January 29, 2011

Queer Review: Outing Riley

Outing Riley
Director: Pete Jones
Writer: Pete Jones
Cast: Pete Jones, Nathan Fillion, Stoney Westmoreland, Dev Kennedy, Julie R. Pearl, Michael McDonald

Outing Riley appears to be the loving pet project of Director/Writer/Star Pete Jones. At times, it succeeds at being a well made homage to a Catholic family and at other times it flounders. Also, I do have to wonder how much Pete Jones had based this movie on his own family.

Bobby Riley (Pete Jones) is gay but has not come out to the male members of his Irish Catholic clan. His sister Maggie (Julie R. Pearl) knows, but his older brothers Luke (Nathan Fillion), Connor (Stoney Westmoreland), Jack (Dev Kennedy), are blissfully unaware. Bobby's boyfriend Andy (Michael McDonald) is also getting fed up with his procrastination, eventually leaving Bobby halfway through the film.

The film opens with the family gathered to mourn the passing of their father. We are shown in this scene a typical (some might say stereotypical) Catholic family, with incredibly strong internal ties. When Bobby eventually caves into the pressure and shows his brothers a slide show of him and Andy, they take it badly, as was expected.

The film's strongest aspect comes from it's creation of an entirely believable Irish Catholic family. Kudos to the cast for managing to pull that off. I also appreciated the more creative storytelling techniques Pete Jones employees, such as the frequent breaking of the four wall. Jones even goes so far as to consult a member of the film-making crew during a moment of crisis. It's almost as if Jones was trying to "out" his movie for being a movie.

The weakest part here is the hackneyed "coming out" plot. Coming out of the closet is a familiar experience for many queers. However, while it is an easy enough experience to relate to, I would argue that the evidence here is that the "coming out" trope is not a strong or compelling enough of a story to sustain an entire movie.

While Jones manages to create a high energy production and a believable family, the flaws too often show through for me to give Outing Riley a wholehearted recommendation.

January 27, 2011

Queer Review: Transamerica

Transamerica (2005)
Director: Duncan Tucker
Cast: Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Fionnula Flanagan, Burt Young, Elizabeth Peña

Transamerica is your basic road trip movie in which the main character happens to be a Male-to-Female transgender woman. It is by no means a terrible movie, simply a rather not terribly good one. The biggest problem is the slow pacing.

Here is what happens. Bree (Felicity Huffman) is a week away from the surgery that will finalize her transformation into a biological woman. A surprise comes when she receives a phone call from her long lost son, Toby (Kevin Zegers) who needs to be bailed out of jail. At the urging of her therapist (Elizabeth Peña), she reluctantly flies to New York City to pay Toby's bail. Pretending to be from the Church of the Potential Father, she eventually consents to drive Toby to Los Angelos, where he intends to become a porn actor. The bulk of the movie consists of Bree and Toby as they make their way from NYC to LA. On the way they are forced by circumstances to make a detour to meet Bree's parents (Fionnula Flanagan and Burt Young).

On the whole, Transamerica is a movie of inconsistent quality. Felicity Huffman gives a non-flashy performance that should have gotten wider attention than it did. There is also some interesting underdeveloped thematic material. Also, I have to say the movie deserves some credit for not going completely out of it's way to avoid controversy. The biggest flaw, as I mentioned earlier, is the pacing. At times I found myself wishing things would pick up or that the movie would at least find something worthwhile to say.

At the end of the day, a mediocre movie is a mediocre movie. Transamerica while showing some promise, unfortunately fails to capitalize on it.

January 25, 2011

Queer Review: Chick Comics

First there was Homosexuality: Legitimate Alternative Deathstyle by Dick Hafer. In modern times, anti-queer comic lovers can get there fix from Chick Publications by Jack T. Chick, which is just beyond words. The comic takes place in the sort of world where the Homosexual Menace is Trying to Take Over the World and Everyone Is In On It. There are gay cops who beat up innocent Christian, the media engages in shameless gay propaganda, and "blood terrorism" can be engaged in by any gay man who gives blood.

I would also like to point out that most of the extreme propaganda the comic is actually, I think somewhat dangerous, particularly in regards to the misinformation contained within the comics regarding AIDS.

Lets break down the three comics listed under "Homosexuality".

Sin City (2001)
The comic starts out with a man protesting a gay pride parade while holding a sign stating "Homosexuality is a Sin" while a bear leather-man urges the float he's standing on to run over the protester. Fortunately, some obviously gay cops (they all have pierced ears) intervene to protect the pride parade and start beating up the anti-gay protester, while shouting "You Devil! Nobody stops my parade".

Later, while lying in a hospital bed, recovering from his sound thrashing, he's told that he's being charged with a hate crime for interfering with the parade. The man (now identified as Malcolm) is also told that the charges will be dropped if he changes and becomes less hateful and bigoted.

The prosecuter introduces him to Reverend Ray who claims to be gay and is presented with a demon/ghost looking creature named Zanah hanging out on his shoulder. Reverend Ray of course tries to make inroads in changing Malcolm into a loving Christian.

After a bit of a struggle, in which one of Malcolm friends shows up to recite a highly stylized version of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, Reverend Ray finds himself breaking down and admitting that Malcolm was right all along and then begging God for salvation.

And the Moral of the Story is: Getting the stuffing beat out of you by gay cops is a great way to win converts for Jesus. No really! The world would clearly be a much better place if fundamentalists just let themselves get beat up more often!

Doom Town (1991)
This one starts out at a pro-gay rally. The speakers at the rally impresses upon the crowd and media the importance of funding for AIDS research and suggest that if not enough funding is received, all gay men should donate blood.

In spite of the fact that not all gay men have AIDS and that the Red Cross started testing blood donations for AIDS in 1985, this is considered "blood terrorism", "cold blooded Murder" and would guarantee that the blood supply of the country would become infected with AIDS. Clearly, this is because of the satanic evilness that exists in homosexual's blood that is so powerful, it can not only fool the Red Cross's tests, it can also infect blood donations from people who aren't gay.

A lone man named Charlie who was watching the rally prays to God for the ability to speak to someone. When he's asked what he thinks of the rally by another individual, Charlie launches into a rather detailed telling of Sodom and Gomorrah. This one includes the rather lovely image of a large hair man saying to a small child "it's that time again".

At the end of the telling of Sodom of Gomorrah, the person listening to Charlie breaks down and converts to Christianity while begging God for forgiveness.

And the Moral of the Story: Homosexual blood is dangerous and powerful, but not as powerful as some good old Sodom and Gomorrah.

Uninvited (2011)
This story is about a group of gay men suffering from AIDS in a group home and Nurse Clara, who is attending to them. The men and Nurse Clara argue over how AIDS was started. This argument results in Clara telling the men about how when she was 6 years old she suffered a brutal rape and nearly died. Afterwards, she claimed that she nearly became a lesbian but was only saved by God's love.

Clara then asks the men if any of them had been molested as children and they all admit that they were. Nurse Clara then tells the men the story of Sodom and Gomarrah as apparently there are never enough tellings of Sodom and Gomarrah to go around for everyone.

After telling the story, two of the men allow themselves to be saved, while another two soundly reject Jesus and "die in their sins". The next day Nurse Clara declares that homosexuals have been trying to create another Sodom and Gomarrah here today in America.

And the moral of the story is: If you're raped or sexually molested as a child, your choices are either to become an AIDS infected Lesbian/Homosexual OR to ask for, and accept, the eternal love and salvation that only God and Jesus can provide.
This is the same God by the way who:
-Destroyed entire cities and countries in flame and brimstone
-Let loose plague and disease (AIDS) as punishment for sexual deviancy
-Let loose some other plagues of gnats, flies, frogs, a river turning to blood, diseased livestock, boils, locusts, darkness, *and* killed the firstborns of an entire nation, all because the leader of that nation would not free some slaves
-Flooded the entire world killing everyone but the few people who happened to have been within walking distance of the only Arc that could withstand the flood.
Yep, that all sounds like the sorts of actions a loving and forgiving God would regularly partake in.

January 22, 2011

Queer Review: Die, Mommie, Die!

Die, Mommie, Die! (2003)
Director: Mark Rucker
Writer: Charles Busch, based on his play of the same title.
Main Cast: Charles Busch, Jason Priestley, Natasha Lyonne, Frances Conroy, Stark Sands, Philip Baker Hall

Charles Busch the creator and star of Die, Mommie, die! is a male actor who frequently plays female characters in films. In Die, Mommie, Die! Busch gently parodies 60's films and particularly 60's Hollywood kitschy style.

The plot of Die, Mommie, Die! appears to have borrowed many of it's elements from the Greek tragedy Electra written by Sophocles and Euripides. Although, Die, Mommie, Die! is first and foremost a comedy, the dysfunctional family it depicts is filled to the brim with deep undercurrents of legitimate pathos.

When Sol Sussman (Philip Baker Hall) becomes too overbearing, his wife Angela Arden (Charles Busch) plots his murder. Angela was once a famous singer, but the untimely death of her sister Barbara Arden has left her with unexplained and unresolved guilt, plus the equally mysterious loss of her singing voice. However, it isn't long before Angela succeeds in poisoning Sol by lacing the suppository his doctor had prescribed with arsenic. While the autopsy clears her name (no arsenic was found in Sol's stomach after all), their kids - Edith (Natasha Lyonne) and Lance (Stark Sands) - believing that their mother was guilty in Sol's death, plot revenge. Meanwhile, Tony Parker (Jason Priestley) the films femme fatale, and who was also having an affair with Angela before Sol's death, begins an unorthodox investigation into the Sussman family.

The movie breezes by at a pleasant enough pace and the script was written with just enough intelligence to keep the audience guessing as to what is really going on. The film has a couple of surprises in store for viewers by the end, and I have to admit that I was only able to guess at a few of them beforehand.

Each of the primary actors is able to fill their role in the movie well, with Charles Busch and Jason Priestley providing standout performances. Director Mark Rucker manages to provide plenty of homages to classic movies in order to gently send them up; I was particularly reminded at times of Sunset Boulevard.

At the end of the day, while not a great film - I like my comedies to be a bit more bold - I would hope Die, Mommie, Die! does not give into it's title's plea, but rather I would wish for it to live a long and happy life in the annals of cinema.

January 19, 2011

Setting the Record Queer: Bayard Rustin and the Civil Rights Movement.

Side Note: I had originally intended to do "Setting the Record Queer" articles on a more regular basis, in which I would focus on LGBTQA individuals who had made some significant contribution to history either positive or negative. However, between wanting to stick to a somewhat strict criteria of who I would do and the amount of time it takes to do such articles well, I ended up not doing as many as I had originally intended.

First, I did not want to do someone simply because they were famous, such as celebrities or artists, I wanted people who played a role in history itself. Second, I did not want to do an individual, unless there was conclusive (or nearly conclusive) evidence that they really were queer in some way. This criteria actually eliminated a lot more people then I had expected, such as Abraham Lincoln. Second, really famous individuals who were well known for being somehow LGBTQA were also not what I was interested in. This last criteria tends to eliminate a lot of the Greeks - Plato, Socrates, Alexander, etc. - among others.

So, while I consider less stringent criteria, I thought I would ask people if they had any paticular choices they might want to suggest for future Setting the Record Queer articles.

Bayard Rustin was a gay man of color and key figure in the American Civil Rights Movement. He served as a close advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. and was a organizer in the 1963 March on Washington where King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

Rustin's sexual orientation was often used as a weapon against him, both by individuals within the civil rights movement and those who opposed it. In a vain attempt to prevent the March on Washington from occurring, pro-segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond attempted to use an arrest of Rustin for lewd behavior against Rustin. Thurmond also went so far as to imply a gay affair between Rustin and King.

Non-violence was a crucial element of Rustin's philosophy and he was an advocate of non-violent civil disobedience within the civil rights movement. Later in his life, he would become more focused on equal rights for GLBTQA individuals.

In 1986, Rustin gave a famous and rather controversial speech called "The New Niggers Are Gay". In the speech Rustin states:
Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new "niggers" are gays. . . . It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change. . . . The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.

On August 24th 1987, Bayard Rustin passed away from a perforated appendix. From The New York Times article on that event:
Commenting on Mr. Rustin's death, Roy Innis, national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, said: ''Bayard Rustin was a planner, a coordinator, a thinker. He influenced all of the young leaders in the civil rights movement, even those of us who did not agree with him ideologically.''

"Homophobia will never erase the contributions of Bayard Rustin to the civil rights movement" from Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters

Wikipedia Article on Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin Is Dead at 75; Pacifist and a Rights Activist" from The New York Times archive

January 18, 2011

Queer Review: Bound

Bound (1996) was the directorial debut from The Wachowskis (although before Larry Wachowski became Lana Wachowski they went by The Wachowski Brothers). The Wachowskis would later go on to direct The Matrix and would write the script for V for Vendetta.

The plot of Bound is straight forward enough, but there are enough twists and turns to keep viewers guessing as to what will happen next. At the start, ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon) is trying to go on the "straight" and narrow when she meets Violet (Jennifer Tilly) who immediately seduces her. Shortly thereafter, Violet proposes to Corky that they steal 2 million dollars from Violet's boyfriend Ceasar (Joe Pantoliano) who happens to be a money launderer for the mob. Corky, although suspicious, soon agrees and the heist, not unexpectedly, does not go off without a hitch.

In my opinion, Bound is probably one of the best mainstream movie featuring two lesbians. There are many queer themes and imagery scattered throughout the film. The most obvious being that the title itself can be seen as a reference to being closeted, an idea confirmed by the opening scene. Although I do have to say that, while the film does not invite in depth analysis, there is still plenty of material that can be looked at for deeper meaning.

The Wachowski's provide solid direction and the film features a lot of darkly brilliant cinematography. Suspense is built to the sort of mind bending levels that few films aspire to, much less achieve. On the acting front, there is not a weak performance to be found. Each of the three leads -Tilly, Gershon, and Pantolino - gives a riviting performance.

On the whole, I highly recommend this film. It's smart and pushes boundaries in all the right ways.

January 16, 2011

Queer Review: Odder Than Ever

Odder Than Ever by Bruce Coville is a collection of short stories that exists as an exhibit for the truly weird.

The Golden Sail
When a young teenager is given the opportunity to meet the father who abandoned him at birth, he realizes that there is always a price to pay for everything.

Biscuits of Glory
Obsession and baking explosively collide in this story about a ghost who only wanted to be able to bake perfect biscuits.

I, Earthling
It's a cliche because it's true, growing up is tough and requires making hard choices, as a son of human diplomats on a distant planet finds out.

The Giants Tooth
Imagine you've been eaten by a giant, only to be rescued by a woman inhabiting one of the giant's rear molars. That is what happens to Edgar Twonky in this tale about the importance of community.

There's Nothing Under the Bed
This story reveals the truth every child knows so well and parents are always oblivious to. There is a great evil lurking under the bed and it will make all one's nightmares come true.

The Stinky Princess
When a goblin and a princess are rejected by their respective species after they start to smell too much like each other, they must make their own way in the world.
The Japanese Mirror
A morality tale on the dangers of uncontrolled anger, with elements of Dorian Grey mixed in.

Am I Blue
A bullied teenager questioning his own sexuality finds himself aided by his very own fairy godfather.

The Metamorphosis of Justin Jones
This story deals with the difficult subject of child abuse. This one I must admit to having some reservations on, as the ending may not send the best message. I hate to play the curmudgeon, but false hope is rarely a good thing.

My favorite stories of the collection were Biscuits of Glory, The Giant's Tooth, The Stinky Princess, The Japanese Mirror, and Am I Blue. In my opinion Bruce Coville is usually at his best when telling whimsical tales with provocative offbeat material. His weakest stories tend to be the more grim stories that attempt to address darker material.

Not that Bruce Coville doesn't do well when addressing serious issues, it's just that he does it best in stories, like Am I Blue, that use absurdity in order to poke fun at human nature.
I also think the following quote from Am I Blue is good advice in general and since I have little more to add, I will end with it:

But if you live in a world that keeps trying to grind you down, you either start thumbing your nose at it or end up very short. Taking back the language is one way to jam the grinder. My friends and I called each other faggot and queer for the same reason so many black folks call each other nigger - to take the words away from the people that want to use them to hurt us.

January 15, 2011

Queer Review: Another Gay Movie

Another Gay Movie features the tired approach of parodying popular movies started by Scary Movie and continued by films such as Date Movie, Epic Movie, and Meet the Spartans. In this case, the movie being parodied is American Pie. For the record, of those movies I've only seen Meet the Spartans, which was absolutely awful.

The plot of Another Gay Movie has four recently graduated gay teenagers Andy, Nico, Jarod, and Griff making a pact to lose their virginity before the summer is over and they all take off on their separate ways to college. In other words, if one does not know where this is going and how every subplot will wrap up, one has recently had a lobotomy.

To put it bluntly - as I know of no nice way of putting it - this is a crappy movie. The jokes aren't funny or clever, but rather, they are completely predictable. I knew the fate of the gerbil the second it was mentioned and knew where it was headed long before it even showed up on screen. When one of the guys finds an unattended quiche, it suffers the same indignity as a well traveled cinematic apple pie.

The characters are little more than two dimensional caricatures, each more offensive and grating then the next. It was as if the writers made a list of all the gay and lesbian stereotypes they could think of, stuck them in a blender and hit puree.

It's worth noting that, in terms of parody, there is no gay movie (that I'm aware of) that this movie was based upon. Instead, we're given an American Pie parody, a movie whose main characters were straight. Which begs the question of whether or not what was being attempted here was simply a gay version of American Pie or a parody of. If the former, I might forgive the filmmakers somewhat, if the gags hadn't hewn so close. If the latter, this is still a bad movie, but the predictability could at least be explained somewhat.

The only interesting thing Another Gay Movie does, is cast a man, John Epperson, as the wife of a bisexual husband, but the character isn't around enough for this to be worthwhile.

The film-makers are clearly trying to be as gross and outrageous as possible, but end up merely being gross and vaguely offensive. While watching, I was reminded of the infinitely superior John Waters comedy A Dirty Shame although only for the reason that both movies have a penchant for the perverse.

In my opinion, a more accurate title for Another Gay Movie would have been Worse Gay Movie Ever.

So after my last post regarding the music industry, I ended up coming across the music video "Hell Yeah" by Rapper Jayne Dooe. It's only fair now that I share it.


January 13, 2011

Queer Issue: The Impact of Words

This isn't a queer issue per se, but there are two recent events that I want to comment on, both dealing with censorship either directly or indirectly. One is the removal of the word "nigger" from a recent edition of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The other is the backlash that has been generated against Sarah Palin due to the connection (however weak) her aggressive rhetoric played in the horrific tragedy that took place in Arizona that left 6 dead and a U.S. Congresswoman hospitalized in critical condition.

Regarding the censoring of Huckleberry Finn, the publishers have justified their decision by claiming that teachers were becoming increasingly reluctant to teach the book, due to the use of a modern pejorative for people of color. My response to this is simply, huh?

Yes, the term "nigger" is a pejorative today, but it's use was perfectly acceptable at the time Huckleberry Finn was published. Rather than not teaching the book, I think teachers should use it as a learning opportunity. That is, they should have students read the uncensored version and then provide students with a history of the word and discuss why it's considered offensive today.

What I mean is this, are not teachers supposed to educate on sensitive issues, not cover them up? Students need tools and information in order to be able to evaluate complicated information in an increasingly complex world. By ignoring the issue itself, teachers are sending all the wrong messages to those they are supposed to be teaching.

Moving on to the second issue, the backlash against Sarah Palin, I have this to say. Using angry, violent, and threatening rhetoric is a problem. Not because it might lead to situation that occurred - and there is little actual reason to think that Palin's comments did cause the shooting - but because such rhetoric appeals to emotions and not to reason. There should be little discussion that reason in today's political climate is what we need now, not amped up emotional appeals.

These two issues are more connected then one might think. Thanks to the unsubstantiated charges that our rancorous political climate is the cause that lead to the shooting, I have seen the suggestion made that certain words (gun, shooting, etc.) and threatening statements should be banned from anyone with a microphone or in the media, etc.

I do not believe that this is a good idea, censoring certain words will only make reasoned discussion harder. Nor do I think that Sarah Palin or any other right wing commentator should be considered responsible for what happened.

However, remember that that the angry and violent political discourse that has taken place is wrong, not because it could cause violence, but because it leaves out reason, which is all that we should be using to guide our way forward.

January 8, 2011

Queer Issue: Looking for Queer Orientated Music? Good Luck.

I was never a big music fan when I was a younger teenager. That changed the summer before I entered 11th grade, when I heard Three Doors Down's "Kryptonite" playing on the radio. Something about it's funky guitar riffs caught my attention. Later that summer, when my dad and I were preparing for the long drive to visit Clarkson University, which I was planning to apply to, I bought their album, "The Better Life". After all, I was facing many hours in which my other options were listening to the radio or whatever my Dad's generation called "music". What would any other teenager have done?

However, "The Better Life" was my gateway album, leading me down a path towards harder stuff. Soon I was buying albums by Creed, P.O.D., Metallica, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Pink, Sum 41, The Red Hot Chili Peppers amongst a lot of other bands. Of course, my tastes were not fully formed initially and I also bought "what was I thinking" items, such as an early Avril Lavign album.

Later my tastes did mature a little bit and I learned to appreciate a wide variety of musical genres and styles, including songs that my Dad's generation called "music". For instance, I think The Beatles "The White Album" is definitely one of the greatest albums of all time and Jimi Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower" by Bob Dylan is one of my favorite songs.

Now recently, I decided to watch Logo's "Top 10 Countdown" featuring "Gay, Lesbian, Bi, and Trans videos". I'll have to admit to being a little bit surprised by their choices. Out of the 9 videos I was able to watch (I tuned in after #10 had finished) only 2 featured any obvious queer subjects or themes. Now granted I was not watching the videos that closely, nor do I know what Logo was considering "Gay, Lesbian, Bi, or Trans" but the almost complete lack of queer content shocked me a little bit.

Awhile back, my boyfriend made the claim to me that the music industry is the most hetero-normative mass media today. Having to go through music videos on Logo with a fine tooth comb in order to find Queer themes, certainly would lend credence to his claim.

Not to get too off topic, but in comparison, of TV shows airing today, "Modern Family", "Shit My Dad Says", "Glee" all feature positive and/or sympathetic characters. Now those are just what I can name off the top of my head. Then there's the TV channel Logo, which produces it's own shows, such as "RuPaul's Drag Race". There are also older shows that are no longer on the air waves, such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "The Shield" which also prominently featured gay characters.

If I really wanted to, I could also easily name books and movies that also feature prominent LGBTQA characters. The point I'm getting at is that there is definitely a discrepancy here between the music industry and other popular forms of mass media.

I'm not sure why the music industry is so far behind the curve here. Do individual songs represent too much of a risk, that musicians and producers shy away from anything that might alienate even a small portion of their audience?

In any case, I don't want to get too negative here, so I thought I'd highlight a few music videos that I enjoyed that feature prominent Queer Content.

First, the one queer music video that I noticed on Logo that I really liked, Farrad's Misunderstood:

(Actually after re-watching that I almost want to take that back, I thought when I first saw it that Farrad was acting in a more non-gender conformist manor, until I realized that most of what he does is simply weird, with the only thing non-gender conformist behavior is wearing purple lipstick and an otherwise ambiguously effeminate style.)

Then there's Lady Gaga's "Alejandro":

And one of my favorite songs that came out this year, Jimmy Eat World's "My Best Theory":

So if anyone out there knows of any songs/videos with obvious queer content/themes, I'd appreciate it if you let me know, preferably by leaving a comment here with a link.