Tag Archives: queer cinema

Benediction

Benediction is the story of English poet, writer and soldier Siegfried Sassoon. He was decorated for bravery on the Western Front, and went on to become one of the leading poets of the First World War. His poetry vividly described the horrors of the trenches while satirizing the patriotic pretensions that Sassoon believed were responsible for a fueling the war. His was a dissenting voice, protesting against the continuation of the war with his Soldier’s Declaration of 1917, which got him committed to the psychiatric ward of a military hospital. He married because he craved a child (and had one), but also had a string of same-sex affairs. He befriended a priest, converted to catholicism, and joined the Ghost Club, a paranormal investigation organization for ghosts and hauntings. I guess what I’m trying to say is: he was an interesting fellow. But you’d never know it from Benediction.

Peter Capaldi and Jack Lowden portray Sassoon at different stages of his life, both with skill. But director Terence Davies’ fondness for too-long shots of wind rustling leaves as opera plays is trying, and tiring, and no substitution for actual mood or atmosphere. It feels like filler.

Interspersed with real vintage war footage for context, Sassoon’s poems are narrated and layered on top of representative images. It’s cheesy, and reads more like a teenage girl’s diary. Terrible effects and amateurish green screen work add to the unprofessional feel of the film, which is hard to forgive, and harder still to sit through. The story isn’t particularly complex, but it’s still hard to keep everyone straight when all these underfed pasty types all look the same.

It’s a sad film, somber almost to a fault, but I could live with that. Davies seems to have something interesting to say about about time, using with parallels narratives, but some of his artistic choices were like taking a hose’s spray to the face. Thrown unceremoniously more than once from the bubble of the film, I found it difficult to get back in, not because it was impenetrable, but because I wasn’t sufficiently motivated. Failure is the theme to which the film often returned, but for me it wasn’t just part of the story, it was inherent in the execution as well.

Benediction is, nevertheless, an official selection of the 2021 TIFF.

Death Drop Gorgeous

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6 All-Stars has wrapped up, and our sincere condragulations to Miz Kylie Sonique Love for her win (and a shout-out to Ginger Minj, whom we also adore). Gaps are rare between seasons of Drag Race; RuPaul is both prolific and tireless. Luckily, the second season of Canada’s spinoff is just around the corner, with an anniversary episode of season 1 streaming on Crave right now to fill the void. But if that’s not enough for you (and truly, is there ever enough drag?), you might takea look at Death Drop Gorgeous, a horror-comedy about drag queens! Can you even resist?

Note: in Drag Race, a dance move where the dancer suddenly and dramatically throws themselves backwards onto the ground, one leg extended, is referred to as a Death Drop (and sometimes a shablam); in fact, it’s actually called a dip, and is one of the essential moves in voguing, but for the purposes of popular culture, and this film, this is a death drop, courtesy of Laganja Estranja.

Death Drop Gorgeous, written and directed by Michael J. Ahern, Christopher Dalpe, and Brandon Perras, weaves together camp, gore, and enough gay references that it’s sure to hilt queer cult classic status.

A serial killer is on the loose in Providence, targeting gay men and draining their bodies of blood before leaving their beautiful, slaughtered corpses to be found by an increasingly panicked community. Dwayne (Wayne Gonsalves), cute but disgruntled, watches from behind the bar at the Aut Haus. His own roommate Brian, frequent patron and audience member, and a host of drag queens including Fitness Janet, Gloria Hole, Tragedi, Audrey Heartburn, and Lindsay Fuckingham, are either targets or suspects, and a fun drinking game can be had trying to guess which is which.

As we know from Drag Race acting challenges, though drag queens are no doubt talented performers, they are not necessarily natural or easy actors. It’s a mixed bag here, though Gonsalves and Matthew Pidge are particular stand-outs, maybe even good enough to appear in movies that aren’t incredibly niche, self-made, and crowd-sourced.

If you have fondness in your heart for drag, I’m sure it will extend to this film, where the fun is not just in guessing who’s draining the blood, but why.

Pray Away

The Premise: By now you’ve heard about conversion “therapy” – church groups with the audacity to not only claim that Jesus has no love for gays and that homosexuality is a sin, and inherently wrong, but that it’s also a choice, something that can be overcome through traumatic and soul-crushing “therapy” by unqualified, untrained individuals. This documentary gives survivors the chance to tell their haunting stories, but we’ll also hear from “ex-gay” leadership on the other side of the table, granting us a fuller picture of a story that’s been hiding in the shadows.

The Verdict: Director Kristine Stolakis isn’t afraid to confront both sides of the issue, nor does she overtly try to convince us that the notion of “praying away the gay” is wrong or stupid or impossible. She trusts that her audience has already come to that very obvious conclusion themselves. Her goal here is to let us hear directly from not just survivors, but the administrators of this very harmful practice – some who have seen the error of their ways, some who haven’t, all of whom are either ex-gay or ex-ex-gay themselves. What their stories amount to, rather importantly, is a reminder that this is not just some shameful part of the church’s history, of our history, but a continued practice that still takes place today – albeit underground. The truth is, almost no one commits suicide because they’re gay. Having warm, tingly feelings about another person is a thrilling thing – it feels good. Who wouldn’t want that? Only people who are then told that feeling this way about the same sex is somehow intrinsically bad, and that Jesus would deny his love because of it. People commit suicide because they experience virulent homophobia. They feel rejected by their communities and that their very personhood is corrupt and illicit. The only solution the church offers is dangerous and destructive. Conversion therapy has never had success in eradicating homosexuality; it merely creates trauma and scars and a lifetime of bad memories. It sounds barbaric and archaic, because it is, and through this doc you’ll find that the church has never stopped performing it, they merely got better at hiding it.

Berlinale 2021: North By Current

Filmmaker Angelo Madsen Minax returns to his rural Michigan home town after the mysterious death of his two-year-old niece, Kalla. His sister Jesse, the girl’s mother, is a suspect, his brother-in-law David is arrested, Kalla’s cause of death inconclusive, and the family tragedy as a whole is just a lot to process when there are so many eggshells to tiptoe around.

Minax is himself a trans man with a fraught relationship with his Mormon family. As he intercuts present day footage with old home movies of his childhood, it’s easy to see how his sister might have struggled with such an unstable upbringing and addiction issues. Motherhood seemed to have grounded her for a time, but the death of her daughter and her own possible responsibility and/or culpability seems to have both unraveled her but also encouraged her reproduction, replacing one baby with the next before the last one’s out of diapers. Grappling with trauma and depression, Jesse all but refuses to discuss the matter, but slowly their mother starts to open up, but she’s not exactly a great source of comfort to either. In fact, Minax’s mother is quick to point out that she’s lost two girls – Kalla, and the little girl that Minax himself used to be. While Minax’s mother may be entitled to her grief, it’s clear his transition and queer identity are still the family’s biggest challenge – even the murder of one family member at the hands of another is more easily overlooked.

North By Current is a testament of grief, tinted by faith, family, history, and isolation. Spanning topics including depression, domestic violence, motherhood and transgender masculinity, I’m not sure to what extent any true healing or catharsis occurred, but I know Minax, at least, is headed in the right direction.

Jump, Darling

What do you do when you you’re reeling from a break-up with no place to stay and no money to make things happen? To grandmother’s house you go, of course. It’s what Russell does. Russell (Thomas Duplessie) has decided to pack up his wigs and fishnets and lick his wounds in the country, at his Grandma Margaret’s place. Grandma (Cloris Leachman) is delighted to have him, not least of all because it’ll help her avoid the local nursing home, which she adamantly and steadfastly refuses to go to despite it being well established that she’s really no longer able to care for herself at home.

Russell has, until recently, pursued acting, but has dropped that passion for another – drag – which may have contributed to his breakup. His mother Ene (Linda Kash) drops in from time to time and hardly seems to know who to be most exasperated with – her stubborn, sickly mother, or her waffling, still-dependent son. Equally inefficient with both, she seems just to pop in to be a bummer and then leave again. Meanwhile, neither housemate is doing well. Russell is stagnant, torn between leaving, which means restarting, which is terrifying not to mention the whole abandoning Grandma thing, or staying, and quietly extinguishing an important part of himself. Grandma, meanwhile, is rapidly declining, but no less unwavering in her resolve to live at home. But this together time means they’re both learning about each other’s lives, their secrets, their dashed hopes, things many grandma-grandson duos may never normally exchange. Their relationship is unconventional but sweet.

Director Phil Connell keeps things simple, allowing the relationship to be the film’s primary focus. Newcomer Duplessie pours his whole self into the role. On the other end of the spectrum, this is Cloris Leachman’s final role. She died in January of this year, a talented lady to the very last, and though she seems as feisty and vibrant as ever, physically the years were taking a toll and it’s hard not to think of her demise while watching her declining mental state in the film. Still, such a meaty, involved role for a woman this late in her life is a rarity (she was 94 when she died), and Leachman was such a gem. This film isn’t her best, but it’s a great way to say goodbye to a legend.

A caveat: although I enjoyed this movie, and I enjoy drag as a whole, I do have one problem with both, and that’s the use of the word ‘fish.’ In drag, ‘fish’ is a compliment. It means the queen is looking particularly feminine, perhaps even passing as female. But fish is a dirty word, a derogatory word. I don’t mind anyone dressing up as a woman or performing as a woman but I do mind the offensive language, and I’m pretty sure you can guess where the term fish comes from. It’s a word that’s been used to shame women about the scent of their sex, as if a natural odor is somehow wrong. As a term it’s been co-opted by the drag community, the very people who apparently admire femininity so much they want to emulate it, but at the same time insult the people they’re imitating. It seems strange to put on heels and wigs and corsets and makeup and then sling sexist terms like this, but the patriarchy is pretty strong and even the marginalized will oppress those beneath them. The word is unnecessary, easily scrubbed. Let’s make that happen.

Sundance 2021: The World to Come

Picture it: mid-19th century American East Coast frontier. Life is hard; it’s round the clock, back breaking work just to stay alive. It’s dirty, full of drudgery, isolating, dark, and monotonous.

Dyer (Casey Affleck) is a poor farmer who will toil his whole life away and never have anything to show for it. His wife Abigail (Katherine Waterston) works just as hard at even more menial tasks. Their relationship is predicated on hard work and common sense. Their life is colourless, hard-scrabble, and bereft after the loss of their only child. When another couple appears in the “neighbourhood” (which is to say, another isolated cabin miles and miles away), their dreary lives are cheered just a little bit by the ability to see another face once in a while. Abigail becomes particular friends with the wife, Tallie (Vanessa Kirby), though Tallie’s husband Finney (Christopher Abbott) is a real stick in the mud, another burden to be borne, but worth the price of seeing Tallie.

If Dyer notices that Abigail and Tallie are growing closer by the day, he’s hardly the type to say anything, but Finney is much more jealous, and perhaps this isn’t the first time his wife has wandered over to someone else’s homestead. Abigail and Tallie relieve their loneliness and ignite something in each other’s company. Their relationship turns intimate, and physical, a balm on their otherwise psychologically taxing existence.

The World To Come is based on Jim Shepard’s lyrical story of the same name, which is fine for a piece of literature but translated less well on screen. Katherine Waterston provides a poetic voice-over that grows tiresome very quickly, not to mention suspicious. Dyer, who eats potatoes for every meal of every day of his sad little life, hardly seems the type to have said that “contentment is a friend who rarely visits” although the sentiment, at least, rings true, the biggest excitement in his life provided by a molasses enema when he gets the flu.

Waterston and Kirby are wonderful together, and the setting is absolute perfection. The sense of longing and emptiness are well conveyed, and Waterston does a fine job embodying both Abigail’s stoic reticence and the private, flowery language of her journal. The World to Come has plenty of isolated aspects to admire but they amounted to a boring film and a frigid love story that I didn’t need to see (again: this is hardly the first of its kind). Mona Fastvold is an excellent director who picked a crummy script and failed to breathe enough life into the story to justify it or indeed to hold any emotional heft. This one left me cold.

 The World To Come will be released via video on demand on March 2, 2021.

Summerland

Alice (Gemma Arterton) is a reclusive, curmudgeonly writer, whom the locals refer to as “the witch.” Her writings often pointedly refer to the various ways women have been unfairly portrayed, but what are you going to do?

One day, a young boy named Frank (Lucas Bond) shows up at her door, an evacuee from London to be kept safe during the WW2 blitz. Alice doesn’t like kids. To be fair, it seems to be her general regard toward all humans, but Alice doesn’t want a kid in her house. It’s nothing personal against Frank, she just has work to do and no fucks to give. She reluctantly agrees to house him temporarily, until another family can be found. But pretty much everyone in her small village has already taken in children and she does have a big ole house all to herself.

As Frank begins to worm his way into her heart, we learn that Alice’s self-imposed isolation is the result of a broken heart, a forbidden romance with another woman, Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is now just a figment of her past, though one that still haunts her. Clearly Alice has lived with only her memories for a long time, but with a real boy as her roommate, she’s brought down to the human realm where there is a war going on and people, such as Frank’s parents, are in real peril.

This film nearly lost me, being just a little too easy, a little too neatly contrived. However, it’s anchored by a performance from Arterton that just floored me. Alice’s naked longing and repressed self-expression are controlled with such precision by Arterton, it’s a remarkable role for her, but she’s actually got some very able costars from a surprising place – the kids. Both Bond and Dixie Egerickz, who plays Frank’s playmate, are wonderful, offering grounded and thoughtful performances considering these kids are growing up in a time where childhood is pretty much non-existent

I remember reading about young war evacuees when I was a kid myself, and I’ve always been fascinated by this ultimate act of mutual aid, adopting a stranger’s child, sheltering them during a difficult time, providing a safe home for kids at risk of dying in air raids in the city. Mothers had to place such trust in the kindness of strangers, and strangers had to step up with very little the way of thanks or even acknowledgment, and kids had to grow up without their parents. There would have been little communication and tonnes to worry about and it seems like such an act of grace in the middle of a literal war. So despite the film’s shortcomings, I still appreciated a window on this particular view, and what a lovely view it was, with lots of sights to behold.

To The Stars

Iris Deerborne (Kara Hayward) is a social pariah at her high school. The 1960s were perhaps not an easy time for any woman, as evidenced by her mom, an abusive drunk who feels trapped by domesticity, and the townswomen, whose sole occupation seems to be malicious gossip, and the woman who haunts the local swimming pond after having committed suicide there, but Iris has it even worse, an outcast because her weak bladder has earned her the nickname Stinky Pants and is a daily embarrassment.

Luckily, a new girl in town, Maggie (Liana Liberato), seems reluctant to write Iris off just because all the mean girls instruct her to. And because Maggie’s big city mystique is so strong, other people start reconsidering her as well. But Maggie’s hiding some pretty major secrets of her own, and only Iris knows that she’s been lying…for now, anyway. These might still be young girls, but they’re dealing with some pretty hefty life problems, and life isn’t exactly going out of its way to be fair to them.

Martha Stephens’ beautiful movie is a tribute to female friendship and how just one friend can mean the difference between wretched loneliness and validation. Between her mother the kids at school, Iris is cowed by the cruelty, she lives shrunkenly, hunched over, avoiding all and any attention. Maggie is a necessary reminder that there is more than small town Oklahoma. A friend, for Iris, is hope. Hope that life won’t always be like this. If just one other person understands us, life doesn’t feel so alone. Hayward and Liberato serve up terrific performances, not despite their young age but because of it – only when we are teenagers do we believe that now will translate to always. It’s a bleak film that hides a positive message, one that needn’t be heard solely by teenage girls in the 60s, but by anyone who despairs that life will always feel empty. It won’t. Look up to the stars and have faith.

The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special

I couldn’t call myself a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race if I didn’t gallop over to BenDeLaCreme’s site to rent The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Special just as soon as I could. BenDeLaCreme (DeLa for short) was one my all-time favourites on Drag Race, except for the fact that she left in disgrace – not because she lost, but because she chose herself for elimination. Criminy!

DeLa and Jinkx Monsoon work together often (including in the recent Happiest Season) and have a wonderful chemistry. They’ve written the script together and they’ve got their flavour stamped all over it, which is probably why it’s so sticky.

The premise: DeLa wants to give Jinkx the perfect Christmas, with winter wonderlands, sugar plum dreams, and plenty of good old fashioned Christmas traditions. Jinkx, however, is not so keen on the whole Christmas scene. She grew up much less privileged; Santa never spoiled her and the holidays never seemed all that great. Plus, aren’t traditions those things upheld by people who don’t like gays or drag queens? DeLa can’t believe it: did she not even have a family eggnog recipe?

I didn’t grow up with a family eggnog recipe either, to be honest. Not everyone is into salmonella punch, especially not the kind animated by dead grandmas. Which DeLa’s is. Nana Nanog is still deeply invested in seeing DeLa carry out the family traditions, and luckily, our favourite drag queens have a variety of musical numbers planned for us to increase the merry and turn up the jolly.

Numbers like ‘Passive Aggressive Christmas’ and ‘Everyone Is Traumatized by Christmas’ indicate the kind of inclusivity this special is aiming for: the holidays are hard, might as well drink until they go away. Or until you see the Baby Jesus bopping around in a pair of sunglasses and a diaper.

Walt, our miniature dachshund who will be 6 months old on Christmas Day, seemed to love Santa Fa La La (he barked at all the fa la las), but I had a super fun time with their new twist on classics like Baby It’s Cold Outside, the popular holiday song with rape vibes, now rewritten to recount how God convinced Mary to put his baby inside her, and the Nativity Twist, which reclaims the birth of Christ as a feel-good, dance-heavy, nice time.

As you would expect from such drag professionals as Jinkx and DeLa, the looks are on point, the wigs are big, the shoes are high, the makeup is excessive, the costumes are spectacular and numerous. It is most certainly NOT a family-friendly affair if you don’t want your kinds finding out what rhymes with ‘bare-backing’ this Christmas, but for the rest of us, it’s exactly the celebration we deserve this year.

Find The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special on Hulu if you’re in the U.S., and for rent on their site if you’re not.

The Christmas House

Phylis (Sharon Lawrence) has finally joined husband Bill (Treat Williams) in retirement, and she’s finding it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. With time on their hands, though, they decide to call their grown sons home and throw one last Christmas House, just like they used to do.

What is a Christmas House, you ask? Fair question. They literally empty the house of all useful contents and stage every nook and every cranny with Christmas decor, inside and out, and then invite the whole neighbourhood over to enjoy, along with cookies and cocoa of course, and even some live entertainment.

Youngest son Brandon (Jonathan Bennett) and husband Jake (Brad Harder) are able to come because their bakery is under renovation but it’s not great timing since they’re waiting to hear whether their adoption will go through – it’s been a long journey and they’ve been disappointed before. Oldest son Mike (Robert Buckley), an actor in LA, is also able to get away because his show Handsome Justice has just wrapped its first season. If the brothers are surprised to learn the Christmas House will return after a two decade hiatus, they’re even more surprised to learn that their parents plan to sell the house after Christmas – and take some time apart.

Much has been made of Hallmark finally including some LGBTQ storylines in its holiday lineup, but this isn’t much of a bone to throw the gay community, to be honest. As you can tell, Brandon and Jake are not going to be the focal point of the story; their love’s already a done deal. This is really about single (and handsome) Mike, who grew up with his eye on the girl next door, Andi (Ana Ayora), who is also convenient back next door for the holidays. Will their spark rekindle? Of course it will. But some painful memories from the past will threaten to put those flames out. Plus, mom and dad’s divorce and Brandon and Jake’s baby worries are kind of romantic bummers. But the Christmas House! That’s what’s important now, even if it’s also the only thing actually catching fire.

Oh Hallmark, how do I love thee? You’re pumping out these holiday cheese balls with such enthusiastic precision. And yet, with an impressive slate of about 40 new Christmas movies a year, this is still the first first movie produced by Hallmark to feature a same-sex married couple and a male gay couple. It’s been a long time coming and yet still manages to disappoint – give the gays their romance!