Keep up with the latest movie releases with SFGN's Gregg Shapiro:
There are few filmmakers who have experienced the degree of acclaim and recognition achieved by Chilean writer/director Sebastián Lelio in recent years. “Gloria”, his fourth full-length feature from 2013, brought Lelio both his widest audience and his most consistently favorable reviews.
French filmmaker Gaspar Noé is no stranger to controversy. His 2002 movie Irreversible, starring Monica Bellucci, is famous for its brutal depiction of the rape of the lead character. Additionally, Noé was criticized for the film also being homophobic, something he vehemently denied.
In the pantheon of classic concert movies, Martin Scorcese’s “The Last Waltz” (an all-star final concert by The Band) from 1978 and Jonathan Demme’s “Stop Making Sense” (starring Talking Heads) from 1984, still reign supreme. The general consensus is that Joni Mitchell’s performance of her song “Coyote”, as well as “Shadows and Light” and “Furry Sings The Blues”, along with her accompanying vocals on Neil Young’s “Helpless” are among the greatest moments in “The Last Waltz”.
If Rebel Wilson, Melissa McCarthy and Amy Schumer aren’t getting hazard pay for the ridiculous number of pratfalls they take in their respective movies, then something is really wrong in Hollywood. In “Isn’t It Romantic” (WB), a self-conscious, meta-rom-com parody with big song and dance numbers, one of the spills taken by Natalie (Wilson) results in a serious head injury.
Head injuries are no laughing matter. Just ask Eric Trump. Be that as it may, two movies opening in theaters a week apart – “What Men Want” (Paramount Players) and “Isn’t It Romantic” (to be reviewed in SFGN on Feb. 22), make light of the results of a painful blow to the crown.
Opera begins with the letter O. Orgasm also begins with the letter O. After watching the documentary “Maria by Callas” (Sony Pictures Classics), it’s easy to imagine that many opera fans will find themselves in an orgasmic state.
It’s been said that timing is everything. The new Blu-ray reissue of Sean Mathias’ 1997 film adaptation of gay playwright Martin Sherman’s Tony Award-nominated play “Bent” (Film Movement Classics/MGM) arrives at a time when brutal homophobic and anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise. It is a terrifying reminder that the past is never that far behind us.
Forty years after John Carpenter redefined the slasher film with the original “Halloween."
If there’s one thing that director Jon S. Baird’s ”Stan & Ollie” (Sony Pictures Classics/eOne/BBC Films) reminds us, it’s that comedy duos aren’t what they used to be.
Once in a while you see a movie at an LGBTQ film festival and you know that it is destined for greatness. Such is the case with Yen Tan’s “1985” (Wolfe), now available on DVD and VOD. Like critically acclaimed projects such as the FX series “Pose” and Rebecca Makkai’s novel “The Great Believers”, the mid-1980s are the focus in “1985”.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Barry Jenkins has the golden touch, especially when it comes to film adaptations of literary works. “Moonlight”, Jenkins’ 2016 film adaptations of gay writer Tarell McCraney’s “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”, earned both men an Academy Award.
Adam McKay is a filmmaker who likes gimmicks. They worked well for him in silly popular comedies such as 2004’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and 2006’s “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”.
When it comes to “Aquaman” (WB/DC), this origin story has it all; and by all I mean every possible detail packed into a screenplay bulging as tightly as anything covering Jason Momoa's upper body. While it’s as faithful as it can be to Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris’ original creation, it also takes its share of liberties.
If you’ve seen any of award-winning Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos brilliantly twisted cinematic output, including 2015’s “The Lobster” and 2017’s “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, then you know that he has been working his way towards his Golden Globe-nominated masterpiece “The Favourite” (Fox Searchlight) for a while.
At a mere 21 years-old, Oscar-nominated and sexually “fluid” Lucas Hedges is one of the busiest actors on film. Since his remarkable performance in 2016’s “Manchester By the Sea”, for which he earned a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination, Hedges received raves for his work in “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, both released in 2017.
Screen Savor: By The Book
Moviegoers seem to love movies about characters that appear to be one thing, but turn out to be another. Best Picture Oscar-winner “The Shape of Water” is a good example. So is “Green Book” (Universal), starring Academy Award-winning actor Mahershala Ali and Academy Award-nominated actor Viggo Mortensen.
Some movies, more than others, need to be experienced in a full movie theater. It makes the shared emotions, laughing and crying, take on more significance. “Instant Family” (Paramount) is one such movie.
Do two movies about teenage skateboarders released within months of the other in the same year qualify as a trend? What if both movies feature single mothers trying to keep their respective offspring out of harm’s way? If so, we have a trend.
Rest assured that from the first moment we see Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek with prosthetic teeth) onscreen in “Bohemian Rhapsody”, on the morning of Queen’s 1985 Live Aid reunion performance, he is gay. This was during Mercury’s clone-look era, complete with mustache, short and neat haircut, studded leather armband and tight, faded jeans.
Movies about astronauts are nothing new and our fascination with outer space has continued into the 21st century. Recent movies such as “Hidden Figures”, “Gravity”, “Moon” and the “Martian”, and predecessors including “Apollo 13”, “The Right Stuff”, “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Capricorn One”, have all earned a place in the cinematic celebration of the celestial realm.
Just when you thought you’d seen everything in terms of Thanksgiving holiday movies, along comes the dark comedy “The Oath” (Roadside Attractions), actor Ike Barinholtz’s feature length debut as writer and director. While it may not be on par with Jodie Foster’s “Home for The Holidays”, it does have its charms and a timely message.
What does it say about the times in which we live that two movies, “Colette” (Bleecker Street) and “The Wife”, about women who were the wives of writers and who were secretly the ones writing their husbands’ books, are playing in theaters at the same time? “The Wife” is set in the mid-to-late 20th century, while “Colette” takes place in the late 19th century and early 20thcentury, but some of the similarities are difficult to avoid.
Families of Choice: New documentary celebrates family and friendship
LGBT families of choice are celebrated in “One Stride: Chosen Family,” a newly produced short documentary from Barefoot Wines. Viewers of the film will meet people who have forged loving, familial relationships with people who are not of their blood. The film is divided into three segments.
Movie adaptations of Y/A (young adult) novels have been growing in popularity since the early 1980s when books by S.E. Hinton, including “The Outsiders”, “That Was Then…This Is Now” and “Rumblefish”, hit the big screen. In later years, the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” cinematic franchises took the genre to another level. For a while there, film adaptations of dystopian Y/A fiction, including “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” series were dominating. But the recent dismal failures of “The Darkest Minds” and “A Wrinkle in Time” indicate that that trend has (thankfully) come to an end.
You know how somethings improve with age? Well, “Exorcist II: The Heretic” (Scream Factory), now available in a collector’s edition Blu-ray, isn’t one of them. An incoherent mess when it was first released, the catastrophic 1977 sequel to “The Exorcist”, directed by John Boorman (“Deliverance” and “Hope and Glory”), features an intoxicated Richard Burton at his scenery-chomping worst. Even the few returning cast members, including Linda Blair, Kitty Winn and Max Von Sydow, couldn’t give this doomed production the credibility that it needed.
It’s often said that timing is everything. In the case of Oscar-winning doc filmmaking legend Michael Moore and his new movie “Fahrenheit 11/9” (Dog Eat Dog/Midwestern), about the Trump presidency (among other things), the timing couldn’t be better.
Now available on VOD, “Susanne Bartsch: On Top” (The Orchard/World of Wonder), about “queen of the night” party-thrower and fashionista Susanne Bartsch, joins the ranks of documentaries such as “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, “RBG”, “McQueen” and “Whitney”, attracting audiences. Even though it takes a while deliver its wallop – and be prepared for when it does – it’s still worth a look.
Screen Savor: 'Kin' You Believe It?
At first glance, “Kin” (Summit) looks like another in a long line of movies about the disruption caused by a parolee returning home after doing time. But, as we soon discover, there’s much more to “Kin” than meets the eye. Prophetically-named 14-year-old African-American Elijah (Myles Truitt), lives with his adoptive single father Hal (a grizzled Dennis Quaid) somewhere in the decaying Michigan. Elijah is a loner who doesn’t feel like he fits in anywhere. He gets suspended from school for fighting with a classmate who said something nasty about his late step-mother.
“The Wife” (Sony Pictures Classics), Björn Runge’s movie adaptation of the novel by Meg Wolitzer (“The Interestings”), with a screenplay by award-winning lesbian screenwriter/director Jane Anderson, is a portrait of a partnership in decline. Even more than that, it is a role worthy of Glenn Close’s talents, the best on-screen work she’s done since playing Patty Hewes in the acclaimed TV series “Damages”. As the titular wife Joan, Close is almost certain to be remembered come Oscar time.
“The Hunger Games” have been won. The “Divergent” series was diverted. The insipid and humiliating (2nd) film adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time” was anything but smooth. So, who thought “The Darkest Minds” (20th Century Fox), a movie version of the Alexandra Bracken Y/A novel of the same name, would be a good idea?
Award-winning filmmaker Crystal Moselle makes her dramatic feature directing debut with “Skate Kitchen” (Magnolia). While it’s at least 20 minutes too long, “Skate Kitchen” is nevertheless worth seeing for the performances Moselle gets out of her cast of mostly newcomers.
One of the many things for which the year 2018 will be remembered is the number of (mostly) good documentaries playing in theaters. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and “RBG” are sure to be remembered as “best of” lists are compiled at year’s end. Both films are also shoo-ins for Oscar nominations. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the flawed “Whitney”.
The world has changed quite a bit since John Hughes’ `80s portrayals of adolescent angst in movies such as “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club”. In the interim, we’ve seen the best and worst of that challenging phase of life represented in films such as “Thirteen”, “School of Rock”, “Heavenly Creatures”, “Boyhood”, “Lady Bird” and even Disney/Pixar’s “Inside Out”.
Easily one of the all-time worst movie musicals, 2008s “Mamma Mia!” was flawed on so many levels, including the horrible casting, it’s difficult to know where to begin. How about this, incompetent filmmaker Phyllida Lloyd chose “Mamma Mia!” as her feature film debut and failed so miserably she wasn’t invited back to direct the prequel/sequel. That’s just one of the inexcusable examples of how dreadful “Mamma Mia!” was, and yet, it somehow worked onstage.
Deadpool is a canonically pansexual character in the Marvel universe, and the actor who plays him is looking to show that off and more. A bisexual fan at San Diego Comic Con asked “Deadpool” star Ryan Reynolds during a panel if future ‘Deadpool’ movies would have more LGBT characters.
As feature film debuts go, writer/director Ophir Raul Grazier’s “The Cakemaker” (Laila Films) ranks among the better ones. The bakery café run by gay baker Tomas (Tim Kalkhof) is always the first stop that Israeli businessman Oren (Roy Miller) makes when he’s in Berlin every month. Oren loves Tomas’ pastries and makes sure to bring a box of his cookies home to his wife Anat (Sarah Adler) and son Itai (Tamir Ben Yehuda).
EDGE) The gay conversion therapy drama "The Miseducation of Cameron Post," starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Sasha Lane, received its first trailer this week. Directed by Desiree Akhavan ("Appropriate Behavior"), the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner takes place in the 90s and follows a group of teens who are sent to a gay conversion therapy camp.
A gay porn star couple Brian Bonds and Mason Lear are now engaged. Bonds popped the question to Lear last week after filming a 10-man orgy. The moment was captured in an extremely NSFW video posted to Twitter account for the gay porn company Raw Fuck Club.
It’s been quite a year for black cinema. In March 2018, Jordan Peele won an Oscar for the screenplay for “Get Out” (which was also nominated in the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor categories). A few weeks before that Ryan Coogler’s groundbreaking Marvel Studios feature “Black Panther” opened to rave reviews and boffo box office.
Why would a superstar like Whitney Houston turn to drugs and send her seemingly charmed life spiraling toward destruction? In a new documentary, “Whitney,” opening in theaters on July 6, filmmaker Kevin Macdonald attempts to answer that question, but ends up raising even more.
If you’re tired of only seeing queer-coded Marvel characters, you’re in luck: at least two full-blown openly LGBT characters are coming soon. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige confirmed in an interview with The Playlist that the Marvel Cinematic Universe will get it’s first out LGBT character. The publication asked, “When are we getting a Gay, Bi, LGBTQ, out character in the MCU? Is it even in the works?”
Gay men didn’t invent the Peter Pan syndrome. However, many of them have gone a long way to perfect it, refusing to grow up or age. That said, the 65th anniversary edition reissue of the animated classic Peter Pan (Disney) on Blu-ray + DVD with digital code, with a multitude of bonus extras, is a prime example of Walt Disney Studios’ popular cartoons features of the period, including “Lady and the Tramp” and “Alice In Wonderland”. It also, unfortunately, echoes some of the more offensive racist and sexist sentiments of the time.
Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville has a talent for making riveting documentaries about unexpected subjects. He took home an Oscar for 2013’s “Twenty Feet from Stardom”, about the lives of backing vocalists, and 2015’s critically acclaimed “Best of Enemies” was an intimate portrait of the contentious relationship between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley. Neville’s Mr. Rogers doc,”Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (Focus), joins Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s “RBG” and Jeffrey Schwarz’s “The Fabulous Allan Carr” among the best documentaries of the year so far.
Beginning with 2014’s terror double-whammy of “The Babadook” and “It Follows", the big-screen horror genre has been undergoing a thrilling transformation. The trend continued with 2015’s “The Witch” and 2018’s “Annihilation”. With the arrival of “Hereditary” (A24), it would appear that this new breed of horror is here to stay. Sure, there will always be more traditional scary movies such as 2017’s “It”, but this exciting new take on a classic variety of cinema is a welcome addition to the oeuvre.
In case you missed it, there appears to be a new movie trend in the works this spring. Single dads raising teenagers. First there was gay filmmaker Andrew Haigh’s “Lean On Pete”. The forthcoming “Eighth Grade” features a single dad and his daughter. Presently, we have Brett Haley’s “Hearts Beat Loud” (Gunpowder & Sky).
Ongoing and recent events in Syria are a daily reminder of the fact that the Middle East has been in turmoil for generations. Hopes for peace in the region remain in doubt.
Just a few years before Jake Gyllenhaal broke our hearts as Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain, he was seriously messing with our minds in 2001’s “Donnie Darko” (Arrow), newly reissued in a 4K Blu-ray special edition theatrical cut. Gyllenhaal, no stranger to taking on bizarre content (see 2013’s Enemy), not only set the bar higher for himself with this Richard Kelly movie, but also for all other films of this ilk.
At first glance, you might not think that gay director Greg Berlanti’s 2018 gay rom-com(ing out movie) “Love, Simon” (Fox 2000) has much in common with the Oscar-nominated 2017 gay rom-dram “Call Me By Your Name”, but you’d be wrong. First of all, both films are based on novels. “Love, Simon” is based on Becky Albertalli’s 2015 Y/A novel "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” while “Call Me By Your Name” is based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman. Additionally, both novelists are, as it turns out, straight.
Opening in theaters mere days after Disney won its umpteenth Best Animated Feature Oscar (for “Coco”), Ava DuVernay’s catastrophically boring, abysmal and embarrassing film adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s beloved Y/A novel “A Wrinkle in Time” (Disney) is not the studio’s first attempt at bringing the story to the screen. A mostly-ignored version came and went in 2003. Perhaps someone should have taken that as a sign that L’Engle’s tale of good triumphing over evil might not be meant for a cinematic interpretation. Instead, “A Wrinkle in Time” joins such costly Disney duds as “John Carter,” “Tomorrowland,” “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “The Lone Ranger” as one of the worst live-action movies ever released by the studio. At least it’s not a musical (see “Newsies,” or better yet, don’t).
The best way to describe Jennifer Reeder’s multicultural lesbian rom-com “Signature Move” (Newcity) is to call it a delight. Sweet as a mango lassi but with a kick like hot salsa. From the opening shot of the street sign at the intersection of W. Devon Avenue and N. Oakley Avenue, it’s clear that we are in the section of Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood where all the East Indian and Pakistani restaurants and stores are located.
In writer/director Martin McDonagh’s Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Fox Searchlight), grieving, coveralls-wearing mother Mildred (Francis McDormand) will do almost anything to find the person who abducted, raped and murdered her daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton) seven months earlier. Renting three weathered billboards, on a foggy stretch of road, that haven’t been updated since1986 becomes her latest attention-grabbing plan.
At the risk of offending every comic book geek across the globe, the truth is, Black Panther (Marvel Studios) is a self-indulgent, formulaic, overly long origin story that is a declawed disappointment. Borrowing liberally from “Wonder Woman”, “The Lion King” and the James Bond series, “Black Panther” is surprisingly unoriginal and toothless.
Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio (the acclaimed 2013 movie “Gloria”) has another winner on his hands with “A Fantastic Woman” (Sony Pictures Classics), Academy Award-nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. Notable for the way it depicts a few days in the life of a trans woman in Santiago, “A Fantastic Woman” is at turns fabulous and heartbreaking.
There’s more than one intricate stitch sewn into the fabric of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscar-nominated “Phantom Thread” (Focus). As the final film of retiring actor Daniel Day-Lewis, it’s not only a high point for the performer who already has three Oscars to his name, but also for the filmmaker and supporting cast members.
First things first. Fatih Akin’s “In The Fade” (WB/Magnolia) is not the best foreign language film of 2017. “BPM (Beats Per Minute)”, about the birth of ACT UP in Paris in the late 1980s, deserves that honor. Nevertheless, “In The Fade,” which is racking up awards, including a Golden Globe and a Critics Choice, award, among others, certainly qualifies as one of the best foreign films of the year.
Co-filmmakers Dennis Scholl and Kareem Tabsch strike a sunny and satisfying balance between presenting an homage to a bygone era in Miami Beach and a tribute to the late photographer Andy Sweet, whose work documented said time period, in their affectionate documentary “The Last Resort”. The co-directors incorporate marvelous period film footage, both amateur and professional.
Each year, there are more and more movies depicting the lives of real people and historical events and 2017 was no exception. From World War II (“Dunkirk” and “The Darkest Hour”) to the 1970s (“The Post”, “All the Money in the World” and “Battle of the Sexes”) and the near-present day (“Molly’s Game”), there was no shortage of material to be dramatized onscreen.
“Call Me by Your Name” (Sony Pictures Classics), gay director Luca Guadagnino’s movie adaptation of Andre Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name, with a screenplay by gay filmmaker James Ivory, couldn’t have come at a more complicated time. There’s no way to avoid the fact that the film’s central story – a sexual and romantic relationship between two young men, ages 17 and 24, is the kind of thing that keeps evangelicals up at night.
If “La La Land” was a modern tribute and love letter to vintage Hollywood movie musicals, then “The Greatest Showman” (20th Century Fox), with songs by Oscar-winning “La La Land” songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, is an unabashed and unwatchable homage to the faux musicals of Baz Luhrman.
A near seamless melding of classic sci-fi/fantasy and contemporary cinematic effects, presented from a modern perspective, Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” (Fox Searchlight) is a story of “love, loss and the monster who tried to destroy it all,” set during the 1960’s Cold War era. Mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a “princess without voice,” lives upstairs of a movie theater in Baltimore. An orphan whose voice box was cut when she was a baby, Elisa has a special friendship with gay next-door neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins in a performance worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nod), a freelance commercial illustrator who is the “proverbial starving artist.”
If it struck you as strange that Disney would make not one, but two, animated features set in the Pacific region, then you are probably not alone. While both 2002’s “Lilo & Stitch” and 2016’s “Moana” were Academy Award-nominees, neither took home the trophy. Disney has had a decent run in the 2010s, taking home Oscars in every year but 2011, when Paramount’s “Rango” won.
The Kenneth Branagh-directed remake of “Murder on the Orient Express” (20th Century Fox), in which Branagh also stars as Agatha Christie’s Belgian master detective Hercule Poirot, inspires its own set of mysteries. For example, why would anyone remake a perfectly good movie? The 1974 version, directed by Sidney Lumet, was considered to be one of the best movies of that year. Ingrid Bergman won her third career Oscar for her portrayal of missionary Greta.
One thing you can say about the French, they know how to make a movie about AIDS. Whereas Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s 2016 film “Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo”presented a current look at French gay men dealing with the AIDS epidemic, the informative and devastating “BPM (Beats Per Minute)” (The Orchard), directed and co-written by Robin Campillo (Eastern Boys), takes us back to the early 1990s, and the rise of AIDS activism in Paris.
Anyone who has ever heard the late Spanish-language singer Chavela Vargas, who died at 93 in 2012, knows there’s more going on than meets the eye, or the ear, for that matter. With their respectful and revealing doc “Chavela” (Music Box Films), co-directors Catherine Gund and Dayesha Kyi give the true story of the ranchera diva a long overdue telling.
It’s probably not fair to compare actor Andy Serkis’ directorial debut “Breathe” (Bleecker Street) with the Oscar-winning “The Theory of Everything,” but people will. Both films are based on true stories. Both films deal with young British men who develop significant disabilities in the prime of life. Both films are about the power of love and the strength of the human spirit to overcome the odds. Unfortunately, when comparing both films, it’s “Breathe” that will come up short (of breath).
You have to give Reginald Hudlin, director of "Marshall" (Open Road), credit. The man responsible for such non-classics as House Party (starring Kid’n Play), Boomerang (starring Eddie Murphy) and The Ladies Man (starring Tim Meadows, based on his SNL character), wanted to make a different kind of movie than people were used to seeing from him.
“Battle of the Sexes” (Fox Searchlight), about the famed 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, is that rare movie that successfully combines biography, sports and queer subject matter for a thoroughly entertaining and educating experience. First and foremost, credit goes to co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Oscar-winner Little Miss Sunshine). Even though we know the outcome (King walloped unrepentant male chauvinist pig Riggs), they managed to make it feel fresh and exhilarating.
It looks like 2017 could be the year that queer screenwriter and director Mike White (“Year of the Dog”) might just get his first Academy Award nomination and may even take home an Oscar. White, who also has the smudge of “The Emoji Movie” on his screenplay resume, along with outstanding films such as “School of Rock” and “The Good Girl,” wrote director Miguel Arteta’s 2017 film “Beatriz at Dinner,” which has received raves from critics and audiences alike.
Stronger (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions) is the second big-screen Hollywood dramatization of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, following 2016’s Patriots Day. Like that film, Stronger doesn’t shy away from the gruesome details, while also providing a relatable portrait of what it means to be Boston Strong.
Salma Hayek is having quite a year. Her scene-stealing performance in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” confirms her skills as comedian. But it’s in the black comedy “Beatriz at Dinner” (Lionsgate), now available on DVD, that she shines brightest, potentially leading to an Oscar nomination. Written by queer writer/filmmaker Mike White and directed by Miguel Arteta (the man behind gay-oriented films “Chuck and Buck and Star Maps”), “Beatriz at Dinner” perfectly captures the dark mood in the age of Trump.
Anyone who is old enough to remember the sensation of shock and sadness caused by the deaths of music icons Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison in the early 1970s is well-aware of the history of substance abuse and its connection to rock and roll. Still, that didn’t make the passing of Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse or Prince, years later, any less difficult to bear.
Director Marc Webb is nothing if not versatile. After all, he’s responsible for the giddy romantic romp “500 Days of Summer” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, both of Andrew Garfield’s “Spider-Man” movies, and the 2017 dramatic comedy “Gifted”. He’s also busy, with “The Only Living Boy in New York” (Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions) being his second film released this year.
Even the most devoted Stephen King fans will admit that the theatrical movie versions of his novels fall into two distinct categories – fantastic and failure. Adaptations in the former category include “Carrie” (the 1976 version directed by Brian DePalma and the first of King’s novels to be made into a movie), “The Shining”, “Stand By Me”, “Misery”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, “Dolores Claiborne”, and “The Green Mile”. Unfortunately, the many failures far outweigh the successes and include “Cujo”, “Christine”, “Firestarter”, “Maximum Overdrive” (directed by King himself), “Pet Sematary”, “The Dark Half”, “Needful Things” and “Dreamcatcher” (and that’s not even including TV movies and unnecessary remakes).
Just in case you didn’t get your fill of ass-kicking female superheroes with the June release of “Wonder Woman” the fast and furious Charlize Theron vehicle “Atomic Blonde” (Focus) is blasting into theaters. Based on the graphic novel series by Antony Johnston and Sam Hunt, “Atomic Blonde” also earns points for having an unapologetically queer main character.
Easily the most divisive movie of the summer (at least four people walked out of the press screening), David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story” (A24) is neither as amusing as “Beetlejuice” nor as emotionally compelling as “Ghost,” two of the most popular modern specter stories. Aside from notably reuniting Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, who appeared together in Lowery’s 2013 “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” the film takes a multitude of risks, most of which simply don’t pay off for the audience (or the characters, for that matter).
If you loved Gillian Robespierre’s 2014 feature film debut, the brilliant and poignant pro-choice comedy “Obvious Child,” then you are probably going to be more than a little disappointed by her second movie “Landline” (Magnolia). This viewer was.
Writer/director Jeff Baena’s irreverent reimagining of parts of Bocaccio’s 14th century fictional work “The Decameron,” complete with 21st century vernacular, is so bawdy it would make Monty Python blush. The humor, much of which is derived from the use of modern language in a 1347 setting, is almost non-stop and is sure to leave audience members leaving with huge, if slightly off-kilter, smiles on their faces.
If you’re counting, there are now six 21st century live-action Spider-Man movies, including the latest, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Marvel/Columbia). The first three starred Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, a nerdy high school student with the secret superhero identity of Spider-Man. In 2012 and 2014, Spider-Man became “amazing” as Andrew Garfield slipped into the Spidey suit. Baby-faced Tom Holland is the newest actor to take on the swinging role. To give Marvel’s DC competition credit, at least the Batman and Superman DC franchises spread out the revolving lead actors over the course of several years (and decades).
“The Beguiled” (Focus), Sofia Coppola’s beguiling and award-winning remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood vehicle, is set in 1864 Virginia, three years into the Civil War. Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) runs a no-nonsense boarding school for girls. Due to the instability of the period, the student population has been reduced to five pupils – Alicia (Elle Fanning), Amy (Oona Laurence), Jane (Angourie Rice), Marie (Addison Riecke) and Emily (Emma Howard). Martha is assisted in her instruction duties by Edwina (Kirsten Dunst).
" Baby Driver "
“Baby Driver” (TriStar) is a loud, fast-paced, cleverly choreographed and funny action movie; as delirious as it is derivative. “Baby Driver” borrows liberally from a handful of its predecessors, beginning with 2011’s “Drive,” in which a pretty getaway driver played by Ryan Gosling is under the thumb of an ugly cruel boss played by Albert Brooks. In the case of “Baby Driver,” Ansel Elgort’s Baby (not his real name) is beholden to Doc (an especially smarmy Kevin Spacey) until he pays back a large financial debt.
Originally titled “About Ray,” now known as “3 Generations” (TWC), Gaby Dellal’s unsatisfactory trans family drama is finally being released domestically after being shelved for quite a while. It’s a pity, too, because the combination of the cast and the storyline should have resulted in a better movie than what’s onscreen.
The Howard Brookner renaissance that began in 2015 with Brad Gooch’s stunning memoir “Smash Cut”, about his relationship with the late filmmaker, continues with Howard’s nephew Aaron Brookner’s lovingly rendered doc “Uncle Howard” (Pinball London). As the doc begins we see Aaron in the process of searching for archival footage from Howard’s first film, “Burroughs: The Movie,” the acclaimed 1983 documentary about gay writer William S. Burroughs.
Presented in 3D (and IMAX, if you please), “Wonder Woman” (WB/DC), the long-awaited debut of the comic book world’s most celebrated female superhero has arrived just in time for Pride Month. That’s significant because the titular character, aka Princess Diana of Themyscira aka Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), is an Amazonian. Formed from clay and brought to life by Zeus, she was raised amongst women by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and aunt General Antiope (Robin Wright), without the presence or influence of men. In other words, our lesbian separatist sisters are going to love this movie!
After almost 40 years, if the Alien movie franchise has taught us anything, it’s that androids aren’t necessarily trustworthy. Beginning with Ash (Ian Holm) in the first “Alien” flick and continuing through David (Michael Fassbender reprising his role from Prometheus) in the latest installment “Alien: Covenant” (20th Century Fox), the droids’ loyalty to its creator is unwavering.
Here’s a short list of recent mother/adult child comedies: “The Guilt Trip” starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen, “The Meddler” starring Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne, Ricki and the Flash starring Meryl Streep and Mamie Gummer, “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” starring Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener, and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” starring Nia Vardalos and Elena Kampouris. Know what they all have in common? They are unwatchable.
Almost everything about “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (Marvel Studios), the sequel to the insanely popular 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy, is a joke. In other words, there are practically as many laughs as there are 3D special effects. The second film in the series attempts to answer questions raised in the earlier movie while also advancing the story of the Guardians – muscly Peter (Chris Pratt), green Gamora (Zoe Saldana), randy raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), spry sprout Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and tattooed and bald Drax (Dave Bautista).
Written and directed by Del Shores, “A Very Sordid Wedding” (The Film Collaborative), the sequel to 2000’s hit gay comedy “Sordid Lives,” picks up 17 years after the comedically catastrophic events of the first film. How comedically catastrophic, you ask? An elderly woman having an affair with a married double amputee, trips over his prosthetic legs and dies from hitting her head on the sink in the bathroom of a sleazy motel. How’s that?
Sam Peckinpah meets Quentin Tarantino with a splash of Martin Scorsese in Ben Wheatley’s bullet-riddled and chaotic (and thankfully brief) shoot `em up “Free Fire” (A24). Set in an abandoned Boston factory in the late 1970s, Free Fire is what happens when a black-market arms deal goes awry.
“Colossal” (Neon) is a monster movie that has as much to do with inner demons as it does with the physical manifestations of those with the power and determination to level a city the size of Seoul, South Korea. A very adult take on “A Monster Calls,” writer/director Nacho Vigalondo’s “Colossal” has a lot to say about women, men and alcohol abuse.
In the pantheon of holocaust cinema, “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (Focus) isn’t as powerful or epic as “Schindler’s List,” but neither is it as dreadful as “The Boy In The Striped Pajamas.” Landing somewhere in between, the film, based on the book by Diane Ackerman, tells the true story of the titular Antonina Żabińska (played by Jessica Chastain), and her husband Jan (Johan Heldenbergh), and their roles in the Polish underground resistance during World War II.
It’s been 20 years since the last time we saw unrepentant junkie and thief Mark (Ewan McGregor) in the original Edinburgh-set “Trainspotting.” At that time, he was waffling between addiction and sobriety. Even in that condition he had enough clarity to screw his best friends Simon aka Sick (Jonny Lee Miller), gentle Spud (Ewen Bremner) and violent-tempered Franco (Robert Carlyle) out of a massive sum of money in a drug deal scam.
Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine), the main character in “The Last Word” (Bleecker Street), likes to have, well, the last word. A successful and wealthy retired businesswoman in her early 80s, Harriet made a name for herself, running her own ad agency at a time when it wasn’t as common as it is now.
Based on the novel by Julian Barnes, Ritesh Bartra’s “The Sense of an Ending” (CBS Films) will probably remind some audience members of gay filmmaker Andrew Haigh’s marvelous “45 Years,” and that’s not only because both films starred Charlotte Rampling. The common thread is that the main male characters in both films receive letters that stir up the dust of their pasts.
Based on gay playwright Tarell McCraney’s play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” screenwriter/director Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning “Moonlight” (A24), which took home Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay awards, is nothing less than a breathtaking cinematic achievement. Presented in three separate chapters, “Moonlight” tells the heartrending story of Chiron – as a child, a teen, and an adult —growing up gay in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood.
If you’ve ever wondered what became of the early 21st century cinematic genre known as mumblecore (and who among us hasn’t?), a hokey style that launched the career of Greta Gerwig (gee, thanks!), you need look no further than Table 19 (Fox Searchlight). Co-written by mumblecore progenitors and brothers Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass, "Table 19" is one of the most unappealing rom-coms in recent memory.
Poor February. As if it isn’t bad enough that it’s a cold and dreary month throughout much of the United States, it’s also the month rewarded with the dubious honor of being the shortest, as well as the one to which a day is added during leap years. To add insult to injury, there are also the complications that come with Groundhog Day (Feb. 2) and Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14).
Don’t be put off by the “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” meets “The Stepford Wives/Rosemary’s Baby” vibe of “Get Out” (Universal), because Jordan Peele’s mind-blowing debut as writer AND director, is so much more. It’s a smart comedy, a reverent and referential horror flick, and it’s a meaningful statement about race in the age of Trump. It’s also the first step to forgiving Peele for 2016’s abysmal “Keanu.”
"Dirty Dancing" & "The Watermelon Woman" Turn 30 and 20
As unexpected hit movies go, few can compare to “Dirty Dancing”(Lionsgate), newly reissued in a 30th (!) anniversary Blu-ray+DVD+Digital HD edition. The film’s novel subject matter, cast of relative newcomers, vintage soundtrack, uplifting theme song and groundbreaking choreography, Patrick Swayze’s body and Jennifer Grey’s original nose, all combined to make it a success.
Remember that movie “Danny Collins” where Al Pacino played the washed-up rock star trying to make amends for his bad behavior? Don’t worry, neither does anyone else. Similarly, “The Comedian” (Sony Pictures Classics) may meet the same fate. In the tradition of unfunny movies about comedians (see the Tom Hanks/Sally Field flop “Punchline” and Adam Sandler’s “Funny People”), “The Comedian” is short on laughs and long on scenery chewing.
It’s been said that timing is everything. Raoul Peck’s James Baldwin doc “I Am Not Your Negro,” opening in theaters in the wake of Representative and civil rights icon John Lewis’ public feud with President Trump, is proof positive of that. Owing as much to recent film such as“Selma” and “Birth of a Nation” as it does to “Hidden Figures” and “13th,” “I Am Not Your Negro” is required viewing.
“Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo” (Europa/Epicentre), co-written and co-directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau is a timely and sensitive reminder of the current state of things in the world of gay sex. The lengthy, erotically-charged and sexually graphic opening sequence takes place in a sex club where the red-lit lower level is swarming with writhing naked men engaging in various sex acts.
“20th Century Women” (A24) is such a major disappointment; it’s almost difficult to put it into words. In fact, it’s hard to believe that this chaotic mess is the work of writer/director Mike Mills, the man behind the Oscar-winning 2010 gay movie “Beginners.” Where that movie was effortlessly balanced and emotionally on the level, “20th Century Women” is sloppy, forced and unpleasant. It’s a complete waste of the talents of Annette Bening, on par with Ryan Murphy’s abysmal “Running With Scissors.”
In recent years, with films such as “Deepwater Horizon” and “Lone Survivor,” actor/director Peter Berg has turned his attention to dramatizing real-life events. In “Patriots Day” (CBS Films), starring Mark Wahlberg (who also starred in both previously mentioned movies), Berg may have made the best, if somewhat uneven, film of his career.
When Oscar (Connor Jessup) was a little boy, instead of telling him a bedtime story, his father Peter (Aaron Abrams) would give him a “dream.” As he made up the dream for Oscar’s sleep, Peter would also blow up a balloon, hold the opening to Oscar’s forehead and let the air escape. This is a wonderful image and not the most surreal one in “Closet Monster” (Strand Releasing) by a long shot...
Pablo Larraín’s stunning “Jackie” (Fox Searchlight), begins in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts in the days following her husband President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination and funeral, when widow Jackie (Natalie Portman in an Oscar-worthy performance) met with journalist Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup on the comeback trail) to offer her own “version of what happened.” Portman’s portrayal is graceful and nuanced, recreating, but never imitating, Jackie’s speech pattern, distinctive voice, facial expressions and other mannerisms, including smoking cigarettes...
Based on true events, “Hidden Figures” (Fox 2000), co-written/directed by Thomas Melfi (“St. Vincent”) is the kind of uplifting movie we so desperately need during this particular holiday season. Despite its unfortunate title (based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same name), most of “Hidden Figures” may take place more than 50 years ago, but it remains as timely as ever. The film’s hot-button issues, including discrimination based on race and gender as well as strained relations with Russia, are sadly just as relevant today...
Presented in Cinemascope, “La La Land” (Lionsgate) is writer/director Damien Chazelle’s singing and dancing love letter to Hollywood movie musicals and Los Angeles. For fans of Chazelle’s “Whiplash,” jazz gets a big, fat, wet kiss, too...
There is nothing new about the 3D animated feature “Sing” (Illumination Entertainment).
It’s a familiar and formulaic story lifted from any number of Hollywood or Broadway musicals. There’s a crumbling theater. There’s the theater’s owner, Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), whose lifelong love of the stage and a mission to do well by a deceased parent is the driving force behind his drive to save said crumbling theater...
Writer/director (and occasional actor) Kenneth Lonergan has an ear for dialogue and the proven ability to transfer the way in which people speak and interact with each other from the page to the screen. It was vividly on display in his 2000 film You Can Count On Me, for which he received an Oscar nomination...
For his second, full-length feature film, Nocturnal Animals (Focus/Cinedigm), gay fashion designer turned screenwriter/filmmaker Tom Ford has once again chosen to adapt a novel (Tony and Susan by Austin Wright) for the big screen. His first film, the Oscar-nominated 2009 adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man, was, in a word, breathtaking. Ford’s eye for detail made the film stunning to view...
"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" (WB), the latest film adaptation in J.K. Rowling’s popular and profitable film franchise that spawned eight Harry Potter movies, emphasizes comedy and terror in equal measure. Set in New York just a few years after the end of World War I and just before the stock market crash, it’s a prescient Potter prequel that couldn’t be timelier...
As modern, non-traditional sci-fi flicks go, "Arrival" (Paramount), directed by Denis Villeneuve ("Sicario" and "Enemy") and starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whitaker, touches down somewhere between "Under the Skin" and "The Martian." Playing with the perception of time and memory, "Arrival" introduces the concept of quid pro quo as a means of negotiating with alien visitors in what is destined to become a zero sum game...
Those familiar with the fight for marriage equality know that it is not a new one. Almost 50 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, a mixed-race couple living in rural Virginia made history when their case, Loving v. Virginia, challenged the Commonwealth’s Racial Integrity Act and, with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union, they triumphed...
Gregg Shapiro is the author of “Fifty Degrees” (Seven Kitchens, 2016), co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections “How to Whistle” (Lethe Press, 2016) and “Lincoln Avenue” (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook “GREGG SHAPIRO: 77” (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection “Protection” (Gival Press, 2008). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog k.d.