Tag Archive: Gay and Lesbian


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In 1986, William Hurt (One True Thing) won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Luis Molina, a flamboyantly homosexual prisoner serving time in an Argentinian prison, in the film Kiss of the Spider Woman. Along with the novel by Manuel Puig, Kiss of the Spider Woman became an important entry in the canon of LGBT cinema. Though there is no denying the bravura ferocity of William Hurt’s performance and commitment to his role, as viewed through a modern lens, this film’s characterization of homosexuality borders almost on camp caricature, and were the novel not written by a gay man, it would almost be offensive.

Imprisoned for having sexual relations with an underage prostitute, Luis Molina is toiling away his days in a horrifically managed prison overflowing with petty thieves and political prisoners of the oppressive Argentinian regime. Molina passes his time by recounting the details of his favorite movies to his roommate, Valentin Arregui (The Addams Family‘s Raul Julia), a hardened Marxist political prisoner. As Molina tells Valentin of a favorite German romance (that also happens to be a Nazi propaganda film), the pair become closer despite their differences although betrayal and lies threaten to undo the fabric of their new relationship.

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An evening of sleep removed from my viewing of Kiss of the Spider Woman and I still can’t decide whether or not William Hurt’s performance is brilliant or extraordinarily offensive to the modern LGBT community. It’s probably both. He loses himself in the role. Hurt is a famously intense character actor, and it shows in this performance. There isn’t a second where he isn’t Molina. But, the writing of Molina is so flamboyant and stereotypically “camp gay” that it’s hard for me to take him seriously. So, William Hurt becomes this wounded, sensitive, desperately lonely man, but the writing of his character often turns Molina more into a stereotype than a real man.

I have no complaints about the characterization of Valentin Arregui or the performance of Raul Julia. In fact, I was actually far more impressed with Julia’s subtle, restrained intensity as Valentin than I was with the over-the-top (though in line with the character) camp of William Hurt. Valentin is a man consumed by anger and his political passions. But, he is also a lover. He misses his girlfriends. He misses his freedoms, and he respects the openness with which Molina lives his life. And Raul Julia captures the slowly eroding layer of toughness and hatred that are all Valentin seems to be when the film opens as he becomes more sensitive in the shadow of Molina.

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Kiss of the Spider Woman can be heartrendingly intimate. Though it may not have the sheer power of Sunday Bloody Sunday or A Single Man, the film paints a detailed portrait of the lives and loves of its two heroes. And through the unique framing device of the film within the film, Kiss of the Spider Woman is allowed to weave a symbolic and allegorical web (pun possibly intended; I’m not sure) rife with the angst and longing both our heroes feel so deeply. The film accomplishes so much with the mostly two-star set up, that the moments where the film strays and introduces other characters actually living in Molina and Valentin’s real world (as opposed to the Nazi film characters) seem woefully deficient compared to the relationship of Molina and Valentin.

I’m going to keep this review really short (though I swear I enjoyed it quite a bit) because I have some other things that I need to write about today. I want to apply for a fellowship, and I’ve sort of realized that I haven’t worked on any of my screenplays for nearly two months now if not longer. It’s time to remedy that. If you enjoy intimate character studies and important films in the LGBT canon, Kiss of the Spider Woman is a must see. The ending drags on a little too long, and not every scene winds up winning (and Molina’s campiness may be a turn-off to some), but for the 1980s, this film was remarkably prescient and insightful.

Final Score: B+

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I once had a professor in college that I love and respect very much who once presented the argument (I’m unsure if she actually believed it or was just simply stating it out loud) that because cinema was such an originally proletarian form of artistic expression, it was pretentious to assume that cinema should aspire to be a higher art. Because it was originally created for mass consumption, the argument goes that the greatest films are those which can be enjoyed by the most people. True “art” was left for literature and the classical visual arts. Clearly, if you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you know I disagree (in fact, my review of The Master makes the exact opposite point), and films like 1971’s Sunday Bloody Sunday are the perfect example of why. A film that was light years ahead of its time in terms of LGBT content, Sunday Bloody Sunday is a slow-moving character study whose grasp of loneliness and desperation is nearly unparalleled.

I bring this all up not to sound pretentious or like the snobby cinephile all my readers know I am, but because Sunday Bloody Sunday (abbreviated to SBS from this point forward in review) is a film that is as far away from mass appeal as humanly possible, but it has the quiet power and raw emotional energy of the great pieces of American literature of the 20th century. The film, directed by John Schlesinger of Midnight Cowboy fame, has such a clarity of vision and honest understanding of its characters that the film doesn’t have to rely on emotional fireworks and explosive confrontations to achieve a near total devastation. In the same vein of A Single ManSBS takes a subtle and sexy approach (40 years before that would enter the mainstream of LGBT cinematic storytelling) to exploring love, bisexuality, polyamory, and the overwhelming hopelessness of loneliness.

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The film is often referred to as a romantic drama involving a “love triangle” although I think that’s ultimately inaccurate (for reasons I’ll expound on later). Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch) is an exiting middle-age homosexual Jewish doctor with a successful private practice. Alexandra Greville (Glenda Jackson) is a middle-aged woman with an unfulfilling career at an employment referral agency. The only thing the two have in common (besides a sense of emptiness in their lives) is that they both love the young, bisexual artist Robert Elkin (Murray Head). Taking place more or less over the course of one week, Sunday Bloody Sunday sketches an intimate portrait of the affection and meaning Alex and Daniel both seek from Robert while the always restless Robert hops from partner to partner always in search of the next new and exciting experience in his own life.

If the film sounds dull by that synopsis, it is surely not the most exciting film ever made, and SBS moves at its own consistently deliberate pace. And while the film does find itself at somewhat of a resolution by the movie’s end, it is not a “happy ending” that will leave many satisfied, and, in fact, I would argue that Sunday Bloody Sunday sets up this type of dissatisfaction intentionally because it’s an honest portrayal of the complex romantic entanglements that have formed in these people’s lives as well as a commentary on the way that we look for meaning in romance at the cost of actual self-improvement (more on that shortly). SBS is barely a story in the traditional sense of the word and it lacks any singular scene begging for the audience’s attention. However, the sheer strength of the film’s writing, characters, and performances kept me entranced until the end credits rolled.

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Sunday Bloody Sunday won the BAFTA Award for Best Film and the two leads won Best Actor and Actress. I’m not intimately familiar with all of the other nominees that year but Glenda Jackson’s win was well-deserved and Peter Finch was no slouch himself. It would not be an understatement to say that Glenda Jackson gives one of the most powerfully subtle and restrained performances that I’ve seen for this blog (it’s really a shame she’s up against the firebrand, crazy turn from Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction for this 50 film block). Alex’s loneliness and sense that her life is going nowhere and doesn’t have much of a chance of changing is soul-crushing, and in every line of Alex’s aging face (just realized Glenn Close was an Alex as well), you see how she feels the world and fate closing in around her. It’s the type of emotionally naked (and physically naked occasionally) performance that you rarely saw from female actresses at the time. Apparently, Glenda Jackson also went on to be a member of Parliament after she retired from acting if you’re interested in random trivia.

And Peter Finch’s Dan has to be one of the most compelling LGBT characters to appear in a mainstream film (in so far as John Schlesinger has now entered the cinematic mainstream thanks to Midnight Cowboy). Anyone who’s seen The Celluloid Closet (a documentary chronicling the portrayal of LGBT characters in mainstream cinema) knows that well into the 1990s, it was an unwritten rule (except when it was written thanks to the Hays Code) that gay characters had to be in some type of psychic turmoil and they all suffered throughout the film. Certainly Dan has problems, but they are tame compared to Alex, and he’s an otherwise well-adjusted man. The simple fact that Peter Finch played against period homosexual stereotypes at every turn (he wasn’t foppish in the slightest) would be enough to cement this character’s legacy, but Finch also shows the quiet loneliness and repression that eat away at Dan’s soul. Murray head also makes an impact as the sensitive and androgynous beatnik that captures both Alex’s and Dan’s passions.

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It’s a gorgeously shot film although Schlesinger’s famous tendency towards slipping in fantasies and flashbacks without any of the traditional visual transitions confused me slightly at first (although I immediately remembered my high school experience with Midnight Cowboy). Although once again, the film is gorgeous in a different way than, say, an Andrew Dominik film or Terrence Malick film. It doesn’t forcibly grab your attention. Instead, quiet lighting or a lingering shot on a sculpture of Bob’s (a strange but enchanting contraption involving what appears to be mercury and a reaction to music), Sunday Bloody Sunday underscores the need Alex and Dan need for beauty and pleasure in their desperate lives. Dan’s home is gorgeous and full of art, but the film never fails to hint at the emptiness seeping inside as well.

Sunday Bloody Sunday jumped to the top of my Netflix queue (The Crying Game was supposed to be the next film for me to watch according to my “master list” for this blog [which I’m also in the process of re-writing but that takes forever]) because it’s leaving Netflix Instant shortly. There are also like 9 other films in my instant queue that are leaving and I have to find time to watch as many of them as possible before they leave. One of these films is six hours long… and it’s the next one up. So, I’ll draw this review to a close although I hope you can tell that I have a lot more that I’d like to say about this movie. If you have any interest in quiet and powerful character studies as well as a film that is a hallmark of classic LGBT cinema, Sunday Bloody Sunday deserves your time and may very well be a true masterpiece of 1970s cinema period.

Final Score: A

The LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community has transformed into the forefront of the modern civil rights movement. Cinema, with its long history of political activism (within the lives of its stars and the content of its film), has a moral obligation to be one of the voices of the LGBT movement. Yet Hollywood (and to a lesser extent, the independent studios) has failed to produce a rich library of queer cinema, and the LGBT-themed films that are made are often preachy, heavy-handed affairs that do more to call attention to sexual inequality (which was a noble cause twenty years ago when gay cinema was first becoming its own subgenre) than attempting to normalize such behavior for mainstream audiences. Perhaps that’s why director-writer Duncan Tucker’s Transamerica was such a refreshing change of pace. As much a father-son “road movie” as it is a look in the life of modern transexuals, Transamerica joins A Single Man and Brokeback Mountain as some of the most stirring LGBT cinema of the 2000s.

For the vast majority of us, we are born a gender, and we give little to no thought to that fact. We are simply men or women. Yet, a small minority of the population experiences a phenomena known as “gender dysphoria,” wherein they are deeply unsatisfied with the gender they’re born into. In adults, this often results in transexualism where surgical and chemical modification occurs to transform a man into a woman and vice versa.  Whether those in the religious right wish to admit it or not, people have a right to say what their gender identity is, and if a man wants to be a woman, she should be identified as such. In Duncan Tucker’s Transamerica, the womanhood of the male-to-female transexual Bree Osbourne (Desperate Housewives‘ Felicity Huffman) is an accepted fact for all but the end of the film (and only then, it’s questioned by a hysterical religious mother). While Bree is far from perfect and has the neuroses and moments of weakness that plague the rest of us, Transamerica is more concerned with a quiet character study of one woman’s realization that she has a son and the fact that she will need more in life than sexual reassignment surgery to feel happy and whole.

Played with a deep, almost intentionally robotic voice by Felicity Huffman, Bree is a portrait of carefully maintained order. Because she had no control over her own body, she is trying to wrest control out of every square inch of the rest of her life. On the week before her sexual reassignment surgery (where she will finally be a woman physically as well as mentally), Bree’s carefully maintained world of order (and loneliness) is shattered when she discovers that she has a son, Toby (Frozen‘s Kevin Zegers), from the sole heterosexual relationship she ever had. Bree has a history of ignoring facts about her life that she doesn’t like. She’s actually a chronic liar and lied to her therapist about being a virgin and lies about her parents being dead among many other falsehoods. Bree’s therapist refuses to clear her for sexual reassignment surgery unless she confronts this issue with her son. Bree hops a plane from L.A. to New York where she bails Toby out of jail. But rather than telling Toby that she’s his father (or that she’s transgendered), Bree pretends to be a Christian missionary and takes Toby on a road trip across the country that becomes a journey of self-discovery for both father and son.

Felicity Huffman astounds every second that she’s on screen. While some may find her performance to be unnaturally restrained, Bree is a woman who has been robbed of control of one of the most defining aspects of her life. Of course, she would then try to remain in perfect control of everything else, and emotional restraint is the key. When any thing happens to crack her perfectly maintained armor (from an eight year old girl asking her if she was a boy or a girl to being forced to accept that she has a son in order to get her surgery), Bree quickly devolves into an emotional wreck. With Felicity Huffman, the simple act of control and self-restraint becomes a cinematic seminar on how to show internal struggle physically. It is Bree’s restraint with the moments where she breaks down that ultimately define this tender and wrenching performance. From dramatic moments where her mother tells Bree she misses her son only for Bree retorts, “Mom, you never had a son,” to lighter, comedic moments that play off of Bree’s absurd formality, Felicity Huffman delivers an emotionally complex tour-de-force turn.

Looking like Zac Efron’s long lost brother, Kevin Zegers gave the film a much needed dose of wounded youthful vitality (that may seem oxymoronic but Toby was nearly as complex and contradictory as his father). Like Channing Tatum in Magic Mike, Zegers has one of those intensely sensitive faces that nearly transcends traditional performance rules. Zegers doesn’t have to do much other than be on the screen and look hurt for a scene to succeed, but he does that and so much more. Throughout the film, you discover that Toby has been the victim of sexual abuse, prostituted himself to men while in New York (and on one heart-breaking occasion, on the road with Bree), and has a drug problem. Yet, Kevin Zegers (with help from the script) lends Toby a shattered innocence. With his stuffed monkey and the action figure that sleeps above his bed, Toby is a poster-child of being forced to grow up too quickly even when you still cling to the vestiges of your innocence. Other wonderful turns in the film include Lost‘s Fionnula Flanagan as Bree’s hysterical mother and Graham Greene as a Native American that gives Bree and Toby a lift (and has a flirtation with Bree ignorant of her sexual history) after their hideous station wagon is stolen.

Transamerica isn’t simply a smartly written and terrifically acted film. Director Duncan Tucker also fills the film to the brim with gorgeous scenery and countless moments that tease at an ironic dichotomy present in the road trip. With many scenes shot at what Terence Malick called the “magic hour” (the hour before sunset which was the primary time he shot for Days of Heaven), Bree and Toby’s journy across the United States attains a nearly supernatural beauty of crimson suns dipping into lush, hill-lined lakes or boundless Midwestern plains. In his attempt to normalize transgendered behavior, the road trip segments (which are the strongest moments in the film before the ending tries a little too hard to “say” something) could have been about any father and son crisscrossing their way around America. In this case, the son doesn’t know who his dad is or that his dad is living as a woman.

Perhaps the most inspired choice though was for Duncan Tucker to show Bree seamlessly fitting into the deep South communities that she and Toby roll through. As she tells her sister, Sydney, after Sydney recommends a garish and loud outfit, “I’m a transexual not a transvestite.” Though the film does an impressive job of making the masculine but otherwise attractive Felicity Huffman look more mannish than usual, Bree can mostly pass as a woman (though the graphic sight of her penis more than destroyed that illusion). Few characters are more inherently blue-collar than Graham Greene’s Calvin Many-Goats, and he starts to fall for Bree over the two days they spend together. Dressed like she’s just left for tea with the local ladies’ association and with a somewhat stilted elegance, Bree was once a man, but she’s put all of her energy into displaying herself as a woman.

The decision to score Transamerica with primarily country songs and bluegrass instrumentals added another layer of ironic (and hilarious) commentary to the film. The film winds it way through what Sarah Palin would have called the “Real America” and you’re left with the indelible impression that there are far more Bree’s out there than you think. Proving that a film can be quiet but still powerful, Transamerica avoids the usual rules of tragedy that define much of LGBT cinema (even many of the films that I love) and tries to capture something a little more down-to-earth and commonplace (but no less beautiful). If cinema has the ability to transform lives, this film’s portrayal of a flawed but inherently relatable transgender woman has the power to create a dialogue on gender identity and the continuing absurdity that we even have to have a battle over LGBT rights in this nation.

Final Score: A-

 

 

I’ve actually debated whether to even write my review for this movie at all or not. It’s not that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy Mike Mill’s heavily autobiographical 2011 film Beginners. I thought it was a lot better than many of the movies that were nominated in this year’s very weak field of Best Picture nominees. Seriously, how did they manage to get things so right (at least in terms of the nominees, if not necessarily the winner) last year, and fuck things up so horribly this year. There were three different movies this year that I actively thought were bad (The Help, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and War Horse). I haven’t seen The Artist yet so I can’t comment on its quality though I seriously doubt it will be better than The Tree of Life. That’s not why I’ve questioned writing this review though. I happen to have a fairly massive sinus infection, and I’m so much Claritin and Suphedrine that I’m buzzed as shit. So, I’m not entirely sure I can even put together comprehensible sentences. We shall see. Maybe this will be my grand experiment to see if I’m capable of Hunter S. Thompson style drug-induced ravings, although if I were channeling Raoul Duke, I’d need to be on something a little heavier than allergy/sinus medicine. Anyways, for those who have any interest in the LGBT movement or great father/son stories, Beginners is a wonderful and quiet film even if it allows itself to ramble on just a little to much (a trait we both share).

Told in non-linear order (along with still-image voice-overs to further break up the linearity of the film), Beginners is a story of romance, fathers and sons, and being true to yourself no matter what your age is. Oliver is a graphic designer dealing with the death of his father Hal (Christopher Plummer) in one half of the film while also dealing with the shocking revelation that his father had come out of the closet as a gay man at the age of 75 after the death of Oliver’s mother/Hal’s wife in the other half of the film. Because a psychiatrist in the 1950s told Hal that his homosexual urges were caused by a mental illness, he sought to cure himself by marrying a woman and maintaining a heterosexual lifestyle even though he was miserable. So, even though he is diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly after coming out of the closet, Hal decides to live his remaining days to his fullest (even though he eventually begins to deny the impending reality of his inevitable death). Oliver on the other hand is a commitment-phobe who has never known how to love because of the loveless nature of his parent’s marriage. It takes him meeting fellow commitment-shy lost soul Anna (Inglourious Basterds‘ Melanie Laurent [an unbelievably gorgeous woman if there ever was one]), a French actress in L.A. that Oliver starts a tentative romance with at a party where Anna’s laryngitis makes her unable to talk, for Oliver to finally learn to deal with his father’s death as well as his own commitment issues.

Christopher Plummer won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role, and while I’m not certain if he was better than Max von Sydow in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (he was seriously one of the two redeeming factors of that film), it was still a tender and lively performance for a man in his 80s in real life. I might be wrong but I’m fairly certain that Christopher Plummer is now the oldest person to win an Academy Award. So, the sheer joie de vivre (though the characterization as well as Plummer’s performance were far more complicated than that) is incredibly impressive. Everything about Hal as he turned his back on his impending death and chose to celebrate living his life was an ode to existence in both its tragedy and brilliance. I still feel like Plummer’s award was more about A) the role and B) a testament to his career. I still think Max Von Sydow was better (I haven’t seen the other three nominees). Ewan McGregor was very withdrawn and restrained as Oliver, but that’s written into the character so I can’t fault him for it. He just wasn’t especially exciting to watch. Melanie Laurent is one of the most gorgeous women acting right now, and she’s also very talented. She was good in her role although once again, this part wasn’t nearly as demanding or interesting as Shoshana in Inglourious Basterds.

This movie isn’t really going to be for everyone. It meanders along at its own pace, and the plot is fairly simple. A man comes out of the closet, gets cancer, and dies, and then his son falls in love with an actress and has to finally deal with his own issues. There are long moments in the film where dialogue is put at a minimum and the film takes a stab at visual poetry. Not at any sort of Fellini-esque or Malick-ian level, but it will tone all of the talking down and let the faces/physical nature of the scene do the speaking. I loved all of those things about the movie but I know those tend to turn off the more casual movie fan. The film takes some fun stylistic experimental turns. Hal has a Jack Russell terrier that Oliver has to adopt when his father dies, and there are several scenes in the movie where Oliver converses with his dog via subtitles. It’s adorable. Also, the film makes good use of symbolic repetition by comparing visual stills from the 1950s and visual stills from today to make a point both about how much things have changed in the last 50 years but also how much they’ve tragically stayed the same for the LGBT community.

I want to review more but I fucking feel terrible still and I’ve sneezed legitimately like 30 times over the course of this review. So quick last thoughts. The movie meanders just a little too much for its own good and because so many scenes are so sharply realized, the weaker moments seem even more weak. That’s the curse of having some really great moments in a movie. Other than that, it was a beautiful film. Great, understated films don’t come around often enough, and Beginners know that you can create truth through quiet honesty. You don’t have to beat your audience over the head with your points. I also have to review the season premiere of True Blood. Although, I’m considering not reviewing it just because of how disappointed I wound up being with last season. The season premiere was good though. Not great, but I was able to enjoy it which was a serious step up from last time around. Anyways, we’ll see if I wind up feeling any better. As it is, I just feel like I have the bubonic plague.

Final Score: A-

Oh the “joy” that is watching experimental cinema. It’s been months and months since I’ve watched a truly “art-house” film. Persona was the last one (back in January) and before that we had to go all the way back to September for Stroszek. However, I wouldn’t call either of those films exceptionally experimental. Maybe Bergman’s Persona in some ways. I would say the closest I’ve come to a film that simply told normal narrative structure and cinematic artifice to go fuck itself was Inland Empire (thanks David Lynch for a career of works that continue to defy any clear interpretations). Well, we can now add director Todd Haynes’ (Far From Heaven) debut Poison to the small list of films I’ve seen that defy practically any characterization. It was one of those films (like Todd Solondz’ Happiness) where I was forced to ask myself “what the f*** did I just watch?” And at least with Happiness, I knew what the plot was about/the thematic imagery (the “wtf” quotient came from the disturbing sexual content).  Regardless, Poison was an intriguing film even if its experimental structure and thematic obliqueness left me with more questions than answers.

Broken up into three segments (that have nothing at all do with each other besides an exploration of the darker sides of sexuality), Poison bounces back and forth between three distinct and equally disturbing tales. In the first story, “Hero,” a young boy (that has been bullied and abused by his peers and was perhaps sexually abused) murders his father and his mother claims that he simply flew away when it was over. Set up like a documentary, we watch as the town tries to put together the pieces of the incident and slowly unravel the events that occurred that day. In “Horror,” a send-up of 1950s science fiction/horror films, a scientist accidentally ingests a formula that is the derived form of the human sex drive. It turns him into a murderous, leprous sex fiend. Everyone who comes into contact with him also becomes infected with his leprosy and he quickly finds himself hunted by society. And lastly, in “Homo,” a prisoner in the 1940s develops a sexual obsession with one of his fellow inmates as he reflects on the homosexual awakenings he experienced as a boy in a reform school (and the sexual cruelties that his fellow prisoners often inflicted on others).

I’m actually unsure how to even approach analyzing this film because some of its flaws are part and parcel of the entire indie film movement of the early 90s (back when indie films were really indie and not just a place for established actors/directors to regain their “street” cred). Virtually all of the acting in the film is horrendous (though that’s completely intentional in “horror” to sell the whole 1950s B-movie theme). I can’t remember a single interesting performance from “Hero” and the love interest in “Homo” was a shallow mess. However, Todd Haynes found a true, feral talent in Scott Renderer as the protagonist of “Homo.” His quiet intensity was a thing to behold, and in the vignette’s climactic (and incredibly disturbing moments) he released a fierce rage and passion that had been boiling beneath the surface the whole time. On that same note, the sound design in the film was a mess but I’m guessing that Todd Haynes didn’t exactly have much of a budget to go on. And while I actually think I understood the points of “Horror” and “Homo,” I have absolutely no clue what “Hero” was supposed to be about or what it contributed to the film. Yet, the strongest moments from “Horror” and especially “Homo” mostly made up for the film’s rough edges.

It struck me half-way through “Horror” that any story created in the early 1990s (i.e. at the tail end of the worst of the AIDS outbreak in America) where a man getting in touch with his sexuality and then suffering a devastating disease that he spreads to everyone around him made my a gay filmmaker couldn’t be anything other than an allegory for the HIV crisis. The most remarkable aspect of Haynes’ accomplishment with that short was the way that I could easily have seen that as some propaganda film by the “right” of the era about sexual promiscuity because what is all horror if not a moral story (think about the “rules” of horror films and you’ll see what I mean).  It could get a little silly for its own good but it was endlessly watchable. “Homo” was the real accomplishment of the film and was obviously the most personal part of the film. It was unflinching in its portrayal of repressed sexual longing and the violence that occurs in systems that keep us from exploring sexuality in a healthy manner. It was difficult to watch but the most truthful stories always are. There is a very graphic rape scene that hit on a more visceral level than even some of the most infamous moments on Oz, yet there was always a ring of truth and brutal honesty to the whole story.

This is one of those films where I know that 90% of my readers will not enjoy a single second of it. You’ll either be offended by it because you’re religious (the head of the National Endowment of the Arts was forced to resign after he gave Todd Haynes the grant to make the film under pressure from the religious right) or think it’s pretentious, bloated garbage (which is a more acceptable response). I don’t love this film. It’s simply too oblique for me to form a strong emotional attachment to it, but it was obvious that Todd Haynes is an artist with a unique vision and his own bracing stories to tell. Still, if you want a film that toys with the very building blocks of cinema and ultimately could care less whether you understand the director’s intent, Poison has the chance to challenge you in the way that few movies ever do.

Final Score: B

There is perhaps no better way of chronicling the way in which society defines the word “family” than to peruse the contents of our popular culture and examine the way in which the media portrays families. You can go back to Leave It to Beaver and the idyllic nuclear family of the 1950’s and before. A husband that worked. A wife that stayed at home. Two loving kids. It was darn near scandalous when Lucille Ball was married to a Cuban on I Love Lucy but America grew to love them. Jump forward to All in the Family where the media first starts to really take a darker and more satirical look at the concept of that nuclear family. Then you have Married with Children that portrayed married life with practically no sentimentality but as strict lampooning. Suddenly, it’s the 2000’s and you have Modern Family which on the confines of that show has nearly every family type imaginable portrayed, from gay, to straight, to a may-november romance. So, the 2010 indie comedy The Kids Are All Right gets to place itself in the pantheon of popular culture that acts as a way to chronicle the continued evolution of the word “family”.

The Kids Are All Right is the story of a married lesbian couple who have two children by way of a sperm donor. Nic (Annette Bening) is a doctor. She is very up tight, not a lot of fun, and she has a bit of a drinking problem. Jules (Julianna Moore) is the more care-free and fun-loving member of the group and the “cool” mom. The kids are Laser and Joni (the waifish but beautiful Mia Wasikowski). Joni has just turned 18 and is about to go off to college. Her brother Laser asks her to try and find out who their biological father is, since she is 18 and able to. He turns out to be Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a now middle-aged man who owns his own restaurant and an organic food co-op. He’s very laid back and without a lot of direction in life. The story becomes complicated when everyone in the family starts to bond with Paul except for Nic, and this already unconventional family gets even a little bit stranger.

Poor Annette Bening! She’s an incredibly under-rated and unrecognized actress, and every time she gives a career performance (like she does in this film), she is always beaten out by a younger actress giving a history defining female performance. Annette Bening has been the front runner for the Best Actress Oscar three times, and ended up losing each time by a late released film with an iconic female role. Twice she lost to Hillary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry and for Million Dollar Baby. And now she lost to Natalie Portman for Black Swan. While Natalie was definitely better, I’m starting to feel bad about this trend in Bening’s career. Any other year, this performance would have been a winner. Julianne Moore was also fantastic, and both leading ladies deserved their Oscar nominations, as did Mark Ruffalo for his supporting role. I only wish that Mia Wasikowski had been nominated for Best Supporting Actress as well. She’s going to be a talent to contend with some day.

This film is a comedy in the same vein as The Savages or Sideways, which is to say darker and dry. It has its funny moments, but I felt the film also contained a considerable amount of dramatic weight. The movie wasn’t perfect but I thought it was pretty great, especially in how it refused to give easy answers and easy endings. It challenged the viewer with the material and fleshed out all of the characters incredibly well. It can join The Squid and the Whale, The Savages, and The Royal Tenenbaums in the pantheon of great 2000’s dysfunctional family films (even if it isn’t necessarily as good as the films I just mentioned. If you like dry and dark comedies and aren’t a homophobe, you should give this one a rental. It worked for me on a pretty emotional level, and I’m not ashamed to admit that it had me crying at several parts. It’s a good movie.

Final Score: A-

Two of my favorite directors of all time are Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch. Pound for pound, I don’t think there are two more artistic and stylistic directors out there. They ram more symbols and activity into one frame of a movie than most directors have in their entire oeuvre of films. When I watched Fellini’s earlier film La Strada, I got the impression that he was a director in a similar vein to those two artists, but I never expected I would watch one of his films that I would put int he same league as classics like A Clockwork Orange or Mulholland Drive. I was wrong. I just finished Fellini Satyricon, and though (much like when I first watched the two films I mentioned earlier) I feel the need to watch this film four or five more times to know completely and grasp the fully the film I just watched, I also knew when the final credits rolled that I had watched a brilliant masterpiece.

Fellini Satyricon tells the story of Encolpio, a young Roman (in ancient Rome) and his many, many trials and tribulations. Encolpio’s former best friend is Ascilto, though they are no longer friends because of Ascilto stole Encolpio’s (for lack of a better word) sex slave Gitone, a young, very handsome boy. Encolpio and Ascilto (like most Romans) are openly bisexual and pederasts. I would be lying if I didn’t say upfront that this is one of the most homo-erotic films that I have ever seen. The film continues through escalating troubles as Encolpio is captured and enslaved, kills a demigod, fights a mintoaur in a labyrinth, and must find a cure for his impotence.

As gripping and interesting as the plot gets through its many different episodes (which are often as epic as one of Homer’s poems), the real strength of the film rests in Fellini’s direction and his sense of visual style. There are the times when one’s senses are almost unable to grasp everything that is happening on screen quickly enough to register them the way they must be experienced. Fellini does not let your brain rest. Nearly every scene is filled in both the fore- and background with so much activity and little detail that you find yourself paying attention to pretty much every aspect of the film. It was one of the most visually inventive films I’ve ever watched, and it managed to accomplish in the 1960’s without the aid of computers. Fellini just composed his film like a masterful painting and simply let reality do the talking.

One of my favorite aspects of the film is the way in which Fellini composes the movie much as if it were a stage play and being the master of surrealism, combines the two mediums seamlessly. The film’s opening scene could have been Shakespeare had not been about two gay ancient Romans. From the expository nature of the dialogue literally explaining what the characters were doing on screen at the second to the grand poetry of the lines themselves, it seemed as suited for the stage as well as the silver screen. There are times later in the film a well where stories within stories occur and Fellini manages to combine “reality” with “fiction” in marvelous and original ways.

The only reason I can’t recommend this film to everyone is for the same reason that I can’t recommend A Clockwork Orange or Eraserhead to everyone. It takes a certain intellectual capacity to be able to pay attention for the length of this film in the way it deserves and to constantly be processing all of the sensory information that Fellini throws at you. However, if you think you are up for the challenge of this film and you have a history of being able to handle films by artists like Lynch or Kubrick, then you simply have to watch this movie. It’s one of the best movies that I have seen in a good, long while.

Final Score: A+

To begin my review for 1997’s indie comedy In & Out, a brief pop culture history lesson is in order. When Tom Hanks won an Oscar for his role as a gay attorney dying of AIDS in the classic film Philadelphia, he thanked two people in his life who were homosexuals that he felt were influential in helping him prepare for the role and that were, generally, great people who had to hide who they were. One of those people was his high school drama teacher, who had been so deeply closeted his entire life that he didn’t really know he was gay until Tom Hanks had contacted him much, much later in life. This hilarious film that I just watched is a very, very loose retelling of that incident in which Kevin Kline masterfully plays the high school teacher who is outed without even knowing he was in by a former student turned protege (Matt Dillon) who outs him at the Academy Awards.

This film is funny. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. There were moments in the film that had me concerned I was going to wake up my room mates cause I was laughing so loud. From a scene where they are throwing Howard (Kevin Kline) a bachelor party (he’s engaged to be married to a woman (Joan Cusack) when he is outed by Matt Dillon) and instead of bringing him porn, they bring him Barbara STreisand’s Funny Girl and a bar fight erupts over the quality of the film Yentl in a room full of menly men that Howard has introduce the wonder of Babs to, to the scene where Howard listens to a self-help tape to try and increase his masculinity that breaks into this wonderful and joyous dance sequence to the “I am Spartacus” satire of a climax, the movie is full of great little moments that make you laugh.

The acting was just absolutely top-notch as well. Kevin Kline brings such warmth and humanity to a character that could have easily been so one note. He really just inhabits the character fully and it was one of those rare moments when I thought of a character more as the actual character than the actor playing him. He made the character whole from the verbal mannerism to the physical tics to the way he carried himself, Kevin Kline became Howard. Joan Cusack managed to be both entertaining and extremely irritating at exactly the same time which is a confusing feat. Her performance was good (although I don’t know if she deserved the Oscar nod she got for the film) but something about her has always irritated the hell out of me. Wilford Brimley, Tom Selleck, and Bob Newhart round out the stellar supporting cast.

The film wasn’t perfect. The score was downright awful to the point of being terribly intrusive at times. While the majority of the film was bust-a-gut funny, sometimes there was some serious mood whiplash or some jokes just felt more absurd and campy than actually funny. Some parts of the ending were too neatly resolved. However, at the end of the day, this was simply a great comedy. This was one of the first “gay comedies” because before most gay films dealt with dramatic issues. It’s always so refreshing to have no idea going into a film that I’m about to watch something that I’m going to really enjoy and remember, and this was one of those moments. If you can handle the fact that it’s a gay comedy, then I give my full recommendation for this film.

Final Score: B+