September 27, 2011

Queer Review: Ma Vie En Rose (1997)

Ma Vie En Rose (My Life in Pink)
Director: Alain Berliner
Writers: Alain Berliner and Chris Vander Stappen.
Cast: Georges Du Fresne, Michèle Laroque, Jean-Philippe Écoffey, Hélène Vincent, Marie Bunel

This Belgium import from director Alain Berliner is notable for not only featuring a pubescent queer youth (something that almost never happens in Hollywood) but also uses some sublime acting, great writing, and superior direction to deliver a powerful message on the evils of bigotry.

Ludovic Fabre (Georges Du Fresne) is not an ordinary boy, in fact technically, Ludovic does not believe that "he" is a boy at all. But that is a problem as his parents (Pierre (Jean-Philippe Écoffey and Michèle Laroque) not only have difficulty accepting Ludovic insistence on dressing in girls clothes and wearing makeup but the whole family is ostracized by the neighbors, who refuse to tolerate anything "bent". Ultimately, this causes the family patriarch, Pierre Fabre to be fired.

The Queering
Ma Vie En Rose is a gorgeously sublime film about a child who claims that "he" is really a she. Don't get me started on the ridiculousness of the MPAA rating this as R. In a world where quality movies that tell the stories of queer youth are incredibly hard to come by, restricting the audience to those who would have to obtain parental permission to see it, is absurd. It pretty much beats out the MPAA's stance of "it's okay to show a guy getting his brains blown out, but a lingering shot of a woman having an orgasm is a no no" regarding Boys Don't Cry. With this rating the MPAA is officially synonymous with blatant absurdity. There is *nothing* in Ma Vie En Rose that justifies anything beyond a PG-13. I could go on but that would distract me from reviewing this wonderful film.

The opening sequences of Ma Vie En Rose, which show different couples getting ready to attend the Fabre's housewarming party, is set up to demonstrate the enforced heternormativity of the neighborhood. Therefore, right from the start, we know that anyone who violates the unspoken rules dictating societal standards will be in trouble.

As for the central character, Ludovic this is less an issue of sexual orientation but of gender identity. Ludovic is a child who believes that his true gender is feminine. At one point he explains that his second X chromosome got lost when he was being born, so he got an XY, thereby making him a girl boy. This is perfectly natural and obvious, therefore when the adults react negatively, Ludovic merely reacts with confusion. How can his parents not understand so simple a truth?

The acting is all superb, with Georges Du Fresne giving a completely naturalistic and charming performance as a kid caught between his desires and parental approval. Jean-Philippe Écoffey and Michèle Laroque both manage to convey the normal fears and anxieties of parents caught in the dilemma of doing right by their son and being turned into social pariahs by those who refuse to accept any form of diversity.

The cinematography is also noteworthy and uses lighting and color to effectively convey mood. Most of the scenes feature bright tints and shocking contrasts, except during several key sequences where filters are used to subtly create a more oppressive atmosphere, creating a clash with the brightly lit fantasy sequences.

These fantasy scenes, where Ludovic dances and cavorts with the Barbie like character Pam, are frequently filmed from his mother looking directly at Ludovic, not in the real world but where he imagines himself to be. The first occurs when she looks up at Ludovic while he is having an out of body experience and the other when she ends up frantically searching for him in a Pam billboard. This suggests that his mom's perspective is what is off and that Ludovic's feminine personality is not merely a figment of his imagination.

Strongly recommended, this is simply a great movie worthy of being seen in any lifetime, regardless of how pink.

The Rating


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

September 24, 2011

Petition New York State: Pass GENDA! Help end discrimination against transgender individuals!

From The Empire State Pride Agenda:
"The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (A.5039/Gottfried)(S.2873/Duane) is a bill that would outlaw discrimination in New York State based on gender identity and/or expression. Currently it is legal in New York to be fired from your job, kicked out of your home or be denied credit or public accommodations (like service in a restaurant) simply for being transgender. GENDA also expands the state’s hate crimes law to explicitly include crimes against transgender people.

The Facts
Transgender New Yorkers face severe discrimination. For example, a report released this year by the Empire State Pride Agenda showed that: 20.7% of transgender New Yorkers have incomes under $10,000 a year. Most recently, in 2011, Findings of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey completed by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force report that 74% of transgender New Yorkers experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job, 20% lost a job and 37% were not hired at all. An alarming 18% of transgender New Yorkers had become homeless because of their gender identity or expression. Health care discrimination for transgender New Yorkers is also very alarming with a 17% rate of individuals who were refused medical care due to their gender identity or expression.

September 23, 2011

Queer Review: Myra Breckinridge (1970)

Myra Breckinridge
Director: Michael Sarne
Writers: Michael Sarne and David Giler. Based upon the novel by Gore Vidal.
Cast: Raquel Welch, Rex Reed, John Huston, Mae West, Tom Selleck, Roger C. Carmel, Roger Herren

Based upon the controversial novel by Gore Vidal, Myra Breckinridge is widely considered to be one of the worse films of all times. However, this appears to be due primarily to bad publicity combined with conservative standards at the time regarding human sexuality, as the final product is more of a muddled mess than an outright disaster. I am not going to defend Myra Breckinridge by any means, but Michael Sarne's film is nowhere near as bad as it's reputation suggests.

Myron Breckinridge (Rex Reed) has just undergone a sex change operation to become Myra Breckinridge (Raquel Welch). Her next course of action is to approach Buck Loner (John Huston), who heads the acting school that Myron owns half of. Pretending to be Myron's widow, Myra attempts to persuade Buck to buy the half of the school that she now technically owns while Buck attempts to prove her claims wrong. Meanwhile, now a professor at the school, Myra falls madly in love with one of the students, Rusty Godowski (Roger Herren) and makes every attempt to destroy his masculinity.

The Queering
Myra Breckinridge is not only listed on Wikipedia's List of films considered the worst but it is also the only film from the 70's on the list. Furthermore, Myra Breckinridge was also included in Harry Medved's book, The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way). Gore Vidal also distanced himself from the movie adaptation of his book.

By no means am I going to defend Myra Breckinridge but I will say that it is nowhere's near being among the worst films of all time. I can think of plenty of films that are a million times worse, such as Another Gay Movie or Half Baked where the experience of watching becomes so intolerable that one will very quickly wish to be doing something more pleasant, such as undergoing Chinese water torture. In fact, if forced at gunpoint I would not hesitate to choose Myra Breckinridge over watching any lame rom com such as Latter Days or Imagine Me and You.

This is not to say that Myra Breckinridge is flawless. On the whole, it would be charitable to label Michael Sarne's direction and writing as "muddled". This is backed up by reports that Sarne would spend up to 7 hours at time alone "thinking" while the production crew was forced to wait around. Too bad that given the evidence at hand that "thinking" does not appear to be among Sarne's strengths.

The one thing that makes Myra Breckinridge enjoyable or at least watchable, was the frequent use of clips from old movies, inserted at appropriate moments, often to provide an exclamation point to the humour. This sort of creativity is something I would like to see a lot more of in films. Also, Raquel Welch's performance is worth a look, as is Mae West as a talent scout who only wants studs due to the fact that she sleeps with all her clients. John Huston also manages to generate a few sparks as the fake macho buck who spars with Breckinridge. All of the other performances are mostly forgettable.

In the end, Myra Breckinridge was doomed by bad press and the conservative standards of the day turned the explicit sex related humour into the films albatross. Toss in the fact that the final product was not all that great and it is easy to see why this universally panned by critics.

While not even remotely close to being a candidate for one of the worst movies of all time, this is still pretty much only for those with a tolerance for experimental films or a very strong interest in the history of queer cinema.

The Rating


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

September 22, 2011

Queer Issue: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to be "gayed up"

After all the moping I've had to do recently about Hollywood's unholy obsession with straightening out originally queer characters and historical figures, I'm glad to have some good news to report. It appears that David Fincher's remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo will be retaining heroine Lisbeth Salander's bisexuality. Yes! Not only that, but the 3 1/2 minute trailer features more girl on girl action than was in the original movie.

To be fair, I'm not sure how much or how explicit the same sex activity was in Stieg Larsson's original novel, as I never read it, so I can not say that Fincher's version will be queerer than Larsson's. The gaying up I'm referring to of course just with regards to the first movie that was directed by Niels Arden Oplev.

In any case, feel free to enjoy the trailer.

Sign the Petition for the Baseball Hall of Fame to Honor the Legacy of Glenn Burke!

September 21, 2011

Petition the Baseball Hall of Fame to Honor the Legacy of Glenn Burke

I just created a petition on for the Baseball Hall of Fame to Honor the Legacy of Glenn Burke. Please go here and sign it.

Glenn Burke, was the first, of only two Major League Baseball players, to "come out" as gay. Burke also started the tradition of high-fiving players after they had just hit home runs.

Considering the significance of Glenn Burke being the first Major League Baseball player to come out, his legacy is comparable to that of Jackie Robinson. As baseball is our National Pastime, it is incredibly important that the Baseball Hall of Fame acknowledge and promote diversity within the sport itself.

“They can't ever say now that a gay man can't play in the majors, because I'm a gay man and I made it." - Glenn Burke

September 15, 2011

Queer Review: Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983)

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
Director: Nagisa Ôshima
Writers: Nagisa Ôshima and Paul Mayersberg. Based upon the novel The Seed and The Sower by Laurens Van der Post
Cast: David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryûichi Sakamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Jack Thompson, James Malcolm, Chris Broun

A story of World War II, set in a Japanese P.O.W. camp, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence examines issues of honour, courage, desire, and sacrifice.

Colonel John Lawrence (Tom Conti) is a P.O.W. at a Japanese camp under the command of Captain Yonoi (Ryûichi Sakamoto). When a new prisoner, Major Jack 'Strafer' Celliers (David Bowie) arrives, Yonoi soon finds himself becoming increasingly attracted to Celliers, naturally leading to chaos and strife. Complications come from the Group Captain Hicksley (Jack Thompson), who finds Lawrence's sympathies for the Japanese intolerable and is angry at Yonoi's plans to have Celliers appointed as the new Group Captain.

The Queering
First, I must point out the obvious parallels that are drawn between Bowie's Celliers and Jesus Christ. For example, Jack Celliers has the initials JC, which is a screenwriters convention to indicate a messiah complex. During a key scene Celliers distributes food to the prisoners during a time when Captain Yonoi had ordered a fast from a basket, much like Jesus distributed loaves and fishes to a hungry crowd. Early in the movie, Celliers is tried by a Japanese Court for war crimes and sentenced to die. When Celliers is being tied up by the Japanese, he's arms are outstretched in the classic crucifix position. Only it turns out that this execution is being done with blanks. To me this part was obviously supposed to parallel Jesus's death and resurrection on the cross.

This of course, does not even tough upon the fact that Celliers is quiet often the willing sacrifice. During one flashback, Celliers is shown taking a beating, in order to allow his brother to escape from a pack of bullies. Later, he puts his life at risk in order to prevent Captain Yonoi from killing Hicksley. Only at one critical point, did Celliers ever choose not to endure pain for another, which was a decision that clearly haunted him forever afterwards.

This is all contrasted with the Japanese notions of honour and sacrifice. It is made explicit on several occasions that the Japanese view the allied troops that surrendered, as cowardly for doing so, rather than committing seppuku. This is a point that Lawrence tries to make clear to Hicksley, but Hicksley refuses to understand it.

Furthermore, the filmmakers also draw a parallel here between Christ's love for humanity and gay love. I say this because, during one key scene, Celliers uses Captain Yonoi's attraction for him to save another man's life. A long time ago, Plato in the Symposium argued that gay love between those of the same sex, was the highest form of love of all. Taken together, I had to wonder if director Nagisa Ôshima was trying to make some sort of comparison between Jesus's sacrifice and persecution and the sacrifices and persecution of queers throughout history.

Regarding the acting, all of the major performances are strong, but Bowie's requires special mention. His work during an early scene where it appears that he has been condemned to die, is heart wrenching. Take all of this together, the thematic subtexts and the strength of the acting, and you have one great movie.

Highly recommended. This movie makes for a great present for film buffs on any day of the year, Christmas or not.

The Rating


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

September 13, 2011

New Blog.

Nope, nothing's changing here, yet. But I have decided to start a new blog project, The Queerest Selections From the Library of Babel, where I plan on posting poetry and some short fiction, along with possibly other projects. Feel free to check it out!

September 12, 2011

Queer Issue: Hey Hollywood! Where are the Queer Youth?

I recently came across this excellent article I am Not a Secondary Character: Queer Kids in YA, and Why We Need to Do Better at Muse Rising, and found myself thinking, what about films? Where are the stories of queer youth in cinema? I found myself looking back over the 90+ films I had reviewed here in order to figure out how many of them featured queer youth. Let me warn my readers ahead of time, the results are not going to be pretty.

Basically, I found 6 films I had reviewed that had queer youth characters. They are: Another Gay Movie, But I'm a Cheerleader, Die, Mommie, Die!, Easy A, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and lastly, 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous, which I saw but never wrote a review of.

Really? Out of those, Another Gay Movie is just awful, But I'm a Cheerleader and 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous could hold competitions for "Most Mediocre Film Of All", and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is borderline homophobic. Only Die, Mommie, Die! and Easy A are any good. Of those last two though, the gay youth character is secondary.

But, I told myself, can that be all? Seriously? Is that it? After all the screaming by Right Wing Evangelicals about the Evils of Hollywood and their Homosexual Agenda to use radical films to recruit our youth into making America A Gay Commie Hell, I can only find 6 films that feature queer youth characters? Hollywood, really, you're not keeping up with your yearly quota! Remember the plan!

In any case, I did some searching through Netflix and the index page for Gay Celluloid and came up with the following titles as being described or appearing to have queer youth characters:
Wild Reeds
Summer Storm
Another Gay Sequel
Bowser Makes a Movie
Boy Crush
The Incredibly True Adventures of 2 Girls in Love
Ma Vie En Rose
Beautiful Thing
Europa Europa
You Are Not Alone
Whole New Thing
My Summer of Love
Billy Elliot
Wild Tigers I Have Known
The Curiosity of Chance
You'll Get Over It
Ma Vraie Vie à Rouen

So that makes 21 titles. Now together with the previous 6 that's a grand total of 27, which is still pathetic. Several of these are notable or I've at least heard good things about them, such as Europa Europa, My Summer of Love, Billy Elliot, and Ma Vie En Rose. But in any case, how many queer youth will have even heard of these movies or have access to them?

I mean seriously, Hollywood, you are way behind schedule.

Apparently, if you are a Hollywood, you are a well adjusted adult or never bother figuring out your sexual orientation until you are in college or middle aged. Which is sad, as we owe our queer youth better than that.

I am somewhat at a loss to explain this phenomenon. I can point fingers at the now defunct Hays Code and the hypocritical ways that the MPAA rates queer movies with much harsher standards but I think goes a little bit deeper than that. For all those who claim that that Hollywood is some sort of pusher of liberal propaganda, I think the evidence often goes the other way. In this instance, it is the almost complete lack of queer youth characters on film.

Let's be frank, all companies that make movies exist to make money. It does not matter if it is an independent company or one of the big mainstream conglomerates, they only exist for the purpose of making a profit. However, I do not see ticket sales being an issue here. Why? Because Hollywood markets and makes most of it's movies off of teens, who all things considered, are probably much less likely to shun a movie with queer content. Furthermore, if studios are worried about offending homophobic groups so much, I would like to point out that the resulting controversy and protests are probably more likely to boost ticket sales, than to drive people away. In fact, I would bet that the more authority figures that will tell a teenager not to see a movie or film, the more likely that teen will go the extra mile to seek them out. It's also worth noting the success of crap like the The Da Vinci Code, which was was widely protested by the Catholic League when it was released? (Although to be fair, I never saw it after having read the god awful Dan Brown novel it was based upon).

Nope, what I think are the driving force behind this glaring absence is simply cowardice. There is no reason, financial or otherwise, that should cause producers to shy away from

There is another matter that makes this even more distressing. In the past year, the issue of suicide among queer youth has been brought to the national spotlight. While I would not argue that the lack of queer youth characters on film or in books is the driving force behind the disproportionaly high suicide rate among LGBTQIA youth, I cannot imagine that it helps. In fact, a lack of general media portrayals will only help to further the impression that being GLBTQIA is abnormal and therefore heighten feelings of isolation amongst queer youth. This in turn, can only worsen an already serious problem. What makes this situation further depressing is that is only likely to get worse. The tepid trickle that exists now will probably come to a complete stop as the last gasps of independent cinema, which has been slowly strangled over the past decade, are breathed.

Queer Review: 50 First Dates (2004)

50 First Dates
Director: Peter Segal
Writer: George Wing
Cast: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider, Lusia Strus, Dan Aykroyd, Amy Hill, Pomaika'i Brown, Blake Clark

Among the most mature of Adam Sandler's films not involving Paul Thomas Anderson, 50 First Dates is an atypical romantic comedy that manages to straddle the line between sweet and raunchy. Fortunately, this results in one of Sandler's most enjoyable flicks, which admittedly, really isn't saying much, but I'll take it.

Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) is a Hawaiian veterinarian who targets tourists (mostly woman, but also one played by Kevin James) for romantic flings, knowing that any relationship that develops will be temporary. That changes when he meets Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore), who captures his heart. Unfortunately, Lucy has a memory problem from a car accident that occurred over a year ago. This memory issue being, that outside of the present day, Lucy does not remember anything since the accident. Ultimately, this means that Henry must woe Lucy anew each day, while trying to get around her protective father (Blake Clark) and brother (Sean Astin).

The Queering
Most so called romantic comedies be they featuring straight or gay couples, such as Latter Days or Imagine Me and You, are almost universally bland and unimaginative. On the other hand, there is the raunchy sex comedy, a genre that includes such movies such as American Pie or Another Gay Movie and are usually aimed at hormone driven male teenagers. Those in the latter category actively compete with each other to see who can go the furthest and come up with the grossest, most envelope fondling gags.

However, there are a small number of films are content to not go to either extreme and as a result, manage to hit the equivalent of a home run, rather then getting stranded at first. 50 First Dates is one such film. Sandler and Barrymore manage to generate enough heat and sparks together, while the salty gags keeps the romance from becoming too saccharine.

Unfortunately all of this does not stop Rob Schneider from being his usually annoying self. Fortunately his caricature has just a small enough amount of screen time to keep this from being a big issue. Personally, I would have preferred it if there had been more attention paid to Alexa (Lusia Strus), Henry's bisexual assistant, as I found the characters androgynous presentation unusual and therefore intriguing.

On the other hand, I must admit to having an issue with Sean Astin's character, Doug, a Mr. Hawaii contestant obsessed with working out, taking steroids, and most notably, speaks with a constant lisp. I mean, fortunately there is a possibility that Alexa was a chick, not a dude (no one in the film seems to know) as I don't think we need another gay character who speaks with a lisp, as that is a really horrible and offensive stereotype. Seriously. On the other hand, there are numerous brief references to minor characters being either gay or transgendered, even the seals get in on the act at the end. For whatever reason, I actually appreciated these little throw away bits, brief as they were.

All in all, the enjoyability quotient is up and the homophobia/transphobia index is low (although not non-existent) making this a rare diamond in the rough as far as Adam Sandler flicks go.

Recommended. Might not be worth seeing a total of 50 times over, but once or twice won't hurt anyone.

The Rating


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

September 11, 2011

Classic Review: The Book of Eli (2010)

The Book of Eli
Director: Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
Writer: Gary Whitta
Cast: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals

A post-apocalpytic tale about the power of faith and the evil of perverting that which is holy, The Book of Eli delivers an allegorical, yet extremely powerful message. In other words, this Hughes Brothers film is not all that much unlike the book that the lead character is protecting.

Years after the civilization has been destroyed by in a mysterious Armageddon, survivors scratch out a living on a planet where there is little hope in the future. However, Eli (Denzel Washington) has come into possission of The Bible, a book that has provided inspiration and hope to billions of people throughout history. However, Eli must protect the holy book from men such as Carnegie (Gary Oldman) who would use it for nefarious purposes.

The Queering
When I sat down to watch The Book of Eli I was expecting to enjoy a regular popcorn post-apocalyptic action flick, I was not expecting anything with a profound message. However, the parable the Hughes Brothers are telling here, filled as it is with cutting social commentary, happened to resonate deeply with me.

The reason for this is that I happened to have been raised Christian, and while my personal beliefs today are more agnostic, I still get pissed whenever I see people using The Bible for purposes that I will only describe as perverted, such as warmongering, personal profit, political gain, and the promotion of bigotry. In recent years, I have noticed that this sinful practice has reached astronomical levels. Therefore, a story about a man who must protect The Bible from evil doers who would use it for such purposes, would have to Armaggeddon inducing awful not to have been able to move me. As it is, The Book of Eli is an intense, albeit occasionally over-stylized, film. The acting is strong, with stand out performances by Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman.

Overall, the cinematography is excellent and the fight sequences are often well choreographed and shot. Of particular note, is an extended fight that is shot in silhouette using only a single take. I want to applaud the Hughes Brothers here for having the brains to realise that rapid editing does not make for a better action sequence. However, there were plenty of times when it felt that The Book of Eli was too highly stylized and there are more than a few shots where it was obvious that a blue screen was used. In the end, I have to argue that a grittier tone would have benefited this story.

I enjoy movies the most when they at least try to include some level of social commentary or provocative thematic material. Fortunately, The Book of Eli has that and also manages to tell a compelling story set in a world that has been washed clean of modern civilization. It is a real shame that the Hughes Brothers do not direct more films.

Strongly Recommended. Since The Book of Eli cannot be read, people are just going to have to enjoy the movie.

The Rating


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September 10, 2011

Queer Review: Feed (2005)

Director: Brett Leonard
Writer: Kieran Galvin
Cast: Alex O'Loughlin, Patrick Thompson, Gabby Millgate, Jack Thompson, Rose Ashton, Matthew Le Nevez, David Field, Sherly Sulaiman

A bad horror exploitation flick, Feed heads deep into Cruising territory, even as it attempts to offer up some confusing social commentary. All in all, horrible modern filmmaking techniques, such as rapid fire editing, and a story that throws every cliché, trope, and stereotype into the mix, come together to create a truly unappetising milieu.

After solving a strange case involving cannibalism, that was apparently inspired by Armin Meiwes, an Australian Interpol police officer, Phillip Jackson (Patrick Thompson) finds himself emotionally shaken. His next case - which involves a man, Michael Carter (Alex O'Loughlin), who feeds women until they die from obesity - takes bizarreness to whole new levels. As the increasingly mentally unstable Phillip engages in a dangerous cat and mouse game with Michael, the latest victim, Deidre (Gabby Millgate), inches ever closer to death.

The Queering
On pretty much any level imaginable Feed is a truely repulsive movie. It has pretty much only two saving graces. One is the intense performances of Phillip Jackson and Alex O'Loughlin. O'Loughlin is particularly brilliant as the sociopath who taunts the increasingly unhinged Phillip. Thompson is less controlled, but no less memorable as Michael's chauvinistic foil. The second saving grace of Feed is the potential post-screening discussions that will likely happen.

No, this is not a particularly deep or insightful motion picture but it tries so hard to be one, that the pretentiousness oozes more freely the chocolate syrup and lard that the evil Michael force feeds into Deidre. Much of the over done dialogue includes phrases like "consumption is evolution" and there are multiple references to Christian iconography. At one point, Phillip interrupts Michael's wife while she was receiving communion and Michael briefly takes up the crucifix position when it appears Michael has the upper hand. What exactly is the point of that, I don't really get. To draw a comparison between Jesus's sacrifice, symbolised by the bread and wine/grape juice that is fed to people at communion and the way Michael feeds his victims?

The problem of course, is that no one involved really demonstrates a deeper understanding of Christian mythos, as evidenced by the end. Therefore, Feed's attempts at drawing deeper parallels with the story of Christ fall as flat as it's knowledge of pop psychology. Note to whoever developed the idea; it really is not all that new or revolutionary to have your lead Psycho killer be motivated by a bizarre Oedipus complex.

By far, the strongest element of Feed is the battle of minds that occurs between Michael and Phillip, mainly due to the ethical ambiguity of their positions. While Michael is clearly evil, the way Phillip treats his bisexual girlfriend, along with his habit of breaking and entering, denies the officer the clear moral high ground. There's also a strong queer subtext in the relationship between Philip and Michael. Usually, I find homoerotic subtexts like this to be interesting or delightful, though in this case the preferred adjectives would be disturbing and extremely creepy.

At the end of the day, Feed is too muddled in it's thematic context and many scenes are deliberately stomach turning. Add to that the choppy, rapid editing and you have one movie that should not be fed to anyone.

Excepting those individuals in the target audience, namely hardcore horror fans, anyone who dines on Feed risks the cinematic equivalent of food poisoning.

The Rating


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September 8, 2011

Queer Review: Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Diamonds Are Forever
Director: Guy Hamilton
Writer: Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz. Based upon the novel Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming.
Cast: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Putter Smith, Bruce Glover, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Bruce Cabot

The iconic spy extraordinaire, James Bond, finds himself battling his arch nemisis Ernst Stavro Blofeld over diamond trading in this classic from 1971. An otherwise excellent adventure, Diamonds Are Forever suffers from one major problem, the homophobic portrayal of the main villains.

After apparently dispatching the evil megalomaniac Blofeld, James Bond (Sean Connery) is called in by the British Intelligence Agency to investigate a diamond smuggling operation. This takes him to Amsterdam, working with Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) who is involved with the operation. After an attempt on Bond's life, it's off to America, where Bond finds himself uncovering a much larger conspiracy involving the stolen diamonds, a mysterious research operation, and a reclusive playboy.

The Queering
On one hand, I found this seventh outing for James Bond to be rather entertaining, at least outside of a snooze inducing car chase during the final half. On the other hand, I cannot ignore the overt homophobia embedded in the characterization of the two evil henchman Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint. Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint are obviously intended to be a gay couple, even going so far to hold hands at one point. Even Blofeld gets in on the act by crossdressing briefly for one scene and for no apparent reason to boot.

The message is pretty clear, being gay or gender non-conforming is something done only by evil sociopaths. James Bond - whose position as the hero makes him the example all guys should exemplify - is a womanising paragon of rampant masculinity. Of course this was a normal practise for Hollywood, until Cruising came along and set such a bad example. However, this does not make the sin excusable.

This is unfortunate, as Diamonds Are Forever is one of the better entries into the James Bond franchise. I enjoyed it a lot more then when watching the critically acclaimed Casino Royale (whose dark and gritty tone made for a strong entry, but I hated the ending). However the blatant homophobia, and brief instance of transphobia, cause the whole project to sink faster than an exploding oil rig.

While an entertaining movie, this is no diamond in the rough, so feel free to keep on putting this off for forever.

The Rating


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

September 7, 2011

Queer Review: The Crying Game (1992)

The Crying Game
Director: Neil Jordan
Writer: Neil Jordan
Cast: Forest Whitaker, Miranda Richardson, Stephen Rea, Adrian Dunbar, Jaye Davidson, Jim Broadbent

Perhaps one of the most critically lauded queer themed films of all time, The Crying Game certainly lives up to it's reputation. There is not a single misstep, bad performance, or wasted moment in a film that slowly builds tension to the maximum level possible.

In the first part, a British soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker) who has been taken hostage by the IRA, forges a relationship with one of the kidnappers, Fergus (Stephen Rea). As it becomes increasingly evident that the IRA will have to execute Jody, he asks Fergus to deliver a message to his girlfriend Dil (Jaye Davidson). Once the hostage situation is resolved, Fergus decides to keep his promise to Jody, and goes looking for Dil. When Fergus finds Dil, he fails to mention his part in Jody's disappearance and Dil fails to mention that he is a male to female transsexual.

The Queering
The Crying Game succeeds where so many thrillers fail precisely because it builds suspense through developing charachters and their relationships with each other, rather than through pyrotechnics, gun fights, and car chases. There are only two significant action sequences and neither lasts more than a few minutes.

The acting is superlative across the board. As Fergusen, Stephen Rea manages to constantly show us the struggle going on beneath the surface of a man who is frequently caught between his duty and his humanity. Equally good is Jaye Davidson's beguiling performance as Dil. The relationship that develops between Stephen Rea's Fergusen and Forest Whitaker's Jody is complex and multilayered, as is the relationship that later forms between Fergusen and Jaye Davidson's Dil. Each pairing starts out with at least one participant wearing a mask, be it the bag that is placed over Jody's head, or the metaphorical mask that prevents Fergusen and Jaye from initially knowing the reality of the other's truth nature.

There are several memorable sequences as well. One is that which follows after Fergusen volunteers to kill Jody. The second has Fergusen getting his hair cut at Dil's Saloon and then following him to a nearby bar where Jim Broadbent's bartender acts as a mediator for their conversation. The final is during the final build up to the climax, where Fergusen asks Dil to cut her hair and pretend to be a man in order to safely hide Dil from the antagonists.

Safe to say, The Crying Game is among the greatest queer movies ever made. If more filmmakers were as creatively daring as Neil Jordan, cinema would offer movie buffs far fewer reasons to cry.

Highly recommended. No matter what the rules are, The Crying Game is always worth playing.

The Rating


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

September 6, 2011

Setting the Record Queer: Top 20 Things That Owe Their Existence to Queers

After reading the Bilerico Project's list of Top 20 Most Important LGBT figures by Adam Polaski, I thought that it would be a good idea of to create an entirely different sort of list. Rather then focusing on individuals, I decided to focus on the accomplishments of queer (or likely queer) individuals that had a positive or significant impact on human history.

Keith Stern's "Queers in History, The Comprehnsive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgenders"

List of transgender people
List of gay, lesbian, or bisexual people

George Washington Carver was gay. . . and other bits of lgbt black history you probably didn't know by Alvin McEwen.

Thus, I give you:
The Top 20 Things That Owe Their Existence to Queers (or at least a hearty thanks)

20 - Copernicus's Model of the Solar System
Queer to thank: Georg Joachim Rheticus

Nicolaus Copernicus developed the heliocentric model of the solar system which still happens to be viewed as true today, despite the best efforts of the Flat Earth Society. In any case, Copernicicus's work could have been lost, if it had not been for the efforts of George Joachim Rheticus. Copernican scholar Edward Rosen posited, "Is it going to far to claim that without Rheticus, no Copernicus, without Copernicus, no moving Earth; and without geodynamic astonomy, no modern science?" In 1551, Rheticus was accused of trying to seduce a 17 year old male, which resulted in Rheticus being exiled from Leipzig for 101 years.

19 - Sexuality of the Human Male, Sexuality of the Human Female, Coming of Age in Samoa, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies
Queers to thank: Alfred Kinsey, Margaret Mead

Combined the above works led directly to what is referred to as the Sexual Revolution, a cultural phenomenon whose fallouts are still being felt today. It probably should not come as much of a shock that both of these individuals were bisexual. Kinsey expiremented with sexual relationships with both sexes. Mead herself was married 3 times and letters published after Mead's death revealed that she had an intimate relationship with Rhoda Metraux.

18 - The British Broadcasting Corporation
Queer to thank: John Reith, 1st Baron Reith

John Reith played a critical role in the formation of the BBC, so much so that the term Reithian became a word, describing his particular management style. The BBC model that Reith pionered - based around his summary of what the BBC's mission should be, Inform, Educate, Entertain - also influenced other broadcast organizations such as PBS.

Reith himself was intimately involved with a man named Charlie Bowser, the depth and intimacy of the relationship which was revealed in Reith's diaries when they were analysed by Ian McIntyre.

17 - Keynesian Economics
Queer to Thank: John Maynard Keynes

Keynesian Economics, first presented in the 1936 book The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes, has profoundly influenced economic theory ever since. Keynesian Economics was the reason for the controversial stimulus plans backed by President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

Keynes was always open about his sexuality and the numerous affairs he had with men.

16 - Peanuts, Soybeans, Pecans, Sweet Potatoes
Queer to thank: George Washington Carver

Here is an exercise for anybody reading this list. Go to your fridge or any cabinet in your house. Pick an item at random. Chances are, the item you are now holding, would not exist in it's current form if it were not for the work of George Washington Carver, a black man born in 1864 Missouri. Carver is credited with developing hundreds of uses for peanuts, soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes. He also developed or popularized uses for such products as diverse as shaving cream, bleach, buttermilk, chili sauce, instant coffee, linoleum, mayonaise, meat tenderizer, shoe polish, talcum powder, cosmetics, and synthetic rubber.

By promoting peanuts, soybeans, pecan trees, and sweet potatoes as alternative crops, Carver helped save agriculture in the south, as these products restored soil nutrients lost thanks to cotton farming, with monopolized farmland at the time.

Carver is thought to have been intimate with Austin W. Curtis, Jr.

15 - Eradication of Tuberculosis
Queer to thank: Alan L. Hart

In the early Twentieth Century, tuberculosis was the number one killer in the Unites States. Today, less then 10 percent of the U.S. population typically test positive for the disease and for those that are found to be infected, the chances of survival are dramatically better than they were 100 years ago. This can be attributed in part to the efforts of Alan L. Hart, who innovated numerous ways of detecting and treating the disease. Early detection methods pionered by Hart, such as using x-ray screenings, also helped prevent the disease from infecting more patients since doctors could quarantine those individuals found to have tuberculosis. His efforts are credited with helping to contain TB and therefore saving thousands of lives.

Born Alberta Lucille Hart, Alan L. Hart was among the first female to male transsexuals to have a hysterectomy and gonadectomy performed in the United States.

14 - Abolition of Slavery (United States)
Queer to thank: Abraham Lincoln
Honorable Mentions: Susan B. Anthony, Alexander Hamilton

Although slavery would not be abolished entirely in the Unites States until the passage of the 13th Amendment, it was Abraham Lincoln who first wrote the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves on a large scale. Without the Emancipation Proclamation or Lincoln's leadership during the Amercan Civil War, the North could have lost and slavery would probably have continued in the Confederacy.

Lincoln wrote one of the earliest explicit gay themed poems in American Literature and shared a bed with Captain David V. Derickson, who was the head of his guards.

Other notable queers involved in the abolishment were suffragette Susan B. Anthony and Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton even used Britain's support for slavery as one reason for the colonies seceding from Great Britain.

13 - Woman's Suffrage
Queer to Thank: Susan B. Anthony
Honorable Mentions, Anna Elizabeth Dickinson, Nancy Cook, Jane Addams, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Charley Parkhurst, Eva Gore-Booth

Susan B. Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association, one of the earliest organizations dedicated to woman's rights in the United States. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton originally wrote the original draft of what would eventually become the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads as follows:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation

Other notable members of the suffrage movement include Anthony's lover, Anna Elizabeth Dickinson as well as Nancy Cook, who became the intimate of Eleanore Roosevelt.

Trivia: It is thought that Charley Parkhurst was possibly the first biological female to vote in the United States. Parkhurst was stagecoach driver in California and after his death in 1879, it was discovered that Parkurst was not biologically male.

12 - The Napoleonic Code
Queer to thank: Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès
Honorable Mention: Napoleon Bonaparte

The Napoleonic Code was written by Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès, who was open about his sexuality and preference for men. The Napoleonic Code is one of the most influential documents of the modern era. Napoleon biographer Robert Holtman declared in his The Napoleonic Revolution that The Napoleonic Code was among the few documents to have changed the entire world.

The code was originally enacted in the European territories that Napoleon had conquered. Specifically, the Napoleonic Code forbade special privileges based upon birthright, secret or unpublished laws, special laws that applied to specific incidents, and ex post facto laws (laws written and applied to events that have already occurred). Just as importantly, The Napoleonic Code reformed judicial procedures and the treatment of criminals.

As for the Emperor himself, he was rumored to have had many male lovers among his aides, guards, and fellow soldiers. According to biographer Evangiline Bruce, Napoleon once wrote a note declaring that whenever he met a good looking man, Napoleons feelings were felt "first in the loins and in another place I will leave unnamed."

11 - Helicopters, Modern Aviation
Queers to thank: Leonardo da Vinci, Howard Hughes

Leonardo da Vinci was the legendary Renaissance artist who was arrested twice following accusations that he had engaged in same sex activity. Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno, who inherited the Mona Lisa, had an unusually close and suggestive relationship with the da Vinci. However, one possibility regarding who the real life subject of the Mona Lisa was provides a scintillating clue here. This proposal put forth by Susan Dorothea White, has that the Mona Lisa was actually a self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci in drag. Also, Keith Stern claims that an article published in the April 1995 edition of Scientific America described a computer scan that came to that conclusion as well.

As for helicopters, Leonardo da Vinci designed many fantastical mechanical devices, but unfortunately the materials necessary for those devices to actually work were not created until many years after his death. One such device was a primitive helicopter, with Leonardo's design used as the inspiration for the modern flying contraption.

Howard Hughes was the producer and director for The Outlaw a movie filled with homoerotic subtexts (and Jane Russell's bosoms). In her autobiography, Greta Keller claimed that Hughes engaged in a sexual relationship with her husband, David Bacon. Bette Davis who had a sexual relationship with Hughes, claimed that Hughes frequently liked to fantasize that she was a man.

Howard Hughes is credited with quite a few aviation innovations and set many world records flying air-planes that he had commissioned. Hughes was awarded several aviation awards, in addition to the Congressional Gold Medal in 1939 for his contributions to the industry.

10 - The computer you are reading this list on
Queer to thank: Alan Turring
Honorable Mentions: Lynn Conway, Mary Ann Horton, Sophie Wilson, Audrey Tang, Kate Craig-Wood

Alan Turing was an early pioneer in the field of computer science and artificial intelligence. His work included developing the Turing Test, which is intended to test if a computer has achieved human level sentience. He also helped design the ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) which was the first computer built in Great Britain. Turing's numerous accomplishments have lead many to declare him the father of the fields of computer science and artificial intelligence.

Tragically, Alan Turing was convicted for committing homosexual acts and sentenced to probation and chemical castration. This punishment is thought to have led to him committing suicide in 1954 at the age of 41.

Lynn Conway is a computer engineer who first worked at IBM, but was fired in 1968 when she transitioned into a woman. She is credited with having developed numerous computer science innovations, many whose names make no sense to me, such as generalised dynamic instruction handling and Mead & Conway revolution in VLSI design.

Mary Ann Horton is a computer scientist and trans activist whose innovations aided the developement of Usenet and later the Internet itself.

Sophie Wilson is a trans woman who designed the Acorn Micro Computer.

Audrey Tang, who transitioned from a man to a woman in 2005, is a Taiwanese free software programmer, who taught herself Perl at age 12 and is considered to be one of the "ten greats of Taiwanese computing."

Kate Craig-Wood is a British innovater, co-founder and managing director of Memset, the first British carbon neutral ISP. She is a proponent of greater energy efficiency in electronic technology. Kate Craig-Wood transitioned in 2005.

9 - Christianity
Queer to thank: Alexander the Great
Honorable Mentions: Desideririus Erasmus, Théodore de Bèze, King James I

The exploits of Alexander the Great, who was lovers with Hephaestion, are legendary. Most people know that he conquered "The Known World" spreading Greek Culture as he went. What many people, outside of historians, are not so aware of, is that this Hellenization (as Alexander's spread of Greek Culture is referred to) later helped ease the subsequent growth and spread of Christianity.

Desideririus Erasmus was the controversial writer/editor behind several influential editions of both the Old and New Testaments. Erasmus's writings also included many letters to his fellow monk, Servatius Roger, that were highly suggestive and included phrases like, "you are half my soul... I have wooed you both unhappily and relentlessly." Roger's responses were usually more to the point and included phrases like, "what is wrong with you?"

Théodore de Bèze was a follower of John Calvin and played an important role in the Protostant Reformation. After the death of John Calvin, Bèze succeded Calvin as the leader of the reformation. Bèze was also criticized for a relationship he had with a young man, Audebert, whom Bèze wrote numerous love poems.

King James I, the man responsible for the King James Bible, had a secret passage that linked his royal bedchambers with those of George Villiers, with whom it was thought that King James I was intimate with. King James I was also rumored/thought to have been intimate with others, including male courtiers, Robert Carr, and Esmé Stewart.

8 - The Great March on Washington, The Civil Rights Movement
Queers to thank: Bayard Rustin
Honorable Mentions: Alain LeRoy Locke, Langston Hughes, Angela Davis, James Baldwin, Alice Walker

Bayard Rustin was the chief organizer behind the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. Rustin was also a highly influential advisor to King and was the individual responsible for convincing King to adopt non-violence as a key strategy. Rustin was open about his sexuality and in 1986 gave a speech entitled "The New Niggers Are Gays".

Other important contributions to the Civil Rights Movement came from Alain LeRoy Locke, Langston Hughes, Angela Davis, James Baldwin, and Alice Walker.

7 - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations
Queer to thank: Eleanore Roosevelt

Eleanore Roosevelt chaired the committee that drafted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has proven enormously influential on international law and U.N. policy since it was first adopted. Roosevelt also campaigned heavily for the formation of the United Nations and founded the UN Association of the United States for that purpose.

Roosevelt is thought to have been intimate with suffragette Nancy Cook.

6 - [Insert title of pretty much any major, significant, or popular work of art here]
Very short list of queers to thank: William Shakespeare, Sapho, Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde, Graham Chapin, Cole Porter, James Ivory, Roland Emmerich, Elton John, Langston Hughes, Dee Palmer, Leonardo Da Vinci, Donatello, Michelangelo, Rupaul, Lady Gaga, Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Lorraine Hansberry, Countee Cullen, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Octavia E. Butler, Billie Holiday, Jacqueline Woodson, Wanda Sykes, Bill T. Jones, Zora Neale Hurston, E. Lynn Harris, Alvin Ailey, Pedro Almodóvar, Charlie Anders, Molly Cutpurse, Candy Darling, Harisu, Dana International, Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Terre Thaemlitz, Pieter-Dirk Uys, Jin Xing, Antonia San Juan, Witi Ihimaera, Bessie Smith, Sylvester James

Nearly every artistic form, genre, and work, from the highbrow films of James Ivory to the lowbrow sci-fi action pornos of Roland Emmerich, to the pop songs of Lady Gaga, there is probably not a single work of art that does not owe some dept, to some queer, somewhere. If a work of art was not created by a queer, then it was probably inspired by some other work that was created by a queer.

5 - U.S. Constitution
Queer to thank: Alexander Hamilton
Honorable Mention: Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben

Although the Federalist Papers were written anonymously, historians generally attribute their primary authorship to Alexander Hamilton. The purpose of the Federalist Papers was to argue that the U.S. Constitution should be ratified by the states. Alexander Hamilton was possibly an intimate of John Laurens, to whom Hamilton wrote, "I wish, Dear Laurens, it might be in my power, by action rather than words, to convince you that I love you."

Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was an important military leader in the Revolutionary War, who helped General Washington install discipline into the entire Continental Army. A hero of the American Revolution, Steuben came to America and the aid of General Washington after he was accused of "improper relations" in his homeland of Prussia. Steuben was thought to have been the intimate of John H. Mulligan, William North, and Ben Walker.

4 - Philosophy
Queers to thank: Socrates, Plato
Honorable Mentions: Marsilo Ficino, Francis Bacon, Francesco Algaratti, Goerge Santayana, Gerald Heard, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Ram Dass, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Hazel Barnes, Marquis de Sade, Simone de Beauvoir, Allan Bloom, Judith Butler, Alain LeRoy Locke, Peter Gomes, Saint Anselm, Audre Lorde, Jane Addams, Didier Eribon, Raewyn Connell, Deirdre McCloskey

Thales may be credited as being the "first" wester Philosopher, but it was Socrates, along with his student Plato, took it to the next level. So radical and offensive were the notions of Socrates to the ancient Athenians, that he was pretty much the original Marilyn Manson. After Socrates was put to death following accusations of corrupting the Athenian youth and questioning the existence of the Gods, Plato fled Athens in disgust, before returning to found the original Academia.

In addition to having been teacher and student, Socrates and Plato are also thought to have been lovers. Plato argues in the Symposium that same sex love is the highest form of love of all.

Trivia: Plato was the teacher of Aristotle and Aristotle in turn would tutor Alexander the Great, making the total influence of Plato and Socrates on world history and culture so great to be immeasurable.

3 - Calculus, Various Mathematical Theories
Queer to thank: Isaac Newton
Honorable Mentions: Andrey Nikolaevich Kolmogorov, Sofia Kovalevskaya, Alan Turing

Granted, Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz developed Calculus at the same time, so maybe Calculus does not owe it's existence to Calculus. However, Leibniz's and Newton's versions of Calculus differed on several points, so Calculus can be said to at least owe a debt and a hearty thanks to both. Isaac Newton also developed an early way of calculating the roots of a function and made many other independent and significant contributions to the field of Mathematics.

Isaac Newton is believed to have been intimate with Fatio de Duillier and Newton became depressed when Duillier moved out/broke up in 1693.

Other important mathematical theories were developed by queers such as Andrey Nicolaevich Kolmogorov and Alan Turring. Furthermore, anyone who thinks that woman cannot compete with men on the same level with regards to fields such as mathematics should read the story of Sofia Kovalevskaya. What makes her notable was that Sofia Kovalevskaya was forbidden from studying mathematics in Russia, due to being a woman. Outside of Russia, Sofia Kovalevskaya was forced to obtain alternative means to obtain advanced degrees, as the university where she was studying would not even allow her to audit classes. Her contributions to the field of mathematics include the discover of the "Kovalevsky top" and the Cauchy-Kovalevski theorem.

2 - Modern Science
Queers to thank: Isaac Newton
Honorable Mentions: Alexander von Humboldt, Count Justus von Liebig, Alan Turing, Georg Joachim Rheticus

Isaac Newton did not develop calculus on a whim, he did it to help with his work creating the 3 Laws of Physics that bear is name. Newton's theories held until Einstein came along and made everything relative. Physicists and Engineers still rely on Newton's equations in situations involving the macro universe and speed not approaching the speed of light. Furthermore, Einstein could not have developed his theories without the previous work of Newton.

Count Justus von Liebig, who developed the modern chemistry lab set up that is still used today and will probably be familiar to anyone who took chemistry in high-school or college.

1 - Democracy
Queer to thank: Solon of Athens
Honorable Mention: Alexander the Great

Solon of Athens is credited with instituting legal reforms that helped pave the way for the development of democracy in Ancient Athens. Solon of Athens also composed poems expressing his love for boys.

The Hellenization brought about Alexander the Great, also helped with the spread of Democracy, in addition to Christianity.

Queer Review: Set if Off (1996)

Set it Off
Director: F. Gary Gray
Writers: Takashi Bufford and Kate Lanier
Cast: Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, Kimberly Elise, John C. McGinley, Blair Underwood

From my perspective, Set It Off had all the potential to be a great movie, but unfortunately falls victim to bad melodrama and over the top histrionics. Too bad that an excellent cast and a premise brimming with intriguing possibilities cannot set anything of worth off.

After witnessing a brutal murder during a robbery at the bank where Lida 'Stony' Newsom (Jada Pinkett Smith) worked as a teller, the bank manager fires her because she knew one of the individuals involved. After suffering this indignity, Stony then goes to work for a janitorial service, alongside her friends, Cleo (Queen Latifah), Frankie (Vivica A. Fox), and T.T. (Kimberly Elise). After Frankie and T.T. suffer their own severe indignities, the four woman band together and decide to start robbing banks in order to fight back against the system that they perceive as unjust and oppressive.

The Queering
When Henrik Ibsen wrote A Doll's House back in 1879, the ending of the play became controversial for the simple act of a woman defying her husband by slamming a door in his face. So shocking was this act of feminist bravado, that this became known "the door slam heard round the world". At the time of the late 20th century, things have changed a bit and movies about woman engaging in violent and criminal behaviour barely even raise an eyebrow. However, Set It Off bears a stronger resemblence, to Thelma and Louise, right down to the sympathetic detective chasing after the female outlaws. A line of dialogue even references the earlier Ridley Scott picture.

Watching Set It Off I could not help but mourn the fact that the talents of Jada Pinkett Smith, Vivicia A. Fox, Queen Latifah, and even John C. McGinley, are wasted on this project. All of them are capable of great work, but the script constantly lets them down. Scribes Takashi Bufford and Kate Lanier do not know the meaning of subtlety and every scene unfortunately features an overdose of bad melodrama and over the top histronics. Characters are either underdeveloped or inconsistently written or both. John C. McGinley's Detective Strode is a good example of this as he goes from an aggressive bully at the beginning, to willing to risk his life to reduce the chance of harm to Frankie. Some might call this character development, I call it piss poor writing.

Neeedless to say, this is the sort of movie where heroic extras will needlessly throw themselves into harms way so those with speaking parts can go on living, at least a little bit longer. Also, when Frankie's nephew is killed she screams and cries over his body and then pretty much forgets about him for the rest of the movie. No one even bothered to hold a funeral or at least mention that there was one. Frankie doesn't even seem all that affected by his death later. For me, this kind of lazy writing functions as an iceberg capable of sinking even the most Titanic cast.

The characters of course, are pretty much all types. The only exception being the lesbian Cleo, although that is mainly due to fact that Queen Latifah's larger than life performance. Cleo is by far the most interesting character of the bunch and is notable for the fact that she is regularly shown being affectionate to her partner, but no fuss is otherwise raised regarding Cleo's sexuality. At least on this one, the filmmakers got it right.

Aside from all of that, there is not much worth talking about. The action is pretty much perfunctory and standard order for the 90's. Some of the deaths at the end do manage to tug at the heartstrings, but otherwise, this is an emotionally inert movie, rather then the explosive thrill ride hinted at by the title.

Those in the target audience - woman, particularly African American woman - may better relate to the main characters and therefore find Set It Off to be a worthwhile and enjoyable movie. In my opinion though, Gray's movie is not be worth seeking out, although there is no reason to set off for someplace else if the opportunity to view it arises.

The Rating


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September 5, 2011

Queer Review: Hot Fuzz (2007)

Hot Fuzz
Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg.
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Timothy Dalton, Paddy Considine, Rafe Spall, Cate Blanchett, Steve Coogan, Peter Jackson

The second entry into the "Blood and Ice Cream" trilogy from Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost, Hot Fuzz occupies the upper echelon of action comedies. The only drawback to watching Hot Fuzz is that it will create strong cravings that Pegg, Wright, and Frost will get around and create the third and final entry to the trilogy. Who doesn't want more "Blood and Ice Cream" after all?

Police officer Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is so good at his job as a London cop, that he is exiled by his superiors to Sandford, which has been declared "Village of the Year" for many years running. Nicholas soon finds himself as a fish out of water in the small town, where the most vexing problem he faces involves a runaway swan. The other Sandford police oficers all shun Angel, except for the Chief's son, Danny Butterman. While Angel initially finds Danny a nuisance, the two eventually bond while investigating a series of suspicious "accidents" that Angel eventually comes to believe are the work of a serial killer.

The Queering
Shaun of the Dead was a romantic comedy that happened to feature a zombie apocalypse. It was a huge success and for Hot Fuzz screenwriters Pegg and Wright use a modified formula where the romantic comedy has been replaced by a homoerotic romance between two cops. Angel and Nicholas "meet cute" while their polar opposite personalities keep them apart initially. Later, they bond over action movies like Point Break and Bad Boys II, even falling asleep together on the couch. When Nicholas and Danny are at a carnival, Nicholas wins a cuddly Monkey for Danny at a shooting gallery. During one key scene, Nicholas realizes he forgot Danny's birthday and rushes out to buy him flowers. When Danny gets upset over Nicholas's bizare behaviour, he "breaks up" with Nicholas and returns the Cuddly Monkey.

At the end, once the central mystery has been solved, Nicholas and Danny realize their true feelings for each other and Nicholas turns down a lucrative offer to come back to London in exchange for staying in Sandford with Danny. Don't we all love a happy ending? All in all, I believe that the filmmaker's were well aware of this subtext and put it in for the purpose of satirizing the more subtle homoerotic subtext that usually exists in action movies between mis-matched male leads.

The plot of Hot Fuzz starts out at a moderate pace at the beginning, before getting bogged down in the middle. On one hand, there are few films that demonstrate this level of both breadth and detail, on the other hand, fidgeting may set in during the middle section. Thankfully, the final act is a blast as every action movie cliché gets a beat down, it's ass kicked, and then handed to it on a platter.

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg have strong chemestry together. In some ways they could be considered a modern day Laurel and Hardy. Hot Fuzz also boosts an impressive supporting cast with the likes of Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Timothy Dalton. Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan play the conspiring London commanders who have Nicholas sent to Sandford. That's not even counting the cameos by Kate Blanchet as Nicholas's ex-girlfriend and Peter Jackson, as a psychotic Santa Claus who stabbed Nicholas in the hand. It's a testament to the talents of the team of Wright, Pegg, and Frost that they were able to attract such a high profile cast.

Fuzzy or not, this is one hot ticket item worth seeking out.

The Rating


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September 4, 2011

Queer Review: Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976)

Next Stop, Greenwhich Village
Director: Paul Mazursky
Writer: Paul Mazursky
Cast: Lenny Baker, Shelley Winters, Ellen Greene, Lois Smith, Christopher Walken, Dori Brenner, Antonio Fargas, Jeff Goldblum

For a film billed as comedy, Next Stop, Greenwhich Village is awfully depressing. Suicide, infidelity, and abortion all come together to create the thematic underpinnings of a story about a man trying to escape the reaches of his overbearing mother. Sound like a laugh to anyone else?

When aspiring actor Larry Lipinsky (Lenny Baker) moves to Greenwhich Village, it is primarily to escape the clutches of his overbearing mother Faye Lapinsky (Shelley Winters), although he soon finds out that 5 miles is nowhere near far enough for that purpose. Soon after moving, he finds himself falling into a group of outsiders that include the lothorio Robert Fulmer (Christopher Walken), the suicidal cat lady Anita Cunningham (Lois Smith), the styling gay and black Bernstein Chandler (Antonio Fargas) and Larry's girlfriend Sarah Roth (Ellen Greene). When Sarah announces to Larry that she is pregnant and that she plans on having an abortion, he is devestated but vows to continue to support her. Unbeknownst to him though, is that Robert may actually be the father of the unborn child.

The Queering
Apparently Next Stop, Greenwhich Village was well received when it was first released back in 1976. It is my unfortunate duty to report though, that Paul Mazursky's film has not aged well. The parts that were apparantly supposed to be funny back in the day, such as a scene where Larry mocks Marlon Brando's role in A Streetcar Named Desire, ring hollower than a hullo-hoop when viewed today. While I cannot imagine it was intended as such, but with all the humor stripped away Next Stop, Greenwhich Village starts to feel like an empty exercise in nihilistic expression.

That is not to say that we are dealing with a total failure in filmmaking here. Between the gritty realism and the unusually well drawn characters, I probably would have liked this a lot more if the parts that were meant to be funny actually could have made me laugh. As it is, I felt like I was watching a bunch of oddball characters revel in their oddballness. Sometimes this can work, but more often not, it results in a picture that feels gratingly gratuitous and self indulgent.

Granted, a few isolated scenes do work, such as those featuring a young Jeff Goldblum playing a character who wants to act but is scorned by the movie making establishment at every turn. I also chuckled at a few of the scenes where Larry finds himself having nightmares about the iron gripped hold his mother has on his life. Seriously, if I had been Larry I would have skipped Greenwhich village and moved to Los Angeles the first chance I got.

Another one for the plus column is the fact that Bernstein Chandler is an early sensitive portrayal of a gay black man who is neither self loathing nor ends up dead by the end. Although admittedly, Chandler does come off as a sassy black stereotype, I am willing to forgive such a lapse due to the time period and how few and far between queer themed movies were.

In the long run though, Next Stop, Greenwhich Village manages to do too few things right in order for it to come across as anything other than an occasionally interesting, albeit rather dated cinematic relic.

If you hear a conducter saying Next Stop, Greewhich Village be sure to keep on going. This is one only for those with an interest in the history of portrayals of queer characters.

The Rating

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