Tag Archives: queer cinema

Call Me By Your Name

Seventeen year old Elio is facing another season at his parents’ summer home somewhere in boring, idyllic Northern Italy when the clouds part, the angels sing, and a yellow ray of sunshine pools on the golden head of a god, arriving by taxi. Actually it’s Oliver, a grad student about to spend the next 6 weeks helping out Elio’s father, a professor. Elio is immediately smitten.

It’s complicated, though, and it’ll take those full 6 weeks for the two young men to reach the peak of their affair. It’s the summer of 1983 and neither one is ‘out’; what we see is their friendship, the confidences they share, the fumbling flirtation. It’s a quiet movie, as 913a movie must be between two characters who are still learning about themselves, and in some cases, learning to repress. The pace is languid, but after 132 minutes, I’m thinking more about what’s left out than what is covered. Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) share a mostly silent passion. Have they ever been attracted to men before? Are they afraid of being seen? Their affair exists within a bubble – isolated in a small village, surrounded by intellectuals, sheltered. But there’s always a sense that the affair cannot last.

We feel the blush of their first love. But director Luca Guadagnino does not want us to see much more than that, does not want the reality of gay sex to change the tone of the movie. Why doesn’t he trust us? In an otherwise beautiful film about desire, theirs is the only physical intimacy that we don’t see. When one of them hooks up with a woman, we eavesdrop on their thrusting and grunting. We even get fairly graphic with some person-on-peach sex. But when Elio and Oliver come together the camera looks away. The only real nudity is female.

And that has left me feeling off-balance. I can only praise the performances by Hammer and especially by Chalamet – his energy, his wit. Although Elio is the younger of the two, and voices more self-doubt, we actually see them negotiate a balance in their relationship that feels very healthy and mature. And though Oliver is adamant that he wants neither of them to get hurt, we see how woundable Elio really is, how vulnerable. This isn’t just love but self-discovery, mutual discovery, only some of which will be lasting.  Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) counsels him to stay this way, thin-skinned, to not close himself off to pain, even in heartbreak. And Oliver wonders if that’s the real difference between the two: not their age or experience, but their parents. And we’re left to think on that as the credits roll. Who might they have been had they both had supportive families? It is in these final minutes of the film when we finally feel emotionally connected to the material, and to the characters. This is the beating heart of the film. It’s just too bad it’s saved for last.

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Torrey Pines

So here’s a movie for all you people who like to take some risks with your cartoon watching!

Torrey Pines is stop-motion animated, but there’s no clay in sight, it’s all paper cut outs, which I kind of loved. I mean, I’m a sucker for stop-motion any day of the week, but this one looks like something your or I could do, if only we had tonnes of time and talent and patience and a kick-ass story to tell. Clyde Petersen has all of those things, and this is (sort of) his story.

It’s about Clyde when Clyde was still a 12 year old girl dealing with gender identity and the struggle of finding his way. The film is filled with wild hallucinations and MV5BMjEzNjMwMTc0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjk4NDg4MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1763,1000_AL_psychological projections, so even though the movie is without dialogue, we still feel what Clyde is feeling. When in the car with his mother, we don’t hear them argue, but when a speech bubble features a bear biting off the head of a rabbit, we get the gist. Clyde’s mother is schizophrenic, and what she sees as a fun-filled family road trip from San Diego up to New York, the rest of the world views more as kidnapping. It’s a trip that will change Clyde and his family forever.

My love for stop-motion exists because there’s just no better way to visually represent the love and attention that goes into making a film. Stop-motion will often show us how something works close up, and we see beauty in this new perspective. Torrey Pines doesn’t disappoint; I particularly loved seeing the jointed fingers at work. But it’s also not traditionally beautiful animation. It reminded me of being in high school – my friend Kelly one day said to me that my shoes were so ugly they were cool. Up until that exact moment I’d only seen the cool in them, and forever afterward couldn’t stop seeing the ugly (she was right). The look of Torrey Pines is also ugly-cool (although legitimately both), and perhaps there is no better aesthetic to explore a coming of age story in the 1990s.

I mentioned earlier that there’s no dialogue to this movie, and that definitely proved challenging for Sean. Maybe it’s not for everyone but I liked that this film was a rule-breaker. Music and score play a much larger role in the film because of the lack of speaking roles, and it really moves us along through the stages of the film. There’s a lot to see and think about in this movie, heavy stuff, but really relatable and authentic  with a flavour all its own.

TIFF: Soldiers. A Story from Ferentari

Ferentari is an impoverished ghetto of Bucharest. Adi, an anthropology student, moves there to work on his thesis on manele pop music. He soaks up the local culture at a seedy bar where he meets a guide, Alberto. Alberto is a colourful character, to put it politely, a gregarious man with a gambling addiction and 14 years of prison under his belt. Alberto knows how to work Adi, scheming for drinks and smokes on top of cash payment. He’s got the whole neighbourhood figured out.
The relationship between the two blossoms curiously; Soldiers is an exploration of the soldiers_story_from_ferentari_02tough and the tender, the blurring of the line between the two. Adi (Adrian Schiop) is a fish out of water, and Alberto (Vasile Pavel), rough as heck around the edges, provides interesting if skewed insight. Soon their companionable partnership turns into something sexual, quasi-romantic. It’s a quite modern gay love story from behind the poverty line and director Ivana Mladenovic’s lens is intimate and gritty.
Soldiers is Mladenovic’s feature length debut but her work is already assured and distinguished. Based on the fictionalized biography of screenwriter (and actor) Adrian Schiop, the story follows the two lovers as they move from friendship to lust to love, but it’s when things start to turn sour that the movie really has something to say. The cultural, ethnic, and economic power dynamics become unmistakable as we glimpse a side of Romania we don’t often consider.

 

I Am Michael

Based on a true story, Michael Glatze (James Franco) is a gay activist, a writer for a popular queer men’s magazine, and one half of a couple passionately in love. Yet in ten years’ time, Michael will have publicly denounced the LGBTQ community, “turned” straight, and married a woman. How on earth did this happen?

Zachary Quinto is just as baffled as you are. Well, okay, Quinto plays Bennett, 201507682_1_IMG_FIX_700x700Franco’s other half in this film. And Bennett gets left for another man, who happens to be God. Michael starts out curious about religion because some of the queer youth he advocates for have been spurned by parents and schools in the name of religious belief. But the more he studies, the more susceptible he becomes to some very old, out of date, uncompassionate teachings. And things twist around in his mind so much that he makes the decision to “stop” being gay. He becomes a pastor himself, the kind who will sit down in front of a vulnerable kid and tell him “gay doesn’t exist” and he’ll have to “choose heterosexuality in order to be with God.”

 

I Am Michael attempts to tackle this surprise conversion with as much fairness and balance as possible, but it’s still stifling and sad to watch a man learn to loathe himself. Franco slides from determined advocacy, to, well, madness. He convinces himself that the voice he hears is God giving directions, but I sure as hell wasn’t convinced. I thought he was clearly troubled and had mounts of unresolved grief, both parents having died when he was quite young. And while it’s natural to want to be reunited with one’s mother, the lengths he goes to in order to guarantee his ascension into heaven is really tragic. And it made me angry all over again, this presumption of the church to tell people that they are mistakes, and those mistakes are bad and sinful and that God can’t possibly love them or accept them as they are (as He Himself made them???).

But the truth is, the fire that I feel for this subject wasn’t enough to sustain me through this movie. I thought it blandly and boringly told. It felt more like a powerpoint presentation than a movie. Michael’s struggle is largely internal, so the drama just doesn’t manifest. And because we don’t see or understand what must be a torturous process, the film feels slight, inconsequential.

I Am Michael is a fascinating premise that didn’t really work for me as a film. The director works so hard at being fair that the movie never really has a point of view. For all the talk of spirituality, there’s no real fire. It’s an interesting story uninterestingly told.

Bad Girl

Amy is a teenager, a “bad girl” who’s just returned home after some shadowy shenanigans to her adoptive parents who are willing to give her “one last chance.” They’re pretty sure she’s going to hate the new home they’ve bought in rural Australia and they’re right; she’s out the door and doing a runner almost immediately. But then she meets a local girl named Chloe who makes life a little more bearable, and her parents think this friendship is a positive thing.

bad_girl_h_0716.ad77b830223d2062af858dce36ad8abeThey’re all wrong on all counts. Chloe isn’t want she seems, and when Amy discovers her secrets she ends up not only fighting for her own life, but to keep intact the very same family that she’s up until now been eschewing. Seems like Chloe is the titular bad girl after all! Oh, teenage irony.

Fin Edquist writes and directs this twisty-turny thriller. There isn’t a lot to distinguish Bad Girl from other oeuvres in the genre but the performances from the two young lead actresses, Sara West and Samara Weaving, are pretty extraordinary. The film’s first half hour is a relationship drama made strong by their chemistry. They bond over their shared yearning for family, for identity.

The film’s visual approach is informed largely by the environment. Whether outside or in, they sky looms large, and often forbidding. The atmosphere of the film responds accordingly. A real sense of dread is cultivated in quieter moments, making the splashes of violence really pop against the austere background. Bad Girl is a genre film that just may surprise you.

 

 

Lovesong

Sarah (Riley Keough) feels like she’s bringing up her young daughter Jessie by herself, abandoned sometimes for months at a time by an older husband who travels for work and is fuzzy on his return dates. A visit from her college friend Mindy (Jena Malone) brings her a little comfort, a little joy…and a little more. There’s a chemistry and a crackle that’s been notably absent in her life. The three of them take off a little road trip that ignites things, but just as they get going, Mindy’s back on a bus for NYC and Sarah is back to her old life.

MV5BZWFhMGE2N2YtZTI5Yi00Zjc0LWJlNjAtZWE4ZDEzZmYzOTkyL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTU2NDMyOTM@._V1_Cut to: a few years later, Sarah and Jessie are on the road again, headed toward Mindy’s wedding. Mindy’s future husband seems nice. Sarah’s husband seems to be out of the picture. And Sarah and Mindy? They haven’t seen each other since that road trip so things are suitably tense and complicated. Sarah might be trying to reestablish their earlier intimacy, but the day before Mindy’s wedding is probably neither the time nor the place. So if you’re hoping to see something awkward, you’re in luck!

The great thing about Lovesong is that it fearlessly portrays the complexity and ambiguity of real human emotion. Director So Yong Kim gives her two leads room to breathe, room to communicate through glances and grazes. I’ve always been convinced Jena Malone is an underrated actress, her resume an eclectic mix of indie gems and art-house risks. Riley Keough is less of a known quantity to me, but if nothing else, the last scene in this movie told me that she’s not just some lucky celebrity spawn, she’s legit. There was some heartbreak on that screen, the tangled, tricky kind, and that’s no joke. Lovesong will be too slow for some, lacking perhaps in the closure we usually week, but it’s a brave portrayal and a bittersweet reminder that not every couple gets their love song.

Sebastian

James Fanizza writes, directs and stars in Sebastian but does not in fact play him. He plays Alex, the guy who meets Sebastian  (Alex House) and initiates a fling – this despite that he has a boyfriend, a boyfriend who just happens to be Sebastian’s cousin. They both agree to feel bad about what they’re doing, but they don’t consider not doing it. It’s full steam ahead (and it DOES get steamy).

MV5BMzBjYmE1YWEtZmNiYy00YTQyLThiMzAtYmFhMzI3ZmFlY2ZkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjIxMDkwMTk@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_Sebastian is an Argentinian student in Toronto for just one week; both know that the relationship (whatever it is) ends when he catches his flight back home. But the affair is irrepressible. They’re falling for each other whether or not they say the words, and it’s the kind of relationship that changes them, unlocks things hidden deep inside (and who can resist a boy with a dark and unspoken past?).

This is not the most polished piece you’ll encounter at the Inside Out Film Festival, but for a first directorial effort, it’s got promise and panache. Shot around Toronto, the city provides a bustling backdrop to the conflict of feelings. If this budding relationship begins to feel to us, the audience, like a Once in a Lifetime thing, we must wonder whether one week is enough for these two men to recognize it, and if yes, whether they will be brave enough to act on it. And that sort of anticipation has a vicarious thrill to it that is not unlike falling in love. But as we all know, love is complicated, and Alex and Sebastian will not be exceptions.

SXSW: Signature Move

Zaynab is a Pakistani-American immigration lawyer who is a) learning wrestling moves from a former pro wrestler who went by the name Jolt and b) keeping a new relationship with Alma secret from her conservative Muslim mother who doesn’t know she’s gay.

“Mothers and daughters aren’t friends in our culture,” Zaynab tells Alma. “That’s a very American concept.” Zaynab’s father is dead and her mother lives with her, almost claustrophobically, obsessed with SIG-MOVE-2-1024x683TV and spying on the neighbours but unwilling to leave the house. She’s particularly keen on spotting eligible men with her not-inconspicuous binoculars.

Zaynab, meanwhile, is just trying to find herself, in “life, love, and lady wrestling,” as the subtitle suggests. Signature Move, directed by Jennifer Reeder, is a mixture of culture and possibility, with Zaynab (Fawzia Mirza) wishing she could could live her life confidently “out” but juggling the reality of her mother’s disapproval and the pain the secrecy causes her new girlfriend. I particularly love seeing the generational difference between Zaynab and her mother (Shabana Azmi), how the mother will speak in her native tongue, and the daughter will respond in English as if this is the most natural thing in the world. Alma (Sari Sanchez), meanwhile, is perhaps her opposite, but she draws her out of the darkness while also having her own notions of identity and sexuality challenged. It’s an interesting little slice of life indie film that brings a refreshing twist on the tired romcom format to the screen.

King Cobra

When I was a kid, Alicia Silverstone was the It Girl. When Sean was a kid, it was Molly Ringwald. King Cobra probably didn’t’ set out to make us all feel old, but it did cast both Silverstone and Ringwald as the oblivious mothers of gay porn stars.

Cobra is the chat room name of Stephen (Christian Slater), a guy who happens to troll around for very young men, and likes to entice them into gay porn in between steamy, illegal, against-the-wall sessions. That’s exactly how he meets Sean (Garrett Clayton) (porn name: Brent Corrigan) and Brent immediately rockets to fame. The bad news is, Stephen is also a greedy fuck. He pays Brent very little and buys himself a Maserati, and is still surprised when Brent walks. And worse than walks, he flags Stephen to the police. Things get ugly; Stephen may go to prison, but he’s still stopping Sean from performing as Brent.

franco-king-cobraEnter James Franco. You knew that was coming, didn’t you? Smelled it from a mile away, probably. Franco plays the has-been half of a porn star duo who work under the name “Viper Boys.” They hope to revive their flagging porn career by incorporating Brent into the mix; there’s only the inconvenient matter of Brent’s name being trademarked by a pedophile.

It turns out pornographers aren’t exactly businessmen on the up and up. King Cobra is alarmingly based on a true story, but be prepared for far more hairless chests than characterization. They’re porn stars, what else do you need to know? It gives Franco ANOTHER chance to do his scary-funny-psychotic thing and yell some pretty incendiary dialogue, but there aren’t many other compelling reasons to watch this movie, unless you’re really, really curious to know what kind of deals porno kings make behind closed doors (hint: it’s messy).

The Intervention

Four couples convene at a cottage for a weekend getaway, or at least that’s what one of the couples thinks. The other three are there to tell the fourth to get divorced already. Ruby  (Cobie Smulders) and Peter (Vincent Piazza) have been at each other’s throats for as long as anyone can remember, and their friends have determined that this is the time to spring a martial intervention on them. It’s not that easy to tell your friends to quit their relationship though, especially not when your own is on somewhat rocky ground.

Jessie (Clea DuVall) and Sarah (Natasha Lyonne) are in love, but they lead separate lives, perhaps because Sarah is not exactly Jessie’s “type” , but you do you know who is? Jack’s the-intervention-still3-natashalyonne-jasonritter-benschwartz-aliashawkat-cleaduvall-melanielynskey-bypollymorgannew girlfriend! Everyone thinks it’s kind of tacky that Jack (Ben Schwartz) brought a hot young date named Lola (Alia Shawkat) to the shindig, and they doubly don’t appreciate their sloppy pda all over the place. Not when Annie  (Melanie Lynskey) and Matt (Jason Ritter) are on their umpteenth postponement of their wedding and Annie’s drinking again, not that anyone minds so much when her drunken outbursts break the ice during a very tense dinner.

Have you ever guided someone towards divorce when they themselves have never put divorce on the table? It’s a little dicey, but Clea DuVall’s script is often funny in the right places. We don’t get to know the characters very thoroughly, but we do get a front row seat to an epically disastrous friends’ weekend. The plot is a little old-hat but the incredible dynamism between the lead actors gives the movie some verve and even if it plod a little in the middle, it was a good Netflix risk that made me feel just a bit better about the stupid stuff I get up to with my friends, who as far as I know, are pretty comfortable with my marital status.