it’s attempts to be cute. Nothing comes off as being real or genuine. The characters sound like extensions of an inexperienced script writer trying to send a message. And the revelation about Galante’s character halfway through the film? Just… don’t. Did they pick this one out of Gay Movie Cliches 101? That’s just lazy script-writing. Boy Meets Girl has a decent idea, but in the end, it’s just another God darn failed opportunity of a concept  that could have been great

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Tangerine (2015)

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Trashy people doing trashy things, set to the score of an interminable Dubstep soundtrack. The most interesting thing about this movie (shot on a cheap cell phone camera) is how it got the critics jizzing their pants over it.

I won’t deny that Tangerine is probably a pretty accurate reflection of a certain way of life, but in the process of portraying a transgendered working girl’s gritty urban existence, the film makes commits two unpardonable filmmaking sins- it completely lacks a interesting narrative or characters worth investing your sympathy in. The actors possess a certain naturalism and finesse for a movie with a budget this low, but who gives a shit about this story? The non plot combined with an instantly unlikable protagonist make Tangerine tedious as just over eighty minutes long.

Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez)- seriously, that name- is a transsexual prostitute (and still the possessor of male sexual organs) who get out after a short stint of jail to find out from her bestie (Mya Taylor) that her man and pimp has been screwing around on her. The entire movie concerns Sin Dee traipsing around L.A. trying to find her guy (James Ransone) so she can raise some hell. An admittedly much more interesting subplot concerns an unhappily married Armenian cab driver (Karren Karagulian) with a preference for trans hookers that still have their cocks intact. Unsurprisingly, this causes some tension with his wife and mother-in-law.

However, this plotline is never resolved as the narrative focuses on the unbearably catty and self-absorbed Sin-Dee as she spends Christmas Eve in Los Angeles seeing her quest through. Sin-Dee talks, looks, and acts like a character in a reality television program and I can imagine most people would only play along with her bullshit for so long. You keep your hands off her man, you hear, or otherwise she might just have to bust you up! Some viewers might find her sympathetic, I didn’t. It’s not that people like her don’t exist, they emphatically do, but I was utterly disinclined to watch her throw a hissy fit for eighty minutes.

If there’s a discernible plot to this movie, I’d be enthralled to know what it is. There’s some sex, some drug abuse, a catfight between Sin-Dee and her boyfriend’s new lay (Mickey O’Hagen.) There’s a lot of Sin-Dee wandering around the ghetto spewing profanities and man-handling various people. It’s hard to care about a story that goes absolutely nowhere and harder still to care about a trashy queen with a flair for drama and seeing others anxious or upset. If you want to see a trans woman struggling with her gender identity in an inner city environment, watch Gun Hill Road. That was an amazing film that grabbed your heart and didn’t let go.

I’ll admit, Tangerine looks passable compared to other independent films shot on cell phones. it even has an element of realism, and I don’t fault the actors one bit for my utter disinterest in the film as a whole. They took what they had to work with and they ran with it. But Tangerine  is not funny and it is not dramatically satisfying. Being that Sin-Dee scarcely shows a sympathetic human side, instead choosing to bask in drama and the heartache of her friends and neighbors, it’s really hard to like or empathize with her. I admire the good ideas this film incorporates into it’s script, but it’s so hard to sit through as a whole. A film needs a plot to carry its characters to a chosen destination, and it is in that area that Tangerine seriously lacks.

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Roxanne (2014, Short Film)

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In Paul Frankl’s low-key short film, a jaded transgendered prostitute is unwittingly thrown into the motherhood role after saving a homeless little girl from some unsavory types. It sounds like a recipe for melodrama, but Frankl shows remarkable restraint directing real trans woman Miss Cairo and Thea Lamb as the unwanted girl.

First of all, you don’t get a litany of boo-hooing about the direction Roxanne (the man, er… I mean woman of the night)’s life has taken. She’s remarkably self-possessed at best, fully resigned to the life she is leading at worst. But although the living situation between her and Lily, the little girl who’s mother has left her and whose mother’s boyfriend is a grade-A asshole. is less than ideal, it does make Roxanne reconsider her aloneness and the lifestyle she has taken for granted.

“Roxanne” is a very well-shot short film. The scenes at the night club where Roxanne cruises for the willing sex partner are dreamy and virile, while the sequences at her apartment, in the company of the young girl, are more akin to a Ken Loach kitchen-sink realism film. The cinematography (such as the cigarette smoke wisping through the cheap lace curtains ) always seems to articulate the feeling it wants to, and, more importantly needs to under the circumstances.

Miss Cairo has kind of an openness about her even when she’s being cagey, and despite her character’s waffling feelings towards the girl, it’s hard not to get sucked into her story and believe the best in her. I would have liked a more complete ending; the conclusion of “Roxanne” feels more like a ‘to be continued,’ but at least this leaves room for a possible sequel. I guess it’s too much to ask that Roxanne drop her life to assume full-time care of this girl, but I’m not ashamed to say that’s what I hoped for. Instead we got kind of an ambiguous ending, which I guess is better and more realistic, but not as satisfying.

It’s hard to make the viewer care for a duo of characters that exist on screen for a mere fifteen minutes, but directed Paul Frankl has pulled it off. I wanted the two heroines to find happiness in each other, and I would be happy to see a follow-up short or a film adaptation.

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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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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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Buddy Boy (1999)

Buddy Boy, Mark Hanlon’s debut, is a haunting and potent film about dead end lives that provokes more questions than answers but remains bizarrely interesting throughout.

The film provides a look into the surrealistic existence of emotionally stunted, stuttering misfit Francis (Aidan Gillen), who lives with his trollish invalid stepmother (actual amputee Susan Tyrrell), in a squalid apartment.

Suffering from overwhelming guilt concerning his sexuality, his religion, and himself, he goes to confession monthly, admitting every impure thought and indiscretion. The contrast between faith and the id is revealed in the opening, which presents the viewer with a montage of religious imagery followed by Francis, uh… pleasuring himself to a pair of voluptuous breasts in a magazine.

Like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, this is the high point of his day, which soon descends into woeful monotony. He finds a new pasttime in spying on his attractive neighbor Gloria (Emmanuelle Seigner, controversial Polish director Roman Polanski’s wife) through a hole in his apartment.

Then they meet. Gloria is strangely attracted to Francis, which would be unfeasible if she weren’t clearly lonely and desperate too. She tells him she is a vegan, a word he doesn’t understand, but he catches on. According to her, she doesn’t care what he eats, but then she buys him a “Meat Is Murder” t-shirt, which is a mixed message if I ever saw one. This further accentuates the character’s conflicting beliefs and desires.

Gloria is pretty and nice, too nice, and Francis begins believing irrational things about her pastimes, focusing on her eating habits. Meanwhile he becomes increasingly psychotic (?) and has a falling out with God. Is Francis going insane? Or is meat back on the menu? Buddy Boy is an enigma — although declared a religious allegory by IMDB users it at times seems to be making a statement against Christianity.

In fact Francis spends so much time obsessing about his masturbating, sinning ways that the viewer wishes the poor guy would just snap out of it. The movie is a triumph of atmosphere — the bleakness and decay of Francis and Sal’s apartment is palpable, while Gloria’s big-windowed, pleasingly green abode seems to spell change for the troubled young man.

The problem, it seems, is the vast contrast in acting styles between Aidan Gillen (Francis) and Susan Tyrrell (his stepmom, Sal). Gillen, from the GLBTQ show Queer as Folk (which I haven’t seen), plays his character sensitively and gently, as a fundamentally benevolent albeit strange outcast damaged by trauma and psychosis. Susan Tyrrell plays his abusive stepmom more like a SNL skit. Maybe her broad performance is the fault of the material.

When an actress’ character is scripted to beat a plumber over the head with her artificial leg (one of the stranger scenes in this story), maybe there isn’t much room for subtlety. Buddy Boy, nevertheless, is an intriguing first feature and a fascinating story.

It walks a fine line between being campy and profound, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I like the humanization of Francis, a character who might be written off as a scummy voyeur, or worse, as white trash. It raises interesting questions, contains twists, and transports you, which is something films should accomplish, but rarely do.