Keep up with the latest movie releases with SFGN's Gregg Shapiro:
It’s not giving anything away to say that Joe (Mark Wahlberg, delivering his most watchable performance since 2011’s “The Fighter”) was the father of Jadin (played by scene-stealer Reid Miller in a breakout role), a gay teenager who was bullied relentlessly in close-minded, small-town LaGrande, Oregon. The result was that Jadin killed himself in 2013. After a struggle with depression, Joe decides he’s going to walk from Oregon to New York City (a place that Jadin as a young gay man dreamed of relocating to for obvious reasons).
Sandusky also figures prominently in Stephens’ wonderful award-winning new movie “Swan Song” (Magnolia Pictures). “Inspired by a true icon” (Pat Pitsenbarger, 1943-2012), “Swan Song” stars Udo Kier as Mr. Pat, the formerly famous hairdresser known for the magic he worked with a brush, a comb, and hairspray on the heads of the city’s socialites.
Retired for years, following a series of bad breaks, including a stroke, Pat is reduced to residing in an assisted living facility, wearing sweatpants and gym shoes with Velcro straps, sneaking a few puffs on a More cigarette when he can. An obsessive who steals napkins from the dining hall and spends hours folding them just so, Pat has one ally in the place, the catatonic Gertie (Annie Kitral).
The horror/comedy hybrid keeps getting better and better with each passing year.
“Werewolves Within” opens with the titular beast’s first kill. Dave (Patrick M. Walsh, Jr.), a mail delivery person who is married to Jeanine (Catherine Curtin), the proprietor of the Beaverfield Inn, is slaughtered in the Vermont snow. However, Jeanine is under the impression that Dave left her for another woman.
While the movie’s main subjects — undocumented Mexican immigrants and homosexuality — couldn’t be more relevant, something ultimately gets lost in the translation, resulting in potential viewer distraction.
Based on the compelling true story of chef Iván and teacher Gerardo, “I Carry You With Me” moves backward and forward in time, as well as back and forth from dramatic portrayal to real-life depiction. It’s as if Ewing couldn’t make up her mind how she wanted to tell the story, which both works for and against her purpose.
Beginning with what may be the greatest opening lines ever – “You wanna hear a story about how me and this bitch fell out? It’s kind of long, but it’s full of suspense,” – uttered by the titular character, played with guts and gusto by Taylour Paige, “Zola” unfurls over the course of nearly 150 tweets. It all started when waitress Zola “met this white bitch at my job.” The white bitch in question is Stefani (Riley Keough, Elvis Presley’s granddaughter), who speaks with an affected street accent.
Stefani is pure shade and sleaze, the kind of person who compliments a waitress’s breasts because she sees the potential to make a profit from them.
Queer filmmaker Morgan Ingari’s debut full-length feature “Milkwater” (Wolfe), which follows closely on the swollen ankles of Nicole Beckwith’s “Together Together,” is disappointingly the lesser of the two movies. Part of the issue stems from the lead character, aimless millennial Milo (pansexual actor Molly Bernard) being so unlikeable and manipulative that it’s difficult to spend even 101 minutes with her, let alone nine months.
In French with English subtitles, “Summer of 85” is based on a novel by Aidan Chambers with a screenplay adapted by Ozon. Set in 1985, it tells the tumultuous story of young gay love as experienced by 16-year-old Alexis (Félix Lefebvre). Alexis’s life was already complicated enough before he fell in love.
When Alexis is rescued by teen “good shepherd” David (Benjamin Voisin), after capsizing in a boat Alexis borrowed from his friend Chris (Antoine Simoni), his summer plans undergo serious changes.
The hotly anticipated movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In The Heights” (Warner Brothers) gets the ball rolling in June. Directed by Jon M. Chu, known for “Crazy Rich Asians,” as well as “Jem and the Holograms” (!), the slightly bloated movie could afford to lose about 20 minutes of its runtime. That said, “In The Heights,” is nevertheless a euphoric celebration of roots, culture and identity.
New Yorker Michael (Hickey), writer of The Intrepid Traveler column in “The New York Times,” specializes in writing about what a person can discover and enjoy about a city in five days. Therefore, it makes sense that “Sublet” is separated into five sections, Day One through Day Five.
Day One covers Michael’s arrival at his Tel Aviv sublet. Things get off to an awkward start when the tenant, Tomer (Niv Nissim making his memorable film debut), a student filmmaker, insists that Michael arrived a day early. He’s wrong, of course, and must quickly straighten up the apartment for his short-term renter. Michael, meanwhile, unpacks and settles in before going out exploring the neighborhood and beach. He ends the day with a Skype call from his husband David (Peter Spears).
The alliterative Paul (Fionn Whitehead) from Pittsburgh on probation, steps off a bus at the titular station and is utterly unprepared for what New York City has in store for his 20-year-old self. To begin with, his half-sister Sara (Louisa Krause), who was supposed to meet him there and provide a place for him to stay, never shows up. When he finally connects with her, she expresses no interest in giving him a place to stay, although she does give him some cash.
In typical teen sex comedy style, the movie features a group of horned-up friends all eager to lose the virginity they managed to cling to throughout high school before the end of the summer and the beginning of college.
The mesmerizing first 13 minutes set the tone for what is to follow, establishing a fragile tension that always feels on the verge of snapping. The opening shot is that of David (Clayne Crawford) standing over a couple asleep in a bed pointing a revolver at them. From the way he is standing and holding the weapon, you can tell he is moments away from pulling the trigger. The flush of a toilet in a bathroom on the other side of the bedroom door is the only thing that stops him. He climbs out a window and runs down the road to the house where is living, temporarily, with his father (Bruce Graham).
Based on a Washington Post article by Eli Saslow, inspired by Amanda Wendler and Libby Alexander, “Four Good Days” (Vertical) is a harrowing look at heroin addiction, and by extension the opioid crisis, and the toll it takes on a family.
During the fall of 2020, due to the inability to produce indoor performances during the pandemic, Pittsburgh’s City Theatre constructed a drive-in stage at Hazelwood Green. It was there that “F*ck7thGrade” was filmed before a live audience, safely socially distanced and seated in their cars.
After making her entrance on a vintage bicycle, Sobule, in unfastened white overalls and a “Music Is My Only Friend” t-shirt, takes the stage and tears into a song about wanting and getting a blue Raleigh Chopper bike when she was in 6th grade in the early 1970s. She also wanted to be a spy and a rock star at that age, and everything seemed to be working out for her. She embraced being a “weirdo.”
But everything changed when she entered 7th grade.
Not only is “Together Together” a smart and sensitive movie, but it features the first great performance of 2021, given by trans actress Patti Harrison.
Divided into first, second and third trimester segments, the movie opens with coffee shop server Anna (Harrison in a breakout role) being interviewed by app designer Matt (Ed Helms). Single Matt is the designer of the extremely popular Loner dating app, even though he doesn’t have much luck in the romance department. He wants to start a family and is looking for a surrogate. While their initial meeting can best be described as awkward and uncomfortable, Anna gets the gig.
Fastidious Hong Kong taxi driver Pak (Tai-Bo) is married to the long-suffering Ching (Patra Au), to whom he is not especially kind. Pak and Ching have a married son Lok (Gordon Wong Kwok Fai), the father of their granddaughter Lei Lei (Chi Sin Pun). They also have a daughter named Fong (Hiu Yee Wong), who becomes engaged to Zheng (Yixin Hu) because she is pregnant. Unbeknownst to Ching (or is it?), Pak leads a double life. Loving father to his children and granddaughter at home, he cruises public bathrooms and parks for sex with men.
Directed by Andrea Nevins, the documentary “Hysterical” (FX) takes a serious look at a select group of women in comedy.
The doc features 15 stand-up comics (four of whom; Judy Gold, Jessica Kirson, Fortune Feimster and Margaret Cho are members of the LGBT community), who have been making us laugh through good times and bad.
Set in 1987 Denver, at the time of the breakup of the band, “Shoplifters of the World” examines the impact of such an event on a group of friends. There’s Safeway cashier and community college student Cleo (Helena Howard), the possibly sexually fluid Billy (Nick Krause) who is enjoying his last night on the town before reporting for military duty, Madonna wannabe Sheila (Elena Kampouris) and her sexually confused boyfriend Patrick (James Bloor), and record store clerk turned hostage-taker Dean (Ellar Coltrane of “Boyhood” fame).
Some houses are money pits. Some houses are massacre pits. In the case of "Happy Times" (Artsploitation), from gay Israeli filmmaker Michael Mayer ("Out in the Dark"), the latter holds true.
Recently widowed Frances is an itinerant mother and New York socialite who shows up at her son’s prep school on the day he’s about to be kicked out and sweeps him out the door with her. It’s the first time they’ve seen each other in a long time, and this kind of event sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
Over breakfast in their Manhattan townhouse a few years later, Frances reveals to Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) that she has a meeting with her financial guy and it doesn’t look promising. She’s right.
Saying that lightning doesn’t strike twice when it comes to “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” is an understatement. To begin with, “BaSGtVDM” feels like a seriously unfunny comedy from another time altogether, say the 1970s or 1980s. In all fairness, the movie gets off to a brief good start, opening with an onscreen definition of culottes. This is followed by a newspaper delivery boy Yoyo (Reyn Doi) pedaling his bike down the street, flinging his wares onto lawns and porches, all the while singing along to Barbra Streisand’s “Guilty,” which is playing through his headphones. It’s all downhill from there.
“Nomadland” begins in 2011, shortly after sheetrock maker U.S. Gypsum shut down its Empire, Nevada plant, essentially turning it into a zip code-less ghost town. Fern, a widow, packs up what she needs from her storage unit, pays off the debt in cash, and hits the road in her camper van. After checking into an RV park, she heads to her job at Amazon where she works in the warehouse. It’s a job her friend Linda (Linda May) got for her and one she enjoys. At least that’s what she tells a concerned friend she runs into in a sporting goods store. When the friend’s daughter asks her if she’s homeless, Fern replies that she’s “houseless,” not homeless, explaining they are not the same thing.
Korean immigrant Jacob (Steven Yeun) wants to make a better life for himself, his wife Monica (Yeri Han), their 7-year-old son David (Alan S. Kim) and their slightly older daughter Anne (Noel Cho). To do so, he relocates the four of them from California to Arkansas in the 1980s. He swaps a job sexing and sorting chicks at a hatchery for another one doing the same thing. He’s good at it and fast. Monica wasn’t, however, but as he tells her, she will be fast enough for Arkansas.
Pianist Sam (Colin Firth) and author Tusker (Stanley Tucci) are a married gay couple who have been together for many years. Their communication consists of playful banter, sweet bickering and loving admiration. The pair, who live in Sam’s native England, are on a road trip in their caravan with their dog Ruby. Among the plans they have for this journey are revisiting a campsite from years earlier, as well as a stopover at the home of Sam’s sister Lilly (Pippa Haywood), her husband Clive (Peter MacQueen) and daughter Charlotte (Nina Marlin). A recital, marking Sam’s return to concert performance, is also on the schedule.
This voyage, however, has more significance than others. Tusker, who has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, is in rapid decline. For all intents and purposes, this odyssey is a chance for Tusker to say goodbye to people who have meant something to him.
Directed by Oscar-winning actress Regina King, “One Night in Miami…” is a fictional dramatization inspired by true events. An adaptation of Kemp Powers’ play of the same name, it brings together four men from different backgrounds whose contributions to Black culture continues to resonate to the present day. They are boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), before he was known as Muhammad Ali; soul singer and songwriter Sam Cooke (“Hamilton”’s Leslie Odom, Jr.); human and civil rights activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir, who also manages to channel Barack Obama at the same time); and football legend turned actor Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).
In Mike Mosallam’s affectionate Ramadam rom-com "Breaking Fast" (Vertical), Mo (out actor Haaz Sleiman) is a devout, disciplined Muslim doctor who has reconciled his religious dedication with his queer sexuality.
However, it is at an iftar that Mo and Hassan’s relationship reaches its tragic conclusion. Threatened with being outed to his father by a religious cousin, Hassan breaks up with Mo, deciding to marry a woman and start a family to honor his father. Naturally, Mo is devastated. But Mo’s OTT friend Sam (Amin El Gamal) can’t stand to see his best friend sad and single. At Sam’s birthday party (during Ramadan one year later), he arranges a match for Mo with actor Kal (Michael Cassidy): flirty, funny, affectionate, hot and smart, Kal is the complete package.
Widow Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) and Nina (Barbara Sukowa, a favorite of the late queer filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder) have been clandestine lovers for 20 years. Neighbors who have lived across the hall from each other in identical apartments for a considerable length of time, they have kept their relationship a secret from everyone, including Madeleine’s adult daughter Anne (Léa Drucker) and son Frédéric (Jérôme Varanfrain).
Whatever the case may be, Nina is under the impression that all is going as planned. When she discovers that it isn’t, she has harsh words with Mado and storms off. Possibly the result of the confrontation, or even the stress of living with her secret for as long as she has, or just genetics, Mado has a stroke and Nina finds her and calls an ambulance.
The following five 2020 movies represent the best in LGBTQ titles including “The Half of It,” “Benjamin,” and “Circus of Books.”
Set in Colombo, Sri Lanka during the mid-1970s and early 1980s, especially turbulent years leading up to the beginning of the civil war between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, that lasted for 26 years (!), “Funny Boy” is timely for a variety of reasons.
By the movie’s early 1980s midpoint, teenage Arjie (Brandon Ingram) is enrolled in high school. It is there that he meets Sinhalese Oscar Wilde-quoting classmate Shehan (Rehan Mudannayake). Before long, the teens realize that they have many things in common, including being queer, as well as a mutual attraction.
Not that they could have predicted a health crisis of this magnitude, but forward-thinking streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and HBO Max benefited in a big way from the pandemic. The following wrap-up of 2020 LGBT movies is drawn from traditional, independent and streaming sources from dynamic docs to Drama queens and laughing matters.
Written by Matthew Sklar, Chad Beguelin (who is gay) and Bob Martin, “The Prom” is about the way disparate worlds clash and somehow mesh. Lesbian high schooler Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman) wants to attend the prom with her girlfriend in her small-minded Indiana town (is there any other kind in the land of Mike Pence?). She is met by resistance, primarily from PTA mother Mrs. Green (Kerry Washington), a monster in a sweater set who clings to her misguided “values.” Little does Mrs. Green know that Emma’s paramour is her daughter Alyssa (Ariana DeBose).
Cassie (Carey Mulligan) is the titular promising young woman: a med school dropout, about to turn 30, who lives at home with her concerned and confused parents Susan (Jennifer Coolidge) and Stanley (Clancy Brown).
Cassie leads what you might call a double life. Her evenings are spent in her Ohio town’s bars where she appears to be too drunk to be a good judge of the guys with whom she goes home. However, once alone with corporate type Jerry (Adam Brody) or nerdy cokehead Neil (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), she reveals her sobriety, terrifying them in the process, thereby stopping their potential sexual assaults dead in their tracks. Cassie keeps a journal with the names of the various men with whom she’s done her act, utilizing hash marks to keep score, if you will.
The foundation of “The Estate” (Stone Lane Pictures) is horror, but it’s also amusing, erotic and full of double-crosses.
As “The Estate” opens, shallow gay George (Chris Baker, who also wrote the screenplay) is doing a TV interview with Bonnie (Billings) about having survived a horrific event that occurred in his home, prompting him to write the book “I, Victim: A Memoir.” We then flashback to a year ago. At that time, George is watching TV coverage of the Black and White Gala. He is interrupted by Lux (Eliza Coupe), the current wife of his father Marcello (Roberts), shrieking his name.
As is perhaps common in psychosexual triangles, petty jealousies arise, alliances form. The law firm’s investigator Ellison (Rif Hutton) grows suspicious of some of the events taking place. Lux tries to get George to team up with her against Joe, pinning everything on him. But her plan backfires as George and Joe have already made a pact of their own and she joins the body count.
From the moment she appears onscreen, performing a show in a tent in rural Georgia in 1927, followed by a more professionally presented concert in a theater, it’s impossible to take our eyes off of queer mother of the blues, Ma Rainey (Viola Davis).
Her band, led by trumpeter Cutler (gay actor Colman Domingo, whom some may remember for his portrayal of Maya Angelou on “The Big Gay Sketch Show”), is already at the studio rehearsing for the session. Also there is pianist Toledo (Glynn Turman), bass player Slow Drag (Michael Potts), and ambitious trumpeter Levee (the late Chadwick Boseman). Levee is an unrelenting thorn in Ma and the band’s side. He writes and plays arrangements that differ from Ma’s. He scoffs at the older band members, becoming threatening to Cutler and Toledo. He even dares to flirt with Dussie Mae.
In “Run” (Hulu/Lionsgate), the second full-length feature from Director Aneesh Chaganty (2018’s “Searching”), Paulson plays Diane, an overbearing mother of a teenage daughter, Chloe (Kiera Allen in her feature film debut) with a number of debilitating health issues including arrhythmia, hemochromatosis, asthma and diabetes. Chloe is also a paraplegic and uses a wheelchair. We are led to believe that these disabilities are related to her premature birth.
Chloe, who is extremely bright, begins to notice cracks in her mother’s foundation. She innocently snoops and makes a shocking discovery about one of her medications.
A retro time capsule, “Dating Amber” is set in 1995, a couple of years after the decriminalization of “same-sex sexual activity” in that church-oriented country.
Unfortunately, in the town where Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) and Amber (Lola Petticrew), live, which is centered around a military base, being queer is still considered a cause for ridicule and abuse. This is especially true at the Catholic school they attend, where lead bully Kev (Ian O’Reilly) is relentless.
Queer Abby and straight Molly are longtime besties with something in common. Each one is still reeling from a painful breakup. Due to their fragile states, they agreed to have a more intimate Thanksgiving — just the two of them and Molly’s infant son Eden.
Much to Abby’s chagrin, Molly has made changes to the plan. Actress Molly, who describes herself as a “prettiot,” has a hot new boyfriend of 17 days named Jeff and has invited him to join them. A vulnerable phone conversation with Lauren leads to Molly inviting her, her husband Dan and their two kids. Lauren then proceeds to invite other people, including a trio of lesbians — Denim, Palo and Civil — one of whom she hopes will make a connection with the closed-off Abby.
Commodities broker Rory (a particularly greasy Jude Law) and horse-riding instructor Allison (Carrie Coon giving an Oscar-worthy performance) have a nice life in New York. They live with their two kids, Ben (Charlie Shotwell) and Sam (Oona Roche), Allison’s teenage daughter from a previous marriage.
Rory tells Allison there’s a business opportunity too good to pass up in about-to-be booming London, where regulations and the culture have changed. It’s a chance for him to make some real money.
It doesn’t take long before the briefly happy period begins to come to an end. Rory is busily scheming, making multiple incorrect assumptions at work. Allison’s horse is being difficult, acting wildly. Ben wets his bed. Sam smokes in secret. When Allison drives the kids to school, they are always late.
“Wolfboy” opens with 13-year-old Paul (Jaeden Martell, whom you may recognize from “St. Vincent,” “It,” and “Knives Out”) repeating to himself, “I’m normal. I’m a regular kid.” Paul, who has hypertrichosis (“an abnormal amount of hair growth over the body”), is reluctantly going to a carnival with his father Denny (Chris Messina) to celebrate his birthday.
Back home, after a traumatic experience at the carnival, Paul discovers another gift that is supposedly from his mother who abandoned him and Denny after he was born. In the box is a map with a message about meeting her, written in red ink, including an address. After an argument with Denny, Paul runs away to find his mother.
Freshman Alex (Raiff) is struggling. He and his roommate Sam (Logan Miller), a young man with serious addiction issues, barely tolerate each other. So that his mother (Amy Landecker of “Transparent” fame) back home in Dallas won’t worry about him, he invents friends, Josh and Emily, and active social life. His closest friend is, in fact, a stuffed animal dog Alex brought from home, with whom he has silent (and occasionally humorous) conversations.
Stifled writer and stay-at-home mom Laura (Rashida Jones) has her hands full with school-age Maya (Liyanna Muscat) and her younger sister Theo (played by twins Alexandra and Anna Reimer). Her busy daily routine includes getting Maya to and from school, hanging out with Theo and making sure meals are prepared, including dinner for husband Dean (Marlon Wayans), as well as trying to get work done on the book for which she received an advance.
If you were the least bit disappointed by “Antebellum” (and let’s face it, who wasn’t?), then “Spiral” (shudder.com), airing on AMC Network’s Shudder channel, might be more to your liking. By combining elements from classic modern horror influences, from Polanski to Peele, and adding some specifically queer twists, “Spiral” has the potential to make your head spin — in a good way.
Queer filmmaker Catherine Gund has a history of choosing fascinating LGBT topics for her documentaries. For her latest film, Gund shifts gears and gets somewhat personal with “Aggie” (Strand Releasing), which is about her mother, the art collector and philanthropist Agnes Gund.
Set in pre-Stonewall 1968 Manhattan, the titular “boys” are anything but. With the exception of one, all of the men are 30 and above, making aging a central theme; an obsession for some gay men that has not abated.
Homophobic, racist, sexist, ageist and all-around politically incorrect, “Sixteen Candles” could easily be relegated to the cancel bin. That said, there are just enough redeeming facets in this pre-Brat Pack coming of age comedy for it to deserve be seen, especially with our more sensitive and aware eyes.
“Antebellum” opens with a William Faulkner quote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Then, for the first 40 minutes of the movie, we witness the brutality of life on a “reformer plantation … commandeered by the confederacy.” Confederate soldiers patrol the grounds, watch over the cotton fields where slaves pick cotton by hand and are routinely beaten, sexually abused and killed; their bodies disposed of in a burn shed.
Not quite an overnight sensation, Helen Reddy achieved her greatest fame with “I Am Woman,” the titular song she co-wrote for her third album (which is also the name of this movie). The timing of the song, as the Equal Rights Amendment was garnering much attention, made the song the unofficial anthem of the women’s movement. Equally important is that the song was the first of a string of several hit singles for Reddy.
Regardless of the emphasis on the “past,” many of us are well aware that other insidious techniques, such as so-called faith-based “conversion therapy” are still in practice in 31 states. The focus of “Cured,” however, is the historic (and revolutionary) 1973 decision by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness in the organization’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).
P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes’ “House of Cardin”(Utopia), about fashion legend Pierre Cardin, ranks among the best on (or off) the rack. What makes this indisputable is that Cardin, who turned 98 in early July 2020, is a strong and vibrant presence in the film. His sense of humor, his indispensable wisdom, his ongoing work ethic and a still sharp eye for detail make him one of the most endearing figures in the world of fashion.
Aubrey (Virginia Gardner) is struggling to deal with the death of her BFF Grace (Christina Masterson). Following the late December funeral, Aubrey takes shelter in Grace’s apartment, which is a sort of museum of oddities. When she wakes the next morning, Aubrey realizes that something is wrong. There is no electricity, the landline is dead. Out the window she can see smoke from fires in the distance. Outside, there are abandoned cars and bloody trails in the snow, and no people. Then there’s the monster that chases her inside a café.
There’s so much familiar territory visited in gay writer/director Thom Fitzgerald’s “Stage Mother”(Momentum) that watching it conjures feelings of déjà vu. A gay son is abandoned by his religious southern family, but his mother undergoes a kind of spiritual awakening and sees the error of her ways.
Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), an alcoholic who abruptly ends her recovery, is convinced that she will die tomorrow. The first person she tells is highly suggestible Jane (Jane Adams who steals the show in every scene in which she appears), and that’s probably a bad idea. A visual artist who is one blank canvas away from insanity, Jane becomes completely obsessed with her own death.
The titular character, Benjamin (a fantastic Colin Morgan) is a socially awkward and insecure filmmaker. Fumbling along as best he can, no one around him – producer Tessa (Anna Chancellor), publicist Billie (Jessica Raine), best friend and comedian Stephen (Joel Fry) or actor Harry (Jack Rowan) – seems to be able to provide him with guidance, personal or professional. Then he meets Noah (Phénix Brossard), a Guildhall music school student from Paris who is the lead singer of a band, another of the “thin boys on stage” he tends to fall for. As Stephen sums it up, Benjamin just likes “people who are well-lit and weak.”
Alice (Natalia Dyer of “Stranger Things” fame) is a student at an extremely conservative midwestern Catholic high school at the turn of the 21st century. The kind of school where an adult hall monitor, the very pregnant Mrs. Veda (Donna Lynne Champline), hands out demerits like they’re candy, and carries a ruler to measure the height of female students’ skirts. The morality class, taught by Father Murphy (“Veep”’s Timothy Simons) is full of all sorts of warnings about God’s plan, God’s watchful eye, and the sin of masturbation.
Let’s face it, we’re not going to be going anywhere for a while. With most of the country facing a devastating number of COVID-19 infections, and the rate showing no signs of declining, people are looking for sources of safe indoor entertainment, such as watching movies. Here are a few titles worth checking out on VOD, streaming, virtual cinema or good old-fashioned Blu-ray or DVD.
Moving back and forth in time, from 1992 to flashbacks in the late 1950s and early 1960s, “The Wife” begins on a nervous night when celebrated novelist Joe (a scenery devouring Jonathan Pryce) is having difficulty sleeping. He’s eating sweets that are bad for him at 2 a.m. in anticipation of a phone call. He tells Joan that “if this thing doesn’t happen” he doesn’t “want to be around for the sympathy calls.” He wants to “rent a cabin in Maine” and “stare at a fire.”
“Sorry to Bother You” (Annapurna), written and directed by filmmaker and rapper Boots Riley, now joins that distinguished league. Funny, freaky, confrontational, timely and very necessary, “Sorry to Bother You” takes its title in a variety of fascinating directions.
In the midst of an existential crisis, Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) is in desperate need of a job and a better place to live in Oakland. He resides in his uncle Sergio’s (Terry Crews) garage. Not only does the door fly open at inopportune times – while he’s making love to artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), for example – but he’s months behind on the rent. Cassius is both sorry and not sorry for being a bother to his uncle.
Based on the play by J.M. Barrie (and preceding the Broadway musical starring Mary Martin by a year), “Peter Pan” is essentially a story about leaving childhood behind. Wendy (Kathryn Beaumont), the eldest of the Darling children, still sleeps in the nursery with her younger brothers John (Paul Collins) and Michael (Tommy Luske). When father Mr. Darling (Hans Conried) becomes fed up by the Peter Pan stories the imaginative Wendy tells her brothers, he announces that beginning the next night, she will be sleeping in her own room.
In Jarman’s version, following the death of his father, 14th-century English king Edward II (Steven Waddington) calls for the return of his exiled lover Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan). Not surprisingly, this doesn’t sit well with his wife Isabella (Jarman’s muse Tilda Swinton). What follows is a familiar story of powerful queer people being forced to keep their sexuality a secret and the price they pay for standing up to those who would rather see them dead than alive and living their true lives.
Set in an Orthodox Jewish community in London, “Disobedience” begins with the death of the beloved religious leader Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser). Krushka’s estranged daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz), a New York-based photographer of renown, is notified of his death while at her studio. In a state of shock, Ronit processes the loss by having sex with a man in a bar’s bathroom stall and then going ice skating.
Still numb, Ronit makes it back to London in time for some of the mourning period.
“RBG”’s timeline moves from the present to the recent past and the distant past. Included among her many feats are her 1993 Supreme Court hearing confirmation, her unlikely friendship with the late Antonin Scalia, her brilliant strategies and preparedness, and her consuming love of the law. Most of all, “RBG” highlights Ginsburg’s fights against injustices and gender discriminations by showing that gender-based discrimination exists and treating gender discrimination the same as race discrimination, leading to her ultimate goal of equality and civil rights for all.
Pregnant Marlo (Theron) is nearing the end of her rope. Days away from her due date, she looks like her belly could burst at any moment. A mother of two school-aged children, daughter Sarah (Lia Frankland) and “quirky” son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), Marlo has a history of instability during stressful periods.
When Marlo’s financially flourishing brother Craig (Mark Duplass) offers her and husband Drew (Ron Livingston) the unusual new baby gift of a night nanny, at first they balk.
The metropolis’ dogs, many of whom are in failing health, have been banished to secluded Trash Island. With them all in one place, Kobayashi plans to kill every dog if he wins re-election. His electoral victory seems like a done deal, with the chances of Science Party candidate Watanabe (Akira Ito), who has been researching a curative serum for the dogs, becoming increasingly slim by the minute.
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.
Directionless young woman Sawyer (Claire Foy) has attempted to find herself through various types of education and employment. Before accepting a position that put her in a cubicle in a bank, she worked in hospice. It was there that she met David (Joshua Leonard), the son of an Alzheimer’s patient, and her life was forever changed. For the worse.
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.
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.
Set in Emerald Bay, Florida, lifeguard Mitch (an unfortunate Dwayne Johnson) is well-aware that his job is more involved than just rescuing drowning surfers and children. He has the support of fellow Baywatchers CJ (Kelly Rohrbach, an actress so stilted she makes Pamela Anderson look like Meryl Streep) and Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera), but he needs to expand his crew.
Luckily, the time for lifeguard tryouts has arrived.
When Richard (Joel Edgerton of Kinky Boots fame) asks his pregnant girlfriend Mildred (Ruth Negga) to marry him, little did they realize what they would be setting in motion. Because it was illegal for them to marry in Virginia, the couple drives to Washington, DC, accompanied by Mildred’s father Theoliver (Christopher Mann), to be married by a Justice of the Peace. Back in Virginia, asleep in their bed in Mildred’s parents’ house, they are arrested and taken to jail by Sheriff Brooks (Marton Csokas). The next day, when Richard is released on bail, he is not permitted by law to arrange for Mildred’s release and she must stay behind bars for a few more days.
The first three months of the year make up the part of the winter movie season where bad movies go to die. Films deemed unworthy of release at other times of the year are unleashed on unsuspecting moviegoers, resulting in tragic box office returns and scathing reviews.
Cases in point include the big-budget bomb “The Kid Who Would Be King,” as well as “Glass,” yet another reputation-shattering movie from M. Night Shyamalan.
France once again makes the most of timing with his difficult-to-watch, but necessary, doc “Welcome to Chechnya” (HBO Documentary Films). Beginning with the disclaimer, “for their safety, people fleeing for their lives have been digitally disguised,” France then introduces us to David Isteev, the Russian LGBT Network’s Crisis Response Coordinator, who is on the phone with “Anya,” a 21-year-old Chechen lesbian whose life is in danger. From that point on, we watch as Isteev makes plans to rescue the woman.
Under the radical right-wing leadership of maniacal ruler and Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, mass detention, torture and murder of LGBT people has become a common occurrence in Chechnya, a closed society with its own customs and language. Being gay is considered a disgrace in Chechnya, a shame so great that it can only be washed away by blood, leading many to kill their own gay family members.
Stage-struck Montana to NYC transplant Anthony (hammy Jeffrey A. Johns) and hot, straight stripper roommate Tony (Adam Huss) still live together after all these years. Anthony has a boyfriend, gay stripper Lee (Blake Peyrot), and Tony has a girlfriend, Rita (Rena Strober). Lee and Rita have been enlisted to help Anthony make “the world’s greatest video submission ever”, not to get him his big break in musical theater, but for a singing waiter gig at Café Broadway (where Rita also works while waiting to become a star) in Times Square.
Anthony gets the gig (turns out he had it all along), but his showbiz world is about to turn on its swelled head.
Don’t watch Director and co-writer Judd Apatow’s “The King of Staten Island” (Universal) expecting to yuck it up over the goofy antics of man-child Scott (Pete Davidson). Sure, there are jokes, including several at the expense of Staten Island. But don’t kid yourself; this is serious stuff.
As co-written by Davidson, Scott is an affable, directionless 24-year old wannabe tattoo artist with ADD who has never properly dealt with the death of his fireman father when he was seven. He still lives at home with his nurse mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) and younger sister Claire (Maude Apatow). He wastes most of his time getting wasted with drug dealer buddy Oscar (Ricky Velez) and dead-end pals Igor (Moises Arias) and Richie (Lou Wilson). Kelsey (Bel Powley) is Scott’s regular sex partner, but her patience with him is running short due to his lack of commitment to her and his non-existent ambition in life.
Ross, the daughter of diva Diana Ross, plays Grace Davis, a celebrated recording star with 11 Grammys to her name struggling to stay relevant in an industry that favors the young. The best years of her recording career appear to be behind her as her record label is only interested in releasing the greatest hits compilations or live albums (in which she sings her hits). Her longtime play-it-safe manager Jack (Ice Cube, who proves himself to be a better actor than he has previously and manages to make his hackneyed dialogue sound almost realistic) is prepared to relegate her to a Caesar’s Palace residency, but Grace isn’t so sure about that.
Her over-worked and undervalued assistant Maggie (Dakota Johnson) has other ideas.
In the case of “CRSHD,” it’s the last night of college student Izzy’s (Isabelle Barbier) freshman year and, much to her chagrin, she’s still a virgin. Her best friends Anuka (Deeksha Ketkar) and queer Fiona (Sadie Scott) are far more sexually experienced. Because of that, they take it upon themselves to help Izzy achieve her goal of leaving that part of herself behind.
While not exactly outcasts, the trio are outsiders, visible to only the friendliest of the cool kids on campus. Brainy Izzy does have an admirer, Oliver (Ralph Fineberg), from her astrophysics class. He attempts to make conversation with her, especially when it comes to their impending astro final exam, but Izzy has her sights set on unattainable Nolan (Abdul Seidu).
Horror continues to rank among the most popular of cinematic genres.
Perhaps it has to do with the current state of the world — the dire climate change outlook and the dangerous politicians in power. The heyday of slasher flicks has come and gone and a new breed of horror movies — subtle, psychological and no less terrifying — has emerged. Comedy also has begun to play a lead role in the genre. The kooky “Extra Ordinary” (Cranked Up/Kino Lorber), the full-length feature debut by co-directors/writer Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman,
which is said to be inspired by the Coen brothers’ comedic work, is a perfect example. While the comedy itself is completely irreverent (some of the jokes flirt with tastelessness), the references (including a few to “The Exorcist” and “The Conjuring”) are thoroughly reverent.
Set in the seaside fishing village of Easter Cove, Maine, “Blow The Man Down” (which incorporates sea shanties throughout), opens with sisters Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) sharing nips from a flask before attending their mother Mary Margaret’s funeral. After the funeral, the sisters talk with Mary Margaret’s best friends Susie (June Squibb), Doreen (Marceline Hugot) and Gail (Annette O’Toole). In addition to being called away from college for the funeral, Mary Beth also discovers that she and Pris are in the process of losing their home.
“Bombshell” calls itself “a dramatization inspired by actual events”. In reality, it’s a coulda/woulda kinda movie. A completely missed opportunity that takes’ Ailes “frighten and titillate” mantra as a challenge. The story of the downfall of repugnant sexual predator Roger Ailes (played by John Lithgow) at the hands of sexual harassment victims, including Megyn Kelly (a respectable Charlize Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and the fictional composite Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), didn’t need all the breaking down of the fourth wall and confusingly alternating between vintage and original footage. What it needed was better and more focused storytelling.
Writer/director Ari Aster calls “Midsommar”(A24), his second full-length feature (after his 2018 masterwork “Hereditary”), an “operatic break-up movie” with fairy tale influences. That’s only partly true. Yes, there are elements that echo some of the gruesomeness of the work of dark folklorists Brothers Grimm.
Yes, the relationship of the two main characters – needy, clingy and deeply depressed Dani (an incredible Florence Pugh) and an increasingly worn-down Christian (Jack Reynor) – is so much on the rocks it should have a strong drink named for it. But don’t be distracted, “Midsommar” is modern horror on par with its predecessor and even includes several similarities, such as the way religious rituals are carried on without questioning their validity or cost to life, the use of fire, and the eventual crowning of a new supreme leader (i.e. the May Queen).
Opening with a hilarious disclaimer and featuring the naïve narration of the titular character, “Diamantino” compares a soccer stadium to the Sistine Chapel, declaring the most beautiful art created today is being made on the soccer field and that Diamantino is the sport’s Michelangelo. His work is sublime, giving the fans faith and a transcendent experience.
The fans aren’t the only ones transported when Diamantino plays. The player himself is regularly wrapped up in a fantasy in which the field is awash with pink fog and giant, fluffy Pekingese dogs (that only he can see) assist him in scoring goals.
Set in the mid-1990s, on the grounds of a Catholic school, “Climax” is about a talented group of dancers who have been brought together to rehearse and perform as troupe with the promise of a trip to New York. After the opening shot of a woman, covered in blood collapsing in the snow, we are shown videotaped interviews with each of the straight and gay, black and white dancers, most of whom are French, talking about what dancing means to them and how they are willing to do anything to be chosen.
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.
Young gay man Adrian (queer actor Cory Michael Smith), living and working in Manhattan, returns to his family home in Fort Worth for Christmas. It’s first time home for the holidays since 1982, a point that his macho laborer father Dale (Michael Chiklis) makes a point of mentioning on the drive home from the airport.
Like Marvel’s “Black Panther”, much of “Aquaman” is about protecting an ancient civilization from the encroachment of outsiders. In this case, it’s the thriving but threatened Atlanteans of Atlantis who are being led into doing battle with the destructive land-dwellers by a misguided king. Amongst the land-dwelling evildoers are a team of pirates including the soon-to-named Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who is hell-bent on avenging his father’s death, which he blames on the adult Aquaman (Momoa, of the severely limited acting range).
Socially awkward and suffering from increasingly bad health (gout is a nasty disease), Queen Anne (an Oscar-worthy Olivia Colman) relies on her closest confidant (and, as it turns out, lover) Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz, equally deserving of an Oscar) for guidance on a variety of topics, both public and private. Sarah’s interests are two-fold as she is also the wife of Lord Marlborough (Mark Gatiss), a general in the ongoing war between the British and the French.
In “Boy Erased” (Focus Features), the second film directed by and co-starring Joel Edgerton (“Kinky Boots”), Hedges steps into the lead and easily owns the movie, which is based on the memoir by Garrard Conley (renamed Jared in the movie). Jared (Hedges) is the only son of preacher and Ford dealership owner Marshall (Russell Crowe) and his devout and devoted bleached-blonde wife Nancy (the ubiquitous Nicole Kidman). Jared is the very definition of a good son from a religiously conservative home. A player on his high school’s basketball team and a good, college-bound student who resists the temptation of pre-marital sex, he is a source of pride for his parents.
Stevie’s 18-year-old big brother Ian (Oscar-nominee, queer actor Lucas Hedges) thinks nothing of slamming his kid brother into a wall and then sitting on top of him and pummeling him. Stevie, who doesn’t have a favorable opinion of himself is also prone to self-harm, roughly scraping his thigh with a hairbrush or trying to strangle himself with a video-game cord.
One fateful day Stevie discovers the Motor Avenue Skateshop where he overhears four friends – store employee Ray (Na-kel Smith), stoner Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), wannabe filmmaker Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin) and young Ruben (Gio Galicia) – having a ridiculous “would you rather” conversation. Wanting to fit in, Stevie trades his videogames for Ian’s skateboard and begins teaching himself to skate.
In an unspecified future, children and adolescents are rounded up and put into concentration camps due to their special powers where they are ranked, and sometimes eliminated, by color. Green are smart, blue are telekinetic, orange have mind-control abilities and the most-feared red are fire-makers. President Gray (Bradley Whitford), whose son Clancy (Patrick Gibson) is in the orange category, tries to make an example of his son, putting him through all sorts of painful treatments.
Camille (Rachelle Vinberg), a socially-awkward 18-year-old, lives with her single mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez from “Orange Is The New Black”) on Long Island. She enjoys going to the skateboard park and working on her skating skills. She also posts videos of herself skateboarding on Instagram. When she takes a serious fall at the local skateboard park, getting banged up and “credit carded” in her genital region, she is treated by a gynecologist in the emergency room. Her overprotective mother’s main concern is that she might have done something to herself that would affect her ability to have children.
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. Additionally, interviews with Sweet’s friend, classmate and fellow photographer Gary Monroe, Jewish historian Susan Gladstone, crime writer and novelist Edna Buchanan (who first came to Miami Beach in the early ‘60s), Sweet’s sister Ellen Sweet Moss and his brother-in-law Stan Hughes, Mitchell Kaplan of Books & Books, filmmaker and Miami native Kelly Reichardt, and gallerist Denise Bibro, add to the spirit of the documentary.
“I, Tonya” (Neon), stands out from the rest for its inventive and memorable approach to storytelling. “Based on irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gilooly”, director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers present a hilarious, frightening and deservedly unflattering portrait of ambition, competition and abuse.
With “God’s Own Country” (Samuel Goldwyn Films/Orion), out actor turned writer/director Francis Lee has crafted one of the most impressive, if somewhat unsettling, debut features of 2017. As the sun rises over the main house of a farm in Yorkshire, England, we hear and then see Johnny (Josh O’Connor) vomiting into a toilet. He’s sick from binge-drinking the night before and his mother Deidre (Gemma Jones) lets Johnny know that he kept her and his father Martin (Ian Hart) up half the night with his being sick.
In Sean Baker’s latest, “The Florida Project” (A24), Halley (Bria Vinaite, making her film debut) is a young, tatted, single mother who, after losing her job in a strip-club, takes to turning tricks in the motel room she shares with young daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince in a star-making performance). There is nothing magical about The Magic Castle, the motel where Halley and Moonee live, in Orlando on the depressed fringes of Walt Disney World. Manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) likes to think otherwise as he does is best to maintain civility and order among the guests, most of whom are one missed weekly payment from homelessness. He takes pride in the establishment and does what he can to keep up appearances.
One of the objectives of a movie remake should be to improve on the original, and the new version of “It” (Warner Brothers/New Line) does so in one funny way. It’s much more amusing than its predecessor, due in large part to the wisecracking character of Richie, played by Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things” fame. Every time Richie cracks a joke, even the corny and inappropriate ones, the movie comes to life. Thankfully, the jokes are delivered at a rapid pace.
There are many things for which the year 2016 will be remembered, including one of the most divisive Presidential elections in the history of the United States. On the positive side, movies, long a reliable source of escapist entertainment didn’t disappoint. Considering that we will need plenty of this kind of pursuit in 2017 and beyond, here are my choices of the five best movies of 2016.
In “First Man” (Universal/DreamWorks), we are given an intimate glimpse into the life of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), as well as NASA’s preparations to put a man on the moon. Armstrong’s personal story is as integral to “First Man” as anything having to do with NASA’s Space Program.
These are Screen Savor's top 10 movies of 2019, featuring "Pain and Glory" and "Once Upon A Time in...Hollywood."
Emilio Estevez goes back to the library in “The Public” (Universal), his latest movie as actor, writer and director. Set in the downtown Cincinnati public library, during a particularly brutal winter, “The Public” features Estevez as Stuart, a kind-hearted head librarian, with a secret past.
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.
In “Straight Up,” gay millennial Todd is undergoing a severe sexual identity crisis, or so he tells friends Ryder (James Scully) and Meg (Dana Drori) in an L.A. diner. He believes he could statistically improve his love life if he started dating women. Todd thinks he was conditioned to be gay since being called a faggot in grade school. Even though Todd has never had gay sex, his friends disagree with him, pointing out that women aren’t “gay blind” anymore. He also shares this revelation, as well as his fear of being alone for the rest of his life, with Frances (Tracie Thoms), his psychoanalyst paid for by his parents.
Presented as a father (also voiced by Starr) reading a bedtime story to his son, “The Point” tells the story of Oblio (voiced by Mike Lookinland of “The Brady Bunch” fame), a boy who became an “involuntary instant celebrity” for being born with a round head. His mother made him a pointed cap, but Oblio still stood out in a place where conformity was the rule. When the village’s powerful and cruel Count (voiced by Lennie Weinrib) learns that his bully son has had a run-in with Oblio, it leads to a public tribunal and Oblio’s banishment (along with Arrow) to the Pointless Forest. While there, to the songs of Nilsson, he encounters a variety of characters (including a Rock Man voiced by Bill Martin, who tells Oblio, “You don’t have to have a point to have a point”) and situations, as well as empowering messages including “everyone has a point whether it shows or not” and “what’s in your head is more important than what’s on it.”
“The Hustle” (MGM/United Artists), a painfully unfunny wreck of a comedy that is a remake of 1964’s “Bedtime Story” and 1988’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” with a bit of “Taming of the Shrew” tossed in, raises more questions than it answers.
Among the first out of the post-“Love, Simon” gate is Keith Behrman’s “Giant Little Ones” (Vertical). Popular high school student and swim team member Franky (Josh Wiggins) has been best friends with fellow swimmer Ballas (Darren Mann) since they were kids. They share almost everything. The morning after Ballas and girlfriend Jess (Kiana Madeira) have sex for the first time, Ballas does everything but give Franky the blow-by-blow details.
Set in 1993, Cameron and her girlfriend Coley (Quinn Shephard) find themselves in big trouble when they are caught having sex in the backseat of a car by Jamie (Dalton Harrod), Cameron’s date for the homecoming dance. Cameron, who has been living with her religious Aunt Ruth (Butler) following the death of her parents, is scolded by her church’s pastor. Before you know it, Ruth is dropping Cameron off at the campus of conversion therapy site God’s Promise where she is to be a “disciple.”
“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 shortlist 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.