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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: 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.”