Tag Archives: LGBT

The Discovery & 13 Reasons Why

Both The Discovery and 13 Reasons Why ask the same two questions: What is life? Why stick around for it? They come to roughly the same answers, though by very different routes.

The Discovery does this through the lens of science fiction. It asks: What if we knew there was something after death? And then it goes on to explore the impact, but tries to remained focused on the smaller stories. It is a rumination on “what if,” bordering on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in feel.

13 Reasons Why does this from the 7th circle of Hell, otherwise known to most people as: High School. 13 Reasons tries to expose the realities of teenage perspective by offering up multiple stories and, potentially, the different variations of truth to them as we learn more. Ultimately, this is more a tale in the vein of Veronica Mars than it is a deep psychological expose, more structured as entertainment than open discourse, but it manages to make its points.

Their overlapping discussions of suicide make them a natural and topical pairing.

In The Discovery, suicide becomes a real, and less scary option for many people. Frankly, I think probably on a much bigger scale than the show posits. The script doesn’t try to simplify the risks or answer questions unequivocally, but it does nicely, if narrowly, follow enough characters to explore the idea.

Robert Redford (Pete’s Dragon), Jason Segel (The Muppets), and Rooney Mara (Lion) topline this intellectual thought experiment. With such a great cast, and a neat premise, it could have been so much more. But it is still engaging and thought provoking. And the ending is anything but passive for the viewer.

13 Reasons Why has a number of strong performances, but the primary standouts are Kate Walsh, Katherine Langford, and Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps). Walsh delivers a solidly heart-breaking performance of a mother dealing with loss and guilt. Langford lays out a progression of decisions and emotional fractures that help you follow her path, if not totally agree with the results–all the more impressive as it is her lead acting debut. And Minnette is a perfect “every kid” lost in the political tides of adolescence and inside his own head.

It is the confluence of these presentations that makes them so interesting to me. Either alone would have been something to notice. But two major releases, and even other shows like Transparent jumping onto the suicide depiction train (and there are many, many more, like Collateral Beauty), speaks to a subject in the air that needs dealing with in some way. Perhaps the documented rise of clinical depression over the last six months, particularly in women, is part of the explanation.

Regardless of the deeper zeitgeist, both of these streams deserve your time for their performances and their ideas. As to the bigger picture…time will tell.

The Discovery 13 Reasons Why

3 Generations

This is best thought of as a film about family rather than a story about a young trans man played by Elle Fanning (20th Century Women). It is primarily a tale about how this unique family inter-relates. And, in the end, this movie is really more Naomi Watts (Sea of Trees) story than it is Fanning’s.

But, truth be told, it is Susan Sarandon (The Meddler) and Linda Emond (The Family Fang) who steal this movie. Their characters and interactions are beautifully understated and comfortable. They throw away their lines like the old, partnered couple they are supposed to be but also manage to stay in the background. They take focus because of their quality, not because they are scene stealing.

There was so much controversy over this film as it came to screens. The MPAA tried to saddle it with an R rating due to its subject matter (learn more about the MPAA) and because Fanning was playing the role rather than a trans actor. Fanning (20th Century Women) does try to do her best, but I honestly never really bought her in the role both because the on-screen and script choices didn’t really fully jibe with my own experiences with people in transition.

The movie is simply, fundamentally flawed. Director and co-writer Gaby Dellal worked with Nikole Beckwith, but didn’t quite nail the story either in balance or action. Added to that, there is a forced layer of auteur visuals in the videos created by Fanning’s character that don’t feel at all on point or by him. And there is also a more metaphorical aspect of resampling and recreating music into something by that character. In neither case does the film pursue the threads, leaving them dangling, unfulfilled, and even distracting in some ways. And the men in this film, Tate Donovan (Argo) and Sam Trammell (The Fault in Our Stars), are somewhat pointless, but that is by design, though an odd message given the core focus.

Ultimately, there is entertainment and warm fuzzies to be had here, and a couple of the performances really are worth seeing. But as a movie it is middling in its success.

3 Generations

This Film is Not Yet Rated

Even I’m appalled that it has taken me 11  years to finally see this documentary about an industry that I’ve been part of most of my life. Especially so as I’ve always felt the ratings system was bogus (at best). Despite its early, stated intentions to end the censorship era, the advent of the MPAA and the rating system simply shifted and made shadier the efforts to control content by a minority band of self-appointed moralists. If that statement left you in the dust, then you definitely need to see this movie.

The sad truth, however, is that even after 11 years nothing has really changed since this Kirby Dick (The Hunting Ground) documentary hit screens. The MPAA hasn’t changed tactics or efforts at all. They are still beholden to the same masters (studios) and are secretive and capricious (and even bigoted) in their decisions. (See 3 Generations for a recent example. )

On the up side, the lay of the land around the industry, in particular with the rise of Netflix and Amazon Prime, has provided distribution avenues that didn’t exist at the time this docu was made. Also, the rise of “Director’s” and Unrated editions of films, only just coming to prominence when this docu was made, allows for the intended vision of films to find their audience. All of this doesn’t nullify the very real concerns or issues raised, but it points to potential ways around the gatekeepers from an artistic point of view. It would be a great follow-up to see how the financial landscape and decisions may be changing (though even Netflix is starting to scale back after years of risk).

Not Yet Rated exhibits Dick’s devotion to the truth as well as his sense of humor and commitment to his subject. It is a set of qualities that has garnered him several awards and nominations. This particular documentary struggles with its narrative, but not its entertainment nor its ability to inform. Which is to say that while it all comes together and there is a lot of information and revelation, the focus is a little soft. However, if you’ve ever wondered where the heck those letters come from on your entertainment, how they are selected, and how we compare to the rest of the world, you need to see this film.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Sense8 (series 2)

The first series of Sense8 was a mind-blowing experience. Its scope and inventiveness blazed new ground for the small screen. It challenged its viewers on many levels and managed to set up a world and set of conflicts that had you begging for more. Even if it wasn’t new material for readers of folks like Theodore Sturgeon, it was the best depiction of those ideas I’d ever seen in visual media.

Then came the holiday special, which was an important story bridge, but which also indicated a potential shift in quality. So it was with no little trepidation that I dove into the long awaited second series.

One of the first things that is immediately obvious is that one of the rich aspects of the show, the 8 languages, has been shifted to all English. It is a subtle change at first, but as the show goes on it definitely feels diminished and less credible. One of the fascinating and wonderful aspects to Sense8 was the multi-cultural breadth of the characters. It is part of its core message that people of all countries and creeds can work closely together, can love one another. Now, not only does it all sound the same, but some of the actors are struggling with the language, and subtleties, such as using English as a way to make others feel dumb or less, have been lost.

The scale of the show has also been pulled back. In some ways this was anticipated. Sense8 is not one of Netflix’s most successful shows in terms of sheer force. It will work for them for years, I’ve no doubt, but budgets aren’t typically planned on that hope. So I can forgive this, especially if it means we get more. However, there was at least one great addition to the cast (which I can’t discuss without blowing surprises), but I will say that Doctor Who fans will be pleased.

While Straczynski (Babylon 5), and Lana and Lilly Wachowski (Jupiter Ascending) are all still very involved, I was sad to see Tom Tykwer (Drei/3)disappear from the creative staff. There was a magic with all of them that seems just a little less without him there. And the rules of this world are somewhat fungible at this time… this could be because our main characters really are still learning about what they are or it could be that the writers are not staying consistent. Time will tell on that, but it does need to clarify how Sensoriums can reach out to one another and when/how someone can take over someone else.

OK, all of that said, this is still a fascinating and brave show. It is doing things and dealing with themes that no one else really is, and certainly not in this way. The end of this series, of course, sets up the next and it has definitely raised the stakes again.  So, yes, I am anticipating the the next series already. I hope it gets renewed and I hope it comes with a bit more of the original series feeling back into it.

[Updated 1 June, 2017: And this is why fans have such trouble committing to great shows: Sense8 is officially cancelled]

Sense8

Arianna

Over-examining this film is probably a mistake. It is, at heart, simply an impressive and effective coming of age film. Arianna’s story has resonance for anyone, regardless of their biological or gender identity. It is even more laid back than the similar XXY and much more focused on the core issue as well.

The success of this movie is very much on the lead’s, Ondina Quadri, shoulders. It isn’t just about her look or costuming, but also her subtle movements and quiet emotion throughout. She keeps you focused on the challenges and the internal turmoil of Arianna rather than the potential theatrics. Both Quadri and director Carlo Lavagna gathered up a number of awards for the results.

The film lays out its intent at the very beginning, but it does still come to a bit of an abrupt halt at the end. I didn’t find it a problem, but you may or may feel incomplete by the choice. I would argue that it fits the purpose and the promise well. However you feel about the end, it is still worth the journey and the performance.

Arianna

Lilting

Writer/director Hong Khaou’s first feature gives us a painfully sweet view of grieving and life. Like its title, this movie unfolds in a light rhythm of scenes, some which repeat with new meaning, like the return of a musical theme. But the music of these piece is language. It makes the story as much about language and communication…and lack of communication…as it is about the specific plot itself.

The movie works primarily due to the powerful and subtle talents of Ben Whishaw (The Lobster) and Pei-pei Cheng. The two are deep wells of love and misery learning about each other and themselves as the film unwinds.

Supporting their stories are Andrew Leung (Doctor Who), Naomi Christie (DCI Banks), and Peter Bowles. Each brings important aspects to the tale, Leung in particular, but they are more catalyst than player as the two leads find their way.

This isn’t a depressing film, but neither is it overly joyous. It is quiet and, ultimately, honest about life and memory. It is also an insightful view of the world of mixed culture and generations. It struggles a little with the editing, but as a first film, and with such solid talent and such a touching and beautifully conceived story, it is worth your time.

Lilting

Queens (Reinas)

If you like broad comedy with just a bit of bite, this will fill an evening for you. It is a borderline telenovella in feel, but manages, through clever storytelling and wide pallet of issues, to keep it interesting and moving. What is fascinating, and sad, is that this was done in 2005 in Madrid, almost a decade before marriage equality hit the shores of the US.

Despite being about a collection of gay relationships, it is really focused more on the parents, particularly the mothers. And the cast of moms is pretty solid, with several known actors who boast more than a handful of awards: Carmen Maura (Volver), Marisa Paredes (All About My Mother), Verónica Forqué  (Kika), Mercedes Sampietro (Unconscious), and Betiana Blum. Opposite them, are a couple of equally talented men: Lluís Homar (Broken Embraces) and Tito Valverde who bring some balance and, in Homar’s case, a solid bit of plot. 

The young men of the families are a mix of ability, but none are playing it to extremes. They are, generally, less well known than their on-screen moms and dads as well. A couple of those I could pick out were Hugo Silva (Witching & Bitching) and Daniel Hendler (Whiskey). But the gents, in general, are a pretty standard bunch.

This isn’t a must-see comedy, but it was certainly amusing and entertaining. Embrace its genre and intent and you’ll find it a relatively satisfying confection. It even manages in its final scene to impart a final bit of social commentary to the audience, which took it up a notch for me.

Queens

Codebreaker

When I first saw The Imitation Game, I felt it was missing something. It was well done and superbly acted, but there was so much more to the story than it covered… much I knew and some I didn’t. At the time, I had tripped across this 2011 documentary from the BBC but I only finally got my hands on it recently.

I admit that it is a bit staged in its re-enactments, but they are all based on recorded facts and add a level of humanism to what is a fascinating and tragic story. A story, I must say, feels even more relevant today than when it was released or even since Imitation Game hit screens a few short years ago.

This is as much a story of modern computing (with a bit of a snub to Babbage and Lovelace) as it is about prejudice, governments, and abuse of power. All very topical subjects these days.

Paul McGann (Luther) narrates well and unobtrusively. Turing, played by Ed Stoppard (Youth), equals Cumberbatch in skill, though with only short scenes to go by it isn’t a completely fair comparison. And Henry Goodman (Avengers: Age of Ultron) as his psychologist, friend, and confident is suitably open and sympathetic. These dramatized moments interposed with interviews and explanations very much help to ground the story and give is a face. In the end, it is a view of Turing that even Whitemore’s play, Breaking the Code, didn’t manage to fully capture because in both cases, movie and stage play, they decided to pick a focus rather than to absorb the whole.

If you have an interest in Turing or want to know more about the genesis of the modern computing age, this is an excellent way to learn more.

Codebreaker

3

I’ve spoken several times of my admiration of writer and director Tom Tykwer (A Hologram for the King). His ability to tell a story, particularly unconventional stories, is usually a joy to watch. I suppose it was inevitable that I would eventually see a movie of his that didn’t quite work, despite it winning several awards.

With 3, Tykwer was experimenting with interstitials and picture-in-picture insets to play with the story and to try and expose the inner life of his characters. It is reminiscent of his Run, Lola, Run, but less on point and more distracting than helpful in most cases. There is even a metaphor related to stem cells that is overlaid on the action and which, frankly, could be taken many ways (some not so palatable to my mind). It is this metaphor that, I think, drives the interstitial choices as well, but I’m really not quite sure; which is also a measure of the lack of success of the film.

The plot itself is a long and complicated one and, perhaps, a little too deeply part of its own culture to resonate outside Germany. Stories are about people, and usually that is enough, but sometimes culture does override universality. At its core, the three characters are somewhat accessible, but their larger motivations and ways of dealing with one another, particularly Sophie Rois (Enemy at the Gates, Killer Condom) and Sebastian Schipper (Run, Lola, Run), is somewhat confusing. Perhaps part of that was the direction and editing, which leaps through their relationship and has a rather loose sense of time. But a larger part is assumptions made that we will understand their interaction and can infer their devotion or lack of it.

And then there is Devid Striesow, the third leg of this triangle, not so ambivalently named Adam. For a good part of the film, I thought I understood him as a sort of self-absorbed, freewheeling guy without any real connections. But his life belies that even while the approach to telling his story does not. This pivotal role is where the construction fell apart for me. On a character level I could accept the couple and their paths, however unexpected. But Striesow’s character doesn’t meet its needs in the story and allows the complex construction to collapse in on itself rather than settle into an unexpected and satisfying shape. On a metaphorical level, Adam is intriguing, but again, not a message I’m sure comes through as intended. 

Issues aside, there are still some great moments in this movie. Striesow, in particular, gets some brilliantly subtle beats of surprise. It also has humor and not a little passion. If you are a Tykwer fan, you probably have to see it. If you aren’t, it is a middling foreign film with a somewhat interesting tale to tell. A word of caution: Don’t start here if you aren’t familiar with Tykwer’s work, look elsewhere in his opus… pretty much anywhere else in his opus and then return to this one later out of curiosity.

3

Julieta

Probably Almodóvar’s (The Skin I Live In) simplest and most effective film in a long time. Absent are the extremes and histrionics, instead it is a simple(ish) story about a woman. He worked with co-writer Alice Munro’s (Away from Her, Hateship/Loveship) to craft a nicely constructed script and Almodóvar does a great job of emotionally and visually transitioning it across the years.

Julieta is played seamlessly by two women… blink and you may even miss the transition from one to the other.  Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte are well-matched in looks, action, and ability and both have been well awarded through their careers.

There are others in this movie, men and a few other women as well, but it is dominated by the main performances. Almodóvar loves strong, complicated women, and this story is no exception. He isn’t kind to them, but he is entirely sympathetic and clearly loves them. It is a beautiful story with no easy answers, but also with a sense of hope and completeness to it.

Pedro Almodóvar in Julieta