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.