August 17, 2014

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies has a trailer now but little Bilbo

Went to see Guardians of the Galaxy today. Not much to report there, except it took itself a lot more seriously than it looked like it would in the trailer. But it was still entertaining in all it's 80's glory.

Oh and there was a trailer for The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies shown at the beginning. I watched it again, and the main question I have is... Bilbo who? Why even bother calling this The Hobbit other than marketing? I think there are like 6 seconds where you have a clear shot of Bilbo's face out of the entire 2 minutes of the trailer.

Also it almost deserves a trigger warning for the deadly serious mood. The style is very much the same for the trailer for The Return of the King and even uses a song from the movie itself.

Here be the trailer:

August 16, 2014

Queer Review: Nymph()maniac Vol. 1 (2013)

Nymph()maniac Vol. 1
Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Connie Nielsen

Overview
In Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 Lars von Trier examines the issue of female sexuality through the experiences of one woman, Joe. Volume 1 is a fascinating look at a myriad of subjects, ranging from nymphomania to fly fishing, and hopefully Volume 2 will continue what von Trier started here.

Synopsis
A battered and bruised woman, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg/Stacy Martin), is discovered battered and bruised on a sidewalk by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), who takes her in. While recuperating in his house, Joe begins to tell Seligman about her life as a woman with a voracious sexual appetite. While she regales him with tales about the 7-8 men she slept with per night, he makes references to fly fishing and the Fibonacci Sequence. Key stories that Joe tells Seligman involve her participation in The Little Flock, a club Joe formed with her best friend B and whose purpose was the denial of the existence of love, as well as her losing her virginity to Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf).

The Queering
Lars von Trier is a director who deliberately swerves between general pretentiousness and legitimate insight more frequently than a drunk driver trying to zig zag through an obstacle course. Naturally, he is a divisive filmmaker amongst critics. Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 tones down some of his more off putting qualities, creating a final product that is at least highly watchable.

Lars von Trier has a habit of focusing his lens on female characters who fall into the Broken Birds trope and Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 is no different. It's one of the reasons that von Trier has been accused of misogyny in the past. However, here he makes a clear effort to present Joe in a non-judgmental light. Seligman offers he up reassurances to Joe (who refers to herself as the worst human being ever) that her behavior is not as bad as it seems and her sexual appetite is not the result of some dark trauma in her childhood.

In Vol. 2, Seligman will "come out" as asexual (a first for a character in major motion picture I believe) and Joe will experiment with BDSM, along with engaging in a lesbian relationship. However, for part one, all of the relationships are hetero and there aren't any hints regarding Seligman's sexuality (unless you count that most of his interests and obsessions, like fly fishing, are completely non-sexual). That is, there really isn't anything *really* approaching a queer subtext in Vol. 1.

Performance wise, the most memorable one in Vol. 1 belongs to Stacy Martin, who plays young Joe's sexual awakening with a verve rarely seen from a performer of any age. As the older and more damaged Joe, Charlotte Gainsbourg is more subdued. Stellan Skarsgård doesn't have much to do besides listen and react non-judgmentally to Joe. Those who associate Shia LaBeouf solely with the Transformers films may be surprised at what he puts on display here (both bodily and acting wise). Uma Thurman has what amounts to an extended cameo, but she has fun with it in a scene dripping with gallows humor.

While Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 is a worthwhile endeavor, the more interesting (and problematic) content is contained in Nymphomaniac Vol. 2. However, it is possible to view Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 as a an almost complete motion picture, and it's non-judgemental take on female sexuality means it has enough virtues to stand on its own.

Recommendation
Nymphomaniacs and non-nymphomaniacs alike should be able to get something out of this film.

The Rating
3 out of 4 stars.

Trailer


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

August 13, 2014

Queer Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Writer: Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Evan Daugherty. Based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Tutle characters created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman.
Cast: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Johnny Knoxville, Jeremy Howard, Danny Woodburn, Tony Shalhoub, Tohoru Masamune, Whoopi Goldberg, Minae Noji, Abby Elliott

Overview
This most recent incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise manages to capture some of the fun one expects from a film bearing the title Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Synopsis
Intrepid reporter Apri O'Neil (Megan Fox) is desperate to land a big story about a vigilante group fighting against the dreaded Foot Clan but finds herself being relegated to covering puff pieces by her employer. However, during her investigation into the Foot Clan and the vigilantes pays off, and April manages to snap a few key photos of the vigilantes, who turn out to be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and are led by the anthropomorphic rat, Splinter (Tony Shalhoub). The four turtles it turns out, were once Aprils' pets and she had named after famous Renaissance Artists: Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Donatello), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), and Donatello (Jeremy Howard). Unfortunately, Aprils' involvement with the group leads The Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) directly to the Turtles liar. After suffering a devastating attack, the turtles must regroup to save Splinter and stop Sacks and The Shredder from releasing a deadly toxin that will kill thousands.

The Queering
I grew up in a home without a television, as my mom refused to pay for that unnecessary contraption. What I do remember though, is watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at my babysitters and I visited my Dad on weekends, who did not share my mom's Luddite views on the boob tube. I was, back in the day, a bit of an obsessed fan. I owned the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action toys and a punching bag with one of the characters emblazoned on it -- I think it was Michelangelo as he was my favorite Turtle. I also remember watching the first two movies repeatedly when I was visiting my Grandma Gladstone. As it was, she owned a TV, which since she lived in the country, only got one channel through one of the biggest satellite dishes ever, which sat out in the middle of the field across the street. Thus, one of the primary activities I engaged in at Grandma Gladstone's being watching movies on VHS.

In any event, the current movie holds up pretty well. The role of the Shredder and the foot clan has been reduced to being Sacks' henchmen, which is a disappointment. On the other hand, April O'Neil has been given an expanded role, including playing a key part of the Turtle's origins. Megan Fox is not the strongest of performers, but does a good job in presenting April O'Neils' determination in becoming a crack reporter. Michelangelo spends a fair amount of the movie trying to convince her to be his beard. In a sense, the key appeal of the Turtles is the ridiculousness of the premise. There isn't much for the filmmakers to do, other than to make sure the goofiness and humor are translated to the big screen. Personally, I thought this at least was done well enough.

The four Turtles are named after Renaissance artists. Three of them, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Rapheal, are thought by historians to have been gay or bi. Michelangelo engaged in numerous same-sex affairs, primarily with the male models he based his work on. Donatello once chased a thief with the intention of killing the criminal, but ended up being seduced by him instead. Leonardo made a self portrait of himself in drag into one of the most recognizable paintings of all time (if analysis of the bone structure in the Mona Lisa's face is correct). (Source: Queers in History by Keith Stern)

Meanwhile, the one turtle who is not named after a Renaissance artist who was as queer as a 3 dollar bill, was Rafeal, who is presented as a perpetually angry warrior who rebels against Leo. What else could Rafael represent, but a warning against all of the dangers and negative aspects inherent to the Heterosexual Lifestyle?

All things considered, the conclusion is obvious. Given all the hours I spent watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles growing up combined with their queer inspirations, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made me gay. Clearly, the LGBTQ activist looking to lead fresh, young youthful members into the homosexual lifestyle could not a find a better recruiting tool and the Gay Agenda has no better weapon in it's arsenal, than Leo, Mikey, Raf, and Donnie.

Recommendation
There is enough Turtle Power in this film to be worth it for fans to check out. And be sure to bring a few potential recruits along as well!

The Rating
3 pink shells out of 4.

Trailer


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

August 5, 2014

Queer Review: The Trial (1962)

The Trial
Director: Orson Welles
Writer: Pierre Cholot and Orson Welles. Based on the novel The Trial by Franz Kafka.
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau, Elsa Martinelli, Suzanne Flon, Madeleine Robinson, Romy Schneider, Orson Welles, Akim Tamiroff, Max Haufler

Overview
A surreal tale about a man accused of an unknown crime, The Trial represents the best kind of cinematic absurdity to be directed by Orson Welles.

Synopsis
Josef K. (Anthony Perkins) awakens one morning to find his apartment being searched by police officers, who demand that he bribe him to make his life easier. He is told that he is under arrest but not that the crime he is being charged for. Not knowing what to do, Josef seeks the advice of L'avocat (Orson Welles) but finds his council less than useful. As he goes about trying to clear his name, the surreal experiences he undergo increase in their bizarreness. L'avocat all but tries to seduce him and after Joseph files a complaint about the police officers, he walks into a room to find them about to be whipped. As his ordeal becomes increasingly absurd, Josef becomes desperate enough to seek the advice of the painter of the courtroom judges. But for all his efforts to avoid it, Joseph K. is drawn inevitably to his ultimate fate.

The Queering
While I was working towards obtaining a criminology degree from Wilkes University (which I am still working on), I participated in an internship which involved observing court cases. Many of the people who found themselves in court, of course were poor and lacking in eduction. In most cases, it was obvious to me, that many individuals, victim and accused alike, must have found the entire experience with it's multiple hearings, appeals and counter-appeals, and adherence to technical overwhelming. In any case, I can imagine that there are many people out there who would identify quite strongly with the experiences of Joseph K.

The casting of Anthony Perkins in the role of Joseph K. was a deliberate push by Welles to add a queer subtext to the film. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review of The Trial:
Perkins was one of those actors everyone thought was gay. He kept his sexuality private, and used his nervous style of speech and movement to suggest inner disconnects. From an article by Edward Guthmann in the San Francisco Chronicle, I learn that Welles confided to his friend Henry Jaglom that he knew Perkins was a homosexual, "and used that quality in Perkins to suggest another texture in Josef K, a fear of exposure."

There are other ways that The Trial suggests that Josef is not entirely straight, although these primarily boil down to him being seduced by a series of woman and having Josef fail to return any kind of affection back to them. A late scene has him being chased down a long corridor by a gaggle of female teenagers. However, a more interesting subtext emerges though, when L'avocate comments that being accused makes men more attractive, right before requesting that one of Josef K.s' fellow accused kiss his ring.

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of surrealist motion pictures, but for me The Trial works. There is a bit of writing advice that goes that it is important for characters to want something, even if it is simply a glass of water. The problem I find with surrealist films (or absurdist narratives in general) is that such stories tend to forget this advice and present characters who lack the most rudimentary of motivation. Josef K. at least, clearly wants something, to prove his innocence. It is just unfortunate that he is forced to do so under the most absurd of circumstances. It helps in no small measure, that Orson Welles with his astounding visual storytelling abilities is at the helm. Visually, this is almost as impressive an achievement as Citizen Kane. Welles was clearly willing to push the envelope as far as he can with each picture he made (and retained control over) and this is evident in every shot of The Trial.

Recommendation
Would be worth being tried in the most Kafkaesque of trials in order to see.

The Rating
3 stars out of 4.

Trailer


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

July 24, 2014

Queering The Bible: Was Eve the first Transgender Woman?

Recently, the local paper where I grew up, The Daily Star, ran an article highlighting the experiences of a transgender man, Julian Pecenco.

As surely as the sun sets in the West every night, a few days later a transphobic letter showed up in the opinion section written from someone from my hometown of Otego. The letter itself is not worth linking to, but suffice to say it threw out the same old claim that God made Adam and Eve, man and woman.

The first problem with this claim is purely logical. If Adam and Eve were the first, and thus only two people that God made at that time, that would mean that God would have been restricted to two genders right at the outset. Therefore, we cannot assume as the population grew, that there is anything to say that God did not intend for more genders to become a part of the human population. And if we consider the existence of intersex people, it would appear that any Creator God (if there was indeed a mystical creator of the universe) then we have support the idea that the only reason God only created two sexes at the beginning (if we accept a literal reading of The Bible) was because he was limited to two individuals to create sexes for. And if you really want to get technical, there are also species that can transition between biological sex, which would also be evidence that God does not seem too intent that any of his creations should be stuck in one role for life.

The second problem with saying that God creating Adam and Eve, man and woman, is that, well, this is not precisely what happens in The Bible. That is, there are two different creation stories recorded in the first two chapters of Genesis. The first chapter lays out the "God created the world in 6 days and on the 7 day he rested" that creationists like to cling to. But more importantly, it dictates that God created man and woman on the same day. The second chapter is the one that gives the story of Eve being created from Adam's rib. The discrepancy between these stories is what led to the insertion of Lilith, or Adam's first wife, into the Genesis story.

However, it's not Lilith I want to talk about, but the story of Eve. If Eve really was created from Adam's rib, then Eve was created using Adam's man rib. And by man rib, I mean that rib came from a body God himself had assigned as male. And given that Adam never protested the label, who are we to question it? Thus, if Eve was created from a male assigned body part, but ended up a woman, would this not mean that Eve was the first transgender woman? At the very least, God seemed okay with the transitioning between sex and gender right at the outset of creation.

I'm just saying, if you want to read The Bible literally, then this where one winds up.

Queer Issue: Gay Nazis and Transgender Serial Killers: How Filmmakers Queer up Historical Villainy

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, is a film that depicts 4 Italian fascists torturing, and ultimately murdering a group of innocent youth. In spite of it being hailed as the most controversial film of all time, I find it little more than a mere curiosity. Defenders of Salo claim that it is an edgy and radical indictment of Italian Fascism. Others just call it torture porn. I myself fall into the latter category although I would also addd that it is unfortunately as queerphobic a film as they come.

I have not in fact watched Salo all the way through, I fast forwarded through the Circle of Shit sequence. But the rest of the film is only just about as unwatchable. I tried watching it a second time at one point, only to make it far enough through to feel confident that my earlier reading of the film was not entirely incorrect. Honestly, the Pasolini appears to have included no greater message in Salo other than people can be horribly cruel to each other. Or maybe it was supposed to be that Fascism creates an particularly virulent setting for people to become especially horribly cruel. In either case my response is, "excuse me while I call in Captain Obvious for a rescue mission".

Salo is particularly problematic with regards to the depictions of the Italian Fascists engaging in same sex activity, sodomy, and rape. Rape is rape, wether the victim is male or female but Pasolini depicts the Italian Fascists raping of the male characters as representing particularly heinous behavior. From the way these scenes are filmed, it is clear that Pasolini intends for we, the audience to be just that much more shocked by the male on male activity, over the other scenes of torture, rape, and general depravity. For this reason, I cannot agree with the claim that Salo represents a "radical" vision, but instead I must stress the point the point that it presents a completely conventional viewpoint with regards to sexual politics.

Just as Salo presents it's sexually liberated libertines as unmistikably queer, so too does The Damned present the NAZI SA Sturmabteilung as engaging in a gay orgy, with the officers pairing off before being disposed of on the Night of Long Knives. This is on top of The Damned's most ardent NAZI supporter, Martin, being shown engaging in a variety of queer behaviors, including his iconic drag impersonation of Marlene Dietrich.

Then there is Germany, Year Zero, which includes a NAZI trying to seduce his young charge into joining the NAZI and Homosexual lifestyles. Germany, Year Zero by the way, is apparently prestigious enough to be given a Criterion Release.

Of course, mainstream films (if Salo and The Damned can be considered mainstream) are not the only ones to link same sex desire to Nazism, pretty much every Nazi sexploitation flick (a genre which includes titles such as Love Camp Number 9 and Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, includes at least one lesbian officer amongst the NAZI's ranks.

Of course, both the NAZI's and Italian fascists persecuted those they caught engaging in same sex activities. After the Night of Long Knives and the assignation of Ernst Röhm (the openly gay commandant of the SA), the NAZI's stepped up their persecution. In the end, around 15,000 men and women would be imprisoned in camps such as Buchenwald. There they would be the victims of medical experiments, including efforts to create ex-gay therapies.

By using homophobia to condemn fascism, filmmakers commit the ironic sin of promoting a message easily found at any neo-Nazi rally.

Which brings us to the way transgender characters are presented, particularly the image of the transgender serial killer. This is an image that continues to persist up to the present day. The serial killer Ed Gein has served as inspiration for films such as Silence of the Lambs and Psycho. More recently, The X-Files: I Want to Believe paid homage to Silence of the Lambs by borrowing (or ripping off, depending on ones perspective) the plot of Silence of the Lambs, although it should be noted that the villain of I Want to Believe bore little resemblance to Gein.

But once again we have the issue of history and cinema being at odds with one another, for there is almost no evidence that Ed Gein was transgender or engaged in gender non-conforming behaviors. Instead the story of him trying to wear female body parts appears to have been created entirely out of media sensationalism.

Contrast the above examples to the frequency of stories of LGBTQ historical figures who managed to achieve greatness but who inevitably wound up being straightened out when it came time to tell their stories on film. Enigma wrote out Alan Turing from the story of the development of the Enigma machine altogether, the device which helped crack German codes used during World War II and (potentially) saved thousands of lives. Apparently, on the silver screen queers can only be Nazis, we cannot fight them.

More recently, Dallas Buyers Club took a bisexual hero in the fight against AIDS, Ron Woodroof, and presented him as straight.

When it comes depictions of transgender and transsexual historical figures, it gets worse, as their stories typically never making it to Hollywood in the first place. Their is a distinct paucity of transgender historical figures in motion pictures. Mike Newall's Stonewall never mentioned Sylvia Rivera, nor had any character that could act as a stand in, and it looks as if Roland Emmerich's upcoming Stonewall flick will follow a similar path.

Remember this, when people argue that films don't have to present an individuals sexual orientation, it's not so simple as presenting a character as straight or queer when the patterns of who gets straightened out and who does not, is not random. When Hollywood only presents queers as killers or NAZI's, while ignoring the stories where we are the heroes, it does nothing but reinforce the message that we are dangerous, creepy, and immoral. But the LGBTQ community is not composed (at least entirely) of killers and Nazi's, in spite of what some apparently want the public to believe. There are heroes amongst our ranks and it is important that their stories get told as well. But it is also important to remember that the villainy attributed to us, is all too frequently exaggerated.

July 19, 2014

Queer Issue: The Unfortunate Straightening Out of Hollywood Redux

It is easy to get caught up in analysis of LGBTQ related films that focus on movies in isolation without consideration of larger patterns. But those larger patterns can be more revealing than any in depth analysis of a single film can accomplish. When it comes to the presentation of characters based on LGBTQ historical figures, there are plenty of examples of films that have had no problems presenting their characters sexual orientation and gender identities with a reasonable degree of accuracy. There are also plenty of films that have even exaggerated the queerness of their characters, while on the opposite end of this issue are those that have downplayed or straightened out the sexualities and gender identities of LGBTQ historical figures.

The question then becomes, in what situations are LGBTQ historical figures most likely to retain their sexualities and gender identities or have them exaggerated and when are they going to be straightened out?

To analyze this issue, I divided up films based on LGBTQ historical figures into the following categories: Killers, Criminals and Other Villains, Neutral, LGBTQ Activists and Pioneers, Artists, and Generally Heroic. I also included films that presented certain historical figures as queer, even if the gender identity or sexuality of the historical figure has not been well established or is otherwise known. In order to include as wide a range of films as possible in this analysis, I have included films that are heavily fictionalized or merely used certain historical figures for inspiration. Films in this category are marked with a ✦. Films made during the Hays Code, which banned depictions of same sex sexuality, are marked with an asterisk.

Here are how the results broke down:

Killers
Accurate or Exaggerated:
Kill Your Darlings
Monster
I Shot Andy Warhol
Swoon
Heavenly Creatures
The Krays
Bloody Mama
Braveheart
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Deranged

Psycho*✦
Silence of the Lambs✦
Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde✦
Salò✦
The Damned✦
Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS✦
Texas Chainsaw Massacre✦


Straightened Out:
Rope*
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith✦


Criminals and Other Villains
Accurate or Exaggerated:
I Love You Phillip Morris
Dog Day Afternoon
Boys Don’t Cry

Bent✦
South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut✦
Angels in America✦


Straightened Out
Mommie Dearest

Neutral
Accurate or Exaggerated:
Queen Christina
Philomena


Straightened Out

LGBTQ Activists and Pioneers
Accurate or Exaggerated:
Milk
Kinsey
The Christine Jorgensen Story


Straightened Out:

Artists
Accurate or Exaggerated:
Wilde
Capote
Howl
Gods and Monsters
Ed Wood
Love is the Devil
Next Stop, Greenwich Village
Frida
The Hours


Straightened Out
De-Lovely
The Libertine
Anonymous
Saving Mr. Banks
Cabaret
Quills

Shadow of the Vampire✦
Night and Day*
The Agony and the Ecstasy*


Generally Heroic
Accurate or Exaggerated:
Alexander
J. Edgar


Straightened Out:
Dallas Buyers Club
Silkwood
A Beautiful Mind
Enigma

Lawrence of Arabia*


Percentages (Excluding fictionalized cases and films made during the Hays Code):

Killers: 100% Accurate
Criminals and Other Villains: 75% Accurate
Neutral: 100% Accurate
LGBTQ Activists and Pioneers: 100% Accurate
Artists: 60% Accurate
Generally Heroic: 33% Accurate

Conclusion
If a queer individual wants their sexuality or gender identity to be presented accurately by Hollywood, kill someone, become an LGBTQ activist or do nothing noteworthy. You also stand a pretty good chance of your sexuality and gender identity being presented accurately if you choose a non-homicidal life of crime. However, if you want to become an artist or do something influential outside the LGBTQ community, you better be prepared to play Hollywoods' heterosexualization lottery.