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Archive for the ‘Gay’ Category

Carol

31 Dec

Carol – directed by Todd Haynes. Drama. 118 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★

The Story: A Park Avenue woman takes up with a shopgirl and she with her in a relationship whose seriousness jeopardizes their lives.

~

The idea that this picture is about a lesbian relationship seems besides the point when actually watching it. For the environment of its story is also the story, and to define the movie in genital or sexually deviant terms seems vulgar and beside the point.

The relationship progresses in slow stages, but these stages are rendered through the lens of the setting of such love itself, not directly, but indirectly. The surroundings, that’s what we see and want to see, because the film makes us recognize surroundings as the kind permission and very condition of love – we who have ever known such a passion as is before us here. Unacknowledged setting is the sine qua non and soil of passion.

That is to say, the film is rendered through and as two simultaneous and converging stories, the more important and potent of which is that such love generates itself into being in half-tones, is experienced through doors partly closed, looking out car windows none of the landscape of which has any registration but has carrying power in that it provides the mundane context of Cupid’s wings gently fluttering out of sight behind His back all along. It doesn’t matter what it is.

The banal is the secret doily of love’s Valentine. The ordinary. The every-day. How cigarettes are needed, run out of. How a sales supervisor in a department store can create the very prison of disapproval on which such love will be forced into flower. How a child’s nurse must be reprimanded with a forbidding tone of voice.

The motels, the diners, the friends of the family – things of no importance actually provide the screen and fortress behind which and before which passion plants itself and thrives.

I stopped reading the novels of Janet Highsmith years ago, so I have not read this one. But I suspect the one fault of the film is in the screen writers being too respectful of one of the two women described in the book. Cate Blanchette plays the older one, the Park Avenue lady, and is superb. Rooney Mara plays the shopgirl, and she is good too. The trouble is that she is written as a little grey mouse, and it won’t do. It probably did well enough in the book. But the film needs a different contrast of types, one in whom we can take some interest. For our interest should be the same as Cate Blanchett’s – we’ve got to see what the heck she sees in her! It needed to be either written differently or cast with an actress with a strong personal quality – think of a young Julie Harris in the role – or both.

The film is majestically directed. Haynes’ sense of the ’50s is 100% better now. I lived through that time and I know. Beautiful Packards and Lincolns. Perfectly costumed. Perfect settings. It is shot with noble beauty by Edward Lachman, who also shot Haynes’ Far From Heaven and Mildred Pierce. Exquisite.

Carol is worthwhile watching for everyone with an adult within them.

 

The Normal Heart

24 Jan

The Normal Heart – directed by Ryan Murphy. Docudrama. 133 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★★

The Story: AIDS comes to the notice of a group of young men and a female physician, who gather together to do something about it.

~

The Normal Heart and Selma resemble one another in showing us the backstage drama of two adamant men who fought for equality in America. Larry Kramer fought for public recognition of the AIDS plague, which was sidelined by indifferent politicians as trivial. Martin Luther King Junior fought for voting rights for those whose right to it had been sidelined by indifferent politicians as trivial. See them both, why don’t you? You’ll get a bracing dose of contemporary history.

To cast the disagreeable, in-your-face screamer Larry Kramer one would have thought of a young George C. Scott or Al Pacino. One would not have thought of the panda Mark Ruffalo. He is so agreeable. So malleable. So soft. But there he is firing with all canons.

And Kramer’s methods alienate those near to him in the cause, both because he is obnoxious and because they believe his methodical throwing of vitriol in his adversaries’ faces will dampen the cause of recognition and action on the part of the government and the press. He is perhaps more incensed by the dismissal of homosexual humans than of sick humans, I’m not sure.

It’s a story whose tension hangs between, on the one hand, the character of his brother, who acknowledges the Kramer character as almost, but not quite human for his homosexuality and on the other hand the human loves dragged to an early and ignominious grave by a disease which was deemed unimportant because it was seen as exclusively and merely gay. The crossing over of this brother, beautifully and memorably played by Alfred Molina, to the love common to all is the resolution of all the barriers, public and private, which we see marked out before us, as AIDS is demonized, misunderstood, and dismissed, as it crawls to a place at the table.

Julia Roberts is excellent as the first clinician to take note of and treat the disease and to report its symptoms and recurrence. I particularly liked Jim Parsons as the office manager who makes the revolution practical. The nervous breakdown risked by all who did the work is beautifully performed by Stephen Spinella.

Larry Kramer’s was a voice crying in the wilderness of his own side. Martin Luther King Junior was the same. Proactive both, their methods were different, and neither cause would have prevailed using the other’s means. Their greatest enemies lay within their own camps. King orated, Kramer ranted. Kramer made a huge unpleasantness. He is one of the vile heroes, like Oedipus – people of extremely unpleasant character who nonetheless lay down their lives to move the human race forward one step, and do so. We – and by “we” I mean the world – are all in his debt.

 
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Posted in Alfred Molina, Gay, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo

 

Behind The Candelabra

16 Sep

Behind the Candelabra – directed by Steve Soderbergh. Backstage Drama. 117 minutes Color 2013.
★★★★
The Story: A young man is taken up by a renown entertainer and they becomes live-in lovers.
~
Liberace?

Lots of sauce but no fish.

I never cottoned to him. He appeared in our family dining room in the days of early television and I didn’t like what he was up to in any of its aspects. All I saw was greed. As a personality he was a lisping phony. His purpose was to seduce, ingratiate, reassure. His voice was a slow syrup dripping out of an ornamentalized pot. As a pianist he was a vulgar contortionist.

I never experienced him in his glory days in Vegas or on TV later. If he was around, I skirted him. I don’t like men to effeminize themselves. It means their feminine side is lost to them.

Lost in competition with their mother, maybe. A way of holding off their mother’s intrusiveness. Debbie Reynolds plays the mother here, and I didn’t recognize her. Who is that wonderful old actress they’ve got for that part? I asked myself, then read the credits.

The young man is played by Matt Damon whom it is impossible not to like, and whom we see gulled by the sequined manner of Liberace, who seduces him with a kindness so lavish it can only mean nothing. But he is taken in. I will not list the ramifications. But I will say that his playing of Scott Hanson is another notch in a belt Damon wears, notched by now it scarcely holds up his britches. Which is just fine, since he has a beautiful ass, and a willingness to use it and a unique talent to adapt to his material modestly.

Michael Douglas is another matter. He does not really go for it. He plays some of Liberace’s traits, but he does not play the bitch queen behind the emu feathers and the nastiness burning at the center of all those candles. It’s a performance you have to take on faith, which is not hard to do after a time, since it is exactly on pitch in so many ways.

The whole movie is a masterpiece of production, costuming, and makeup. These play a big part in Douglas’s arc, since he goes from middle-aged to face-lifted ageless to cadaver. It is very well written and directed. It is less a portrait of Liberace himself, about whom everything was obvious to a ten year old boy in his dining room, so much as it is about the love of the young man for him. People like Liberace don’t need to be loved. They just need to hand the word Love around like a canapé for popular consumption.

 

 

Love Is Strange

31 Aug

Love Is Strange – directed by Ira Sachs. Drama. 2014 Color 94 minutes.

★★★

The story: Two men married to one another fall on hard times.

~

The problem is the writing and the problem is that the director also co-wrote it and like most directors has no gift as screenwriter.

Every scene is a genre scene. The scene at the dinner table with the abusive indifferent father. The advice scene between the teenage boy and the uncle. The street kiss at the end. Everything is picturesque, like a greeting card. Every scene is television bread pudding. I sit there longing for the scenes to be about something. Instead we get so called conversation, into the lengthy interstices of which the actors have to force emotion. This they do by grimacing, by pausing even more, and hoping, I suppose, someone will call cut. But nothing is going on. Nothing is at stake. We have lots of story, with no drama.

Inside this painfully inadequate mise en scene of chat, we have, on the other hand, the relationship of two gentlemen in high middle age during and after their nuptials. These two are all there is to see. This is the only matter of value before us. Everyone else is either indifferent to them, rude to them, or annoyed by them. But we are given nothing large enough to seize our interest, save our watching these two play together, sleep together, kiss, hug, snuggle, and laugh together. And that is just great because they are played by two experienced and well-loved hands indeed: Alfred Molina and John Lithgow. Boy, do they smooch good. It’s a relief to see this up on the screen.

To aid them is the impeccable Marisa Tomei, who never makes a false move. She must be a very well prepared actor, for one has the sense that everything she does is right, natural, and on target. There is never a sense of the random in her work. Though highly responsive, she comes on knowing what she must do, and she does it. Her face is in her favor, a great gift for an actor. Her scene trying to write is thrilling.

At the end is a scene in profile of a child crying. The scene is shot in a stairwell and goes on and on and on. And it’s wonderful that it does. And it’s also wonderful that it is taken in profile and that we do not see the young actor’s face. We just let him cry. It is wordless. This is followed by a skateboard scene that also goes on and on and on. It, like the crying scene, is wordless, and gives a suggestion that the director is not quite without talent for motion pictures. But he must stick to his last. He must do, but never speak.

For there is a difference between high drama and slice-of-life, which this mistitled movie purports to be. See Chekov: in slice-of-life the characters’ very souls are at stake. It is not just some conversations. The dripping preludes of Chopin dominate the sound track. But Chopin’s preludes are salon music; they contain, with the ferocity of a bottle of wine, tremendous sensation. Salon music, but whole lives are at stake. A salon film must do likewise.

 
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Posted in Alfred Molina, FAMILY DRAMA, Gay, Includes Some Gay Characters, John Lithgow, Marisa Tomei

 

Home At The End Of The World

23 Sep

Home At The End Of The World –– directed by Michael Mayer. Drama. Two male lovers housekeep with a screwy female. 96 minutes Color 2004.

Robin Penn is far too old to play this lady with the rainbow hair. It’s a part for a fat young woman with no confidence in her own sexual attraction. Robin Wright is very handsome and is in her late 30s, and she would not be fooled by this hair for a Manhattan minute. And the actor, in fact, does not relate to the hair at all; she simply wears it with less adventure than she might wear a Halloween wig. It is an earmark of a performance by an actress, usually canny in her craft, usually offering us something novel and brilliant. And yet one feels that she is fully engaged. And so she is. The trouble is that there is nothing very much for her to be fully engaged with. She is a tiger engaging with an antipasto.

The script and the direction are flimsy, the tone of the picture is false, the casting is false, the playing is false. Sissy Spacek’s work is vaporous.

Colin Farrell is off-base and phony as the adult gay lover. He play-acts innocence and dumbness. His eyes wander about like Mayflies, and he affects a little lost smile. It is a strange piece of amateurism, when his own innocence, his own stupidity would have done just fine.

And worse still the director and author seem to think that homosexual relations are devoid of blood-rare lust, that they are something one sips genteelly like lemonade. For none of the players evince anything more than a pastel passion.

This is fraudulent. Aside from there being nothing at stake in it and therefore no drama, it is an attempt to make homosexuality nice – which is stupid – since part of the charm, the power, the influence, and triumph of sex of any kind is victory over the “nice.” “Oh, for a delicious smooch!” as one finds in Almovódar’s Law Of Desire, for instance. “Oh, for a great big juicy steak!”

And to top it off, the film does a toe-dance over the affliction of AIDS. It offers us the Farrell character as too stupid to know his partner has it, when it is obvious that that is exactly what he has.

So, spare yourself the dismay. Do not, whatever you do, take up residence in the Home At The End Of The World.

 

 

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, Cissy Spacek, ENSEMBLE DRAMA, FAMILY DRAMA, Gay, PERSONAL DRAMA, Robin Wright

 

The Law Of Desire

17 Sep

The Law Of Desire – written and directed by Pablo Almodóvar. Melodrama. 102 minutes Color 1987.

★★★★★ 

The Story: A beautiful young man becomes disastrously obsessed with a film director.

The link between satire and melodrama has not been this close since the heyday of Dickens. They are really two sides of the same coin. And one of the links here is the notorious color scheme that Almodóvar employs to nest this tale and that brings to one’s eye a humor of disposition which is very hard not to be influenced by. You want to giggle.

If any problem exists in this film, or any other film of Almovódar that wishes us to take it seriously, it is that he has such a big heart that everybody is forgiven for everything in advance. This film comes before the discovery of Penélope Cruz, who embodies all these traits in her nature: big heartedness, drama, and the color scheme. So, while his films are wonderful to watch and be entertained by, we are foolish to ask ourselves to be deeply moved by them. This does not mean they are trivial or to be scanted; not at all; they must be seen, like the mobiles of Alexander Calder, lest we deprive ourselves of an important delight. You wouldn’t spurn Mozart because he is light-minded, would you? Or the films of Lubitsch because he is fun?

This story deals mainly with homosexuality and transsexuality, and is Almovódar’s first film so to do. The parallel plot involves Carmen Maura who was once the director’s brother and is now his sister. And the transsexual Bibí Andersen (not to be confused with Ingmar Bergman’s Bibi Andersson) plays the aunt. All this is very nice and disturbs, just as it is meant to do, our customarily acceptance of things.

The director is played with admirable restraint by Eusebio Poncela, and it is a pleasure to see him engage in passionate kissing scenes with men, for that is just the way men kiss one another when they are at it. His is essentially the Almovódar stand-in role, as you find in Broken Embraces, the man whose calling is more important than his love relations.

Antonio Banderas plays the mad youth. It is very nice to see him with his clothes off, for he is a fine figure of a male, and it makes his insane lust for the director real. And he also kisses back real good. But what’s interesting about Banderas’ performance is that he is playing someone insane as though they were not insane. What the actor does is to excuse nothing. He has that ghastly, religiously-crazed, prude mother to motivate him, and Almovódar needs give us no more than that. The story does the job for him.

What Almovódar does give us is a mountain slide of a finale, with plot heaped upon exposition scene as Pelion on Ossa. It is more rich desserts than we can digest at a sitting. But he does meet all the responsibilities of the genres of melodrama and satire, which he clearly loves, just as he loves nutso love-lust s in Duel In The Sun with its wedding of sex and slaughter as praise for life lived fully in a way that no one really cares to do outside of a movie, including Almovódar. What’s the moral of the opera?

There is no sacrifice one does not make for love – children, gender, life, sex itself. If it aint necessarily so, well then, that’s one reason we go to a movie to begin with, isn’t it?

 

Lilies

17 Jan

Lilies – directed by John Greyson. Drama. An old bishop is forced to relive a youth triangle between himself and two other boys. 95 minutes Color 1996

* * *

Undermined by an over-translation into English of the French play, a group of very competent actors cannot rise above the diction of the script, which causeth them to utter as no mortal before hath uttered ever. The actors play it, nevertheless, as realistic, which is smart and which makes their effort valiant if seldom effective. I also could not tell which of the three young men ended up as the bishop and which as the prisoner until the final scene, which kept me watching, I suppose, to have my curiosity satisfied, but curiosity is small feeling next to what might have been identification with the human situation before me. It starved me of it. The prisoners who perform the reenactment of the youthful betrayal play female parts as well, but this is very hard to do without camping at all, and this they succeed in doing only sporadically. But what really is at stake here is the veracity of youthful homosexual love, and the story is based on an essential lie. The two adolescents are having a mad affair in an Edwardian convent school. One of them, after bad punishment for it, decides to go straight. However, he decides he loves his young friend more. This decision, worked out on a symbolic level, does not take into account the reality of the heterosexual mating strain in him, particularly as he grabs the first passing dish, a rich heiress of great character, played with admirable complacency and a completely flat chest by a black actor, Alexander Chapman. With her the young man makes the decision that he does not love her enough to mate with her, which is to say he must be 100% gay because he does not fall deeply in love with his first straight date. So the male love affair reads as agit-prop for homosexuality, and, since it does not address the central and true issue the polemic is flimsy. What does work is the relation at the end between the bishop and the lover he has betrayed, who is now a prisoner. The director surely has been influenced by Fellini, which is not a bad thing, but extravagance cannot really shroud a corpse.

 

Full Speed

25 May

Full Speed –– Directed by Gael Morel. Youth Drama. A cluster of friends works out their relations to one another and their futures. 85 minutes Color 1998.

* * *

I don’t want to see another film about homosexuality which ends in death. Why is that the recipe? Certainly all the actors are attractive, although the director does not seem to have much grasp of the actor’s medium, for the dialogue never passes beyond mechanical recitation. This tends to thin and monotonize the characters, and reduce the weight of the drama to plot and spectacle of which there is plenty. But why is death the outcome for homosexuality? Death and misery. Humiliation and degradation. Always the same. Or. Or, if the love affair works out, it is worked out on strictly bourgeois lines: marriage, picket fence, and baloney sandwiches for lunch. I’m tired of baloney sandwiches for lunch and death.

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Beautiful Boxer

18 Feb

Beautiful Boxer – directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham – drama of a Thai renowned kick-boxer determined to become a female. 118 minutes color 2005.

* * * * *

Anyone across whose mind has passed the notion of altering their gender from male to female will have experienced in large or in little what this story dramatizes as a whole and will feel fascination and sympathy with it. Nong Toom, an effeminate teenager, enters the grueling and violent world of kickboxing to fee a sex change. His first goal is to help his disabled parents, but he is so skilled he becomes a national treasure – particularly when he starts wearing girl-makeup in the ring. The scenes of boxing are remarkable, the training is horrendous, the environment the same as for boxing anywhere, lousy. The film is brilliantly mounted and told by the director/writer; the editing and music and photography are stunning. And the brutal bullying, shame, and confusion are exactly no different from what any of us have received for the same natural quandary the world over, from the time we humans were children to the time we are old. So frightening is the situation — perhaps nothing is more frightening in life than to be derided for the body one has to survive inside of within one’s present incarnation — that one can only respect the strength of character Nong Toom’s determination shows in going through with his desire to be the beauty he sees in females. The boxer and his/her story are famous in Thailand, and Nong Toom is played by a champion current Thai kick-boxer, Asanee Suwan. What the film demonstrates more clearly than any Rocky movie can do is that the fight against gender-preference oppression requires a masculinity of a force greater than the force of homophobia by far, and that nothing less will do.

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The Everlasting Secret Society

29 Oct

The Everlasting Secret Family –– directed by Michael Thornhill –– a teen- age boys contrives to remain forever young as a weapon of power. 94 minutes color 1994.

**

The life of the homosexual is depicted as nasty, manipulative, and snide –– once again. It depicts homosex itself as kinky and controlling and fatal –– once again. In doing this, it exerts a condemnation of homosexuality –– once again. The picture purports to be an expose of corruption in politics, but that is really a put-up-job, for what it really wants to do is revel in a certain type of supposedly entertaining gay temperament, and by that I do not mean camp, of which in this movie there is not a trace — but rather the temperament of The Bitter Pill Of Homosexuality. A middle-aged politician easily and impenitantly seduces a teen-age boy. This boy, fearing to lose his grip over the politician and for that matter anyone else who appears before him, starts taking youth shots. Thus we have the theme of the homosexual mania for the young and beautiful. But it is impossible to identify with this theme, because here a mania for youth and beauty is limited to lust — love never enters into it — and because an itch for youth and beauty is natural to all orientations anyway. The problem is that the boy is never innocent and never vulnerable and never less than as evil as the corrupt souls around him. Moreover, the young man’s beauty is ugly. For one is asked to endure the revolting job of beholding his face continually distorted by arrogance, cunning and fifteen different hair-dos. Arthur Dignam is quite good as the older man. Cut out his performance and paste it into your scrapbook, but put the rest of the film right down there in the trash.

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2 X 4

24 Oct

2 X 4 –– Directed by Jimmy Smallhorne – gender drama in which an  Irish immigrant faces his homosexuality. 89 minutes color 1998.

* * * * *

A brilliant film! Beautifully photographed in Dublin and the Bronx, where immigrant Irish males come to make their fortunes in construction, manual labor, and entrepreneurial schemes and scams. Dark and wild, the story tells the coming of age of a powerful alpha male already in his thirties as he grapples with nightmares and day-mares of an inner homoerotic torment. It is brilliantly acted by everyone in it, each character completely convincing in his milieu. The direction and editing are astonishing. The film shows male frontal nudity and scenes of sexual congress, all coincidental to the scenes themselves. Jimmy Smallhorne plays the principal character with complete realism, and he also directed. If you are looking for pornography and the license of a happy-go-lucky gay lifestyle, this is no more that than a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie is a movie by Ingmar Bergman. This picture is a picture that stands by itself as a masterpiece of no previous genre. Very interesting, completely eccentric, entirely authentic, and told with a narrative skill that is uniquely cinematic. It won the Sundance Award for cinemaphotography.,

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Harlow

24 Oct

Harlow –– directed by Gordon Douglas –– a bio-pic about the lingerie blond from the 30s. 125 minutes Technicolor 1965.

* *

I spent an evening talking with Carroll Baker in the late 50s after she had just had her first successes in Baby Doll and Giant. She was pretty and sweet and simple. She had a little wen under her chin which gave her face a certain unexpected character. She had that money-voice. More than six years go by before this picture is made, where she is playing a teenager. Her own story in her own autobiography is far more compelling than the one cooked up for this curious actress, Harlow, and far more shocking. As a performer, Jean Harlow is an actor I tend to avoid. She had a square hard face, thin lips, a voice like fingernails on a blackboard, and, except for wearing no underwear or wearing only underwear, no talent. Except for Hell’s Angels, in which she seems to be quite another person. Anyhow, Baker is right for this role and is a much better actress than Harlow. English actors are infirmly cast in parts around her, Peter Lawford who looks like he has been stung by thirty infected wasps, and Angela Lansbury, ordinarily wonderful, who is quite bad, gravely miscast, for some mad reason, as Harlow’s mother. The whole production is swamped somewhat by the Technicolor process, which is really something to behold in its heyday. Just take a look at the opening scenes where the extras enter the studio, go into Costume, and start filming. Edith Head did the things, which are wonderful, but have not much to do with the 30s; nor does the music. Martin Balsam has a nice turn as a vulgarian producer. Ten years after this film was made, I was in love with a woman who looked like Carroll Baker. She had the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. She’s gone. But I look at Carroll Baker’s films now, because Baker, retired to Palm Springs and no longer acting, was a very good natural method actress and because we had such a nice talk so many years ago and because of that.

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