Tag Archives: crime

Capsule film reviews: Four LGBT movies from the USA

‘Moonlight’
Release Date: Oct. 21, 2016
Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex Hibbert
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout.
Grade: B+

Photo courtesy of A24.

“Moonlight” is a groundbreaking film — the first film with an all-black cast and the first LGBT film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Can’t deny that. But, while “Moonlight” is a well-composed film with great acting, I can’t help feeling disappointed after months of buildup. As a film, it’s good, and I’m happy that it’s been so well-received by mainstream audiences because we do need more diverse representation in cinema. But as a gay film, it’s really nothing special. The plotline is predictable, and this story… it’s been done. Maybe not this artfully, but it’s definitely been done. It’s broken into three distinct chapters, which represent three stages of one man’s coming-of-age. “Little” shows Chiron’s (Alex Hibbert) childhood years, where he seeks refuge from school bullies and his drug addict mother (Naomie Harris) with a mentor (Mahershala Ali) who tells him that it’s okay if he’s gay. Next up is “Chiron,” which depicts Chiron’s (Ashton Sanders) teen years and the problems that amplify therein. Finally comes “Black,” which shows Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) as a miraculously-ripped grown man who is still haunted by his first (probably only?) love. The movie I would have liked to see would focus on Chiron as an adult and really develop that character — a tough, intimidating drug dealer in Atlanta who has had just one sexual experience (with his high school crush, Kevin, years ago). Flashbacks to his childhood and adolescence could help flesh out his background, but a central narrative to come back to would have given the movie a lot more direction.

‘King Cobra’
Release Date: Oct. 21, 2016
Director: Justin Kelly
Starring: Garrett Clayton, James Franco and Christian Slater
Genre: Crime, Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of IFC Midnight.

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I inexplicably was for this movie. Gay porn, murder, and an all-star cast including the cute male lead from Disney’s “Teen Beach Movie.” That’s all I need in entertainment, really. “King Cobra” is based on the true story of Brent Corrigan (aka. Sean Paul Lockhart), played in the film by the dreamy Garret Clayton. Corrigan is infamous for his successful career in gay porn that began when he was well underage. (Spot the Brent Corrigan reference in my review of “Schoolboy Crush” here!) “King Cobra” chronicles Corrigan’s ascent to pornstardom and his struggles to escape from the grasp of the Cobra Video studio and its lecherous owner Bryan Kocis (called “Stephen” in the film and portrayed unnervingly by Christian Slater). When Stephen refuses to let Corrigan out of his contract, rivals from another porn studio (Keegan Allen of “Pretty Little Liars” fame and James Franco) plot to do whatever it takes to get Stephen out of the way so Corrigan can perform with them. I would say this movie is about 85 percent gay porn, 10 percent murder and 5 percent plot development, which is the perfect equation for any movie. It’s campy and creepy, and if you’re into that, you should definitely watch “King Cobra.”

‘Tangerine’
Release Date: July 10, 2015
Director: Sean Baker
Starring: Mya Taylor, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Karren Karagulian
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Rating: R for strong and disturbing sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout, and drug use.
Grade: A+

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

“Tangerine” is phenomenal, and it’s just the kind of offbeat buddy/revenge comedy we totally needed in our lives. The film received major buzz following its premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival because the entire thing was (amazingly) filmed using only iPhones — particularly impressive considering how cool the cinematography is and how well it captures this Hollywood neighborhood. But even more remarkable is the engaging storyline. “Tangerine” follows two trans women who work the streets near the iconic Santa Monica and Highland Donut Time shop: Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), fresh out of prison and on the hunt for her cheating boyfriend Chester (James Ransone), and her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor), who just needs to make it to her big singing gig at Hamburger Mary’s that night. The day’s adventure is thoroughly entertaining, and the glimpse into the lives, friendships and relationships of the characters is really wonderful. I even equally enjoyed the subplot that follows Razmik (Karren Karagulian), a married Armenian cab driver and frequent customer of Alexandra’s. Other background characters are portrayed by real-life Instagram stars and Viners found online by director Sean Baker (a lot of the film’s kinetic soundtrack was sourced from Vine and SoundCloud as well). In the end, “Tangerine” is a compelling film that proves big-budget frills aren’t necessary when you have charismatic characters and a unique story to tell.

‘Blackbird’
Release Date: April 24, 2015
Director: Patrik-Ian Polk
Starring: Julian Walker, Mo’Nique and Isaiah Washington
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for sexual content, language and some drug use – all involving teens.
Grade: D+

Photo courtesy of KBiz Entertainment and Tall Skinny Black Boy Productions.

This movie is… really not what I was expecting. With stars like Mo’Nique and Isaiah Washington topping the bill and a strong story to work with about a gay black teenager growing up in Baptist Mississippi, I expected “Blackbird” to be a solid and impressive melodrama. Much to my surprise, it’s actually quite goofy. Campy, even. Which is — at times — enjoyable (I liked the high school drama club preparing to present a gay version of “Romeo & Juliet”), but — at times — very stupid. Julian Walker is not at all convincing or compelling in the lead role of Randy, and Kevin Allesee as Randy’s older love interest Marshall gives me the creeps every time he appears onscreen. The strange subplot about Randy’s missing younger sister is unnecessary and seems added on as an ill-conceived afterthought. But worst of all, the entire film is spoiled in the final moments when Randy dreams up a “vision” that tells him the exact details of the entire rest of his life. Whose idea was it to end the movie like that? Because it’s absolutely terrible. I don’t know what happened, but I feel like “Blackbird” was a really wasted opportunity.

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Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies

‘Contracted’
Release Date:
Nov. 23, 2013
Director: Eric England
Starring: Najarra Townsend, Caroline Williams and Katie Stegeman
Genre: Thriller, Drama, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

contracted

Photo courtesy of BoulderLight Pictures and Southern Fried Films.

There are a lot of things to love about “Contracted”: the excellent special effects makeup that succeeds in creating some gross-out body horror scenes, the overarching allegory, the unconventional take on the genre, the sociological commentary. Although it gets off to a slow start with pretty weak acting, it soon hits its stride and is fascinating until the end. The story starts out evoking an old urban legend that I have even heard happened to some girl who knows a friend of a friend — Samantha (Najarra Townsend) is a lesbian who is drugged and sexually assaulted by a man at a party, and she quickly begins displaying symptoms of a strange sexually-transmitted infection that doctors cannot identify. She tries to carry on without acknowledging what happened to her, but the effects become increasingly difficult to hide. The film steadily ups the ante as it delves more deeply into Samantha’s life and finally culminates with a shocking final scene.

‘Compliance’
Release Date:
Aug. 17, 2012
Director: Craig Zobel
Starring: Dreama Walker, Ann Dowd and Pat Healy
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Rating: Rated R for language and sexual content/nudity.
Grade: B

5a_photo_compliance

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Well, “Compliance” on its own isn’t really that great of a movie. However, it’s a good complement to go along with reading about the real-life cases on which the movie is based, which I would highly recommend doing. The movie follows Becky (Dreama Walker), a teenage cashier at a fast food restaurant, and her manager Sandra (Ann Dowd). When Sandra receives a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer, she barely hesitates to follow his orders to detain Becky, and the situation continues to escalate until Becky is stripped naked and sexually assaulted by Sandra’s fiancée Van (Bill Camp). What makes “Compliance” worth watching is the knowledge that this is a totally true story — and that it happened more than 70 times in many different states. The story brings to mind Yale University’s Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures, during which volunteers readily gave increasingly powerful electric shocks to innocent strangers at the command of an “authority figure.” So, like I said, “Compliance” is not altogether a fabulous movie filled with mind-blowing acting, but the story is so thought-provoking that it’s worth looking into.

‘In Their Sleep’
Release Date:
Jan. 27, 2010
Director: Caroline du Potet and Éric du Potet
Starring: Anne Parillaud, Arthur Dupont and Thierry Frémont
Genre: Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C+

in-their-sleep

Photo courtesy of Delante Films and Banque Populaire Images 9.

“In Their Sleep” is a French horror film that probably would have been better had the main narrative twist not been glaringly obvious from the beginning of the action. The film is constructed cleverly with dream sequences slipped into the storyline, a nonlinear timeline and substantial flashbacks at opportune moments. Anne Parillaud succeeds at portraying Sarah as a sympathetic and emotionally vulnerable heroine, and Arthur Dupont is excellent as the twisted Arthur. The film has all the makings of an interesting addition to the horror canon, but it plays out exactly as it is expected to without taking risks or maintaining the suspense.

‘The Shrine’
Release Date:
July 15, 2011
Director: Jon Knautz
Starring: Cindy Sampson, Aaron Ashmore and Meghan Heffern
Genre: Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: F

the-shrine-6

Photo courtesy of Brookstreet Pictures.

“The Shrine” is pretty terrible. I knew it was going to be pretty terrible when, one minute, we’re all in the United States, and the next, the film is suddenly taking place in Poland with absolutely no interlude between the two settings. It’s really pretty boring with run-of-the-mill, badly-acted American tourists wandering aimlessly through unfamiliar woods in an attempt to suss out a mystery. The only mildly interesting moment takes place more than halfway through the film, after the Americans have been captured by Satanic cultists and have escaped. And even these goofy special effects don’t make the movie or its letdown of a “twist” conclusion worthwhile.