So here’s the conundrum. There are so many good things going for ‘Joe Bell’ that I can’t help but root for it – it has a screenplay by the tandem of Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry (they did this little thing called ‘Brokeback Mountain’) and film is expertly directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green. And I have to admit, I weeped a couple of times during the film, and I was especially moved by Reid Miller’s performance as Jadin, the gay teenager who took his life because he was bullied by his classmates. And the message, of course, resonates, and will always be timely and important. I mean, all these elements should add up to something special.
But… the stench of Mark Wahlberg permeates. This is a star vehicle for him, designed to elicit sympathy, a redemption vehicle seemingly from his racist past. And I may have been able to get past that if he were good, but he isn’t. He tries subtlety but I did not see any depth there. As a matter of fact, I did not feel anything from him, and I found it such a waste of effort. This could have been any actor’s piece, and it would have worked infinitely better.
So – did I like the film? Yes, in a lot of ways I did. I am begrudgingly recommending it despite its bad central performance, and just wish for what might have been.
For the month of June, since it is Pride month, every film I wrote about has been a gay film, or a film with some kind of gay sensibility. So I think it is just fitting that i close out the month with a film that evokes the spirit of why we should celebrate Pride. Giselle Bailey and Nneka Onuorah’s ‘The Legend Of The Underground’ is about gay men in Nigeria. Nigera is still one of those countries with serious anti-gay laws. If you get caught ‘being gay’ there, you could be subject to fourteen years in jail. But, really, what does ‘being gay; constitute? In the documentary, we see, among others, stories of men who were arrested after being accused of being in a ‘gay party.’ There was a viral video with one of the accused saying, ‘what did I do? I did not get caught (sic).’ The grammatical error may have been pronounced, but the oppression is as clear. The trials of the men arrested was delayed – obviously, the prosecutors have a flimsy case – and it shows the corruption that permeates in the country,
It’s a very involving watch, and makes you realize that in some parts of the world, lives are stake just because peopel want to be themselves. You realize no one is free until everyone is free.
Who knew, that i a span of a couple of months that I would have two favorite movies about…surrogacy? Morgan Ingary’s ‘Milkwater’ is a queer flavored take on surrogacy and it is one of those small quirky films you used to be find on Netflix until you couldn’t anymore. So of course, something like this will eventually show up on … Netflix. It stars Molly Bernard (so good in ‘Younger) as a young woman who agrees to be a surrogate for a gay man in his fifties. Why? It’s no entirely clear but not matter, we are just there for the wild ride. Bernard is just so wise and funny that she makes everything so amiable and acceptable, and the film is instantly funny and adorable because of her. Even when her character goes into shaky territory you feel compelled to never leave her side.
Ali Le Roi’s ‘The Obituary of Tunde Johnson’ has good intentions – it tells a story of a gay American-Nigerian teen who gets killed by police – but somewhere gets lost in the translation. Or in the way the story is told. It uses the ‘Groundhog Day’ format and the narrator here recounts day after day the events or what happens to Tunde. But somehow, in the end, teh film becomes z message about the young man’s closeted white boyfriend, and you say what the hell (I actually did not mind as much because the boif was cute) Surely a lot of people will say, ‘that’s now what I signed for,’ and they wouldn’t be wrong.
Todd Stephen has made one of my favorite films thus far this year: ‘Swan Song.’ It’s a wonderful November-of-my-year type of film that touched me deeply. It stars Udo Kier as Pat Pitsenbarger, an aging hairdresser living in a facility. He gets a visit from a lawyer who asks him to fix the hair of his old client Rita parker Sloan (Linda Evans) who left specific instructions on her will that she be done by him. Reticent at first (she had left him as a client) but he reconsiders when he gets offered $25,000 to do the job. He then does a walk back to Sandusky, Ohio (where he used to live) not only to do this but to tie up all the loose ends of his life.
I always say this, but maybe my older age has made me appreciate more these films of the ‘this is my life’ genre. Some of the situations here may be forced (the screenplay can be awkward) but I felt a lot of familiarity with the story. He first visits the cemetery where his ex-lover is buried (he dies of AIDS) and then finds out that the house where they used to live has been demolished. He also confronts his assistant, played by Jennifer Coolidge, who opened a shop across from him and tole all his clients. There’s a whole of bitterness and humor there, and it’s very sassy and campy, all served with delicious joy by Kier. His flamboyance never crosses to caricature, and there’s a certain sort of familiarity with his characterization that makes him relatable to everyone. It’s my favorite male actor performance so far this year.
I always gravitate towards films that touch me. I know this film has imperfections, but I had an emotional reaction to it, and for me, the heart is always stronger when touched.
Jacki Weaver is fantastic in Thom Fitzgerald’s ‘Stage Mother. This indie film has a great cast – it also has Lucy Liu and Adrian Grenier in the cast, and Weaver plays a conservative Southern mother who ‘inherits’ a San Francisco drag bar after his son dies of a drug overdose. That set up is a little on the unbelievable side, and sure, a lot of the story follows more or less a fantastical path, but I found myself enjoying this film. The sights are funny enough and the cast is across the board good, so you will have no problem believing. It’s a fun frothy kind of film for Pride month, and as far as gay movies, I have seen far worse. And Weaver is an absolute delight, so what’s the problem?
I had been so looking forward to the second season of Love, Victor. I devoured the first season and it was one of my favorite shows from last year – a welcome treat during the pandemic. And the second episode starts exactly where it ended, with Victor finally coming out to his parents the night of the prom. They are shocked of course. In a lot of these cases, parents can be in denial and they blame themselves even though more often than not, the signs have been there all along.
And then the summer of love comes. Victor and Benji are together – they are calling each other boyfriends now. Wew get back to the action a week before school starts. The summer is almost over, and our characters are faced with different dilemmas. Victor’s mom is having the toughest time with hsi coming out – she just can’t accept it and is avoiding the topic altogether. The father is a little more understanding, but on top of their separation it’s all a bit too much (Victor can’t even mention it to his younger brother)
Mia comes back from camp with mixed emotions. She has a little bit of inkling for Andrew, but then finds out he has started dating someone else since she left for the summer. Lark and Felix are going strong as well, but Lark is caught between Mia and the lovebirds, and Felix is dealing with landlord issues. There’s a lot of things to ponder for the new season, and I will try my hardest to not try to watch it all too fast. I wanna savour this.
Gay men have always found ways to hook up, and ‘Sequin In A Blue Moon’ show how kids are doing it nowadays – which is mainly through hook up apps (that’s not really a surprise) In this film, Sequin meets men through the app, but deletes and blocks them after his encounters. But after he meets a man at an orgy party, he gets obsessed with this person, and the film becomes a thriller of sorts. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but the cast is appealing that it becomes more interesting. Conor Leach, who plays sequin, is a find and I hope we get to see more of his work in the future.
I was right – I had a nagging feeling that the show, as I watched it, would break my heart. I can’t remember watching. show that made me cry so much. Maybe because I have some personal stake in this show, as I lived through what most of these characters did, and saw what they experienced. In a way, it was like seeing departed friends go through their experiences again, and with the same unhappy ending,
I know the show is getting accolades, and I think it’s well deserved. My most favorite actor in the series is Lydia West, who plays Jill. She is the heart of this piece, as she is the witness to how the disease has ravaged her friends one by one. I remember West from years and Years, where she had a smaller role, but she is front and center here, and well worth your time. I have to say that I found Olly Alexander more than competent as well, and frankly, I had doubts since I never saw him act before.
The best thing about the show is how it captured the spirit of the times – the way the times started as fun, how the early 80s carried over the sexual liberation of the 70s, until everything went to a halt because of the virus. I remember how the mood changed from carefree, to denial, to fear, to acceptance and the dread of what is happening to the gay community. Younger gays who are so lackadaisical about AIDS can learn or two from this show. Humanity can learn a thing or three about how to be kind to one another from this show.
Another sign of getting old: movies about reconnecting get to you. I felt that way about Thomas Awrey’s ‘Drawn Back Home,’an other wise run-of-the-mill story about two friends reconnecting. But there’s something about the honesty of the performances here that is quite appealing, and before I knew it, the film got to me. It’s a fairly basic story, but all it needs is for it to be told authentically and it will work. This film’s big heart will touch you.