Andrew Nackman’s 4th Man Out (B+) is a funny and naturally charming comedy about a 24-year-old small-town everyman auto mechanic (Evan Todd) who comes out as gay to his entourage of three very heterosexual bros, played by a pack of TV comedy actors Parker Young, Chord Overstreet and Jon Gabrus. The dynamic of revealing his pent-up news to stunned, unsuspecting straight guys is rich territory for comedy and pathos, and the first-time filmmaker successfully delivers an indelible tale. Todd and Young in particular create a marvelous bond as they maneuver through the machinations of manhood and as the quartet redefines the rules of their relationships and routines. Hockey viewing, clubbing and poker night all take on a different lens with the hapless trio meaning well but hitting some awkward notes. Also compelling is Todd’s earnestness as he portrays a man trying on his newfound identity for size; he is a revelation in the role and carries the film’s emotional weight powerfully. Most of all, it’s frank and funny and plumbs an often unexplored dynamic. It was fun to watch a film evocative of some of my ’90’s favorites Chasing Amy and The Brothers McMullen.
The 1950’s New York City of Todd Haynes’ Carol (B+) is gorgeous to behold. A stardust fantasy inked in pinks, draped in lavender and spiced with holiday peppermint sticks, it is also home to a burgeoning forbidden romance between an unhappy housewife played by Cate Blanchett and a timid shopkeeper played by Rooney Mara. Haynes films key sequences of this slow-burn drama via raindrop covered glass panes, through architectural lines that separate characters from one another and in front of mirrors that reflect tender love blossoming amidst the suffocating funhouse of a society in transition. The lead actresses are note-perfect in their commitment to characters and provide a fascinating portal into the sometimes too formalist unfolding of the proceedings. Haynes may be the ideal director for this austere work, skilled at keeping his heroines and the audience at safe distance from their surroundings and capturing the longing of outsider protagonists hoisted in space and time to alien earthly environments. If folks are left wanting a bit more, well, that’s sort of the point.
Here’s a clip to see the splendid art direction and these two master actresses in action:
Pretty as a picture as it slow-dances into a watercolor daydream, Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl (B) is a graceful historical true story often told at a beguiling distance. In 1920’s Copenhagen, the plaintive painter played by Eddie Redmayne awakens into his true gender identity with the loving support of a very open-minded artist wife, magnificently played by Alicia Vikander. Redmayne is committed to the performance and conjures great empathy with his porcelain features showcasing a full master class as both confused lad and emboldened lady; but the script and direction don’t always do the audience favors of helping get under the emotional surface. The third act fails to build successfully on the promise of the preceding plot and sticks a bit by the book, albeit impeccable costumed and gorgeously lit. It’s an important work and a daring topic, but it keeps within a museum glass what might have been a more well-rounded, frank, raw and conflict-laden human drama.
Famously shot on three iPhone 5s smartphones and the toast of Sundance, Sean Baker’s new indie comedy/drama Tangerine (B) is an exotic fruit indeed. The movie showcases two transgender actresses, Kiki Kitana Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, who magnificently play sassy prostitutes (as one character says “a trainwreck and a hot mess”) involved in antics to exact revenge on the woman who has been sleeping with their pimp while one of our heroines was incarcerated. The film is a bit challenged in tone, varying like a whirling dervish from comic misadventures to more somber moments. The quality of the filming is gorgeous, with a near-Technicolor glow that makes a seedy Los Angeles of doughnut shop and alleyway encounters come to vivid life. Dare I say it all feels a bit like a gender-bending Clerks! One character says, “L.A. is a beautifully wrapped lie,” and by the end, the city itself becomes quite a character.
David Thorpe’s documentary Do I Sound Gay? (C-) plumbs the mystery behind why many gay men over-articulate certain letters and use clearer vowels for a longer duration than their straight counterparts. Thorpe proves a rather non-engaging central character and makes very few interesting choices in chronicling his own journey to transform his way of talking. Interviewing experts, celebrities and real-life guys and showcasing a bit of pop cultural historical context, the proceedings also prove to be a bit of a bore. Amidst all the analysis of micro variations, code switching and linguistic and psychological terminology is a half-baked message about being yourself. Perhaps the sequel will be Did I Just Watch That?
Ryan White and Ben Cotner’s The Case Against 8 (A) tells a tale documented over multiple years that builds into greater significance in each and every brilliantly edited sequence leading up to its glorious and life-affirming third act. Buoyed by the unconventional legal team duo of Ted Olson, lead counsel for the Republicans in the 2000 Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision, and David Boies, the attorney who unsuccessfully represented Team Gore, the documentary also follows Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, and Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami, two couples selected as plaintiffs in a landmark case to overturn a discriminatory referendum and pave the path for equal rights for the LBGT community. All six protagonists help connect the dots to provide compelling points for the audience to relate to in this chronicle of this complex case. It’s a magnificent mix of strategy and poignancy that has the capability to change some minds and at the very least bring depth and dignity to one of the most critical issues of our times.
Ripped from the headlines about gay politicians breaking down borders in astonishing ways across America, Cindy L. Abel’s Breaking Through (A) is groundbreaking in both its subject matter and its remarkably moving way of telling its subjects’ back stories. Masterful in its mix of immersive, intimate interviews and powerful motion graphics, this stirring sensory experience fixes in on fascinating subjects and doesn’t let viewers go for the duration of its efficient running time. In many cases, the filmmakers peel back multiple layers of their protagonists’ own prejudices and sometimes self-hate and demonstrate how some amazing individuals overcame incredible odds of race, class, gender identity and powerlessness before they even tackled sexual orientation. Ultimately, the film provides commanding portals through which to relate to each of the profiled leaders. Abel juggles a nearly Altmanesque assortment of real-life characters as she deftly documents the stories with the fevered intensity of a foot soldier in an epic march building momentum by the day and will likely even win over a few cynics about the world of politics. Along with high-profile stories such as Tammy Baldwin’s rise to be the first openly gay U.S. Senator, you’ll also see the journey of a military hero who became a transgendered judge as well as a lesbian Latina sheriff among the stunning triumphs in a film that showcases incredibly unlikely rises to power.
Silver Screen Capture fact: This is the first film from this site to get a pulled quote on a DVD box. Movie available here on Amazon.
Director Ryan Murphy’s film adaptation of Larry Kramer’s AIDS activism ensemble drama The Normal Heart (B) tells a stirring chronicle of life in New York in the ’80s among gay men with the dreaded new virus sneaking up on the population with a slow burn akin to the zombies of modern myths. Mark Ruffalo has never been better as the lead agitator to the political powers that be; and Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons and Taylor Kitsch are excellent as the alternately spellbound and skeptical members of his inner circle. Julia Roberts is also effective as a driven doctor helping early casualties of the epidemic. Roberts’ inner Brokovich and Ruffalo’s inner Hulk bring the rage of the stage to the events that unfold. But the director of Eat, Pray, Love, not known for his sustained narrative cohesion, sometimes follows a formula of Meet, Yell, Scream and fizzles without resolution. When he gets it right, especially in the Ruffalo-Bomer romance and in framing a double tragedy, Murphy nails it. But there are other undernourished supporting characters and subplots that don’t propel the plot as effectively. Ultimately the film is a significant slice of history, told with care and resonance about a critical topic that still calls out for our attention. Thanks to commanding performances and an absorbing underdog story, there are great lessons to learn here.
Andrew Haigh’s Weekend (B+) is a highly perceptive and dialogue-rich British-set film about two men who spend a few days together discussing the nature of love, relationships, art and the Big Topics of our age before one leaves the country. More than just a gay riff on the Before Sunrise movies or My Dinner with Andre, it’s a smart and discerning character study about the space between where passion starts and true love truly blossoms. Tom Cullen and Chris New are magnificent in their roles, and Haigh is masterful in depicting how they let down their guards. His documentary-like and episodic style conceals a deeper mission, as he’s accomplished quite a profound glimpse into the origins of romance.
Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (A) pairs brilliant actors Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as men who fall in love in the Wyoming wilderness of the 1960’s and spend the rest of their life trying to reconcile their forbidden desires to their wives (played by Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway) and hide their emotions from themselves. It’s a heartbreaking reverse-romance as most of the love is unrequited. The cinematography and storytelling are exquisite, and the brittle emotions cut to the bone. The passage of time parallels the creeks and brooks of the gorgeous countryside, even if the emotions run deep and powerful but often unexplored. Ledger and Gyllenhaal may be more daring than they even know for taking on these roles with such abandon, and Lee gives them a narrative that resonates.
Bill Condon’s Kinsey (A-) is a marvelous exploration of the life of a scientist who studied human sexuality in all of its forms. As played by Liam Neeson, it’s a revelatory performance, and so is Laura Linney’s as his wife. His controversies confound his expectations both scholarly and personally, leading to interpersonal drama. It’s a fascinating and well-made biopic.
Todd Graff’s Camp (B) is a joyous ode to growing up, making friends and finding your voice. Set at a summer camp for kids who want to be Broadway stars, there is enough backstage drama to fill the great white wilderness as the teens overcome their outcast status and find themselves center stage in their own follies, foibles and friendships. Graff draws out charming performances from newcomers Daniel Letterle, Robin de Jesus and Anna Kendrick, the latter belting out a very memorable and angry “Ladies Who Lunch.” The title’s play on words might imply a film high on kitsch, but it’s actually high on sweetness and coming of age. Showtune fans will rejoice at some unexpected songs and a star cameo. It’s Meatballs for maestros.