Love Equals Death (Film Thoughts: Welcome to Chechnya)

Welcome_to_Chechnya-908346409-largeUnder Putin’s regime right now, gay people are in danger in Russia. It’s unfathomable, but we see all the danger in David France’s documentary ‘Welcome to Chechnya,’ and it is a depressing, sobering, and disturbing watch. In the region of southern Russia’s Chechnya, gay people are haunted, tortured, and killed because of their sexual orientation. In the film, we see alarming footage of gay men whose cars are stopped, then are beaten to death by the police. A famous singer, Zelim Bakaev, visits his sister’s wedding, and suddenly disappears, and up until now, no one really knows what happened to him. We see a young girl call the crisis hotline because a young woman, Anya, has been found out by her uncle, and is blackmailing her for sex so he would not snitch to her father, who is a Government official – we see her later being smuggled out successfully. Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the region, laughs off questions about these human rights abuses, saying ‘ We don’t have that kind of people here – we ship them to Canada.’  The film is riveting, and made me want to do something to help these people. The Trump administration is a travesty to gay rights, but we still enjoy a lot of freedom here not afforded in other places. In some ways I feel lucky, but the film. ultimately made me want to throw up.

Fibbing (Film Thoughts: White Lie)

White_Lie_PosterI think ‘White Lie’ is one of the more interesting movies I have seen of late. Directed by Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas, it is about a young college student, Kacey Rohl as Katie. In the opening scene, we see Katie shaving her head, and is faking cancer. She has a lot of campaigns going on, fundraisings for her condition and for her dancing career. In the course of the film, we see her trying to save this lie: falsifying medical records, pretending to take medication and chemotherapy for it funding these by fooling her girlfriend for cash. It’s kind of a thriller – we don’t know if she will get caught. For some reason, I sympathized with her, even though clearly what she is doing is wrong. I had questions, too: for example, where was she spending the money? It doesn’t look like she is living some lavish lifestyle. It looks like she has been pretending to do this since she was younger, but it is unclear as to why – attention, fame? Rohl is convincing – a little scary, but for some reason I was taking her side, which makes me question myself, perhaps the directors wants us to? This is what made for the film to be such an interesting watch.

For Family (Film Thoughts: A Short History of Decay)

ashodMichael Maren’s ‘A Short History of Decay’ was suggested for me on Amazon Prime, and sometimes I toil too much on what to watch, I just press play without thinking.  I saw that this had Linda Lavin and that alone was reason enough for me to keep on watching. The story revolves around Nathan, played by Bryan Greenberg, who goes to Florida to visit his parents after his father suffers a stroke. There he is confronted by the fact that his parents are starting to get to a place where they are slowly disintegrating – his mother’s Alzheimer’s is not getting better, and they have to start making decisions as to what the next chapter will be – there is talk of going to a assisted living facility for both elders. This is such a sweet film that you cannot help but like it, and maybe it was a little sentimental for me. I got reminded of a time when I, too, had to make sacrifice for my father, and in hindsight, was one of the best life choices I ever made. I loved the naturalistic feel of the film, the cast is so in tune with each other it wasn’t hard to imagine them being a real family. Greeneberg was good (I get hot and cold on him)  and Lavin was excellent, of course, shining in the little that was given her. This is a thoughtful, contemplative story, and if you have elderly parents, you will surely identify.

A Change Is Gonna Come (Movie Thoughts: The Way You Look Tonight)

The-Way-You-Look-Tonight-2019-onesheetAmazon Prime suggested some new movies for me lately. I kind of look at the service as a stepchild: I know it’s there buy never really spend a lot of time on it. I feel like they have a lot of ‘middling’ films that are kind of fillers, but once in a while I chance upon something interesting, like for example, John Cerrito’s ‘The Way You Look Tonight.’ First off, I don’t know how I feel about the film using the title of one of my favorite Jerome Kern songs, but the title does fit. The film is an ‘accidental’ LGBTQIA+ film, if you ask me. It’s about Peter (Nick Fink) who goes on a blind date and after a wonderful time, the woman disappears in the morning. He keeps on dating and finds a common thread with all the women – a green sweater. It turns out Helois is a changeling – a person who changes bodies everyday.  And during a certain cycle in. a month even changes genders. The film shows us that we really fall in love with the person inside, and not the physical body that we possess. But of course, that physicality is what attracts us in the first place. The film posits quite a thoughtful premise, and it made me really think about a lot of things, and was presented in a serious manner, minimizing obvious cheap laughs.

Love Late In Life (Film Thoughts: Suk Suk)

suk‘Suk Suk’ is a precious gem of a movie. I have seen so many gay movies, and most of the time they are all about young gay life. But Ray Yeung’s tenderly poignant film explores love late in life. I mean, it happens, right? Tai Bo plays Tak, a seventy years old taxi driver in the cusp of retirement. He has finally acted on his repressed sexual orientation, but mostly at public bathrooms. That’s when he meets Hoi, ands the two of them start a relationship. But both of them are trapped between what they feel for each other and each’s familial obligations. Yeung treats the stories with a lot of tenderness, and never puts everything in your face, relying on subtle nods. When we see the two men finally connect with each other, we feel their pain, but we feel how they are trapped in their situations as well, and we know that it probably will never last. I found myself deeply touched by the story,  probably because it explores themes of loneliness. Maybe because I am not that far from that age as well, and wonder how my life would be at that point in my life. The actors are all wonderful, and I understand Yeung and Bo have won multiple awards for their work in the film.  I hope this film reaches a more mainstream audience as it is a story that deserves to be heard.

Amor Always (Movie Thoughts: Mucho Mucho Amor)

MUCHO-MUCHO-AMOR-Poster-788x1024Walter Mercado passed away recently, and I have a lot of Facebook friends who noted and grieved his passing, mentioning how fabulous he was. I honestly wasn’t too familiar with him, though I kind of remember him from my New York years. The Netflix documentary, ‘Mucho Mucho Amor,’ through a lot of archival footage shows what a grand and majestic presence he was on Latin television, as he gives the daily horoscopes clad with capes ornately designed with glitter and Swaroski crystals (Gianni Versace made him one) I have to admit doing the gay gasp seeing some of these costumes, and also wonder how Latinos just embraced him, considering how a lot of men embraced the Macho culture. I guess Walter Mercado was non-binary before anyone knew what that was – he looked kind of like a woman, and not really like a man. It is safe and sexless, though, so in a way it felt ‘safe,’ kind of like the eccentric uncle from that side of your family.

The documentary doesn’t really try to dig deeper, Directors Cristina Constantioni and Kareem Tabsch are obviously enamored by him, so they present him in grand fashion. He sits on his pedestal, and wears his capes as he sits for interview with them. He is given the narrative, as he narrates his life, and the times when he ruled the televisions screen and seen by millions every day. Sure, thats’ nice and all, and essential for viewers like me who did not really know him that well, but I think some depth would have been nice as well. We hear from people around how devastated he was when he was betrayed by his manager Bill Bakula, but he puts a mostly brave face when he discussed it, with his guards up.

Still, you cannot help but be swept by his positive messages. For sure, Walter Mercado is a product of his times, but we all could use some of his magic right now.

Action Jackson (Film Thoughts: Shirley)

large_shirley-posterJosephine Deckler’s 2018 film ‘Madeleine Madeleine’ was critically lauded, but for me it was total dreck. Or maybe I just don’t ‘get’ her art? This is the reason why I have dragged my feet into seeing her new film ‘Shirley,’ even though, again, the film has gotten numerous raves. But I finally gave in, and you know what? I kind of get Decker’s work a little bit more. Do I like it? Not as much as others, but it is certainly better for me than ‘MM.’

Maybe because this has a formidable dream cast, led by Elizabeth Moss, who is fantastic as Shirley Jackson. Matching her scene for scene is Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays her husband Stnley Hyman. This eccentric couple, and that is putting it mildly, has started to host a young couple in their house, and the film veer towards something akin to Jackson’s gothic stories. It is sometimes baffling, and I gotta admit at times hard to take, but it is definitely interesting, And the authentic performances will certainly make you believe everything. The added extra for me is seeing Logan Lerman, who is one of my favorite actors, though he doesn’t really have much to do here. Visually the film is a treat, and Decker infuses it with a lot of style. All in all it’s more an interesting watch for me than one that emotionally touched me, but that’s probably more my taste than anything else. I admire it, though.

Heaven Knows (Film Thoughts: Breaking Fast)

bfastIt seems like a convergence of two dissecting worlds – a gay Muslim-American living in West Hollywood? I am sure they exist, and is now the subject of Mike Mossalam’s film ‘Breaking Fast.’  Can you be gay and still be a practicing Muslim? The film posits the question and shows us Mo, a gay doctor who lives in the gay community of West Hollywood. When the film begins, we see him breaking up with his boyfriend because of religious reasons – the boyfriend wants to marry a woman as a beard.  But then he meets Kal, an All-American guy and sparks are instant – but this is dubbed a ‘Ramadan Rom Com’ so we see them meet cute and break cute.

I think this is quite a charming film, an unexpected pleasure. It tackles how a dry religious gay guy can live in modern gay world, with all the extraneous trappings. But it explains the concept well, via a musical. Indeed, in ‘The Sound of Music.’ when Maria goes back to the abbey after realizing she has fallen for the Captain, she is told, ‘Just because you love another man doesn’t mean you love God less.’ The movie is filled with delightful little references like this, without making the subject matter feel too light. Haaz Sleiman plays Mo, and he is great, and matched well by Michael Cassidy’s Kal. I really enjoyed much about the film, and appreciate the authentic feel, from the food to the Weho locale. It is also nice to see a film centered around a non-white, kind of middle-aged protagonist – not everyone in the gay community looks like Matt Bomer, after all.

One Two Three (Movie Thoughts: Threesome)

Threesome_ver1I chanced upon ‘Threesome,’ a movie from 1994. I remember seeing this movie, and back then (could it really be almost twenty six years ago) I remember liking the movie a lot, though I have not seen the film since I saw it, probably opening weekend that year. So I wonder whether the film still works. Does it stand the test of time?

Yes, and no. First of all, the set up. I really do think that after a certain generation, sexual orientation ceases to be a big issue for young people. Gay college students? Yeah, so what, they will say. Someone of that age nowadays will have probably gone through all the emotional journey of being gay. There would be so much support on campus that they would certainly not be as lost as Eddy (Josh Charles) was on this film. This would throw half the premise of the film. But the other half, about the ‘threesome’ is still relevant. How many times have we heard of throuples? The relationship between the three people here seems more for emotional exploratory – it’s how the three of them find a lot about themselves.

Lara Flynn Boyle reads too old to be a college student now, All three leads, in fact, to me, look too old, but then again that ay be my generational bias. Stephen Baldwin here seems a little miscast, but it was nice to see him before he became the right wing Trump supporter that he has become. Charles is best, here, and looks luminously handsome. I remember jonesing over him then, and that angle still works. This is one of those movies that is a product of its time, I think young kids nowadays would probably find the situations laughably hokey, but they have much to learn from how these characters are able to find a bit of themselves from the same situation.

Plain Ol Vanilla (Movie Thoughts: Vanilla)

vanI seem to be going through a ‘watching movie’ rut lately. Nothing is exciting me, nothing is interesting to me.  I have a huge to-watch pile but nothing is screaming to me. I pull something out of it, but I end up starting and stopping. I think I have started Will Dennis’ ‘Vanilla’ a couple of times that I just told myself, just let it play, just go along with wherever it is taking you. The film took a while for me to get going, but it’s ok. It’s kind of a love story, and a road trip film. The characters are a little interesting, an app maker and a stand up comic,  and though the characterizations are on the familiar side, the actors (Will Dennis himself and Kelsea Bauman) inject a little bit more. This is one of those films that, halfway through, you already know where you are going to end up, but Dennis gives you a twist or two to wake you up.