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.
A bunch of show tune loving teenagers putting on a show? Seems right up my alley, no? But Lord help me, I despised Ryan Patrick Bartley’s ‘Divos!’ And I swear, I tried. The film centers mostly on Ricky Redmond (Matt Steele) who is a teenager obsessed with musical theater – he is a performer and has been playing the lead in his high school production for years. When Josh (Timothy Brunridge) enters the picture , he suddenly gets a rival for the lead in ‘How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,’ the season’s musical. And yes we all know where this goes. First of all, Steele as a high school student is more than a stretch, as he looks like he is in his 40s. And his character is so unlikable it is almost homophobic. And for a film about a musical, it has almost no music – were the rights too expensive? The whole production seemed amateurish, at best. I have to say above everything else, I was quite disappointed with this.
Under 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.
Amazon 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.
‘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.
It 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.
David Freyne’s ‘Dating Amber’ is a gay coming of age Irish comedy drama from Director David Freyne and it is a charmer. It stars Fionn O’Shea as Eddie, a gay teen set in 1995 who is struggling to accept himself. Cue in Amber (Lola Petticrew) who proposes that they present themselves as a couple in order to protect each other socially – she is a lesbian. We have seen this story before, but Freyne gives the film fresh spins. I was taken by O’Shea, who is wonderful here, giving a nuanced performance – his eyes are very expressive and he is able to show emotions even without dialogue. (O’Shea was also wonderful in ‘Normal People’ as one of Marianne’s boyfriends) And Petticrew is wonderfully brash, and you can see the differences in both characters that when they get together, you are excited by the prospect. The film also shows the struggles teenagers used to face regarding the issue of sexual orientation. I am far removed to the youth experience now and I don’t know if it has improved, but the film is accurate in showing the mixed signals we used to get regarding acceptance and religion.
‘A Stormy Night’ is one of those two-ships-crossing-in-the-night kind of movies, and it is one of my favorite genres of ‘love story’ films. This one comes from Spain, though the dialogue is mostly English. Written, directed, and starring David Moragas, who stars as Marcos, who is on his way to San Francisco to attend a screening of his film. But he gets sidelined in New York because of bad weather. He spends the night at an apartment of one of his friends, and meets Alan, the friend’s housemates. I think we know from the start where this could end up. I wish the situation felt more organic, but that’s a minor complaint – we can see two souls connecting. Some people have compared this to ‘Weekend,’ but it’s a little less deep than that film, and that’s fine because relationship, and even ships sometimes just touch when they cross. I thought the two leads had enough chemistry together, enough for me to believe and root for something to happen. And even though What happens in the film doesn’t fully satisfy, it left a very deep impression on me.
We have all been stuck indoors and nowhere because of this Covid 19 and maybe I am just inching to go somewhere that I enjoyed ‘Happiness Adjacent.’ This film, shot entirely on an iPhone, is set on a cruise, and I am a big fan of cruising. Sure nowadays it is probably not the safest way to vacation, but I just like the experience. And when I first started cruising, I had this ‘fantasy’ of falling in love while on one (my reality check, of course, is that it’s probably quite unlikely that those things happen) and this film delivers that fantasy. Hank is left alone by his best friend so he has to travel alone, and the ship has not even left the port yet when he meets Kurt, a married man. But since this is a fantasy, the married man is bisexual, and his wife is puking from seasickness and before you know it, Kurt has ‘late night workouts’ at Hank’s cabin. But is there more to them than two ships that pass in the night, on a ship? I think it would have been more realistic if both parties would have acknowledged that things could be just light, but yes, sometimes you get caught in an emotional trap that you cannot control. I thought the film was more than effective given the limitations odf the production and the leads – Ian Dick and Adam Fried were good enough. In these pandemic times, the film was a good reminder of the good old days,
I chanced upon two films from two separate countries that are quite different from each other.
From Russia comes Viatcheslav Koturevskiy’s ‘Sibera and Him,’ about two men falling in love in the midst of Siberian country. A lot of people have compared this to Brokeback Mountain and I can see why – this is set in the open country as well, as two men travel to check on one’s grandmother, who hasn’t been answering her calls. But this is Putin’s Russia, and these men cannot be themselves, to very tragic results. I thought the film was slow moving, and even its scant running time felt long. But there was always something that caught your attention, and seeing barren Siberia felt very conducive to what the characters are feeling.
‘Cousins,’ (Primos) from Brasil, directed by Mauro Carvalho and Thiago Cazado, is much lighter compared to the Russian film above. In fact, it is quite joyous considering Brasil nowadays seem to be as restrictive, as far as gay rights, as Russia with its new homophobic President. Two distant cousins (one just out from prison) hang out at a house, and they just start to fall in love. In the beginning, there is not much conflict, but their religious neighbors rear their ugly heads after. But it is treated almost comically, and this really is one of those feel-good films. But, there isn’t much else here if you are looking for some depth. But sometimes all you need is two young actors with great chemistry and you’re good to go.