‘Cuties,’ on Netflix has sparked controversy because of a poster that was used for marketing it. In said poster, four pre-teen girls are scantily clad, and because of this, ‘sexualized.’ There is an outcry among Trump supporters because of it, and calls to boycott Netflix. Phew. Much ado. Oversexualization of girls is the point of the film, and yes, the poster may have been misguided, but is it any different from anything you see in TikTok?
That’s a shame because that can push people away from seeing this film, the debut feature from Maimona Doucouré, and it is a fine coming of age film about a young woman finding herself in the midst of all the ‘noise’ in the age of social media. The one thing I really love about the film is its specificity: it’s about living in the poor section fo Paris, where Senegalese immigrants come an d live. You can see the diversity of nationalities in the school scenes, and more or less, the kids live and play together, and the dilemmas facing could have been anywhere in the world. Fathjia Yopusoff is Amy, the young girl lured into a group of young girls and their dance troupe, and I don’t want to say anything else because it will diminish the shock of what Amy goes through. Parts – well a lot of it – of the film will make you cringe, but it will make you think about everything you ever did when you were young in order to ‘belong’ to something.
Matthew Fifer’s ‘Cicada’ is one of the featured films from thsi years (kinda virtual) Outfest 2020. He directs, stars and writes in this film about a gay millennial in New York City. It is one of those films that is difficult to categorize – there are both comedic and dramatic elements in it, and is quite heavy in theme. It is also a little abstract and at times too obtuse to figure out.
But the film got me thinking. It initially made me a little detached from it, but as I thought about it more, felt it creep up on me. His character, ben, is tortured – he has been sexually abused and has to deal. He spends most of his days and nights in random sexual encounters with men and women.
But things change when he meets Sam, and they try to embark on a relationship. he comes with his own set of issues – he hasn’t come out to his family yet. All of this is filmed gorgeously and you feel their worlds crumble even as they try to patch it up. There’s a sense of dread here, and you try to insert your own kind of hope in it.
Unjko Moon’s ‘I Am Woman’ tracks the life of Helen Reddy, and I think most people have forgotten her already, but once upon a time she was a force – the singer who may not have been the hippest, but whose anthem song roused females, and became the theme for the feminist movement.
Musically, I remember more from her, and also once upon a time little me would sing her other big hit ‘You and Me Against The World.’ I realized I knew next to nothing about her life, so I welcomed this film with open arms.
The screenplay, by Emma Jensen, is by-the-books music biography, not dissimilar to VH1’s ‘Behind The Music,’ and no cliche and trope is left untouched. But somehow, I liked a lot of this film still. Tilda Cobham Hervey’s performance as Reddy resonates – she takes command of the screen when she is on, both as an actress and as a singer. The visuals are topnotch – the cinematography and production design take you instantly to the cheesiness of the 70s aesthetic, And Evan Peters as her husband/manager Jeff Wald somehow manages to make a human out of a cardboard character. Against all odds, you will feel for these people, because they feel real – they were. I think perhaps the story and the film could have been tightened (its running time is just short of two hours) but as it is, the film would probably be a crowd-pleaser. It’s not any worse than ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for sure,
Andrew Morgan’s ‘Long Gone By’ is one of those small independent films that hits you big. It’s a story that is very relevant with what is going on the world today. Ana (erica Munoz) plays a mother who lives with her teenaged daughter in rural Warsaw, Indiana. She is undocumented, and a lawyer is helping her with her case, but they are now stuck in a situation where she has to go back to Nicaragua in order for her case to continue. She then finds out that her daughter Izzy has been accepted at the University of Indiana, and she has to scrounge for her tuition before she leaves, as they have exhausted everything to get her scholarship, and have gotten road block after road block because of their situation.
The film then becomes darker as Ana turns to crime, but your sympathies never leave her as you understand her desperation. I found myself empathizing with her, even as I realize the consequences of her action. Izzy finds a personal rejection of her own, when the boy she is attracted to betrays her when he finds out her plight. The film ends in a very optimistic note, though, as we see Izzy move to realize some of her dreams. I felt very emotionally connected to the characters and find myself thinking about them even after the movie ended. I really hope we see better days ahead regarding Dreamers – this adminiistration has been extremely cruel to them.
I was probably only fifteen years old when I saw ‘Only When I Laugh,’ and I remember loving the film, although I don’t remember much about the film, except that Marsha Mason and Krosty McNichol played mother and daughter, and that Mason’s character was a stage actress. I remember I was enamored by the idea of Broadway as a kid, but at the time I wasn’t living in New York yet, so the whole film felt very aspirational to me.
I just saw it again and, well, I still liked a loot of it, but now more for nostalgic reasons. First, it was nice to see the New York of early 80s. I moved there in 1984 and more or less, the city depicted here is more or less what I arrived to. The performances are still great – Mason is electric, of course, but now a lot of it seems stagey, and some scenes I felt were designed to showcase her. McNichol seems very baby dykey and that’s a compliment – I adored her as a teenager. Neil Simon’s storyline feels thin, and I could see this probably worked better on stage. But still, the film is a nice capsule of the times they were living in, and sometimes I wish I could go back there.
AIDS decimated a generation of great artists, and Howard Ashman is one of its biggest casualties. He died at age 40, and what he accomplished – which is a lot – is just the tip of the iceberg of what he is capable of, artistically. I think he is probably the best of the modern day lyricists – there is wit and charm in his words and they sound always sophisticated and erudite. This fine documentary by Don Hahn shows us just that.
My first introduction to Ashman’s work, ironically, is his 1986 flop musical ‘Smile.’ I remember seeing ti and loving it, but at that time I was young and I loved everything I saw. I remember what attracted me to the show was Marvin Hamlisch – he wrote the music and of course, I knew every word and breath of ‘A Chorus Line.’ I didn’t see ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ until later, and while I admire that show, if is not really my cup of tea. Years later, and even though I am not a Disney cartoon fan, I loved the ‘musicals’ aspect of ‘The Beauty and teh Beast,’ and ‘Alladin,’ of course.
The documentary takes us chronologically through his life and work. Hahn uses mostly voice overs from interviews, and we get a lot of archival footage and cassette recordings of Ashman working. I obviously love the ‘musicals’ section, the segment with Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury recording ‘Be Our Guest’ made my spine tingle. It was harrowing to see how AIDS was teated at that time – Ashman had concerns that Disney would fire him if they found out he had the disease so he had to hide it. His legacy is safe and sound and solid – the three movies he worked on at Disney are modern classics, and we see the studio regurgitating the material in different ways, and they all work. I personally think Alan Menken’s later work with different collaborators pale in comparison to hi work with Ashman. For lovers of musicals, and Disney musicals, this film is a treat.
Oy. Brandon Trost’s ‘An American Pickle’ started out pretty well. I was starting tp get on-board with the time travel idea and I had to admit Seth Rogan was pretty charming in his dual role, as Herschel, who get transported to modern times after being stuck in pickle brine for one hundred years; and as Ben, the mobile app developer millennial who meets his great grandfather. Then the movie turns into a movie with sophomoric trick trying to get cheap laughs, and I started to dislike both characters. Bu then the film kind of lost my interest, and I started to scroll my Instagram feed. It’s a shame, too, because it held such promise, and all of what happens after just bored me – the only thing that perked me up after was the post credit scene between the two men watching Barbra Streisand’s film ‘Yentl.’ To me this was a wasted opportunity.
Once upon a time, I fancied myself a book collector. Well, once upon a time, I fancied myself a voracious reader, and when I was young, I would go to second hand book shops and buy books – the ones they were selling for a dollar. I liked the fact that the books have already been used, and for some reason has been discarded. I used to wonder why – did they hate the book? Was it a gift they had no use for? A friend of mine used to say, “when you go to someone’s house, and they do not have any books, don’t trust them.’ It’s somethinG i will always associate with my time in New York City, because when I left, it was all about the Kindle for me. In the process of all my moving, I had to throw away so many books that putting all of my collection in a small device just seemed…practical.
I got off-course on that, but that was one of my thoughts while watching D W Young’s documentary ‘The Booksellers,’ about that group of book collectors always in the hunt for rare and antique books. I found myself in a lot of the talking heads because we share that rare gene – the collecting gene. You either have it or can’t understand it. These kinds of stores used to be everywhere in New York City, nowadays even the big book chains are being obliterated, so you have to wonder how they are surviving (Barely, it seems) The film also looks at how the book market has changed since the dawn of the internet – some for the worse, but there are silver linings: manuscripts and annotated editions have garnered more interest.
I found the film mostly fascinating, but is niche of all niches. I suspect if you don’t have the gene to appreciate it, you will be bored to tears.
The subtext is there, and it will hit you – Liam Neeson and his real-life son Micheal Richardson plays a father and son who has to face grieving for their dead wife/mother. I am sure it was a harrowing and probably cathartic experience for them. And I admit, I carried that with me while watching James D’arcy’s ‘Made In Italy.’ That aspect brings humanity and honesty to the film, even if D’arcy’s screenplay feels artificial and full of tropes. But, I liked the film – a lot. Neeson is fantastic as Robert, who repairs a broken relationship with his son as they try to repair their Italian house before selling. In fact, Neeson is so good that you can see Richardson’s greenness right away, but it hardly matters because you get sucked in the film right away, with help of the beautiful scenery of Montalcino, Italy, where it is shot. As soon as you see the Italian village, you know you (or the characters) will never be able to leave it. It’s a great escape in these Covid times – the scenery and the film – that you will be able to overcome the triteness of the storytelling.
Brasil, under the leadership of Jair Balsonaro, is less kind of the LGBTQIA community. Perhaps that is why there is a new wave of Brasilian queer cinema – they say art gets better with strife. From 2019 comes Greta, directed by Armando Praca, and it is a quiet, contemplative piece of filmmaking. The film centers around Pedro (Marco Nanini) who is an aging gay nurse. He takes care of his friend Daniela, a trans woman suffering from end stage renal disease. But one day, he helps a fugitive from the hospital escape to his house, and they develop a tender relation ship, At times, the film can be a challenging watch – you cringe at Pedro’s decisions, but I felt its overpowering take on loneliness, how sometimes when you are alone in life, you just cling to whatever that is that you gives you a sense of intimacy. The slow pace is deliberate and it took time to get into its groove, but by the end you will be all in. The film feels like a melancholy fado song, tinged with sadness and pain. It’s heartbreaking.