Before Night Falls
Oh, how I adore Javier Bardem. These past five years have been groundbreaking in his career, but before Eat Pray Love, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and No Country for Old Men, the Spanish heartthrob had a knack for landing roles which were not as stylish and required a gift for versatility. The roles that came before the year 2000 consisted mainly of two kinds of steamy romances: ones in which he co-starred and slobbered over Penelope Cruz or other leading ladies; and ones, such as The Ages of Lulu or Second Skin, where he played a gay love interest. In Before Night Falls, Bardem plays Reinaldo Arenas, a gay Cuban writer with a "sensitivity for poetry," who later trades in verse for novels. Director Julian Schnabel (Basquiat, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, [Lou Reed's] Berlin) seems to have a knack for biopic tales of artists, be it literary or fine arts. Directors who stick with the same subject matter in all their films usually fall into two categories: ones who are playing it safe and disappoint; and those who have a natural gift for bringing consistent, yet similar stories to the screen. Schnabel does the latter, and though he has less than six features under his belt, each of his works has an amazing cast of stars who were willing to take risks and play some very controversial roles under his direction. Look for an almost unrecognizable cameo by Sean Penn and one from pre-teen Diego Luna.
The film begins by going over Reinaldo’s childhood in Oriente, a place that is presented as poverty-stricken, yet rich with the wilderness and isolation that would remain a source of inspiration for the rest of his life. His gift for poetry was not only recognized by his teacher, but by everyone who stumbled upon his phrases and single words that were etched into trees. As an adolescent, he moves with his single mother (Olatz LÃ³pez Garmendia) to HolguÃn, where the nightlife and revolutionary energy causes him to run away from home with the hope of joining Castro's rebels. Before long, during college in Havana he is noticed by a group of literary enthusiasts who offer him a job working for the National Library. While roaming the streets he meets Pepe (Andrea Di Stefano), a socialite who brings nothing but trouble and remains his lover for many years, though they see other people. The sexual revolution was sort of a counter-attack to the oppression that Arenas and his fellow countrymen experienced. Homosexuality became a tool to fight back against the revolution that he once held sacred - one that sees artists as a threat and nontraditional behavior of any sort as something that holds back progress. Reinaldo ignores this and continues to enjoy his lifestyle and soon he meets and befriends Jose Lezama Lima, who becomes his mentor. Lima's encouragement and connections lead to Reinaldo being offered help with his first novel that he wishes to get published.Continue Reading
Behind the Candelabra
Remember when Wilco got a ton of press for having been dropped from their record label, Reprise, just as they were about to release the album that went on to be their most critically acclaimed and popular work, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot? It was a story often repeated at the time as a shorthand demonstration of how sorry and dysfunctional the music industry had become. How could one of the country’s best, most innovative and respected bands get dropped as a reward for making their finest synthesis of experimental leanings and classic Americana pop song craft? The story became symbolic of how skewed the priorities had gotten within the music industry which increasingly focused on short term profits from lowest common denominator garbage.
Well, I happen to think that Behind the Candelabra has become the filmic equivalent of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Every story about the film leading up to its release had to mention how no Hollywood studio would make the movie even though it was to star two of the most famous (Michael Douglas) and bankable (Matt Damon) stars working today and directed by one of the most successful and esteemed filmmakers (Soderbergh). Bankable stars; a respected, dependable filmmaker; a juicy, ridiculous story—what’s not to like? Apparently enough that only HBO would agree to make it, effectively killing the film’s chances of a theatrical release and giving one of the best, most entertaining movies of the year over to television.Continue Reading
When you find yourself a fan of a certain actor or filmmaker, isn't it great when you're actually alive at the turning point in their careers? Sounds like a simple and/or silly statement but I, for one, seem to come across the majority of filmmakers and stars late in their careers or after their deaths, which makes accessing their movies a real pain sometimes. When it comes to Ang Lee, I was always impressed by his universal characters and themes. Eat Drink Man Woman is one of the strongest dark comedies from East Asia that I've seen in a while. Likewise, I'd been following the careers of Ledger (Monster's Ball, The Dark Knight) and Williams (Dawson's Creek, Blue Valentine) for some time. The news of them acting in the same film was very exciting, as was the addition of Gyllenhaal and Hathaway, both of whom I'd seen around, but not enough of. When I discovered that the plot circulated two gay lovers, I was a little reluctant. I'd seen The Wedding Banquet, another of Lee's films with a gay theme, and thought that it would be similar. Not that the mentioned film is a bad one, but its execution was very exclusive to a gay male audience, and people who enjoy your typical drama. Most dramas don't exactly move me. In the very least, I think it helps to have been in a similar situation with the characters in the film. Regardless of my feelings, Lee is a director that I like, so I went to see Brokeback Mountain on its opening weekend. From start to finish, I was transfixed and truly unprepared for the experience.
Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are two strangers looking for work. Ennis is a ranch hand and young Jack is a rodeo enthusiast who rides occasionally. Though both have little to no experience with jobs of great complexity, they meet for the first time and find themselves accepting a job herding sheep across a mountain. Their boss Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) has little patience with his new employees and gives them a little rundown before sending them off to a task that will stretch across several seasons. The two men are exact opposites and find it difficult to relate. Ennis is reserved, quiet, and practical. His only interest is getting the job done well and returning home to his fiance. Jack is loudmouthed and chatty, and certainly more friendly than Ennis. This part of the film is considerably slower, taking its time to reveal the mountain terrain of Wyoming. That calm is disrupted when the food rations they collect, which consist mainly of beans and soup, grow tiresome, and the weather changes from summer to fall, then a harsh winter. The two men socialize, but don't exactly grow close; eventually the job requires that they distance themselves and watch over the mass herd from different areas. One night they decide to stay together on the camp and end up having sex. The morning after brings about denial and mixed feelings between them, but regardless, a bittersweet romance ensues. At the end of their job, the two part on bad terms and try to go about their lives.Continue Reading
To be considered the "second coming" of anything is a huge weight to carry upon one’s shoulders. Caravaggio is the story of Michelangelo Caravaggio (Nigel Terry), a painter who is seen as the new Michelangelo amongst his supporters, and a priest who discovered him while he was a teenage prostitute. The film shifts between three stages of Caravaggio’s life: his adolescence, his middle-aged years, and finally, his last few days on his deathbed where he dies slowly, in agony and in exile. The entire film is set in a timeless Vienna, part regal and part modern, which seems to be the norm in Jarman’s films.
In his adolescence, Caravaggio (Dexter Fletcher) is a hustler, using his paintings to make extra money on the streets or taking direction from his "guardian" to return home with the male buyers when their interest is not in his paintings. His work is mainly mimetic and consists of still-lifes of fruit or people, and eventually falls into the hands of a priest whose church looks after Caravaggio once he becomes gravely ill for the first time. He then begins a sort of commission for the church in exchange for money and support, ironically or purposefully similar to the late Michelangelo in reality. This sponsorship continues into his adulthood, but his work changes from the simply mimicry of objects and people into the bold representations of them. With each painting, he uses live models to recreate sorrowful, if not gruesome details of the human condition.Continue Reading
Chris & Don: a love story
The first thing that I loved about Chris & Don: a love story was the DVD sleeve—a black and white photo of two men, the titular love birds, with a clean white backdrop and the title spelled out in red, yellow, and blue lettering in a font that could be described as optimistic looking. It has the effervescent simplicity of a Hockney painting. Even the fact that “a love story” is left lowercase gives clues to the sweet and simple nature of the love story at hand. The film profiles two celebrated men, novelist Christopher Isherwood and artist Don Bachardi, and their relationship together as lovers that constituted as much a marriage as anyone’s. During a time when the idea of a homosexual was someone who was tragic, dysfunctional, and, above all, essentially alone, they lived openly and unapologetically together. And as filmmaker John Boorman points out, they were the only Hollywood couple he knew who actually stayed together.
Theirs is a California story, two men who met on a Santa Monica beach in the 1950s when Don was a teenager from Glendale and Chris was a novelist with a flourishing career. People, even some of their friends, were scandalized by the age difference. Chris was a man of the world. Born in 1904, he had a privileged upbringing in England and was educated at Cambridge before eventually absconding to Berlin to shake off his family’s stifling expectations and to experience the sexual freedoms famously associated with Germany under the Weimar Republic. He later distilled his experiences into a short story collection that became the inspiration for the play and later film Cabaret. Don was a boy who loved movies and movie stars and was in the early days of his first sexual experiences when he met Chris. They couldn’t have been more different, but they were drawn to each other almost immediately.Continue Reading
When it was announced that Exorcist director William Friedkin and Serpico star Al Pacino were teaming up to make a gritty, New York police thriller in 1980, nothing grabbed the attention of cinema-goers more than the idea of Cruising--especially America's gay community at the time. Immediately considered grotesque and too dark for middle America, and exploitative, and wholly offensive to everyone else with its seeming portrayal of gay men as nothing more than leather chap-wearing, bushy mustache-sporting, sadomasochistic party animals, Cruising was quickly buried in the studio vault shortly after its quick life-span in theaters. But today the film can finally be viewed and appreciated for what it is: an over-the-top, campy, cult classic with a surprisingly engaging story, and an ambiguous twist ending that will linger with you for hours afterwards.
Al Pacino stars as Detective Steve Burns, who receives an assignment to go undercover after a serial killer starts preying on New York City's gay, S&M community. Dawning tight leathers and various colored handkerchiefs in his back pocket, Burns takes to the streets and investigates the underground clubs of Manhattan's Meatpacking District (really--no pun intended). As the detective comes closer to finding his target, he starts questioning his own sexuality and violent urges--making him a loose cannon with the police department, and an enigma amongst the sub-culture that occupies his new daily life.Continue Reading
Jubilee is like a savage Shakespearian play where the past and present are joined in a marriage of destruction; a pas de deux of chaos.
Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) is given a gateway by her Lord, John Dee (Richard O’Brian). With his powers he manifests the angel Ariel (David Brandon) who is able to take her from the past into the future in order for her to see the outcome of a world overturned by an absence of rulers and order. Throughout her journey, he acts as a sort of Greek chorus, yielding actions and prophesying bleak ends.Continue Reading
Looking For Langston
A beautifully photographed film on various aspects of black male sexuality in western culture is revealed within the “pseudo-documentary exploration of the life of Langston Hughes” [note to self: don’t believe the hype], Looking For Langston.
It’s a short film but it rushes headlong and moves easily and quickly between archival television footage of Langston Hughes reading with jazz combo accompaniment, archival photographs/footage of Harlem and various Harlem Renaissance figures (and some non-Renaissance figures such as Robert Mapplethorpe) along with faux-archival footage and images which are interspersed, broken up, explained and explored with readings from the works of poets Bruce Nugent, James Baldwin and Essex Hemphill visually mated to scripted black & white fantasy sets of nightclub, bedroom and outdoor scenes populated by black men (and a few white men) as a means of touching on, and exposition of, the effects of racism, classism, desire, exploitation and threats of violence and STDs in relation to Anglo/American gay black men.Continue Reading
Ma Vie en Rose (My Life in Pink)
Ludovic is not a boy. God had a great big book and under the name Ludovic Fabre, "girl" was written next to it. God sent down Ludo’s other X chromosome, but it just got lost somehow…at least that’s what Ludo thinks. Ma Vie en Rose is the sweet and accurate tale of a family torn apart by the fact that one of their number will do anything to convince himself and his community that he was always meant to be a girl.
Hanna and Pierre Fabre (Michèle Laroque and Jean-Philippe Écoffey) move into a wonderful suburb and are now next-door neighbors with Pierre’s boss, Albert. They have a daughter and three sons, the youngest of them all being Ludovic (Georges Du Fresne). For years, Ludo has been convinced that he is a girl and waits patiently for his transformation, and comically, his first menstrual cycle. His family tries delicately to dissuade him from that belief but, in failing, they hope that he will simply grow out of it. For show-and-tell at school, he brings dolls and successfully confuses or convinces the children there that he is, or will become, a girl. During play, he dresses in only the prettiest princess dresses with lipstick and jewelry or dances in a wedding gown, hoping that when he comes of age he can marry his neighbor’s son. The only problem is that their neighbor's son is the child of his father’s boss—a sheepish and traditional family man who forbids his son to play with Ludo.Continue Reading
Dustin Lance Black won the Academy Award for his screenplay, which is tense with information, but never loses sight of its human content. The story has a dynamic structure and has many scenes that pack an emotional punch.Continue Reading