My Favorite LGBTQ+ Movies

Dog Day Afternoon (1975, directed by Sidney Lumet)

Many people don’t think of this bank robbery film as LGBTQ if they are only familiar with from a pop culture reference standpoint. The main character, Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino) is robbing the bank to get money for his lover, a transwoman, enough to pay for her transition surgery. This is a significant plot point in the second act, and I love how Lumet never tries to play the reveal for laughs. It’s accepted by everyone as just part of what is going down. This film is also a great anti-cop moving showing them as not all that intelligent, disorganized, and ultimately cruel. The classic scene where Pacino shouts “Attica!” refers to a prison rebellion from a few years prior, which ended with 33 inmates and 10 guards killed when the governor ordered state police to violently take back the facility.

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Movie Review – Desert Hearts

Desert Hearts (1985)
Written by Natalie Cooper
Directed by Donna Deitch

It wasn’t too long ago that even in what is considered the “liberal bastion of Hollywood,” being out of the closet or even depicting a loving gay relationship was taboo. LGBTQ characters were relegated to supporting roles or, in sadly too many cases villains. Lesbian parts were often either psychologically manipulative of straight women or tragically destined to be alone or kill themselves. If you were an LGBTQ teen, there weren’t many positive media representations to help you get through adolescence and understand what romantic love looked like for someone like you. Director Donna Deitch set out to find a story that featured a lesbian romance outside of the urban and bohemian. She wanted a Middle America to help showcase how normal it was to everyone.

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Movie Review – A Fantastic Woman

A Fantastic Woman (2017)
Written by Sebastián Lelio & Gonzalo Maza
Directed by Sebastián Lelio

Grief is universal, an emotion while experienced as a result of certain life events; it has a profound resonance in our lives. You never feel grief is moderation; it cascades over you like waves leading you to feel as though grief may take you under. Being trans is not an experience we will all have; in fact, it’s estimated about 0.6% of the population is transgender. Trans people feel grief just like anyone else; they love and feel loss no different than any human being. A Fantastic Woman puts its protagonist in a universally-experienced situation, never ignoring what role her gender plays in the story, as a means to connect her to the very people in the film that seeks to undermine her grieving process.

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Movie Review – King Cobra

King Cobra (2016, dir. Justin Kelly)

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Sean Lockhart wants to make it in the movies. He intends to become a director and helm great films. He’s taking a rather unorthodox path by first changing his name to Brent Corrigan and then moving in with a man named Stephen. Stephen runs King Cobra, a gay pornography website and Brent is becoming his biggest star. Simultaneously, we’re introduced to Joe and Harlow, a pair of male escorts in a committed relationship. Joe never hesitates to indulge Harlow and provide him with every extravagance. Harlow carries the trauma of abuse from his stepfather, and this had caused Joe to become almost psychotically protective of him. These two pairs of men are on a trajectory towards each other. The events of this story will end in betrayal and murder. This is the story of King Cobra.

The film is based on real events, though director Kelly has taken a lot of liberty with the facts. The real life Sean Lockhart has expressed much disdain over the way the film portrays queer culture. Via Twitter he stated, “I gave them permission to use my name but explicitly made it clear that their story was heinous & not sanctioned. They told me they couldn’t change their screenplay after we entered negotiations.” Director Justin Kelly is a gay man himself and has stated that his interest in the film came from a more true crime angle that happened to feature representation of “different kinds of gay characters.” I find that both men have some very solid ideas and interpretations of the final product. There are some incredibly strong moments, but flaws are still present that degrade what could be a fascinating film.

The two most solid performances, in my opinion, are Christian Slater as Stephen and Keegan Allen of Harlow. Slater walks a very fine line with Stephen as both a lecherous older man getting off on young guys and a very isolated gay man from an older generation who didn’t have a support network for coming out. He is still publicly closeted and tells Brent a painful story about his first experience with another man and how his friends ostracized him after finding out. The film doesn’t come down black or white on the issue of Stephen exploiting  Brent, we are left to decide what their relationship was.

When you first glimpse Keegan Allen, you’ll likely think of Joaquin Phoenix, and there is a strong physical resemblance. Another resemblance is that Allen is arguably the strongest actor in this picture. The character of Harlow has many layers and Allen makes interesting choices about how to play him. There is genuine love from Harlow to Joe and a desire to be monogamous with him. Joe, knowing that their finances are crippling them and keeping this from his partner, forces Harlow to continue meeting with clients. My hope is that we continue to see Keegan Allen in films because I get the sense there are some great performances there.

The most glaring problem with King Cobra seems to be a glaring issue in a lot of films: James Franco. Franco produced this film and chose to play Joe, the manic abusive lover of Harlow. I can’t say I understand a single choice Franco makes when it comes to playing this character but everything he does seems to pull the viewer out of the film. You’ll have a scene that is setting a muted, layered tone and then Franco comes on the screen and it devolves into dark comedy. He plays a complete caricature. The film has a lot of gratuitous simulated gay sex and the sex that appears as part of the porn productions is expectedly smutty but makes sense. Franco’s most explicit sex scene is such a joke I can’t imagine audiences not howling in laughter at his horrible performance.

King Cobra is a true crime film that plays with the idea of being a moody, independent film but falls into but ends up becoming borderline exploitative. There are some interesting performances, but they aren’t given the support needed to become great. There was the opportunity to explore some intriguing themes: the generation gap in the gay community, the American culture’s obsession with appearing wealthy. But every time one of these themes emerges it is just as quickly dropped.

 

Movie Review – Laurence Anyways

Laurence Anyways (2012, dir. Xavier Dolan)

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Laurence Alia (Melvil Poupaud) is a literature teacher in Montreal who is a long term relationship with Fred (Suzanne Clément). Laurence is also a transgender woman living as a man and has yet to reveal this truth to anyone around her. Laurence and Fred’s relationship is volatile one, and we find it at a high point, but hints show us there have been many ups and downs. When Laurence finally reveals that she wants to begin transitioning, Fred runs but eventually comes back after she’s had some time to process this idea. She encourages Laurence to start dressing in ways she feels comfortable and to take those steps to begin living the life her partner needs. The rest of the film explores the impact this change has on Laurence and Fred’s relationship as well as how Laurence grows and finds support outside his immediate circle.

Xavier Dolan finally stepped away from merely autobiographical work to make a film about an experience he has never had. The result is a film that is ultimately going to turn some people off if they approach it with a certain expectation. Laurence Anyways is not a film about a fully realized transgender woman. It is a film about transition and expectation. It is a film about making compromises when the things we need to survive conflict with the people we love. And while it has “happy ending” it is not the ending a more traditional filmmaker would come to.

At its heart, Laurence Anyways is a highly French film, like all of Dolan’s work. Emotion runs high and big chunks of the film are impressionistic glimpses into the inner thoughts of our characters. A woman sits on a sofa reading a poem, and we see the set engulfed in torrents of water. Laurence and Fred step forth from a house after a critical moment in their relationship and step through a rainfall of clothing. A character hesitates before a doorway, contemplating how their next step will determine the direction of their future and leaves are violently whipped around just beyond the glass letting them know this could be a risky path. Heartbeats was primarily a queer remake of Jules et Jim and, while I’m not an expert in French or queer cinema, I strongly feel Laurence Anyways is taking on tropes of traditional romantic French films and remixing them with this large, crucial idea of transgender identity.

Dolan doesn’t shie from the uncomfortable throughout the film. The first third has a high, positive energy threaded throughout. Once the formal transition begins though we see characters who were accepting in theory start to question how they feel about Laurence. Dolan doesn’t seek to tell a historically factual accounting of a relationship, rather the emotions of a relationship. Once Fred first comes to accept, or think she has accepted, her partner’s choice she ecstatically tells a friend that “Our generation is ready for this! The sky’s the limit!” When you reach the conclusion of the film these words take on a new context and Laurence and Fred’s relationship is not the simple, easy thing that Fred believed.

Laurence is not a perfect representation of a trans person and the film’s lack of actual trans people does feel slightly problematic. Poupaud’s performance, however, feels incredibly honest. The film uses the framing device of Laurence being interviewed 10 years after the start of the film. She explains to the reporter that she had “stealing the life of the woman [she] was meant to be.” Throughout, no matter how other characters react to or try to advise Laurence she staunchly fights to remain true to herself. This doesn’t mean life plays out with sunshine and rainbows, but this central focus keeps her from failing in this larger ideal. Dolan infuses the conclusion with a bittersweet ending. While Laurence has become on the outside the woman she has always been internally, there has been loss along the way. The greatest changes in our life are wrought with pain and loss but, if they lead us to a greater understanding of the truth within ourselves, we will endure.

Newbie Wednesdays – I Love You Phillip Morris



I Love You Phillip Morris (2009, dir. Glenn Ficara and John Requa)
Starring Jim Carrey, Ewan MacGregor, Leslie Mann

Audiences love a great scoundrel. Con men able to take on the persona of figures of power, then use that power to one up “The Man” have been archetypal figures. Most recently Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can proved again that audiences love a good scam. At last year’s Sundance Film Festival, audiences were shown I Love You Phillip Morris, a feature film based on the true story of a man who never met a swindle he didn’t like. Since then the feature has struggled to find distribution and has been thrown around the schedule by studios frightened of its content, finally with a July 30th release date it looks like the general public will finally get to see what is a surprisingly clever and funny picture.

Steven Russell (Carrey) was an easy going clean cut suburbanite with a beautiful wife and daughter and steady job. However, he was hiding his sexuality from his wife, sneaking off for trysts with men when he had the chance. This all changed with a car accident where he had an epiphany. He was honest with his wife and left Texas for Florida where he met a handsome Latin man and showered him with gifts. Steven also had another secret: he was a damn good conman. He resorts to purposefully injuring himself in department stores and using fake credit cards to finance his life. The authorities catch up to Steven and he is tossed in prison where he meets the titular Phillip Morris (MacGregor). Steven falls madly in love and makes it his mission to get both he and Phillip out of prison. What follows are a series of scams that are so outlandish its hard to believe this is all based on a true story, and that the real Steven Russell was actually able to do these things.

It’s very interesting that the screenwriters of the snarky and vicious Bad Santa, Ficara and Requa both penned and directed this incredibly funny and, in certain moments, tear-inducingly poignant film. There is definitely the self-aware and sarcastic tone of Bad Santa present, but the characters here feel much more fleshed out and sympathetic. The film never shies away from the sexuality of its leads but it also doesn’t make them spokesmen for the LGBT community. These are just two people in love who are living their lives. That’s not to say the more prudish elements in our society will be lured into the theater. The scene where we learn Russell is gay involves him in the middle of coitus with one of his late night trysts.

The picture suffers in the structure department, though. It appears that Ficara and Requa wanted to be as true to the chronology of events as possible, and real life just doesn’t translate into a traditional cinematic story arc. The film comes off as episodic and a series of acts: act one is Steven’s coming to terms with his sexuality, act two is Steven meeting Phillip, and so on. I have to say the film is better than I expect it would have been if its original director, Gus Van Sant, has stayed on. As much as I love Van Sant, I can’t see him creating a film as entertaining as this. While it does it entertain, Carrey refrains from being schitck-y and is more in line with his performance in Man in the Moon. It’s inevitable that the film is going to lack the publicity push it deserves and be dumped at the end of the summer in theaters, so if you have the chance to see it definitely go.

DocuMondays – The Nomi Song



The Nomi Song (2004, dir. Andrew Horn)

In 1963, author Walter Tevis wrote the novel The Man Who Fell to Earth, and 13 years later David Bowie starred in the film adaptation. Little did anyone realize that the premise of the story: an alien being appears out of nowhere and goes on to achieve fame before dying prematurely was to be copied by a fellow Earthling who would lose his identity in the alien persona. Nomi’s story was much like the operas he loved, very beautiful at its heights, but destined to end in tragedy.

Born Klaus Sperber in Bavaria in 1944, the film really only focuses on his days in New York City in the late 1970s when his career as a New Wave artist occurred and ultimately ended in death. There is wonderful archival footage provided, albeit very low quality, but have footage of performances in the East Village at its cultural height is a treat. The Nomi persona came from the mind of Klaus who combined elements of his native German cabaret, classical opera, Japanese kabuki makeup, and retro 50s futurism. This melange of concepts worked together perfectly, and his set lists would consist of 1930s pop songs, 1960s pop, and his own otherworldly inspired tunes. But what truly made him such a unique act was the mastery of his voice, singing in both a tenor and counter-tenor/falsetto.

The man behind the cleverly designed persona was a conflicting mix and seemed to become much colder and distant as he became more popular. Nomi possessed an androgyny that one interviewee describes as more than sexual, but a removal from normal human emotion. He truly behaved like the alien or robot he pretended to be. There are candid moments caught on film when that fades away. On particular scene involves his appearance in a local access music show in NYC where, instead of singing, he showed off his second talent, making cakes and pies. There are also stories from his back up band and friends of how he hungered for fame, at his heart he wanted to be an opera diva.

Nomi also hungered for companionship, but even his persona was viewed as outsider one to the gay community in the late 1970s. They loved what he did but it seemed that his alien nature made it hard for any man to find him sexually attractive. Friends report in the documentary about his proclivity to go “cruising” and they warned him about the potential for disease by doing this. In the early 1980s, after beginning to compromise his work to be able to put out a marketable album, Nomi discovered strange lesions on his arm and was taking an increasing amount of antibiotics to stay healthy. He was eventually diagnosed with what was called at the time “gay cancer”, more commonly known as AIDs. His final months were sad, as he had turned his back on bandmates earlier and sought out any one who would show him compassion.

While the documentary does an excellent job of telling the story of Nomi’s musical career. However, I found myself wanting to know more about Klaus Sperber and how this young man from Germany developed this psychological mindset. What was the appeal of the idea of retreating into the alien persona? It seems that a lack of companionship fueled but how did it begin. This is an excellent documentary and can be viewed for free on Hulu.

The Nomi Song (Hulu)