Tag Archives: coming-of-age

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2017

‘Get Out’
Release Date: Feb. 24, 2017
Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams and Bradley Whitford
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: R for violence, bloody images and language including sexual references.
Grade: A+

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Obviously, I loved “Get Out.” If you somehow have not seen and loved “Get Out” by now, I hope you do so immediately. What more can be said about this hugely successful movie? It’s easily the best horror film of 2017 and one of the defining horror films of our generation. So many things about “Get Out” are brilliantly executed, thanks to Jordan Peele’s excellent writing and directing talents. It’s frightening, savvy and thought-provoking — so topical it’s inspired countless analyzations, memes and major award nominations. The film follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a black photographer, who is going to meet his white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family for the first time. He quickly notices something off about the countryside neighborhood, the father who is swift to brag about voting for Obama, and the only two other black people present — a highly-strung maid (Betty Gabriel) and a silent groundskeeper (Marcus Henderson). As the visit goes on, the film’s clever twists and turns lead the viewer on a terrifying and all too real journey. Best of all is the brilliant conclusion and electrifying final scene that seems to succinctly sum up the film’s overall message.

‘XX’
Release Date: Feb. 17, 2017
Director: Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin and Karyn Kusama
Starring: Natalie Brown, Melanie Lynskey and Breeda Wool
Genre: Horror
Rating: R for horror violence, language and brief drug use.
Grade: C

Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

I enjoy horror anthologies for a lot of reasons. I appreciate the short story format, and I love the opportunity to see multiple directors’ takes on the genre. “XX” is a 2017 horror anthology featuring the work of only female directors, which is also cool. It would’ve been cooler if the shorts were better, but what can you do? The best piece is “The Birthday Party,” also known as “The Memory Lucy Suppressed From Her Seventh Birthday That Wasn’t Really Her Mom’s Fault (Even Though Her Therapist Says It’s Probably Why She Fears Intimacy).” This short was written and directed by indie musician Annie Clark, who performs under the stage name St. Vincent. Starring Melanie Lynskey as neurotic housewife Mary, “The Birthday Party” is the most put-together and well-acted story. It’s darkly funny, slightly creepy and thoroughly entertaining. The scariest piece is the anthology’s most simple, Roxanne Benjamin’s “Don’t Fall,” which is straightforward in its depiction of a group of friends who encounter a demonic creature while camping. They hear it, then it gets ‘em, and that’s it. The end. Karyn Kusama, who brought us “The Invitation” last year, presents “Her Only Living Son,” a complex piece that could absolutely be expanded into a full-length feature tackling the idea of Rosemary’s baby growing up to be Rosemary’s pubescent teenager. And, finally, Jovanka Vuckovic attempts an adaptation of a Jack Ketchum short story with “The Box.” It’s a thought-provoking and eerie story, but it’s poorly executed and the acting is abysmal.

‘Raw’
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Director: Julia Ducournau
Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf and Laurent Lucas
Genre: Drama, Horror
Rating: R for aberrant behavior, bloody and grisly images, strong sexuality, nudity, language and drug use/partying.
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of Focus World.

“Raw” is a great horror film. It’s so disturbing and bloody that viewers reportedly fainted during early screenings, but it’s also very relatable! There are some really sick, depraved scenes that are all kinds of fun for gore aficionados, and some excellent character development to elevate the story beyond the surface level. Justine (Garance Marillier), a lifelong vegetarian raised in an all-vegetarian family, is heading off for her first semester at the same veterinary school her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) attends. She is shocked by the unfamiliar environment and struggles to fit in. During a hazing ritual for incoming freshman, Justine is pressured to eat raw meat and finally does so after seeing her sister do the same. Unfortunately, this small taste awakens a dark thirst inside her for more. Like “Ginger Snaps” before it (which equated girls’ coming of age to becoming a werewolf), “Raw” appropriately compares cannibalism to female adolescence. Despite the strict protectiveness of her upbringing, Justine eventually finds a way to become free and explore her own identity. She is no longer able to suppress her inevitable growing desires — both sexual desires and the desire to eat human flesh. It’s an interesting film and a nicely-done take on the monstrosity of young adulthood.

‘It’
Release Date: Sept. 8, 2017
Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård and Sophia Lillis
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for violence/horror, bloody images and language.
Grade: C

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

“It” was definitely the high-budget, must-see horror film of the year, but I wasn’t too impressed. I was hoping this remake would fill in some of the gaps where the 1990 Stephen King adaptation was lacking (there were a lot), but it didn’t really do that. The 2017 “It” mostly excelled in its visuals. Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise the Dancing Clown is fabulously constructed and aesthetically impressive with his creepy, lurky smile and a costume ruffled for the gods. Several of the film’s phenomenal sets seem ready to be transported directly to Universal Studios for a Halloween Horror Nights maze. But the plot was as convoluted as ever. Basically, a group of youngsters have to work together to defeat a mysterious evil being that lives in the town’s sewer system, dresses in a clown costume and kidnaps children. Why does no one mention how strange this story is? It’s super weird and makes no sense for this monster to appear as a clown. Like, WHY is it a clown? In the original novel, It is actually a shapeshifting demon that takes the form of your greatest fear, which is an important bit of explanation that is never, ever brought up in the film. I guess they’re just assuming everyone’s greatest fear is a clown with a gigantic forehead?

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Capsule film reviews: Foreign LGBT movies (part 4)

‘The Way He Looks’ (Brazil)
Release Date: April 10, 2014
Director: Daniel Ribeiro
Starring: Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi and Tess Amorim
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of Vitrine Films.

“The Way He Looks” is actually a wonderful, creative coming-of-age movie. It centers on Leo (Ghilherme Lobo), a blind Brazilian high school student, who longs to gain his independence and study abroad in the United States despite the fears of his overprotective parents. The solid relationship he has with his best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim) is challenged when he begins pursuing a romance with Gabriel (Fabio Audi), the new boy in school. This interesting story is a breath of fresh air for the coming-of-age/gay teen romance genre. There are so many things “The Way He Looks” does well. The budding young love is perfectly paced, and the awkward jealousy between best friends when one starts dating is beautifully illustrated. Even Leo’s parents are well-written, complex characters that offer depth to the story rather than serving as stock characters to further the protagonist’s plotline. The film handles both Leo’s blindness and his sexuality tactfully, and it results in a really well-done, believable film.

‘Velociraptor’ (Mexico)
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Director: Chucho E. Quintero
Starring: Pablo Mezz, Carlos Hendrick Huber and Alan Aguilar
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Fantasy
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of TLA Releasing.

I have been looking forward to watching “Velociraptor” for a long time: a Spanish-language gay drama set against the backdrop of an apocalypse? That is right up my alley. And I’m so glad that the film exceeded my expectations. In “Velociraptor,” Álex (Pablo Mezz) and Diego (Carlos Hendrick Huber) are best friends spending some casual time together as the end of the world creeps closer and the people around them react accordingly. For Álex, who is gay, it particularly bothers him that he’s never found a guy he trusts enough to go all the way. And Diego is a really (really, very, very) supportive friend. “Velociraptor” greatly succeeds because of the amazing chemistry between the two leads, who are (for the most part) the only real characters in the entire movie. The characterization is believable and the tangible sexual tension is captivating. The storyline is excellent and super unconventional, which makes “Velociraptor” such a valuable contribution to queer cinema. I also love the well-executed flashback scenes that add depth to the story, as well as the voiceovers reporting on the status of planet Earth. “Velociraptor” will make you think about friendship and the ways people limit themselves in order to fit into society. Definitely one to check out.

‘How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)’ (Thailand)
Release Date: Feb. 8, 2015
Director: Josh Kim
Starring: Ingkarat Damrongsakkul, Thira Chutikul and Jinn Jinna Navarat
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

Photo courtesy of Wolfe Video.

On the eve of Thailand’s annual military draft lottery, now-21-year-old Oat is haunted by memories of his childhood and his first experience with the drafting process. The majority of the film takes place in flashbacks to Oat (Ingkarat Damrongsakkul) as an 11-year-old orphan growing up in the outskirts of Bangkok with his aunt, younger sister and older brother. “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” shows Oat beginning to lose his innocence and grow up as his brother Ek (Thira Chutikul) prepares to face the draft lottery and the corrupt system that is stacked against them. While Oat trains himself to beat Ek at a game of checkers so he can finally be allowed to accompany him to the gay bar where he works as an escort, the young boy also learns how adults “win” at real life: by doing whatever it takes. Although I would have liked to see more development of adult Oat in the present-day sequences, I think “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” is a great, well-done film. I enjoyed the characterization of Oat and Ek, as well as several supporting characters, including Ek’s more privileged long-term boyfriend Jai (Jinn Jinna Navarat) and their friend Kitty (Natarat Lakha), who is exempted from the draft because she is transgender.

‘Jongens’ (aka. ‘Boys’) (Netherlands)
Release Date: Feb. 9, 2014
Director: Mischa Kamp
Starring: Gijs Blom, Ko Zandvliet and Stijn Taverne
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C+

jongens

Photo courtesy of Pupkin Film.

“Jongens” (translated from Dutch as “Boys”) is all right for a quick little teen angst/romantic drama. Fifteen-year-old Sieger (Gijs Blom) lives with his single father (Ton Kas) and rebellious older brother Eddy (Jonas Smulders) after his mother’s death. He and his friends spend most of their time training as key runners on the local track team. When he is chosen as one member of a relay team that will compete in an important upcoming race, Sieger begins developing feelings for Marc (Ko Zandvliet), another boy on the team. Blom’s acting is pretty good: he does an impressive job conveying a lot of emotion with minimal dialogue, often by exchanging pointed glances with Zandvliet as Marc. The scenery is nice, and the accompanying soundtrack is a good complement to the storyline. Unfortunately, the plot is not particularly captivating or original, and the ending of “Jongens” is disappointingly ambiguous and anticlimactic. I didn’t dislike the film at all, but I probably wouldn’t watch it again. I would recommend this film, but I would recommend it to someone who hasn’t seen many films about gay romance yet, so the story may still be intriguing and new.

Check out more capsule film reviews of foreign LGBT movies here, here and here.

Capsule film reviews: Even more foreign LGBT movies

‘Night Flight’ (South Korea)
Release Date: Aug. 28, 2014
Director: Leesong Hee-il
Starring: Kwak Si-yang, Lee Jae-joon and Choi Jun-ha
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A-

nightflight

Photo courtesy of Finecut.

“Night Flight” is a very well-done story of loneliness and survival. It follows three former friends who have grown apart during high school. Gi-taek (Choi Jun-ha) uses comic books to escape from real life where he is bullied by his classmates, Gi-woong (Lee Jae-joon) tries to distance himself from everyone and expresses himself only through fighting, and Yong-ju (Kwak Si-yang) is realizing his sexuality and the feelings he’s had for Gi-woong since middle school. The seeming hopelessness of overcoming the teenage experience is always achingly sad, and it’s particularly well illustrated in this film. “Night Flight” is perfectly paced and thoroughly explores the relationships between each of the characters. Although it’s quite upsetting and violent throughout, it provides a satisfying ending. The least successful element of the film is its odd and out-of-place soundtrack — especially during the end credits, where the poignant final scene is cut off with the jarring sound of some jaunty indie folk song for some reason unbeknownst to me.

‘Blue is the Warmest Color’ (France)
Release Date: Oct. 9, 2013
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Starring: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Salim Kechiouche
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: NC-17 for explicit sexual content.
Grade: A-

blueisthewarmestcolor

Photo courtesy of Wild Bunch.

“Blue is the Warmest Color” has been one of the most critically acclaimed LGBT films in recent years, and it’s really pretty good. It’s a great, long (long, long) movie with the world’s longest, most in-depth sex scene. It’s almost comical how long and in-depth the sex scenes are in “Blue is the Warmest Color,” but it’s fitting because every scene is quite long and in-depth. I know it’s a very American thing to emphasize, but, damn, this movie is long. The story follows Adèle’s (Adèle Exarchopoulos) coming-of-age. She begins as a 15-year-old high school student struggling to convince herself she’s interested in boys, but eventually realizes she’s much more interested in an older, blue-haired painter named Emma (Léa Seydoux). The film artfully and thoroughly follows Adèle and Emma through the highs and lows of a first love. “Blue is the Warmest Color” is realistic — often harshly. It’s a well-told story with a strong ending, though, so it’s obvious to see why it’s become so beloved since its 2013 release.

‘Schoolboy Crush’ (Japan)
Release Date: Aug. 6, 2007
Director: Kôtarô Terauchi
Starring: Yoshikazu Kotani, Atsumi Kanno and Yuuki Kawakubo
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: D

schoolboycrush

Photo courtesy of TLA Releasing.

Wow, what a wild ride. Although “Schoolboy Crush” bills itself as some sort of sexy, twisted romance taking place in an all-boys boarding school in Japan, it’s actually more like three entire seasons of a soap opera condensed into a brisk 88 minutes. Not to be confused with the gay porn of the same name, “Schoolboy Crush” follows Aoi (Yoshikazu Kotani), a teacher who discovers that an escort he recently slept with is a new student in his class. To say that literally everything happens in this movie is not even that much of an exaggeration. There’s some kidnapping, suicide, bullying, stalking, prostitution, blackmail, love triangle, comas, tragic family backstory, marine biology… There’s even a very exciting scene where somebody gets beaten with a candelabra inside the church. So much zany stuff happens, but “Schoolboy Crush” is still remarkably boring because they hardly even get to the actual romance that was supposed to be central to the plot. At least, I think that’s what the movie was supposed to be about.

‘Free Fall’ (Germany)
Release Date: May 23, 2013
Director: Stephan Lacant
Starring: Hanno Koffler, Max Riemelt and Katharina Schüttler
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: D

freefall

Photo courtesy of Edition Salzgeber.

“Free Fall” is a German film about Marc (Hanno Koffler), a police officer in training, who begins having a secret relationship with a fellow officer despite living with his pregnant girlfriend. I feel like I should keep this short because you’ve surely read this review before. Everybody has seen this movie before. It plays out exactly as it always does in these kinds of movies: Marc is very conflicted about his newfound feelings for men. He tries to deny them, but is unable to resist. He acts like an asshole to everybody. His girlfriend becomes upset. So does his boyfriend. Everything eventually unravels. It’s made well enough, but “Free Fall” is super predictable and doesn’t have anything new to offer. The lack of diversity and creative storytelling in queer movies continues to frustrate me. Why bother continuing to make the same movie over and over again? If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Skip “Free Fall.”

Theater: Nadia Manzoor, ‘Burq Off!’

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The colorful backdrop for Nadia Manzoor’s “Burq Off!” at Elephant Stages in Hollywood. SCREAMfmLondon

Against a multicolored backdrop of glittery silk fabrics, Nadia Manzoor magically transformed herself into 21 diverse characters for three sold-out performances of her one-woman show, “Burq Off!” July 17-19 at Elephant Stages in Hollywood.

The 90-minute show follows Manzoor’s life, beginning when she was five years old and wanted to become an astronaut but was rebuffed by her father (“Who will feed your husband if you are floating about in space?”). It culminates during her university years with a poignant scene in which Manzoor’s twin brother Khurram, who has become an Islamic extremist, tells her that her straying from the Muslim lifestyle is the reason their mother died of cancer.

The story aims to inspire self-exploration and self-expression through Manzoor’s own experiences trying to define and make peace with her identity as a woman and as a Pakistani Muslim living in London.

Manzoor, who wrote and stars in the play, does a remarkable job of embodying all of the characters in her life using only her voice, her body and a few transformative pieces of fabric. It’s really not a one-woman show at all; it’s as rich as if there were a dozen different actors on the stage. It’s impressive to see everyone, from her ultra-stern Abbu (dad) to her white classmates at an all-girls school in England and the Irish bartender she falls in love with while attending Manchester University, come to life despite the minimal presentation.

The performance was, at times, mildly amusing, although not quite as laugh-out-loud hilarious as some of the more gregarious audience members seemed to find it.

One of the most notable touches of “Burq Off!” was a parallel set of dance sequences during two pivotal moments in Manzoor’s life: the first time she wore a burqa in public and, later, the first time she stepped out in a bikini. Each garment was equally liberating for her in its own way — a freedom that could only be expressed through song and dance. Manzoor, who is also (apparently) a dancer, cleverly incorporated elements of Bollywood and hip-hop styles and combined them with her own comical delivery for very memorable musical asides.

The Elephant Stages theater excelled at designing a powerful and versatile set for Manzoor to work within and manipulate while telling her story. Just one table and a few chairs whisked the audience away to the dorm room in which Manzoor lost her virginity, the bar counter she vomited upon after getting drunk for the first time, the hospital bed where she last spoke to her Ammi (mom).

“Burq Off!” was a well put-together coming-of-age story and an honest examination of the advantages and disadvantages of growing up in a conservative Muslim home. It’s not a perspective that is heard often enough in the United States, and Manzoor’s strong talent makes her an all the more effective storyteller.

Capsule film reviews: Four foreign LGBT movies

‘Plan B’ (Argentina)
Release Date: March 27, 2009
Director: Marco Berger
Starring: Manuel Vignau, Lucas Ferraro and Mercedes Quinteros
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A+

photo-Plan-B-2009-5

Photo courtesy of Rendez-vous Pictures and Oh My Gomez! Films.

“Plan B” is a great film — a Spanish-language romantic comedy with a strong emotional, dramatic element. The pacing is perfect as the plot progresses toward an excellent and satisfying conclusion. The storyline is almost Shakespearean in its use of plotting and scheming, zany high jinks, and secret identities: Manuel Vignau excels as Bruno, who is set on exacting revenge after his girlfriend (Mercedes Quinteros) leaves him for another man, Pablo (Lucas Ferraro). First, he aims to befriend Pablo, infiltrating his world and possibly setting him up with another woman. But, when that doesn’t work, he decides to go with “plan B,” which is to just do the seducing himself. But as silly as the set-up is, the story is sweet and romantic with effective rising tension leading to a touching resolution. The script is well-written, the acting believable, and, again, this film is a great one.

‘Water Lilies’ (France)
Release Date: May 17, 2007
Director: Céline Sciamma
Starring: Adèle Haenel, Alice de Lencquesaing and Warren Jacquin
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B-

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Photo courtesy of Balthazar Productions.

This French film centers on three girls during the summer they are 15 years old. Primarily, the focus is on Marie (Pauline Acquart), who is captivated by Floriane (Adèle Haenel), the captain of the girls’ synchronized swimming team. And, although Marie is dealing with her first personal sexuality crisis, she’s quite often expressionless and emotionless, which drags the film on a bit. More interesting are the other two girls, Floriane (who is negatively perceived as promiscuous by her other classmates, doesn’t get along well with girls and is anxious to lose her virginity to some creep) and Anne (Louise Blachère, who is Marie’s heterosexual childhood friend she finds herself now drifting away from). The minimalistic cinematography is a little boring, but the storyline certainly is not, and “Water Lilies” is an interesting look at female sexual awakening.

‘Eyes Wide Open’ (Israel)
Release Date: Feb. 5, 2010
Director: Haim Tabakman
Starring: Ran Danker, Zohar Strauss and Tzahi Grad
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C

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Photo courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures.

Unfortunately for me, I had to start and stop this movie several times in order to make it through. I wanted so badly to not find it boring, but I managed to do it anyway. “Eyes Wide Open” is a film, in Hebrew, that centers on an Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem. Zohar Strauss stars as Aaron, a married father of four, who hires Ezri (Ran Danker) to work as an apprentice in his butcher shop and eventually falls for him. The consequent crisis of faith and social ostracizing are the most compelling elements of the film, posing questions such as, “Is Aaron’s faith hurting or helping him? Is following his heart a good decision or a bad one?” But the acting is just so-so. Neither Danker nor Strauss is particularly compelling or convincing in their respective roles. Also, you know what’s weird about this movie? The promotional picture on the cover features a guy who is not really even in it (he appears in two scenes, I think).

‘North Sea Texas’ (Belgium)
Release Date: November 2, 2012
Director: Bavo Defurne
Starring: Thomas Coumans, Nina Marie Kortekaas and Nathan Naenen
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C-

North-Sea-Texas16

Photo courtesy of Kinepolis Film Distribution and Strand Releasing.

There was probably a time I would have loved “North Sea Texas,” a Belgian coming-of-age film about a boy living with his good-for-nothing lounge singer/accordion player mother. Pim (Jelle Florizoone) carries off some amazingly angsty scenes dressing in his mother’s clothing and collecting mementos that remind him of the neighbor boy, Gino (Mathias Vergels). His mother (Eva Van der Gucht) does some lousy parenting, and Gino does some lousy boyfriending as he struggles with his own sexuality and his bleak family situation. It’s all very run-of-the-mill gay drama stuff, and that’s why I found this film to be so tedious. It’s well-acted, and it’s even emotionally-captivating. I just feel like I’ve seen this movie a million times over, and there are so many more diverse and interesting queer stories that could be told instead.