Almost Precious (Film Thoughts: Joe Bell)

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.

The Laws Against Us (Film Thoughts: The Legend of The Underground()

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.

Die Again (Movie Thoughts: The Obituary of Tunde Johnson)

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.

At The Ballet (Film Thoughts: Firebird)

Peter Rebane’s ‘Firebird’ is a sweeping romantic war melodrama, the kind you think they don’t make anymore. It’s lush, sentimental, and thrilling, and it’s a gay love story for the ages. It has triumph and heartbreak. For my money, it’s the perfect movie for Pride Month.

It’s also the true story of Sergey Fetisov, based on his memoirs ‘The Story of Roman.’ It tells his story, the story of his love affair with his new lieutenant. Tom prior stars (and also co-wrote the screenplay) as Sergey and he is magnificent here, with his leading man looks and soulful eyes. You can feel the pain in his eyes throughout the film and in the most poignant ending scene, expresses all the film’s emotions wordlessly. I feel he is destined to be a big name.

Some might not like the overt sentimentality of the film, but I didn’t mind it. Sometimes you just need a weepy love tale, and this one fits the bill. There is a sequence here when Sergey first sees Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird,’ and the scene made me weep in its sheer beuaty and honesty. I hope this gets a wider release and fans discover it.

This Is My Life (Film Thoughts: Swan Song)

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. 

Momma Drag (Movie Thoughts: Stage Mother)

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?

There’s a Sparkle (Movie Thought: Sequin In A Blue Room)

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.

A Weekend In Another Country (Movie Thoughts: Boy Meets Boy)

My favorite rom-com genre is the ‘two ships passing in the night’ one: wherein two souls briefly meet,.and for one reason or another have to separate, even though the connection between yhem is deep. Think ‘Before Sunrise.’ Think ‘Weekend,’ for the gay version. I am sure Daniel Sanchez Lopez had both films in mind when he did ‘Boy Meets Boy,’ which is the gay version for the Gen Y set.

But I just didn’t connect – is it because these kids are too young for me to relate to? Is it because of the really shallow screenplay? I never believed that these two guys had something between them, and didn’t care if they ended up together or not. Nothing wistful on my end.

Maybe it’s me, then.

A Place Called Home (Movie Thoughts: Drawn Back Home)

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.

Love Lost (Film Thoughts: Are We Lost Forever)

Sometimes you just connect with a film. I felt that way with David Fardmar’s ‘Are We Lost Forever.’ The film is definitely flawed, but for me it does one thing very well: it captures the emotion you feel after a breakup. In the film, a couple decide to part ways, and it shows how each of them deals with the separation. At first there is animosity, even denial, until sadness and depression sets in. Bjorn Elgerd plays Adrian, and he is great here, giving the character depth as he goes from one emotion to another – he is singing and dancing along to a pop song one moment, and crying into his hairbrush the next. At times the film felt so realistic that it was triggering my PTSD. The film even shows some of the inevitabilities of life – when someone else has moved on, and you are not in that place just yet.

Sure, the film sometimes gets a little tedious, and the characters can be exasperating – making bad decision after bad decision. But then you probably know someone who have gone through the same thing – heck we all have been there. I know this film would not appeal to everyone, but I was emotionally attached to it, and it made the film a satisfying – even thoughtful – watch for me.