In the early 1970s, retired tennis pro Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) wants to get back into the limelight and proposes a challenge match against the number one female player, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone). The Little Miss Sunshine (2006) directors got back together with Carell for this reality-based story about the 1973 ”Battle of the Sexes” showdowns where Riggs enjoyed playing a chauvinistic clown while King took the challenge more seriously. The film captures the look, style and blatant sexism of its era in a handsome and effective way, nicely building tension during the climactic match, but also showing how homophobia risked holding King back. Very entertaining, with solid work from the two stars.
2017-U.S. 121 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, Robert Graf. Directed by Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton. Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy. Music: Nicholas Britell. Cast: Emma Stone (Billie Jean King), Steve Carell (Bobby Riggs), Andrea Riseborough (Marilyn Barnett), Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming… Elisabeth Shue, Fred Armisen, John C. McGinley.
Trivia: At one point, Brie Larson was reportedly cast as King.
Last word: “We quickly learned that the choreography would be the most important thing, because learning how to do a serve or backhand like Billie Jean was more of an impossible dream than a reality. This was the first time where I really thought through the physicality [of a character]… once I felt more physically able, I would be able to develop more of the interior life of her. There was a lot of bulking up, tennis lessons, learning her stance, and feeling my way into her body. She is a machine.” (Stone, Vanity Fair)
Teenager Frankie (Harris Dickinson) hangs around with his buddies in Brooklyn and meets a cute girl (Madeline Weinstein)… but he also spends his nights looking online to hook up with older men. A portrait of a closeted young life that has the feel of authenticity. Dickinson is good as the handsome teen whose life isn’t really going anywhere at the moment; as he’s struggling to make things work with his girlfriend, he’s also exploring the possibilities of a new life, but the strain of it all (his father is also dying) is crushing. Low-key and uneven, this drama never shakes off predictability but is still a relevant look at one part of gay life.
2017-U.S. 98 min. Color. Written and directed by Eliza Hittman. Cast: Harris Dickinson (Frankie), Madeline Weinstein (Simone), Kate Hodge (Donna), Erik Potempa, Anton Selyaninov, Frank Hakaj.
After suffering panic attacks that he initially mistakes for a heart condition, gay activist Michael Glatze (James Franco) finds God and starts turning his back on his sexuality. The real-life story of a man who chose the Christian right over his old life is a sad portrait of a man who’s desperately trying to turn himself straight. Franco is at the center of the film and believable throughout. However, the movie as a whole turns into a fairly transparent and predictable drama, much like the director’s gay-porn chronicle King Cobra (2016).
2017-U.S. 101 min. Color. Directed by Justin Kelly. Cast: James Franco (Michael Glatze), Zachary Quinto (Bennett), Emma Roberts (Rebekah), Charlie Carver, Avan Jogia, Devon Graye… Daryl Hannah, Lesley Ann Warren.
Trivia: Co-produced by Franco; co-executive produced by Gus Van Sant.
A young man (Xavier Dolan) from Montreal drives out in the country to attend his boyfriend’s funeral, but meeting his family for the first time becomes a weird and intimidating experience… Dolan’s adaptation of Michel Marc Bouchard’s play was a new experience for him, a thriller, but not in a conventional, genre-bound way. When Tom meets his boyfriend’s aggressive brother out in the isolated, rural community, a psychological game with homoerotic vibes follows. Certainly intriguing and uncomfortable at times, even if the story ultimately doesn’t have much to say. The acting and raw atmosphere compensate.
2014-Canada-France. 102 min. Color. Directed by Xavier Dolan. Screenplay: Xavier Dolan, Michel Marc Bouchard. Play: Michel Marc Bouchard. Cast: Xavier Dolan (Tom Podowski), Pierre-Yves Cardinal (Francis Longchamp), Lise Roy (Agathe Longchamp), Èvelyne Brochu (Sarah Thibault).
Saint-Tropez nightclub owner Renato Baldi (Ugo Tognazzi) and his partner, dragshow performer Albin (Michel Serrault), face a challenge – convincing Renato’s son’s future in-laws that they are a perfectly normal, conservative family. A successful play became an even greater international hit as a movie. The material may look a little outdated today, but hilariously illustrates the difference between conservatism and liberal values in French society. As a simple farce, director Edouard Molinaro keeps a frenzied pace and delivers the laughs. The two leads are wonderful together, not only funny but we also believe that they’ve been together for twenty years.
1978-France-Italy. 91 min. Color. Produced by Marcello Danon. Directed by Edouard Molinaro. Screenplay: Francis Veber, Edouard Molinaro, Marcello Danon, Jean Poiret. Play: Jean Poiret. Costume Design: Piero Tosi, Ambra Danon. Cast: Ugo Tognazzi (Renato Baldi), Michel Serrault (Albin Mougeotte), Michel Galabru (Simon Charrier), Claire Maurier, Remy Laurent, Benny Luke.
Trivia: Followed by two sequels, starting with La Cage aux Folles II (1980). Remade in the U.S. as The birdcage (1996).
Golden Globe: Best Foreign Film.
Last word: “I only made those films because my previous film, ‘L’Homme Pressé’ , a drama with Alain Delon, was a moderate success – I guess the audience preferred to see him in police thrillers. It resulted in unwillingly accepting to adapt the screenplay and direct the film version of Jean Poiret’s stage play of ‘La Cage aux Folles’ , although it really was not a personal choice of mine. That’s how I got involved in it. After I had finished the film, I asked my friends not to see it (laughs).” (Molinaro, Film Talk)
We’re one week away from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest (ignore the dreary semifinals leading up to it) and I feel as conflicted as ever. The shows are simultaneously ridiculous and glorious. The quality is often shoddy, production-wise and musically, and the shows always go on too long. The obvious answer would be to cap the number of participating countries to 20, at the most, but that would make the contest (even) less relevant in a lot of European countries. We’ve also now reached a stage where Australia is a participant, not because the continent has somehow become European, but because of Australians’ inexplicable obsession with this silly spectacle.
This year, Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Kiev, Ukraine. This cheesy clip is exactly what we expect from the show. For a tune called “Celebrate Diversity”, the clip is however surprisingly void of that – everybody’s white and where are the gays? This is after all the gayest event on Earth after Pride…
Here’s my take on a few spectacularly campy acts from years past:
Dschinghis Khan: “Dschinghis Khan” (Germany, 1979, 4th place) – Not many pop songs celebrate medieval warlords, but this amazing tribute to the man who founded the Mongol Empire in the 1100s is nevertheless one of Eurovision’s most classic tunes.
Lordi: “Hard Rock Hallelujah” (Finland, 2006, 1st place) – There was a time when this sort of entertainment, a masked metal act, couldn’t possibly win Eurovision. But Lordi shocked (and apparently charmed) the crowds with a performance that truly stood out compared to the rest.
Conchita Wurst: “Rise Like a Phoenix” (Austria, 2014, 1st place) – Not a favorite of mine, this overbaked James Bond anthem still had the benefit of a “bearded lady”, dragshow performer Conchita Wurst, helping define Eurovision as particularly important to LGBT audiences.
Verka Serduchka: “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” (Ukraine, 2007, 2nd place) – Eurovision at its most ridiculous, the song was nevertheless a hit (especially at gay bars). I had forgotten all about the comedian who performed it until suddenly he made an appearance in the Melissa McCarthy comedy Spy (2015).
Buranovskiye Babushki: “Party for Everybody” (Russia, 2012, 2nd place) – Belongs in the same category as the last song. A group of elderly Russian women perform ethno-pop that is just the right kind of annoying. The women are adorable, all from the village of Buranovo. They’ve also recorded covers of several classic pop songs, including “Hotel California”.
Cezar: “It’s My Life” (Romania, 2013, 13th place) – Not the No Doubt hit (although it could be inspired by it), this godawful tune is operatic in the worst way possible with a singer who tries to channel his inner Dracula.
Pirates of the Sea: “Wolves of the Sea” (Latvia, 2008, 12th place) – Maybe Latvia thought that if Germany could send a Genghis Khan group to compete back in the ’70s, why not a band of pirates? Horrible song, made even worse by the inept singer and the embarrassing fact that the song is credited to four Swedes, my countrymen.. Should have walked the plank.
Dustin the Turkey: “Irelande Douze Points” (Ireland, 2008, failed to move past its semifinal) – And if Germany and Latvia could send… and so on. This was the year when Ireland, which had won several Eurovision Song Contests in the past, decided that enough is enough and just sent a Muppet reject to represent them.
LT United: “We Are the Winners” (Lithuania, 2006, 6th place) – They really set themselves up for failure with that title, didn’t they? This boy band consisting of what looks like middle-aged men delivered a horrible song that somehow ended up sixth. I can understand the appeal of some of the jaw-dropping tunes above, but this one is just mystifying.
Let’s hope the contest next Saturday have a few tunes that deserve to be on this list. And a few good ones as well.
Young Sean Lockhart (Garrett Clayton) becomes a gay porn sensation, but when two fledgling producers (James Franco, Keegan Allen) want to use him for a movie, a conflict turns deadly… The story of how real-life porn star Brent Corrigan started out and became involved in the murder investigation of the man who ”discovered” him has credibility in the depiction of the gay porn scene, but is significantly less intriguing when we dive beneath the surface. OK performances (it’s fun to see Alicia Silverstone and Molly Ringwald), but most characters are off-putting and uninvolving.
2016-U.S. 91 min. Color. Written and directed by Justin Kelly. Book: Andrew E. Stoner, Peter A. Conway. Cast: Garrett Clayton (Sean Lockhart/Brent Corrigan), James Franco (Joe Kerekes), Christian Slater (Stephen), Keegan Allen, Alicia Silverstone, Molly Ringwald.
I love the poster for this film. The colors are deep shades of blue, purple and cyan and the three faces of the lead character have been fused into one powerful image. Symbolizing different stages of the character in the film, it’s also a reference to the title of the unproduced play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, ”In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”, that partly inspired director Barry Jenkins to write the screenplay for this movie. The story of Chiron, a black man growing up in Miami, is deeply moving.
Divided into three chapters, we meet Chiron at three stages in life. As a boy, he’s called ”Little” in school and constantly bullied by other boys. One day when he’s hiding from them, he meets a local drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali), who turns out to be a friendly man. He takes Chiron home to his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe), which is the beginning of a long friendship. Whenever Chiron’s mother (Naomie Harris), hooked on the drugs that the guilt-ridden Juan is selling, fails her son, he has a spare family in Teresa and Juan. That’s also true when Chiron is a teenager, which is the film’s second chapter. Still bullied, he’s trying to come to grips with himself as a young man, a journey that continues into the third chapter when Chiron is an adult. Much more hardened, he’s found a dangerous line of work in Atlanta, but is still haunted by his upbringing…
Fusing two real-life experiences
I shouldn’t reveal too much of what happens in the film, but homosexuality is one of the themes. That part represents playwright McCraney’s experiences, but Jenkins also recognized the portrait of Chiron’s crack-smoking mother, which along with the Miami setting is what he had in common with McCraney. Jenkins fused his own upbringing and what it was like to become an adult in the often troubled Miami area of Liberty City with McCraney’s story. The result is a mesmerizing, authentic portrait of the challenges facing a black man, especially a gay one, and how limited the options are. The first chapter is a sweet tale of a boy finding adult role models, the second chapter is a somewhat predictable but still compelling study of high-school bullying, its consequences and the first trembling experiences of love, and the third chapter ties everything together in a whirlwind of emotions with an ending that is thankfully open and rings true. All these pieces of the film are united by three excellent performances by Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes who play Chiron and actually never met until after the movie was made, all because Jenkins wanted them to explore and find the character on their own without each other’s influence. They are beautifully supported by especially British star Naomie Harris (who shot her performance in just three days while promoting SPECTRE in the U.S.), amazing as Chiron’s mother who also has a journey of her own throughout the chapters. Ali, then mostly known for his work on House of Cards, is also good as Juan who keeps his Liberty City corner in check but is still embarrassed to see what his drugs are doing to people who would have good lives without them.
The scenes between young Chiron and Juan when the latter takes him to the beach and teaches him how to swim have a poetic beauty, which is again captured near the very end. The film’s tender portrait of homosexuality is another asset. In 2011, gay CNN anchor Don Lemon made waves by saying that being gay is ”the worst thing you can be in black culture”. That’s controversial, but Lemon isn’t the first to raise the issue. If Moonlight does its share in fighting prejudice, all the better.
Moonlight 2016-U.S. 111 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Adele Romanski. Written and directed by Barry Jenkins. Cast: Trevante Rhodes (Chiron, as adult), Ashton Sanders (Chiron, as teenager), Alex Hibbert (Chiron, as child), André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris… Mahershala Ali.
Oscars: Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Ali), Adapted Screenplay. Golden Globe: Best Motion Picture (Drama).
Last word: “The obvious part is that Tarell and his mom had the same sort of ordeal with addiction that my mom and I went through. So there was that. But that’s biography. More emotionally, I saw the idea of a character who exists in a world, who doesn’t participate, and who starts to take these cues based on how the world reacts to him on how he should be, who he should be, and what face he should put on to best survive in the world. And once I keyed in all that, I was like, ‘Oh, okay. I kind of get it,’ especially because of the place and the time. I was like, ‘There’s something in this.’ I thought there was something that wasn’t in the play that could be realized by making it visual.” (Jenkins, The A.V. Club)
In January 2015, it was reported that the American DVD release of the British hit Pride lacked any references to its gay content. The most stunning example was that someone had actually erased a banner with the words ”lesbian” and ”gay” written on it from the cover of the DVD. The rest of the image is intact, all that’s missing is the banner in the background. One has to wonder how many American homophobes fell for it and were dismayed to learn that this film promoted a human rights agenda, when all they wanted to see was a movie about a British miners strike in the 1980s… But, if you remove the one thing that audiences might find a tad titillating, this movie has little marketing value.
In March 1984, thousands of British coal miners went on strike, defying Margaret Thatcher’s government. A few months into the conflict, Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), a young gay activist in London, has a brilliant idea. Why not form a support group of gays and lesbians and raise money to support the striking miners? After all, they face the same enemy and would be stronger together. Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) is formed, but Mark and his allies face resistance. Initially, from other gay activists who know perfectly well that the miners have the aggressive anti-gay prejudice that most people were raised on at the time. Still, the LGSM leaders meet with David Donovan (Paddy Considine), a union representative, who is cautiously optimistic. The group decide to bravely go where few openly gay men have gone before, the Welsh mining village Onllwyn.
Based on real events
The story was based on real events. Some of the characters are fictional, others based on real-life people. The latter category includes Ashton and Imelda Staunton’s character, Hefina Headon, who died during the making of the film and was known throughout Wales as a notable human-rights activist. The former category includes a 16-year-old, very well played by George MacKay, who is torn between his devotion to the cause and his mother who tries to make him believe that he’s going to spend his life alone if he insists on being gay. Director Matthew Warchus is usually a greater presence in theater (his only other movie is Simpatico (1999)), but this is a very cinematic, irresistible experience that’s bursting with life. Pretty amazing that it is as good as it is, because Warchus and writer Stephen Beresford choose a British tradition that always runs the risk of being too predictable and manipulative. The formula was firmly established by movies like The Commitments (1991) and The Full Monty (1997), where a motley group of youngsters embark on a project that challenges rural conservatism, but handle this collision between the old-time values of the miners and the free-spirited gay activists in a way that is funny, touching and educational. At a time when it often feels like we are increasingly polarized, this film shows how and why bridges can and must be built as long as you can decide on a common enemy. The cast is very colorful, including The Wire and The Affair star Dominic West as Jonathan Blake, the activist who caught HIV in the ’80s but miraculously never contracted AIDS; Bill Nighy and Staunton are also lovely as two of the senior union activists in Onllwyn.
The strike didn’t end well. The union handled it poorly, lost public support and Thatcher didn’t pay a political price for going after them with every weapon in her arsenal. Still, this film admirably highlights one of the positive consequences of the strike, opening the labor movement’s eyes to its fellow pink supporters.
Pride 2014-Britain-France. 119 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by David Livingstone. Directed by Matthew Warchus. Screenplay: Stephen Beresford. Cast: Ben Schnetzer (Mark Ashton), Joe Gilgun (Mike Jackson), Faye Marsay (Steph Chambers), Paddy Considine, Dominic West, Andrew Scott… Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy.
Last word: “LGSM [Lesbians And Gays Support The Miners] did a great thing for a lot of people. Stephen [Beresford] worked out a way to tell the story. I wanted to be the person who then continued to get it right. In order to help me do that, Stephen sat with me in casting, and I ran by him my choices for music, and he sat next to me every day shooting, at the monitor. Costume fittings too! It was like having a co-director. I do remember some conversations where I said ‘is it possible to do this’, and [he] said ‘actually no, I don’t want that, and I’ll tell you why’! I think it may be a fairly unusual relationship though.” (Warchus, Den of Geek)
In Havana, young Jesus (Héctor Medina) is gay and hoping for a career as a dragshow performer, but his drunken father (Jorge Perugorría) whom he hasn’t seen since he was a kid makes a dramatic appearance… An Irish film entirely set in Cuba where we follow a teenager who’s trying to find himself. His fledgling dragshow act is challenged by his dad, a former boxer who’s angry to see his son feminized in that way. Watching Jesus be dominated by a man who has no right to ask anything of him is a frustrating, uneven experience (much like the film itself), but clearly part of what makes the teenager stand up for himself.
2016-Ireland. 100 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Paddy Breathnach. Cast: Héctor Medina (Jesus), Jorge Perugorría (Angel), Luis Alberto García (Mama), Renata Maikel Machin Blanco, Luis Manuel Alvarez.
Trivia: Co-executive produced by Benicio Del Toro.
David Hyde Pierce, of Frasier fame and known from many outstanding theater productions, is always a treat. This past weekend I was fortunate enough to see him live for the first time in the off-Broadway production of a new American play, “A Life”, by Adam Bock, at Playwrights Horizon. In the Live with Kelly clip above from a few weeks ago, Hyde Pierce tries to attract audiences by describing “A Life” as fun. Nice try.
It’s not really a fun night out. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the play. And it did make me laugh, but it also made me shed tears, and not from laughing too hard. This is an emotional experience, one that might make you ponder your life and what you’re doing right and wrong.
The play begins with an amazing, amusing 30-minute monologue where we get to know Hyde Pierce’s character. Nate is a middle-aged man who’s had his fair share of boyfriends, but can’t seem to make any relationships work. Recently he’s turned to astrology in order to better understand his life. A shocking event turns the whole play inside out, symbolized in a highly effective way by having the entire stage turned upside down. What follows has critics divided – is the play profound and moving, or is it merely settling for empty tricks and, in the words of the Washington Post “confusing”?
On the whole, I liked the “tricks” and didn’t find them empty. Hyde Pierce is so good and skilfully uses those 30 minutes to make us believe in and like his character. The emotional consequences later on in the play are fully earned. Admittedly, some aspects of Bock’s play near the end are less impressive and satisfying than the first half… but you know that whenever you get laughs and tears you’re doing something right.
So, if you’re in New York City, sometimes it’s worth going “off” Broadway too. David Hyde Pierce though will be going “on” after this, starring in a revival of “Hello, Dolly” with Bette Midler. Good luck getting tickets for that…
Palestinian psychology student Nimer Mashrawi (Nicholas Jacob) falls in love with an Israeli attorney (Michael Aloni), but needs to keep it a secret from his family for cultural and practical reasons. The director’s feature debut is a classic love story where the character’s infatuation is the only pure thing, threatened by hostile forces. Dramatically speaking, depicting a romance across the border in this particular part of the world is irresistible; two young men’s love is challenged by the conflict between Jews and Palestinians, as well as scary, conservative values in the latter’s culture. The leads are good, but the ending isn’t satisfying.
2013-Israel. 96 min. Color. Directed by Michael Mayer. Cast: Nicholas Jacob (Nimer Mashrawi), Michael Aloni (Roy Schaffer), Jamil Khoury (Nabil Mashrawi), Alon Pdut, Loai Nofi, Khawlah Hag-Debsy.
Sebastian (Saga Becker) meets Andreas (Iggy Malmborg) and falls in love with him; as their relationship evolves, Andreas finds it hard to accept that he’s fallen for a guy, and Sebastian begins to acknowledge the woman inside of himself. The screenwriters’ last film together was essentially a quasi-documentary conversation between them in a bathtub. This fictitious drama is more accessible to a wider audience, an emotional and uncompromising look at a young person’s desperate and sometimes destructive search for love and truth – which involves finding her inner ”Ellie”. Above all, the film is boosted by Becker’s performance.
2014-Sweden. 80 min. Color. Directed by Ester Martin Bergsmark. Screenplay: Ester Martin Bergsmark, Eli Levén. Novel: Eli Levén. Cast: Saga Becker (Sebastian), Iggy Malmborg (Andreas), Shima Niavarani (Lea), Mattias Åhlén, Daniel Nyström, Emil Almén… Nour El Refai.