Keep up with the latest movie releases with SFGN's Gregg Shapiro:
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.
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.