Tag Archives: LGBT

God’s Own Country

[3 stars]

Josh O’Connor (The Durells In Corfu) and, in his first major role, Alec Secareanu make an unlikely and wonderful pair in the harsh northern England countryside. The growth and challenge of their relationship is almost all internal, but completely obvious. O’Connor, in particular, takes us from not really liking him, to understanding him, to cheering for him all while his navigates a personal path that is barely mentioned.

In his first feature, acting as both writer and director, Francis Lee has created a painfully wonderful tale of first love. In fact, though mostly missed by audiences, it covers a lot of the same ground as Call Me By Your Name, but better highlighting a lot of the emotions I felt were missing in the Oscar contender.

Driving the story from the background are two well-known faces: Gemma Jones and Ian Hart as O’Connor’s parents. The interplay here is also subtle and almost entirely unspoken. Some of this is the culture of the north, but some is Lee’s respect for his audience; not forcing explanations and confrontations and trusting the viewer to understand. Both deliver solid performances.

Do be warned of one aspect. This film is not for the feint of heart when it comes to what it is to really be a farmer with livestock. There are a few moments that remind you why some people become vegans. It is all done with a purpose and, frankly, all fair and true to life, but not everyone will want to see it. The moments are short and you can avert your eyes and continue on if it bothers you, but the warning is necessary.

As a whole, this is a slow, intense film, but very well done, especially if you handicap it for the number of new roles its creators were taking on. It is touching and sad all at once, but ultimately uplifting as each character finds their place in the world, even if it isn’t quite how they expect to.

God

The Little Hours

[3 stars]

Medieval satire isn’t for everyone. The language, and even the spelling if you’re reading it, are a huge barrier to appreciating the humor. However, when updated, like this take on the Decameron by writer/director Jeff Baena (Life After Beth, I Heart Huckabees), it can open up. Why even bother? Well, because it reminds us that people were always just…people, regardless of how they spoke or lived. Life is about desire and survival. And we do still get a sense of the ribald satire, but in a Monty Python sort of approach. Mind you, writer/director Baena keeps it all a little more realistic than Python, putting it in a different category, but there is a similar senses of humor if not the same level of ability.

Aubrey Plaza (The Driftless Area), Kate Micucci (Don’t Think Twice), and Alison Brie (The Disaster Artist), as a trio of waywardish nuns, are entertaining. They each have a different sense of comedy and delivery, which often keeps the jokes from solidly landing, but they still manage to pull out a few belly laughs. Dave Franco (The Disaster Artist), as their unwitting center of attention, embraced his role as straight man and and gave them all a great sounding board.

Molly Shannon (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), John C. Reilly (Kong: Skull Island), Paul Reiser (Whiplash), and Fred Armisen (Phantom Boy) were all nicely constrained as well, allowing the young women to carry the broader humor.

My favorite dark comedy about convents remains Dark Habits, but this evil little concoction certainly gives it a go. It is a particular kind of humor that won’t fly for everyone, but the story, such as it is, is amusing. I can’t say this is a must seek out and find entertainment, but it is certainly something different for when you might be in the mood.

The Little Hours

Battle of the Sexes

[3 stars]

Another timely biopic, handled with honesty and consummate ability by the main actors, Emma Stone (La La Land) and Steve Carell (Cafe Society, Despicable Me). Though neither actor looks quite like their real-life counterpart, both make you forget they aren’t the real Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs through subtle facial moves, posture, and vocal control. At times it is eerie.

Additional characters help provide story vector or commentary. Jessica McNamee (Sirens) as Margaret Court is an uncomfortable bridge from the past into the film’s present while Bill Pullman (The Equalizer) is a nasty depiction of the thoughts of the times. As a fun side-note, and probably most out of place in this movie, is Alan Cumming (queers.). But it’s Alan Cumming, so I really didn’t care that it felt just a bit shimmed in; he’s too much fun.

Two of the most thankless roles in this recounting are the spouses of King and Riggs. Austin Stowell (Colossal) and Elisabeth Shue (Hope Springs), respectively, are quiet pillars in the storm of their relationships, understanding who they were married to and finding ways to deal with that. And then there is Andrea Riseborough’s (Birdman) character, who wants to be part of the support, but who struggles to understand what is really going on. This collective of people is part of what sets this story apart. None are quite what you expect either in word or action. Writer Simon Beaufoy (Everest) did his most subtle work around these characters and helped make it feel even more real.

Interestingly, this was co-directed by wife/husband power team  Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Ruby Sparks, Little Miss Sunshine) which probably helped keep the sensibilities all in line, though their particular leaning is clear. The result is both humorous and enlightening. The film is certainly a cure for thinking we’ve made no progress in the last 40 years, as well as a reminder of how much more there still is to do, even after all this time and all that effort.

Aside: Just this morning (18 January 2018) Novak Djokovic put forward the idea of paying men more because they currently have higher TV ratings, and Martina Navratilova speaks out against it…just in case you thought this was purely historical: http://www.bbc.com/sport/tennis/42729296.

Battle of the Sexes

Call Me By Your Name

[3 stars]

I very much wanted to like this movie more. It is from the directorial hands of Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash), who has a wonderful sense of humanity and a love of Italy, food, and all things sensual. It has some great actors, including two who have the incredible fortune to each be in more than one of the top talked-about films of the year. Michael Stuhlbarg (The Shape of Water) and Timothée Chalamet (Lady Bird) must be thanking whatever gods they pray too for their luck. Chalamet even has one more to go this awards season: Hostiles.

Most of the acting in this movie is very solid. Stuhlbarg is a quiet force on screen. He hangs mostly in the background orchestrating and bridging the action. And Armie Hammer (Free Fire), though subtle in a very different way, was particularly effective. His is a role that takes some acceptance, but it is both provocative and painful to watch.

Unfortunately, in the lead role, I found Chalamet less compelling. He is alternately believable and not, at least for me. I think where it failed me was in Ivory’s (Maurice) script. There is a surety and a bravado to both men that feels right for Hammer, but wrong for the younger Chalamet. I never understood who Chalamet was before Hammer showed up. I don’t get the sense of a young man coming to terms with himself or even feeling the depths of emotion that he claims…at least not till the end. The entire success of the film really all comes down to the last two scenes, but to get there you have to navigate close to two hours of rather uneven story.

Ultimately, this just isn’t the solid journey of Guadagnino’s other work. As beautifully filmed and subtly directed as it is, Guadagnino struggled with the shape of the tale. The pieces and steps getting from point A to point B are full of gaps. His choices and use of music were also jarring and, frankly, artistically confusing given the opening credits and setup.

And, oddly, the story is also massively untouched by the AIDS crisis, which was sweeping world culture by 1983 (yes, yet another story from the 80s, but that’s a different conversation). Even if Chalamet’s family was slow to hear about the crisis (doubtful in an academic family), Hammer was coming from America where things were becoming truly horrific. Admittedly the story isn’t about that; it is an internal tale of first love and growing up, but it did strike me as a missing eddy in the choices being made. Given that the source book was written far enough after the years of the setting for there to be perspective, it is disappointing.

And now I’m sounding like I disliked the film, which I did not. I was rather taken with it on a moment-by-moment basis. It was the whole that didn’t quite gel for me. I can see why it resonates for many people. The story transcends any particular sexuality. It is about the emotions and realities of modern life in a global world. It is, most importantly, about feeling and embracing life, regardless of where it takes you.

So, yes, see Call Me By Your Name. You will be hearing a lot more about the movie through awards season, so you might as well educate yourself in it so you can make up your own mind. You may well disagree with me on the character journeys. I can only bring my own perspective to the experience, you will have yours. You won’t be sorry you invested the time, but you’ll likely have to consider the hype and final result on your own.

Call Me by Your Name

Atomic Blonde

[3 stars]

From the outset, you know this is going to be a brutal spy film that doesn’t take it easy on any of its characters. The fights are harsh and the consequences mostly real…OK, kinda real. Charlize Theron (The Fate of the Furious) doesn’t just walk away from fights unscathed, she spends most of the film bruised and battered. It is reminiscent of Casino Royale, but the pain lasts a lot longer for her than it ever did for Bond and she wears those marks proudly. Theron will also make you believe that 4″ heels can be sensible footwear as a pugilist.

Opposite her, James McAvoy (Split) is entertaining, though we don’t get to see much new from him in this role. But he makes a nice counterpoint to Theron and fits well into the late 80s Berlin vibe. Having the fall of the wall as background for the story is interesting, and the soundtrack for this film is a huge nostalgia rush of tunes across the spectrum, used to varying degrees of effect.

There are also a number of important and interesting smaller roles. Primarily Eddie Marsan (Their Finest), Toby Jones (Sherlock), and John Goodman (Matinee) fill in integral aspects of the mystery and interplay. Marsan stood out best in this grouping, managing to be utterly unpresupposing and yet completely necessary.

It should be no surprise that this movie was directed by a stunt man. David Leitch has had his hands in John Wick and the upcoming Deadpool sequel. The creativity of the fights are part of what makes this movie sing; and there are a lot of them. That action augments a very spare, but intriguing, script by Kurt Johnstad (300 and its sequel). The result gives solid nods to its graphic novel roots, but manages to forge its own sensibility as well.

Given the setting for this initial film, and the resolution, it is hard to see where they might go with it as a franchise. It came a little late in a crowded field, and it is a lot more violent than a broad audience will tend to support. At the same time, it was clever and felt fresh. Perhaps that was just because it was Theron kicking butt and taking names, but in the year of Wonder Woman, it worked. So strap in for this one, when you make time for it.

Atomic Blonde

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time (Christmas 2017)

[4.5 stars]

Well, it was a long slog getting to this finale, starting back with the opening frames of World Enough and Time last season and then getting teased at the end of The Doctor Falls at the end of series 10.  But it definitely paid off. This farewell to Moffat as writer and show-runner, not to mention Capaldi as the Doctor, is poignant, well crafted, and full of nice moments. And, yes, probably a few mistakes in history and dropping of some threads regarding The Mastress. Having Rachel Talalay direct the entire through-line certainly helped keep it all steady in look and feel.

The impact of this sequence aside, it was also just a really good Who episode and not overly Christmas-y. In the best way it integrated the holiday for those who wanted it without making it the focus of the story in a way that pushed away others. The bridging plot of Mark Gatiss’s (queers.) character made that both possible and wonderful. And the “return” of Hartnell’s original Who, through the capable hands of  Game of Thrones alum David Bradley, was surprisingly effective. I also want to call out some great editing and camerawork that helped on that point, especially the cuts from past to present and back again.

Overall, this was a wonderfully strong ending for a Doctor who should have had a longer run. And, as I’ve railed over the last few years, a better set of scripts. I am looking forward to seeing where the show goes now with Chris Chibnall at the helm. Chibnall has a wide-ranging background and a series of critical and popular hits under his belt and a clear love of the Who universe. He is likely to bring a darker view, and a more science fiction approach back to the show. But he is also getting to blaze new ground and was left with one heck of a cliff hanger…one that mirrors the arrival of Matt Smith who was also brought new direction to the series.

All in all, a great ending to a mixed run by Moffat and a satisfying close to the Capaldi years, despite wondering what might of been.

Doctor Who

Lady Bird

[4.5 stars]

Coming of age stories have been around since, well, people were coming of age. Often they are fraught with hyperbole, grandiose dreams, heightened emotions, heroes and villains, and often triumph or tragedy on a large scale.

Lady Bird bucks all of that. There are no villains. It is quietly wonderful. Beautiful and painfully realistic. It is an unvarnished mother-daughter relationship told honestly from the their points of view, but with the maturity of an unbiased eye with the distance to see the truth.

Soairse Ronan (Brooklyn) holds this film up from its shocking beginning to its reflective end. She is utterly compelling and completely believable as a California teen in the early aughts; an era that is more different and distant now than you might realize till you see it recreated.

As her parents, Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) and Tracy Letts (The Lovers) are brilliant centers of love and stress for the teen. There is nothing simple about this family and no one pretends otherwise. But no one is really wrong or right either. There is a deep connection between these characters, however strained it may get. Must like life.

Ronan, as high schoolers are wont to do, has a couple of relationship interests. For this movie they take the shape of two very different, but very believable young men, Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) and Timotheé Chalamet (Love the Coopers). Hedges, in particular, gets to create yet another character boiling inside with secrets and desires.

There are also the girl friends, in two very different flavors. Odeya Rush (The Giver) and, probably the least known in the cast, Beanie Feldstein are great foils and supports for Ronan’s Lady Bird. Feldstein will certainly be getting more after this performance.

There are a couple smaller roles worth calling out as well, for both their humor and humanity. Bob Stephenson (Jericho), Stephen Henderson (Fences), and Lois Smith (The Nice Guys) are all great character actors and really bring it for this movie. They add texture to the tapestry that is Lady Bird’s life and humor in very unexpected ways.

Lady Bird is a brilliant sophomore outing directing for Greta Gerwig (20th Century Women) and continues her sharp writing career. She has a wicked eye and sure hand to bring out the truth of the characters lives and the world around them while keeping it all interesting and well-paced. It has earned huge respect by critics and audiences alike, despite it being a very small and quiet tale. It will certainly be nominated for many of the big awards, and has already gathered some festival fame (and an unheard of 100% on Rotten Tomtoes with 185 reviews in to date). Whether it can walk away with any of them is still an open question but Gerwig will unquestionably get more opportunities in future. Her characters have been igniting audiences for years now. That she has brought those same qualities and ability to bear from behind the camera is an unusual and welcome feat.

So, yes, it is as good as you’ve heard. Go, relax, and fall into Lady Bird’s life and world. It isn’t an explosion filled adrenaline ride, but I laughed out loud many times (I mean really loud) and connected with this film on many levels. You may be wondering, given all the praise I’ve heaped, why I haven’t given it a perfect score myself? The simple answer is that the quality of the photography knocked it down a notch for me. The framing and editing were both well done, but the stock or the projection I saw was grainy and a tad soft in a way that I found slightly distracting. I don’t know if it was purposeful on Gerwig’s part to elicit a sense of nostalgia or if it was simply my theater, but either way it had me taking it just a shade off perfect.

Lady Bird

Tag (Riaru onigokko)

[3 stars]

When Tag kicks off, there is a familiarity to the scene of Japanese girls on a school trip, having a pillow fight, and generally being silly. That is until the blood starts flying. Well, that’s not too unusual in Japanese horror either. At that point you’re sure it is going to be in the vein of Battle Royale. However, it doesn’t quite go there either.

Instead, writer/director Shion Sono creates a surreal world where running and pillow fights become driving symbols in a shifting landscape. Yes there is carnage… massively over-the-top carnage, but there is also emotion. And, more impressively as the story continues, some serious directing chops holding it all together despite the genre and any assumptions that may bring with it.

Tag is a film about not only the human condition, but also about the nature of reality, fate, and life generally. It isn’t a philosophical treatise by any stretch, but neither is it completely empty mayhem. It all builds to a purpose and a point.

Reina Triendl, in particular, gives us a focus and a connection for the story. She draws you in with her innocence and desperation, as well as her strength and determination in the face of overwhelming insanity. Her counterparts, with Sono’s guidance, in Mariko Shinoda and Erina Mano carry that torch well which pulls it all together. Yuki Sakurai, Ami Tomite, and Aki Hiraoka all deliver too. Most of these young women have worked with Sono in the past and their c.v.s are almost entirely unknown to US viewers, but they are worth keeping an eye on. For all of its absurdity, the success of this movie is down to their commitment and interactions.

If you enjoy Japanese horror, this is a bit unusual and worth seeing. I was expecting gooey silliness given its write up, but it really is meatier and more interesting than you might expect.

Tag

A Home at the End of the World

[4 stars]

This is a quirky but warm love story. Unusual in its choices but utterly devoted in its feeling. That honesty sets it apart from the kind of movie you think it is by that fact alone.

It may also be Colin Farrell’s (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) most normal and, possibly, even most effective role. He was incredibly natural and open in a way I’ve not seen in his other personas, which tend toward the quirky and frenetic. And Erik Smith (Squatters), as his younger self, is a scary, shrunken doppleganger of Farrell. Their rhythm and emotional core are astoundingly seamless across the scenes.  Director Michael Mayer (Smash) did a heck of a job in his first outing to get those performances.

Robin Wright (Blade Runner 2049) and Dallas Roberts (Dallas Buyers Club) play off each other and Farrell wonderfully, creating family, romance, and tension in a perfect balance. Absent that juggling game, the entire story would fall apart.

The final piece to this puzzle are two other influences. As the “trapped” but feisty housewife, Sissy Spacek (Carrie) has a blast. She has to walk a very fine line and manages it well. And it is always fun to see Matt Frewer (Orphan Black); though his screen time here is minimal, his role is important and has its moment.

There is something wonderful about this movie, and something rather unexpected. Yes, some of the action and outcomes are obvious, but they get there in ways you don’t quite expect, and with emotions that are far more accessible than they are histrionic. It is a reflection of life rather than art, which makes it all the more poignant.

A Home at the End of the World

queers.

[4 stars]

A truly wonderful and surprising collection of eight, 20-minute monologues commissioned to celebrate the the anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, the first official step in England to decriminalize homosexuality. Each monologue tackles a different decade from 1917 up through the present. Cleverly, they do not progress in chronological order, but rather bounce from from 1917 to 1994 to 1987, 1957, 1967, 1941, 1929, and finally 2016.

The effect is one of historical context for each of the eras providing heartfelt stories without making it feel like a history lesson. And the finale, in 2016, works as commentary overall, though only through the reflection of the rest of the pieces. I laughed and cried often through the sequence thanks to mostly wonderful writing and great performances.

Originally performed at the Old Vic, these were also adapted and recorded for the BBC. The monologues succeed on different levels, some being much better than others. But each monologue captures its decade in poignant ways and every one is a frank conversation of the joys, fears, and dreams of the speaker of that time.

Driven by Mark Gatiss (Denial, Doctor Who), who also was one of the writers, the production collected up some solid talent to deliver the stories: Alan Cumming (Eyes Wide Shut), Rebecca Front (Humans), Ian Gelder (Game of Thrones), Kadiff Kirwan (Chewing Gum), Russell Tovey (The Night Manager), Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones), Ben Whishaw (Lilting)and Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk). If nothing else, it is a 2.6 hour acting and scripting class.

Make time for these if you get the chance. It is almost entirely focused on the gay experience rather than the lesbian or otherly identified, but the sense of otherness, the sense of triumph, the sense of love and need is universal.

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