December 2, 2014

The 90's called. They want their film franchises back.

Alright, with the release of the trailers for Jurassic World and Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens I am getting a very 90's vibe right now. Dunno why exactly, but for whatever reason, the new Star Wars trailer strongly reminds me of the days of trying to download The Phantom Menace Quicktime trailer on a 56k phone line. Now those were the days.

The new Star Wars trailer has of course already garnered a ton of analysis and speculation, but I figure that's no reason I can't do my own.

Opening: Ominious voiceover prattling on about feeling the force getting awakened from its' beauty sleep.

A man jumps up looking scared and wearing a stormtrooper outfit with no helmet.

Let's get the obvious question out of the way: Isn't this guy a little short to be a stormtrooper?

Next shot: Cute robot.

Next Shot - A bunch of stormtroopers lined up in a flying contraption thingie. One of them really is shorter than the others.

Insert J.J. Abrams signature wobbly cam here.

A young women starts her pod racer and flies away.


A guy, who apparently got lost on his way to audition as an extra for AFI's DecemberUnderground music video, is wandering around and... WHOAH COOL LIGHTSABER!


Final Note: Not unexpectedly, the new lightsaber design has caused a bit of speculation. Some say it looks silly (which does become question begging, did such people realize this was a Star Wars movie they were talking about?) and others have speculated that the extra appendages serve a function, maybe. Personally, I think that they look like vents for excess energy, given that what comes out looks less like mini lightsaber blades and more like actual flames.

As for Jurrasic World, I kind of lost interest in the film series after The Lost World so I can't exactly say I'm enthusiastic about this. Also is it just me, or does it look like Chris Pratt is playing Sam Worthington here?

November 9, 2014

Queer Review: Elephant (2003)

Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, Elias McConnell, Jordan Taylor, Matt Malloy, Carrie Finklea, Nicole George, Brittany Mountain, Alicia Miles, Ellis Williams

Tackling a controversial subject matter is never an easy task for a filmmaker, but Gus van Sant manages to create a exploitative motion picture about the Columbine murders that provides a clinical analysis of how such an event could come to pass.

Through long takes, the story of several high-schoolers is told as they go about an ordinary day. One has to take the wheel from his drunk father as he is being driven to school. Another takes pictures of a couple in a park. One young women refuses to change for gym class and is reprimanded for it. Meanwhile two friends draw up plans to murder as many of their classmates as possible before engaging in mass carnage.

The Queering
As someone who has spent many hours pouring over data regarding violent crime as part of an academic research project, it's difficult for me to separate my own work and views on the subject with the story told by Gus Van Sant. So forgive me if I end up talking too much about my own research here a bit.

Our cultural rhetoric on violence consistently posits violent acts as an externalized phenomenon. That is, as something that comes to us from outside our families and our communities. This in spite of the reality that most violence occurs either between family members, intimate parters, or between people who are otherwise known to each other. Our focus on sensational events such as school shootings is one method by which we externalize violence as something that comes from the outside, particularly in the way that it allows us to blame everything from violent video games to absentee parents. Furthermore, such events can be depicted as dramatic inter-group conflicts, such as jocks vs. nerds or the outcasts vs. the preppies. What such framing ignores is that most violence really should be thought of as a phenomenon that occurs within groups, and not solely as the result of conflict between groups.

While Gus Van Sant arguably comes close to perpetrating externalization by making school shootings the subject of a movie, he manages to avoid it many ways within the film. The most common explanations are indeed thrown out there. The shooters are shown playing a violent video game that involves shooting people in a desert like setting, watching Nazi propaganda, being bullied, etc. But none of these explanations feels adequate or complete when we watch shots of the teenagers walk nonchalantly down school hallways shooting their classmates as they go, almost as if Gus Van Sant is mocking the superficiality of anyone who would propose any of the aforementioned hypothesises.

There is one extremely problematic element I have to comment on, namely a shower scene where the two shooters shower together and even share a kiss. While one could argue that this is merely another explanation that Gus Van Sant is trying to mock, it doesn't really help that it means that we have yet another film on our hands where queer identity is overwritten onto historical individuals who committed horrible misdeeds.

Once again I have to say it: The best way to come out in history is to have committed terrible crimes against humanity; the best way to remain closeted was to have been good.

Ultimately though, Elephant is atypical in terms of it's structure. The plot is both elliptical and recursive, with long camera shots following characters as the walk through hallways, only to show us a scene we saw before but now from a different angle. Most of this is Cinéma vérité or slice of life type material. It is not until the end that those members of the audience who might have been unaware of the subject matter, will find that this story is spiraling towards tragedy.

The title of Elephant has two possible interpretations, one is of a parable about a group of blind folks trying to understand an elephant by touching different body parts and limiting their analysis to only those parts that they can feel. Each individual comes to a different conclusion based on which part of the elephant they are touching and none realize that they are touching a large animal. The other interpretation has the title referring to "the elephant in the room" or the obvious subject that no one wants to talk about. Both perspectives can provide viewers with insight into what Van Sant is trying to say.

Many other reviewers have claimed that Gus Van Sant offers no explanations for why incidents like Columbine happen. As someone who has spent a lot of time studying violent crime statistics (much of it involving what can be considered original research) I do not think that violent crime, even incidents as disturbing and shocking as Columbine are incomprehensible. As a film reviewer I do not think that Gus Van Sant himself intended for his film to be given such a nihilistic interpretation. Instead he offers up what should be obvious, that to commit such a horrifically violent act requires a person to experience extraordinary alienation.

Many might assume that people commit horrible crimes against humanity fail to see other people as fully human. That may be so, but many of the cases of violent crimes I found myself studying involved the perpetrators themselves being highly self destructive. The Columbine shooters after all were not arrested or shot by police but instead died at their own hand. Since this is a pattern that repeats itself over and over again, the better question I think is this; do the most violent people amongst us see themselves as human? Maybe this is just me reading my own ideas onto the film, but given how Van Sant approaches his subjects, I cannot help but think that this may have been the connection he wanted viewers to make.

For those interested in a film on such a sensitive subject matter, this is one Elephant in the room that is worth discussing in order to understand entirely.

The Rating
3 stars out of 4


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

October 20, 2014

Queer Review: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Writers: Brian Clemens. Allegedly based on the novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Luis Stevenson.
Cast: Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick, Gerald Sim, Lewis Fiander, Susan Brodrick, Dorothy Alison, Ivor Dean, Philip Madoc, Paul Whitsun-Jones, Tony Calvin

A gory retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, the Hammer Horror film Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde inserts numerous transphobic elements into the classic tale and also uses the trope of female transgender villains as thieves of womanhood. The story also blends bits of history, such as references to the Jack the Ripper murders in addition to including the characters Burke and Hare.

Dr. Jekyll (Ralph Bates) has reached a point in his research where he believes that he can find a cure for most of the common disease and ailments that plague mankind. The catch is that he also realizes that it will take him many decades to complete this research. To solve this problem, he begins harvesting female hormones from deceased female corpses and begins utilizing two thugs by the names of Burke and Hare (Ivor Dean and Tony Calvin) do so. Instead of extending Dr. Jekylls' life, the hormones end up turning him into a woman (which leads to the requisite Hammer Horror nudity). He winds up explaining away his new identity as Ms. Hyde, Dr. Jekylls' sister, to his inquisitive neighbors. Ms. Hyde however, winds up completely dominating Dr. Jekyll and soon takes up stalking and murdering female prostitutes in the same manner as Jack the Ripper, just in order to maintain a fresh supply of female hormones.

The Queering
No one would mistake Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde for a historical bio pic revealing the "true" story behind the infamous Jack the Ripper murder cases. However, in that it clearly draws inspiration from historical events, can be seen writing queer identity onto a historical villain where no hard evidence of one previously existed. As I have previously noted, the only time history is guaranteed to remember someone as being a member of the LGBTQ community is when they kill someone. If you are queer and do something heroic, good luck with history remembering your true identity. However, being heinously evil is a great method for coming out of the closet, even for those who are 100% straight.

This is of course on top of all the more overtly transphobic elements. In this case, the filmmakers appear to be promoting the idea that transgender or transsexual woman can only become "true" woman by stealing something from other woman. In this case, female hormones. TERFs (trans exclusive radical feminists) will love it.

It is possible of course, to get lost in a debate as to whether or not the character of Dr. Jekyll is supposed to represent an actual transgender or transsexual individual. After all, he (the character) continues to maintain his masculine identity after starting the female hormones, rather than being written as an individual whose gender identity does not align with the one they were assigned to at birth. That is, the story is not about a "true" transgender or transsexual individual. However, I think this would ignore the obvious intent of stories involving gender non-conforming characters. That is, not only are they intended to associate gender non-conforming behavior with general evilness, but they also get to promote the idea that there is no "true" transgender or transsexual identity (along with other misguided mistruths about transgender and transsexual identity). To put it another way, the filmmakers get two shots off at transgender and transsexual identities for the price of one.

In a more philosophical vain, I found myself wondering about about the ethics of what Dr. Jekyll was attempting to do with his research. He believes he can find cures for most of the most common diseases and thus end a great deal of suffering for humanity. While this itself is a little arrogant, his solution for expanding his lifespan to complete his research is a little out there. Most researchers in the real world would do as much as they could in their natural life, then hope succeeding generations of scientists and doctors would be able to complete it. This being a Hammer Horror film, Dr. Jekyll naturally chooses the most horrific (not to mention unethical) option available to him. Although I suppose pointing out the absurdity of his motivations in this case makes about as much sense as using female hormones to extend ones lifespan because women live longer than men.

It would probably have been a lot more fun to have been operated on by Jack Ripper than to see the transphobic mess that is Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde.

The Rating
2 stars out of 4.


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

October 10, 2014

Queer Review: Nymphomaniac Vol. II (2013)

Nymphomaniac Vol. II
Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Jamie Bell, Christian Slater, Willem Dafoe, Mia Goth, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Udo Kier, Michael Pas

Nymphomaniac Vol. II continues the story told in Nymphomaniac Vol. I as the two movies were originally conceived as one single story before being split into two films). Nymphomaniac Vol. II takes Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg/Stacy Martin) in a darker and grittier direction, as she goes to increasingly extreme lengths to satisfy her sexual desires.

In the plus column, Nymphomaniac Vol. II has the first openly identified asexual character to appear in a major motion picture. In the negative column, the ending is one of the most problematic I have had the displeasure to witness, both from a dramatic *and* social justice perspective. Not only does it do a grave disservice to the characters, it's very nature reinforces accusations of misogyny against director Lars Von Trier.

After being found injured in the street in Vol. I, Joe continues to tell her story about her life as a nymphomaniac to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård). In her quest for sexual release, Joe seeks out K (Jamie Bell), an unusual BDSM practitioner, but this leads to her neglecting her child and the end of her relationship with Jerôme (Shial LaBeouf). After K, Joe winds up working for L (Willem Dafoe) as a shady "debt collector". After Joe becomes a successful "debt collector", L suggests that Joe take on a protege P (Mia Goth). Joe is reluctant due to P's young age, but ends up cozying up to her anyways. The two end up forming a lesbian relationship, yet things quickly fall apart when Jerôme comes back into the picture.

The Queering
Never before have I found myself disliking a movie based solely on a single moment tacked onto the very end of the story. Not only does this moment dramatically undermine everything that comes before, it is both pretentious and serves absolutely no purpose other than to stroke Lars von Triers' ego. Everything that can be wrong with a piece of filmmaking is embodied in the last few moments before the end credits roll.

Before the ending Nymphomaniac Vol. II is on the same level as Vol. I. There are a few new wrinkles, such as Joe having to deal with being unable to seek sexual release and later engaging in a sexual relationship with a woman half her age. But for the most part, as with Vol. I there is a great deal to appreciate.

From a queer perspective, Vol. II expands upon elements that were only hinted at in Vol. 1. Seligman comes out here as asexual, making him the first character in a major motion picture to do so. Previously, asexuality has been limited to subtext, and for whatever reason, strongly associated with characters who engaged in cannibalism. (Examples: The Silence of the Lambs and Eating Raoul). Thus, I almost want to call him the first non-cannibal asexual character as well, but for the fact that potentially, there are other subtextual asexual characters out there I am unaware of.

One thing that occurred to me, is that both Seligman and and Joe go against gender stereotypes. Joe seeks out sexual pleasure, no matter the cost, in spite of society constantly telling woman that they should play hard to get. Seligman is asexual and seeks pleasure in the study of music and mathematics, in spite of society constantly telling men that they should do everything possible to spread their wild oats. While this perhaps makes sense, I cannot help but wonder what this might mean for the possibility of female asexual characters. Would most people even think a thing like that strange or would such a character ultimately appear perfectly normal to audiences? This is another reason I am little nervous about declaring Seligman the first openly identified non-cannibal asexual on film, it is quite possible there is a female character out there who fits the bill, but due to our society viewing woman as sexually passive, the characters' identity could easily slip by unnoticed, even by me.

In Lars von Triers' defense, both Joe and Seligman are complex individuals who both happen to exhibit elements of queer identity. There is also plenty of dialog (mostly from Seligman) defending human sexual desires and practices. While this at times borders on an author tract, it is still welcome to hear. Admittedly there are problematic places that Lars von Trier goes with this. For example, in the first film when Seligman defended Joe sexually assaulting a man on a train, and here Joe defends pedophiles who do not act on their desires. While I understand the sentiment, I don't see what is so great about a pedophile merely failing to harm a child. Shouldn't adulation be reserved for those who do genuine good, not merely fail to do bad?

One could potentially find things to criticize in the horrible way Joe's lesbian relationship ends in disaster, but that would ignore the fact that every relationship Joe develops ends badly. There is much more to criticize in the way Lars von Trier chooses to end the story and the way in undermines Seligmans' earlier claims of being asexual. While I try to keep in mind that films themselves are not obligated to adhere to social justice principles, there is much to mourn in what might have been. As it is, while it is nice to have an openly identified asexual character in a major motion picture, I cannot make the argument that this actually represents a step forward for asexual identity on the silver screen.

Pretty much only for completists who viewed Nymphomaniac Vol. I and want to see how the story ends. Just be warned about the pointless awfulness of the ending.

The Rating
1 star out of 4.


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

September 29, 2014

Queer Issue: Moral Dilemma: Would You Work For a Homophobic or Transphobic Employer?

Recently, my partner and myself moved from Pennsylvania to Minnesota, due to a job my partner was offered teaching Corrections for Minnesota State University. My partner is from the mid-west, so the cultural shock is not quiet so great for him, but I personally don't think that I will ever get used to hearing "soda" referred to as "pop". Also, I'm used to there always being hills or tall buildings around, so the wide open sky is a little off-putting for me. As it is, one reason for the lack of posts recently, is that I have been getting used to the area and am still trying to figure my way around a new location.

Otherwise, I'm doing fine and am finishing up my B.A. degree in Criminology for Wilkes University. I ended up having to take incompletes in two classes in the spring semester, so I'm finishing up my work for those while I search for a job here in Minnesota. I also am in the application process for a job at a local newspaper writing as a freelancer.

However, I am still looking elsewhere for work and recently came across an add for a staff position at a homeless shelter. At first glance the position looked good. The hours for the shifts they were hiring for were a little inconvenient, the pay was not great, but I figured it would be a good chance to obtain valuable experience working for a cause I believe is important. Plus I already have a lot of work and volunteer experience that would make me appear to be an ideal candidate for the position. Everything seemed set. Then I looked up the address in the ad.

As it turns out, the organization in question is one that has a history of discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. The name of the organization isn't relevant, but for the record, this organization has both turned away homeless LGBTQ people seeking their services and there is at least one documented case of an employee being fired after coming out as LGBTQ that I am aware of. Also, at one point there was a link on their website to a virulently homophobic organization.

It is perhaps also worth pointing out that the link was taken down when it was pointed out to the organization and I could (if I wanted to name the organization in question) point to several news articles talking about the organization claiming they would mend their ways. However, a brief search turned up no news articles about the organization actually creating concrete policies to eliminate discrimination against the LGBTQ community, so it seems unlikely that such change has occurred.

Which brings me to my dilemma, it is possible that the local chapter does not discriminate against LGBTQ people and if the local head honcho was open minded, I might be able to get hired. But if I was hired by this organization, what would the implications be?

There are more than a few ways of looking at this issue. For example, the field of law enforcement and the criminal justice system have a reputation for being particularly homophobic and transphobic (in addition to engaging in other forms of prejudice) and thus one might reasonably question why an LGBTQ person would seek employment as a police officer or other wise within the criminal justice system. But the reputation of law enforcement officers in this case might be misleading that homophobia and transphobia (in addition to other forms of prejudice) are prevalent (or at least present) in just about every other career field imaginable, from science and medicine, to higher education, to politics and government.

One of the key features of systemic forms of discrimination and prejudice is that they are, well... systemic, and in general, it would be virtually impossible to find a career in which they would not be present.

But can a career choice be compared to working for a specific employer? This is the question that gives me pause. There are further complications here as well, namely that as far as I can tell, this organization runs the only homeless shelter for a long way around and thus an argument could be made that it would be better to have me working for this organization than not, as hypothetically, I could potentially work from within to make the local chapter more queer friendly so to speak. This latter choice is definitely a gamble though.

But at the end of the day, I simply do not like being put in this position in the first place. I want to work and put the skills that I have gathered during my life to good use. The choice of having to let them go to waste (if I am unable to find steady work elsewhere) or putting them to a use in a situation that might potentially increase homophobia and transphobia in our society is not a choice I look forward to making.

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

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.

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.

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

The Rating
3 out of 4 stars.


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

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.

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.

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.


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

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.

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.

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

The Rating
3 stars out of 4.


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

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:

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

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

Straightened Out:
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

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

Straightened Out
Mommie Dearest

Accurate or Exaggerated:
Queen Christina

Straightened Out

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

Straightened Out:

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

Straightened Out
The Libertine
Saving Mr. Banks

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

Generally Heroic
Accurate or Exaggerated:
J. Edgar

Straightened Out:
Dallas Buyers Club
A Beautiful Mind

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

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.

June 4, 2014

Queer Review: Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)

Blue is the Warmest Color
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Writers: Abdellatif Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix. Based on the book Le Bleu est une couleur chaude by Julie Maroh.
Cast: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux, Salim Kechiouche, Aurélien Recoing, Catherine Salée, Benjamin Siksou, Anne Loiret, Benoît Pilot

A talky French drama about two women falling in and out of love, Blue is the Warmest Color shows the evolution of a complex and multifaceted relationship. While glacially paced, this is a movie that offers plenty of rewards for viewers with the patience to read the Bible from the beginning all the way to Job. Seriously, the lists in Genesis of who begat who take forever to get through and anyone who can make it through those parts will have no trouble with this film.

Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a typical, if rather introverted, French teenager. When Adèle first has sex with her boyfriend, she finds the experience unsatisfying. At a lesbian bar, she meets Emma (Léa Seydoux) and the two begin a passionate relationship. Eventually the two move in together with Adèle taking up a career as a teacher, while Emma pursues work as a fine painter. However, their domestic relationship leads to a routine that leaves Adèle lonely and Emma unsatisfied. When Adèle has an affair with one of her coworkers, Emma kicks her out. More time passes and Adèle has trouble moving on. When she receives an invitation to an art show featuring Emmas' paintings, she goes and manages to find closure to this chapter in her life.

The Queering
Blue is the Warmest Color is filmed with explicit scenes that are designed more to develop and advance the characters than they are to titillate or arouse. Of course, as a gay man, I cannot say I can really judge how titillating they actually are. Of course, this being a character focused piece this a slow moving meditation on the nature of love and relationships. There is little effort to focus on queer or lesbian issues specifically. Adèle goes through a period where she is clearly questioning her sexuality and has to face homophobia from friends when the suspect that she is dating a woman, but this becomes a non-issue once she moves in with Emma. Futhermore, the characters never come out to anyone that the audience is made aware of. As it is, outside of a scene where Adèle marches in an anti-austerity march, the film is largely apolitical.

This doesn't stop the film from raising questions about depictions of female sexuality and desire. Given that the director is a man, the male gaze is of course utilized but as far as I could tell, never subverted nor averted. However, Director Kechiche does raise questions about it. In one scene, a character comments on how men are the ones who most often depict female sexuality in spite of the fact that men cannot know what women really experience when it comes to sex. It's a philosophical question and one reflective of Platos' views of art in general. Plato, as it were, had a pet peeves was that since our world was merely a copy of his beloved Forms, then the highest thing art could aspire towards was being a second hand imitation of a copy of a copy of the "original" forms.

It makes sense then, that Kechiche films Blue is the Warmest Color in a cinema vérité style with many hand held camera shots, no voiceover, and a minimal soundtrack. Blue is the Warmest Color tries to be real, even while it acknowledges in sometimes subtle ways that it's not. Furthermore, all we ever see of Emmas' drawings or paintings of Adèle are brief glimpses, yet there implications that the Kechiche is trying to frame Adèle through the same lens that Emma views her in. That is just as Emma paints Adèle on canvas, so too does Kechiche attempt to present Adèle through the eye of the camera.

When people refer to the "male gaze", they invariably mean the "straight male gaze". But this raises the question: Is there a difference between the straight male gaze and the lesbian gaze and if so, what is it? Furthermore, can a difference between the two gazes be established at all without resorting to gender essentialism?

At the end of the day, it is Kechiches' willingness to address this issue that sets Blue is the Warmest Color apart. At nearly 3 hours, with little action, combined with the slowest of plots, it would seem that this would be a drag to sit through. It is a testament to those involved that Blue is the Warmest Color manages to be engaging from start to finish.

For fans of dialog heavy films that focus on characters over action or plot, this would be worth crossing the most depressingly warm blue ocean in existence in order to see.

The Rating
3 out of 4 stars.


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

June 1, 2014

Queer Review: The Matador (2005)

The Matador
Director: Richard Shepard
Writer: Richard Shepard
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis, Philip Baker Hall, Israel Tellez

A fun romantic comedy between about two men falling in love, one of whom happens to be a hitman who is finds his ability to kill failing him at critical times. Also, there are random shots of a matador inserted for no apparent reason other than to justify the title.

Aging hitman Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan) is starting to lose his nerve when it comes to doing his job. He hides it well enough, but there are times, such as when he sashes through a hotel lobby wearing nothing but a tight pair of speedos, when it becomes painfully clear that he is losing his mind. Then he meets Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) and the two have a brief fling before Julian is forced back into doing his job. When Julian fails to kill a critical target, his life is put in danger from his employeers and thus he turns to Danny and his wife Bean (Hope Davis), hoping that the sparks the two shared for each other will be enough to get him out his predicament.

The Queering
Most of the humor in The Matador is low key but generally effective. Brosnan and Kinnear display a fair amount of chemistry with each other as their characters flirt with each other in a hotel bar and bond over drinks. This is their meet cute scene. Eventually the two go on a date where Julian shows Danny the best method for killing a person. Also, it happens to be at a bullfighting tournament where we get the aforementioned shots of a matador and bull fighting. Before the two had met, Julian had been trying to deal with his issues by having empty sex with woman. It's only when he meets Danny that Julian opens up at all and is able to find any meaning to his life.

The first half of the film is better than the second, which is where the pacing starts to drag. In fact, I started to wonder if the project had originally been conceived of as a stage play, given the way the latter scenes focus increasingly on dialog and character over plot. There's a lengthy sequence which is set entirely in Danny and Beans' house and has the feel of a stage production due to the way it focuses entirely on dialog and character revelations, while the plot comes to a virtual standstill. The climax is equally low key and a few plot twists simply do not work in the context of the film due to them being poorly set up.

When The Matador was first released, it received favorable reviews but failed to find an audience. This is something of a shame although the film lacks the panache to go in for the killing blow that might have elevated it to a higher level. As it is, this is an enjoyable diversion but failed to become a classic for obvious reasons.

It would definitely be worth getting in a fight with a bull with only a flimsy cloth as your weapon in order to see The Matador.

The Rating
3 out of 4 stars.


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

May 31, 2014

Queer Review: Philomena (2013)

Director: Stephen Frears
Writers: Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope. Based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith
Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare Winningham, Barbara Jefford, Peter Hermann, Sean Mahon

Thanks to astounding performance by Judi Dench, Philomena manages to present one of the most complex screen protagonists to arrive in theaters in recent memory. Loosely based upon the non-fiction account related in The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith, Philomena tells the story of a woman searching for the child that was forcibly taken from her when she had it out of wedlock.

After having been fired from his gig as a government advisor, journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) finds himself at loose ends. When he is first approached with the story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), he is reluctant to pursue it due to his snobbish attitude towards "human interest" stories. However, he does meet with her and learns more of her story. Philomena Lee was a young mother, who gave birth in a Catholic convent in the 1960's after a sexual encounter at a fair. In order to pay for having the child, Philomena worked for the convent for four years, but the convent sold the boy to American couple. When Philomena and Martin investigate, they find that all records of the adoption were burned and current leaders of the convent uncooperative. Following a lead, the pair travel to America, where they discover that Philomenas' child had his name changed to Michael and after growing up, had become a top ranked member of the Republican Party before passing away from AIDS in the nineties.

The Queering
Shaming is a powerful way to make people conform to excpected norms and nowhere is that more apparent than when it comes to the issue of human sexuality. At it's heart, this is a film about the power of shame and the ability to overcome it. Philomena Lee was shamed about a sexual encounter she had as a teenager and then shamed into keeping quiet when she was forced to give up her kid for adoption. Michael, her son, was also shamed into the closet about his sexual orientation while he worked his way up the ladder within the Republican party. Martin Sixsmith points these issues out to Philomena Lee when the two travel to the U.S. while looking for her son. Of course Lee surprises him by showing a great amount of forthrightness when it comes to sexuality in general.

Much of the humor in the film is derived from the interaction between Lee, who reads romance novels and the more cynical Sixsmith, who finds her naïve. One extended sequence has her describing the plot of a trite romance novel while he looks like he wishes he could anyplace else. However, the most interesting parts of the movie are the philosophical debates that come up between the two. Given that these debates are clearly influenced by each characters' life experience, they are more interesting than your typical dry philosophical debates about "Is there a God?" or "If there is a God, why would he allow suffering to exist?" As an atheist, Sixsmith has no issue with criticizing the Catholic nuns who kept Lee and Michael from reconnecting before the latter died. Surprisingly, Lee remains a devoted Catholic to the very end, even after it is revealed that the nuns kept Michael from reconnecting with her when he traveled to the orphanage to find her.

As for Michael Hess, I found myself wondering what life would be like for a man who chose to work for the Republican Party, rising all the way up to become Chief Legal Counsel of the Republican National Committee. What does it take to work within a group that actively hates you? What did Hess think of Reagans' long public silence on the issue? Was the fact that when he traveled to the Ireland his face already was showing Kaposi's sarcoma affect how cooperative the nuns were?

Ultimately, the strength of Philomena lies in it's ability to be emotionally affecting without resorting to cheap melodrama. The performances drive the movie, along with the smart script and complex characters. A little philosophy on the side helps things immeasurably as well.

Philomena is just about worth the amount of effort one would use to track down a lost relative in order to see.

The Rating
3 and 1/2 stars out 4


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

May 26, 2014

Setting the Record Queer: Stonewall - Those Who Forget History Are Doomed to Repeat the Same Myths About it

I can recall back when I was a young teenager having breakfast one morning when my mom, while flipping through the newspaper said, "I see that Independence Day is rated PG-13".

"Uh uh," I replied, not really paying attention. I had seen trailers galore up until that point and my snobbish teenage self (go figure) had decided that the movie had looked boring and derivative.

"Do you want to see it?" my mom asked.

"No," I answered, although at this point my curiosity was peaked a little. Why would my mom of all people want to see what was essentially a sci-fi shoot-em-up? Well, a shoot-em-up where aliens shoot up major cities with flaming walls of flame.

She shrugged, and said, "Well, I thought it might be educational".

The advertising at the time for Independence Day had been so ubiquitous with giant alien space craft blowing up human civilization that it took took me a moment to realize what was going on here.

"Um.... mom," I replied, "you should know that the movie Independence Day isn't actually about the American Revolution..."

Skip ahead 18 years and the openly gay director of Independence Day Roland Emmerich, is now promising to make a movie about an actual historical event. Specifically the Stonewall Riots that launched the LGBTQ rights movement.

When it comes to getting the history of the Stonewall Riots "correct" I am leary of Emmerich for reasons that have nothing to do with his reputation as a purveyor of derivative action flicks, but because of Emmerichs' involvement in the film Anonymous which relays the story of Shakespeare but is set in an alternative universe where the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship happens to be true. For those unfamiliar with the theory, it posits that William Shakespeare was not the "real" author of the plays, sonnets, and poems now attributed to him. Long story short, it's a conspiracy theory that has little basis in actual historical facts.

What might be the Osfordian Theory's worst sin though, is the way it erases (possibly unintentionally) some of the best evidence that William Shakespeare experienced same sex desire. By this I mean the conspiracy theory here ultimately sets out to explain why Shakespeare dedicated his romantic sonnets to a man by eliminating the possibility that the dedication was romantically inclined. As such the Oxford Theory posits that the dedications are evidence for the conspiracy, rather then the icky possibility that one the finest English writers ever (or so English scholars say, I could barely understand him personally) had same sex desires.

What I find troubling at this point in the production (which is set to begin filming this summer) is that thus far it appears to focus on white, gay characters. The IMDB page for the movie lists Jeremy Irvine, Calab Landry Jones, and Karl Glusman as those who have been cast thus far. In addition, the plot is described as:
A young man's political awakening and coming of age during the days and weeks leading up to the Stonewall Riots.
Note that it says "man". Not "trans man". Not a "drag queen". Just "man". Also is it just me or does it sound like this is the plot of the 1995 Stonewall film directed by Nigel Finch? I realize that being about the same event could easily lead to similar plots on their own, but Emmerich sounds like even his historical epic is going to be a rip-off.

Whatever issue Emmerich has with being derivative, historically speaking this is a problem because it means that the next Stonewall Riot flick is going to be regurgitating the erasure of transgender/transsexual and gender non-conforming people of color from queer history. In addition, there is the history of transgender rights activists, such as Sylvia Riveria and Martha P. Johnson, also being erased from the Stonewall Narrative.

Even the films' Facebook page gets in on the act by stating:
"Stonewall" will tell the story of the men and women of the modern Gay Rights movement and the establishment where it all took place: The Stonewall Inn.

And in casting calls for extras for the movie, the only word that shows up is "gay". Not LGBT, not Queer, gays only. Bisexual, lesbian, and Transgender, Transsexual, and gender non-conforming folks need not apply.

Normally, I wouldn't make a big deal out of mere word choice, but the erasure of transgender, transsexual, and gender non-conforming folks in addition to people of color specifically from the Stonewall Narrative has gone on for too long and is simply too extensive to be allowed to pass without comment.

In any case, one can only hope that Emmerichs' Stonewall has more in common with the actual riots than his movie about Will Smith saving the world from aliens had with the American Revolution. Too bad the prospect of that actually happening looks about as good as the world ending in 2012.

May 24, 2014

Queer Review: X-Men - Days of Future Past (2014)

X-Men - Days of Future Past
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Simon Kinberg, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Daniel Cudmore, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart

With a glimpse into a grim future filled with holocaust-esque imagery, Days of Future Past can be said to open in a similar fashion to the first X-Men film. Following that grim opening though, is the best film in the series since X2 - X-Men United.

In the year 2023, the last surviving mutants of a war to eliminate their species find hatch a desperate plan to avert that war. They decide to send back on of their own, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to alter the past. This means inserting his future conscience into his past body. Once Wolverine goes back, his job becomes reuniting Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, Patrick Stewart) with Magneto (Michael Fassbender, Ian McKellen) in order to prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from setting in motion the events that could potentially lead to the extinction of all mutant kind.

The Queering
The opening of Days of Future Past is the rockiest part of the film, particularly in an exposition heavy scene where Charles Xavier lays out the backstory and explains key details primarily for the benefit of the audience. Fortunately the film improves dramatically after that. While a story featuring centered around a post-apocalyptic future might seem rather entirely grim, there is plenty of fun to be had in the 70's timeline. The best parts include a brilliant sequence set to Jim Croces' Time in a Bottle and a clever reference to John F. Kennedy being a mutant whom Magneto tried to save (which is why the "magic" bullet curved).

X-Men - First Class ended with the break up of Professor Xavier and Magneto. While Professor Xavier believed that peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants was possible, Magneto instead held to a hard line anti-assimilationist stance. Mutants like Mystique whose blue skinned appearance fail to endear her to mainstream society are drawn to Magneto because he advocates being able to live as a mutant openly without persecution. On the flip side, mutants like Beast and Xavier live in the closet, covering up their appearance in order to avoid being detected. Xavier even went so far as to sacrifice his powers in order to be able to walk. These differences of opinion leads to their relationships' inevitable split. This means that in addition to bringing out the mutant abilities of Beast and Xavier, Wolverine spends the middle section of the movie acting like a couples counselor in order to get Magneto and Xavier to reconcile their irreconcilable differences.

On the queer subtext front, this may have the strongest LGBTQ political subtext of any of the movies. The sentinels that lead to the future war, are robots that are designed to hunt down, detect, and kill mutants. The scene where the Sentinels designer Dr. Trask (Peter Dinklage) demonstrates their abilities evokes the U.S. government programs of the 50's and 60's to eradicate gays and lesbians from civil service jobs. This parallel is made particularly clear in the scene reveals that there is already a mutant in the room where Dr. Trask is making his presentation.

Many people were disappointed back when X-Men III - The Last Stand and it was viewed as a less than desirable send off for characters. Here Bryan Singer takes full advantage of the opportunity to give many of the characters from that trilogy a better wrap. However, many of them, such as Storm (Halle Barry), are given little more than extended cameos. For the most part however, the action is more epic than anything we've seen before in this series and many of the primary characters are given a bigger chance to shine.

In particular the characters of Magneto, Professor X, and Mystique are all given much better development here than in past efforts. I found the development of Xavier to be the most interesting. In the original movies, Professor Xavier is pretty much the all knowing, wise old mentor without a flaw. There's nothing wrong with such character but it's one we've seen in many other movies. First Class showed Xavier as an immature frat boy, who was willing to play around in the minds of others without a thought to the consequences or ethics of such behavior. Not to mention his inability to acknowledge his privilege as a mutant who could easily pass in public as a non-mutant. This time around he is shown to be a broken man who has given up his telepathic abilities along with all hope for the human race. While 1973 Magneto is still pretty much the angry mutant leader we were shown in past efforts, the one who was willing to kill anyone (including his fellow mutants) in order to protect all of mutant kind, future Magneto is shown to be more reflective and introspective.

As for Mystique, here she is shown to be a women driven by the murder and torture of her fellow mutants into taking extreme actions. What makes her interesting is that she believes absolutely in the righteousness of her actions, which are shown to be entirely justified, even if the consequences will be devastating. However, the queer/trans subtext regarding Mystiques' character is downplayed here compared to First Class (there is no utterance of "Mutant and Proud"), although it is still possible to see it given a broad enough reading.

This is one superhero film that would be worth skipping a few days into the future in order to see.

The Rating
3 and 1/2 out of 4 stars.


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

May 13, 2014

Queer Review: Phantom of the Opera (1943)

Phantom of the Opera
Director: Arthur Lubin
Writers: Eric Taylor, Samuel Hoffenstein, John Jacoby, and Hans Jacoby. Based on "Le Fantôme de L'Opéra" by Gaston Leroux.
Cast: Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster, Claude Rains, Edgar Barrier, Leo Carrillo, Jane Farrar

An awkward take on the tale first told by Gaston Leroux, the 1943 version of the Phantom of the Opera mixes comedy, romance, and horror to poor effect. At least there is a same sex romance to keep things interesting.

Moved by the voice of Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster), Erique Claudin (Claude Rains) secretly funds her singing lessons using his income as violinist while nearly going broke in the process. Desperate for money, Claudin attempts to sell one of his compositions to a publisher but when that fails and he believe that his work is being stolen, he snaps. During the following struggle, Claudin kills a man and has his face disfigured with acid. Hiding in the shadows of the Opera House where he once worked, he attempts to pave Christine a path to stardom. Meanwhile, she is being courted by two men - police officer Raoul (Edgar Barrier) and Anatole Garron (Nelson Eddy) - although they both appear to be more into each other than Christine.

The Queering
What is the 1943 version of the Phantom of the Opera? Is it a romance? A horror film? A comedy? All of the above apparently. None of the elements really gel very well. Throw in some bad pacing (it feels like it takes forever to get through any of the opera sequences) and you have what I can only imagine to be (as I have not seen any of the others) one of the weaker versions of the Phantom of the Opera to make it onto the silver screen.

However, there is the romance between Anatole and Raoul, who pretend to be courting the actress Christine so they can spend more time with each other, which helps keep things interesting. The two make every effort, including developing a ritual around who will walk through a door together. However, Christine eventually chooses a life with the theater. Clearly relieved that they no longer have to continue the charade, Raoul and Anatole walk out arm in arm as the camera fades to black.

There is something very strange about a film version of the Phantom of the Opera being filmed in technicolor. It doesn't feel right. Director Lubin tries to add a sense of dread to proceedings by showing shots of The Phantoms' shadow against walls but the framing is too stagy and awkward to be effective. The infamous chandler crashing scene is ineptly shot and way too drawn out.

Tonally the film is all over the place. The original story is a classic of gothic horror but the 1943 version tries to turn it into a romantic comedy. This causes the entire production to feel as off key as an opera singer after inhaling an entire balloon of helium. If you really want to be entertained, watch out for the floating rocks during the climax.

Not worth learning opera nor becoming a phantom of in order to see this movie, not unless one really digs older movies.

The Rating
2 out of 4 stars.


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

May 10, 2014

Queer Review: High Tension (2003)

High Tension
Director: Alexandre Aja
Writers: Alexandre Ajas and Grégory Levasseur
Cast: Cécile De France, Maïwenn, Philippe Nahon, Franck Khalfoun, Andrei Finti, Oana Pellea, Marco Claudiu Pascu

As a slasher flick, there are times when High Tension succeeds as a bloody descent into pure horror. However a third act twist causes the proceedings to wind up reveling more in homophobia, than the workings of the Grand Guignol.

Marie (Cécile De France) and Alexia (Maïwenn) travel to the French countryside to visit Alexia's family. However, it isn't long before a demented serial killer shows up, kills the family and kidnaps Alexia, while Marie sneaks a ride in the back of his truck. What follows is a tense cat and mouse game, with Marie alternatively trying to free Alexia from the killers chains or seeking a means of signaling for help from authorities.

The Queering
(Spoilers ahoy! as there is no way to analyze this film without explicitly discussing the nature of the twist itself)

High Tension is gory, make no mistake, but the pacing and suspense level are kept high enough that it still manages to be an entertaining thrill ride, at least until the twist ending introduces homophobia by invoking the psycho lesbian trope. Typically, I am not one who goes for a lot gore in my films, but this particular horror endeavor is slickly enough made that the splatter element didn't bother me. Although I will admit to a few moments where I was paying more attention to the inside of my eyelids than what was occurring on screen. Basically, this falls comfortably within the realm of torture porn, a genre I generally avoid. The score (which for whatever reason reminded me of the one from Halloween) and the gritty - yet stylish - cinematography come together to create an atmosphere of pure dread.

However, the ending cannot be ignored, as it informs everything that happened before. As the "big reveal" reveals, the "killer" was Marie all along, and she simply hallucinated him into existence in order to disassociate herself from the terrible acts that she commits. It is a ludicrous twist, one that has been done before (although not quite like this), and requires that the audience accept that an entire car chase occurred only in Maries' mind. That's not even it's worse sin, as the reason why Maria turns into a killer in the first place is because of her sexual attraction to Alexia. Thus Maries' descent into madness and subsequent murder spree are intractably linked to her sexuality. In other words, the twist manages to be both ableist and homophobic at the same time.

There is nothing terribly original about this movie, which is neither good or bad as far as I'm concerned. There are plenty of references and nods to past horror efforts. This makes sense given the horror genre's tendency towards self cannibalism. Reviewers who liked the movie called these references homages, while those who took a dim view labeled them "rip-offs". I bring this up only on the off chance that someone out there was wondering what the difference between a "homage" and a "rip-off" happens to be.

In spite of being well made, there is no need to go to high lengths to see this (unless one really likes torture porn), the low tension road should work just fine.

The Rating
2 stars out of 4.


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

May 9, 2014

Queer Review: The Shining (1980)

The Shining
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson. Based on the novel by The Shining by Stephen King.
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel

Analysis of Stanley Kubrick films are typically awash in obtuse interpretations and The Shining is certainly no exception. An entire documentary, Room 237, was made with commentators offering up a variety of bizarre explanations, including the possibility that The Shining contains proof that Kubrick was part of the vast government conspiracy that faked the moon landing.

All of this gives The Shining an air of being an high end, elite work of art by one of the great auteurs of the 20th century. However, all of this analysis simply causes people to miss the obvious, namely that The Shining is little more then a typical Hollywood horror film, many of which feature characters wrestling with same sex desires or gender identity issues before turning into deranged killers.

Jack (Jack Nicholson) is the newest caretaker for the Overlook Hotel, an isolated resort which lies abandoned every winter thanks to the difficult to ploy road leading up to it. Thus Jack and his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and child Danny (Danny Lloyd) are stuck in isolation for the entire winter. Since this is a ghostly horror story, it's only natural that the location was once the site of diabolical murders, whereby the previous caretaker went mad and killed the rest of his family. Over time of course, ghostly apparitions start to intrude on their solitude and Jack gradually loses any semblance of sanity, causing him to represent an increasing danger to his family.

The Queering
Evidence of what is actually going on appear early and often. During an interview with the managers of The Overlook, Jack can be seen reading a Playgirl magazine. Furthermore, we never see Jack and Wendy in bed together or otherwise engaging in physical intimacy. In fact, Jack makes it perfectly clear to her that he does not want her around when he's working. In a scene ripe with Freudian overtones, Jack finds himself embracing a naked woman, only to have her turn into a rotting corpse. However, Jack has no problems getting along with the male apparitions he encounters. He converses with ease with a mysterious bartender named Lloyd and there is even a strange scene where a ghostly attendant spends a lot of time cleaning a mess off of Jack's jacket in a brightly lit red bathroom.

This is before we get delve into all the hints that Jack sexually molested Danny, either in the past or as an ongoing issue. For starters, Danny's condition more closely resembles a kid suffering from PTSD, than one experiencing a psychic condition. In the book, the fact that Danny had psychic abilities was less ambiguous and more relevant to the overall story. Here, the ambiguity only makes Danny come across as a tortured victim. When Danny talks about his imaginary friend Tony, he says that Tony lives in his mouth.

In one creepy scene, Danny and Wendy start out watching television in a room of the hotel, when Danny asks if he can go and get a toy from the shared bedroom. Wendy allows him on the condition that he make no noise. What we are supposed to think is that Jack will wake up angry and lash out at Danny, given that it was earlier revealed that Jack had explicitly physically abused Danny. When Danny arrives at the room however, Jack only asks that Danny sit on his lap. The possibility that Wendy was actually worried about Jack molesting Danny is illuminated in a scene late in the movie, once all hell has broken lose, Wendy comes upon a man in a bear suit clearly performing oral sex on another man. Clearly this bit indicates that she saw something in the past and buried it in her memory.

There are subtler elements as well, that also point towards Jack having issues with masculinity. For one, he is an alcoholic, and this would not be the first time that alcoholism has been used as a stand in for queerness. See the film version of The Lost Weekend for an example of this. Also, Jack is a man who is clearly unable to provide for his family. Not only is Wendy the one who is shown performing his care-taking duties (on top of the housework that she also performs) but when we see the manuscript for the book Jack is working on, it ironically only consists of the lines "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy"

So where does this all leave us? For all the analysis dedicated to it, for all the symbols that Kubrick allegedly left behind, there can be no doubt that this is a story of a man destroying his family by succumbing to queer desires. It is an age old tale, one that existed well before The Shining made it's way to the big screen. Because queer peeps are evulz.

Artistically speaking, The Shining is very well made and there is no reason to question Kubricks' status as an auteur. The heavily stylized cinematography where his trademark meticulousness is showcased in every frame only helps to cement it. The finale, with Jack desperately pursuing Danny through the hotel's outdoor maze, is particularly eery and evocative thanks to the long tracking shots Kubrick utilizes. And what would a review of The Shining be without mentioning Jack Nicholsons' "Here's Johnny!" performance? Now that I have mentioned it, I can now end this review.

Only the most devoted horror buffs who don't mind a side dish of homophobia should take a shining to this film.

The Rating
2 stars out of 4 stars.


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

April 7, 2014

Upcoming Movies

With my class schedule being what it is, I have not had a chance to sit down and watch Blue is the Warmest Color properly and then bore everyone out there with my thoughts on it. I did get a chance to watch Frozen and am considering writing a review of that film, although it appears that many people beat me to the punch and there now exist claims of it being the first Disney film to feature a gay couple. I wouldn't put it quite that way, as the character(s) in question are subtextually queer at best. However, I always feel like I'm going to get some degree of pushback when I write about subtextually queer characters that it's nice to have things swing in the opposite direction.

In any case, here are some upcoming movies that I'm interested in.

X-Men: Days of Future Past
It really is nice to be able to queer a movie before it even comes out. As it is, it looks like Days of Future Past is going to be about Magneto and Professor X getting back together after their big breakup in X-Men: First Class.

Burning Blue
According to what I've read, this is about an Air-force investigation into a series of mysterious crashes incidentally revealing a romantic relationship between two air-force pilots. Could be interesting provided they don't go the "it was the creepy gay killers sabotaging the planes the whole time" route.

Jupiter Ascending
The Wachowskis return to theaters with Jupiter Ascending and it looks absolutely thrilling. Can they reach the bar they set so high with The Matrix? My fingers are crossed here.

March 13, 2014

Queer Review: Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Dallas Buyers Club
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writers: Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Denis O'Hare, Steve Zahn, Michael O'Neill, Dallas Roberts, Griffin Dunne

A potent story about the development of underground drug markets in the face of the devastating HIV/AIDS crisis is undermined by Hollywood's propensity to straighten out LGBTQ heroes and the unfortunate casting of the talented (yes) but otherwise cisgendered actor Jared Leto in the role of a transgender character.

When Ron Woodroof (Mathew McConaughey) is diagnosed as being in the advanced stages of AIDS, he is given 30 days to live by the doctors treating him. Unwilling to accept this prognosis, he begins doing research on his own into the disease and starts taking off-market drugs that had yet to be approved by the FDA. Eventually, after a few complications and with the help of Rayon (Jared Leto) (a transgender woman who is also living with HIV that he meets during one of his hospital visits) Ron forms the Dallas Buyers Club, a program to distribute unapproved drugs that offer promise and hope to those with HIV. While this program is able to help some, it is not long before Ron and Rayon find themselves facing down increasing opposition from the authorities who want to shut down the whole operation.

The Queering
The story of the HIV epidemic is among the most horrifying stories in LGBTQ history. When the first HIV cases were discovered, the disease was deadly and before advanced anti-viral therapies were developed, the prospects of those infected were dark. In the absence of a cure and with so little known about the disease, terror and uncertainty were the characteristics of the day. It was the sort of time that tends to bring out the best and worst in people.

Unfortunately, only glimpses of the real life HIV/AIDS story make it to the big screen. While the essentials behind the actual Dallas Buyers Club formed by Ron Woodroof are approximately accurate, there are few rather problematic changes worth noting. For starters, several people close to the real Ron Woodroof have reported that he was bisexual and not at all bigoted, as depicted in the film. The other issue is that Rayon is made up. While this is not a problem in of itself, the character essentially fills the same role as a "Magic Negro" in that she helps Ron Woodroof to become a better person before winding up dead. This trope, for whatever reason, appears to becoming more often applied to LGBTQ characters, who like the "Magic Negro" serve as inspiration for the heterosexuals before typically winding up dead. Another recent example would be Tom Wilkinson's character in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, as well as V for Vendetta which has two examples of LGBTQ characters who serve as inspiration for the main characters before going to the great beyond. Easy A provides a non-deadly example.

In other words, we have a story of a straigt(ened out) dude saving queers with the aid of a magic queer. In the Hollywood imagination, the only true hero allowed is the cis-gendered hetero. Ron is presented as straight and macho as they come. We see him fucking a woman in the opening scene and later on engaging in bull riding. There are few moments in fact, where we are not in some way reminded that Ron is a total hetero. Just for the record and at the risk of repeating myself, I wouldn't mind this so much if it wasn't for the fact that Ron Woodroof was (probably) bisexual.

Then there is the casting of Jared Leto, a cisgendered man, in the role of a transgender woman. There are potential problems with the character, given that while the filmmakers attempt to essay a sympathetic presentation, she still tends to come across as pathetic and weak. While I think it's problematic to ignore the suffering LGBTQ people went through at the height of the AIDS crisis, I find it even more problematic to have a weaker queer character contrasted in such a fashion as is done in this film with a stronger straight(ened out) hetero male. It just doesn't jive. And that's before we get into the problems with the casting of Jared Leto. Generally speaking, acting is about taking on the role of a person not yourself. Therefore, hypothetically speaking, in a world where transgender actors were cast to play cis-gendered roles, there would be no problem with the casting of cis-gendered actors to play transgender roles. The thing is, we don't live in such a world and thus the casting comes across as a blatant form of discrimination at best, if not explicitly transphobic.

On the plus column, the film is actually more than competently made, with the some effective examples of editing being employed to demonstrate Ron's mental functions breaking down as the disease ravages his body. There are also some memorable and evocative scenes, such as one involving Ron walking through an atrium full of butterflies that land on his body. Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, and Jennifer Garner all give strong performances (at least insofar as their roles were written). There are also some interesting philosophical questions raised about the ethics surrounding drug testing when dealing with a disease as fatal as AIDS. How long do you let people die while tests are conducted to ensure the safety of a medication? Is it right to give people sugar pills (while tricking them into thinking they are taking the real thing) simply so researchers can isolate the placebo effect? And as I hinted at earlier, there are certain hints and shadows of the real AIDS/HIV crisis that do make it on screen, such as the scenes which show the fears and anxieties which characterized the era as well as, the extreme desperation of those people who had been infected with the virus in the early days of the epidemic.

At the end of the day though, none of these elements are enough to overcome the ahistorical straightening out that was applied to the story, nor the problematic casting of Jared Leto.

Not worth driving out to Dallas or joining any buyers clubs in order to see, unless one is desperately interested in seeing every film ever made with an LGBTQ character in it.

The Rating
2 out of 4 stars


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