VQFF 2015: Bright Eyes, Queer Hearts Review

19 08 2015

Some mini reviews for some short films in last night’s Bright Eyes, Queer Hearts youth shorts program.

Regalia: Pride in Two Spirits

A personal documentary about a young two-spirited gay Native teen. Reminded me of the Playing It Safe Project I took part in, a documentary series about street youth and HIV. There is enough info and story here to be conveyed through multiple episodes/films — ie. What it’s like to be two-spirited, how others in the clan/reserve reacted to his coming out, etc. — and overall, felt a bit overloaded.

Grade: B

Carina

A cute little film from Mexico about a girl who has a crush on her art/dance teacher. Fantasies of driving away together like in old films abound her imagination and with no one to talk to about her feelings, she decides to go for it. Well directed and filled with pop songs, Carina makes for an entertaining watch — until the unsatisfying ending.

Grade: B

Big Time– My Doodled Diary

I was surprised to enjoy this film. Sure, there isn’t much of a plot and a lot of it is told in the voice over of a teenage girl living in India in 1984, but the everyday occurrences, like how she thought her friend’s dog was named Penis, are charming and feel genuine of a teenager’s diary. Although I was looking for the queer aspect, it’s subtle and part of the surprise of the film. Also, more a Capella please.

Grade: B+

Caged (Uitgesproken)

After the understated beauty if cliched storyline of last year’s Jongens, I thought it was a one-off of Dutch culture and society. Apparently not. In Caged, the friendship between two running buddies is torn apart when one catches the other (unabashedly) making out with the only other seemingly gay kid in town. Such a plot is reminiscent of gay teen novels from the early 2000s, so it was strange to watch something that seemed so anachronistic. Doesn’t help that the bullies are big, yelling homophobic stereotypes — not to mention the predictable, unearned ending. Maybe this is actually representative of the Netherlands after all.

Grade: C+

Penguins at North Pole

A queer film from Taiwan? Am I dreaming? The fact that this exists is enough to get me on board, not to mention the fact that the familial conflict of traditional Asian mother was almost too difficult (because it was relateable and understandable) to endure. Two Taiwanese women plan on getting married but want to come out to their parents — one’s mother and the other’s father, respectively — first. The majority of the film is focused on the overbearing and flabbergasted (and borderline caricature) mother as she tries to deal with her daughter’s in love with a woman. At 30 minutes, it’s a little long and a little too cutesy at times. Nevertheless, the film’s warmth will likely win you over.

Grade: B

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Vancouver Queer Film Festival 2014 Grind: Hookup Shorts

16 08 2014

Another year of queer films to watch and review at Out on Screen! Unfortunately, I don’t have a pass this year, since I didn’t make a film — strange not to have one after years of proudly strutting around with it around my neck — so I won’t be going to most of the films. So sad. I did manage to buy a six film package and caught my first screening, a short film program titled Grind: Hookup Shorts. Let’s get down to it!

Spoilers throughout!

Barrio Boy

A handsome Latino barber falls in love with an Irish guy who comes into the barbershop. I actually read about this short film earlier this week and was pleasantly surprised to see it screening here (apart from Grind, I had no idea which shorts were going to be screening). Cute premise and decent camerawork, but the voice-over mostly doesn’t work. It works when handsome Latino is confessing his desires, like wanting to know him better than his best friend, but having the bulk of the film rely on this technique begs the question: Is he saying absolutely nothing in real time? And if not, I’d almost prefer seeing that than close-ups of hair. The other thing that I wasn’t quite clear on was why he found Irish guy so attractive. What makes him so special? Surely, he’s seen white guys before, but why is this one different? Until that question is answered, it makes the barber’s lust and love difficult to fully enjoy.

Grade: B-

Gaysian

A humorous exploration into “no Asians” and those who love Asians. As someone who is pissed off at sexual racism, I immediately liked this just for the premise. The highlight of the film was the main character, Aaron, (a gay Asian guy named Aaron? Coincidence?) who, after rejected by white guys who tell him they’re not into Asians, finds a young white guy who seems to like him for who he is — or rather, who he isn’t. Although there is some discussion on racism with Aaron and his two gay friends (nice to see you again, Adamo Ruggiero!), I found myself wanting more of a punch, instead of shying away to let’s-just-party! ending (literally).

Grade: B

MUM

I’m not quite sure how to summarize this one, so I’ll take the synopsis from the imdb page: “In the midst of dealing with the repercussion of a recent accident, newly introverted William comes in contact with the very spark that may just allow him to overcome.” This is a film that I think people will either like or hate, mainly because it is experimental and non-linear. The film floats along, playing with sound, flashbacks, and quick cuts that feel disorienting. This goes on for a while and I was just about to give up on the film when the pieces come together and things make sense, and I appreciated the film a lot more then. The cinematography is very nice, and is overall a well-made film. The romance feels quite refreshing as well, and I thought it was great to have two average-looking guys, slight bellies and all, as the leads. This is a film I’d like to watch again.

I’m not sure why it’s called Mum though.

Grade: B+

All Good Things

Fellow Vancouverite makes his directing debut with this film about a young couple who have sex for the first time. With the exception of Mum, the shorts in this program juggled comedy and drama to various levels of success. Gaysian probably did the best job of it, making it clear when to laugh and when it was serious. All Good Things had the hardest time balancing these two genres. Both the audience and myself weren’t sure at times when to laugh or not, when the characters were being serious or not. What really drags this short down is the unnatural-sounding dialogue. Not only did it sound unrealistic, but made me wonder throughout the whole short whether these two were really a couple or not. I’m not one to pick up on chemistry between actors — I’m pretty oblivious to all that — but it’s unfortunately obvious here, the lack of it. With a leached-looking palette, the whole film feels like a hookup, not the first time between boyfriends — where’s the romance? The trying?

Grade: D

Sex Date

A criminal on the run enters a guy’s home and is mistaken for a hookup. The dramatic irony in this one is what makes it. The tension between the two guys, especially in the first third of the film is funny, and I actually liked that the guy living there (I don’t remember anyone’s names) is respectful and patient. Unfortunately, the film meanders in the rest of the film, especially as a roommate is added to complicate things, to the point where the two guys talk about life and being in love. Can we get back to the awkwardness?

Grade: B-

Grind

Two guys — one a young, dumb model and the other, Anthony Rapp — play around on Grindr and find guys to have sex with. Except the young one really wants to find love. But he’s so dumb he makes his nerdy, smart roommate talk to guys because young guy only attracts fellow dumbos. I think this is a problematic film, to say the least. One reviewer on imdb wrote a negative review and gave it one star. I don’t think it’s necessarily a one-star film. Anthony Rapp is the standout here, but that might be because he’s Anthony Rapp. What makes this one special is that it’s a musical, and yet it doesn’t have the self-awareness that it’s dealing with Grindr — Grindr! — to be more camp. Instead, it’s dark, brooding, and serious, and because of this, again, tonally, it can be unclear when the film is trying to be serious or not. It also probably doesn’t help that the songs themselves are also serious, but more than that, they all sound the same (with the exception of maybe that last song Anthony Rapp sings). All have similar sounds, most (possibly all) use the overused four chords of music, and most the lyrics are full of forgettable abstractions. Good musicals are hard to write, I know, but they should accompany the story. The story here is flimsy and unnecessarily dark. I’m not quite sure I understand why Rapp’s character kills guys. I think he gets off on it, but I’m not sure. That reveal in the end is set up to be so big but it didn’t come off that way for me, but instead made me ask more questions. I just didn’t feel like the film gelled overall, which is a shame because… Anthony Rapp.

Also, lip synching into the camera is weird.

Grade: C

Man, I feel like such a harsh critic.





Lesbiana: a Parallel Revolution

23 08 2013

Imagine a man saying this to you:

“I don’t want to live with women. I don’t even want to see them. I just want to live in a community with other men, to know that I am surrounded by men. When I go to the grocery store, I might see a woman and it might bother me a little, but when I get home, I know that I am back in my community with men.”

If a man said this, I think most people would be on him and accuse him of being a misogynist. Fair enough. But what if the genders were switched around a women said that? Would we be as quick to label her as a misandrist?

This is only one of the many problems that Myriam Fougère’s documentary Lesbiana: a Parallel Revolution ignores and fails to explore that would have made it a far more captivating film. From the start, it dives right into what the film will be exploring: after the ’60s, women all over the world became part of a “revolution”, a separating themselves from the Women’s Movement into a one focusing on lesbianism and their wish to live with and be with other lesbian women. This sounds promising enough, and is bound to be rich in history and struggle against society’s norms. Instead, Lesbiana fails as a historical documentary, and most disappointingly on even the basic levels as a documentary.

Right off the bat, there is no context to the film. Interviewees, who were participants during Lesbiana, delve right into the movement rather than explaining the time period, the society and atmosphere, and why the need to have a lesbian movement. It also doesn’t help that the editing makes the film confusing; interviewees talk about a “separatist movement”, but it isn’t until more than halfway through the film that they explain what they are separating themselves from. Featuring too many interviewees, b-roll of book cover after book cover (with wooden pipe music played on top, as if suggesting some mystical power these books have), Lesbiana follows no timeline or sequence of events, jumping from one person to another without transition or link.

All the talking-heads are lesbian women who were involved in Lesbiana/the lesbian revolution after the ’60s. This wouldn’t be such a problem if their information wasn’t presented with such grandiosity and positivity. There’s a brief mention in the beginning of the film about how not all the women got along and there were discussions and arguments, but any sort of conflict or drama during Lesbiana disappears. Every interviewee speaks fondly of the period and how the revolution shaped not only themselves but the rest of the world.  Fougère doesn’t seem to mind that not only does this make for uninteresting film, but that only positive memories and information from the women who were involved while excluding anyone outside of the movement is blatantly biased and clearly a conflict of interest.

In fact, there are no other perspectives other than the lesbian women who were involved; there is no professor to talk about the social impact of Lesbiana, no historian to comment on the effect it had not only for the Women’s Movement but for the Queer Movement. Hell, there isn’t even a bystander or friend or family member involved somehow to attest that what these women were doing wasn’t simply all in their heads. Fougère, in a wordy, bombastic, overly-formal voice-over, narrates how she was also part of the revolution, and seems more interested in keeping the information positive and good than to explore any sort of deeper issues, such as what patriarchy really means to these women, or the social impact. There are no questions asked about how things happened, just that they did, and that they were good, resulting in a rosy, scrapbook-like narrative that excludes those who weren’t involved, and is warm and fuzzy for those who were.

Lastly, there’s a very brief talk by one interviewee who mentions how men are the cause of abuse, rape, and other terrible things against women, yet none of the women ever say they have any negative personal experiences with men. Fougère outrageously lets this slide without calling out her subjects or asking for them to elaborate on it, and it feels as if it’s because of the personal conflict/conflict of interest at work again. All of this, combined with the complete absence of any other perspective, makes Lesbiana no longer a documentary, but a blatant propaganda film of the most amateur kind (and boring propaganda at that).

But what do I know? I may be a feminist and I may be gay, but I’m still a male, and that’s apparently enough to make them turn away from me in disgust at the supermarket.

Grade: F





Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

21 08 2013

A gay-themed film from Taiwan? I’m there!

I had heard of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? before it was announced that it would be screening at Out on Screen. The premise of the film is deceptively simple: Weichung, a middle-aged married man, confronts his sexuality when his wife wants to have another child. There are a bunch of subplots as well, all involving romance and love, like Weichung’s romance with a cute flight attendant, and Weichung’s sister Mandy and her ambivalent feelings towards her fiance. What makes Love Me different than the typical, formulaic Hollywood rom-com or even coming out stories is writer and director Arvin Chen’s handling of the subject. With the addition of whimsical and absolutely wonderful fantastical scenes, like Weichung’s eyeglasses shop manager floating away holding an umbrella, Chen effectively renders his film aesthetically open to all sorts of possibilities of magical realism. Even the detail of his manager holding up a bright blue umbrella and waving goodbye to Weichung before whisked away by the wind is something out of a Miyazaki film. Other fantastical scenes exemplify characters’ internal emotions, such as Weichung fantasizing about kissing his would-be lover, only to snap back to reality and still be standing face-to-face with him.

It doesn’t always work though. In one of the last fantasy scenes, Weichung’s wife is drunk in a karaoke bar with her co-workers, singing a song when the bar transforms into a lighted stage, and her co-workers turn into back-up singers and dancers. The visual is interesting and fun, but isn’t a congruent representation of someone who is in a negative, depressed head-space (not to mention, also drunk).

What’s nice about Love Me is that it doesn’t sentimentalize queer identity. You get a sense that Weichung really did believe that after he turned 30, he was pressured to get into a straight relationship, even if it rings a bit of a cop-out of a reason to explore social stigma, familial and cultural expectations, or homophobia. There’s a bit of a hint of traditional beliefs from Weichung’s in-laws, but rather than feel universal, Weichung’s sticky situation comes across as staged and lacking pathos. The only other gay character in a relationship is married– to a lesbian, suggesting that same-sex relationships can’t be open and official, even if everyone knows. It’s a troubling yet interesting point director Chen makes, but this isn’t explored either.

Running 15 minutes too long with a middle section that drags, Love Me is certain to get some good laughs out of people, especially from slightly flamboyant Stephen: “I understand women,” he tells depressed dumpee San-San. “You understand shit,” his lesbian wife retorts. Chen’s lack of exploration into his characters and subject matter aren’t enough to set it apart from other rom-coms, or even coming out films. It’s just one with pretty colours and awesome magic.  Will I still love this film tomorrow? After I think about it, probably not as much.

Grade: C+





Vancouver Queer Film Festival 2013: What a Magnificient Presence

19 08 2013

Okay, okay. So I know it’s a little late to be blogging about the start of the Queer Film Festival in Vancouver when the festival started on Thursday. I’ve caught a few films already but I haven’t had a chance to really review them until now. Before I get to it, I want to say that it’s always such an awesome time to attend the festival because it really does feel like a community gathering. I love how loudly people laugh during the films, the hums and haws at the quiet moments, and even the rare cheer when the guys hook up with guys (I haven’t seen enough women’s films to know whether or not it happens with female audiences). And to have a film screening as part of the festival too– that’s such an awesome feeling.

So to get to it: Magnificent Presence.

The film is about a shy, quiet Italian guy who lives with a troupe of ghosts who believe it’s still 1943. He’s the only one who is able to set them free and to solve the mystery of what happened to them.

At first, this sounds really interesting. It’s even more promising that this is supposed to be a comedy, and the film is comedic in parts, especially at the difference in time periods. Pietro, our protagonist, longs to be an actor and the his ghostly roommates give him outdated, hilarious advice for his upcoming audition, including bursting out into song if there’s an uncomfortable silence.

Unfortunately, writer and director Ferzan Ozpetek’s script too underdeveloped to be fully enjoyable. The rag-tag troupe is all visually and physically distinct in their own ways, yet they are mere skeletons of characters. And the characters aren’t eh only underdeveloped aspects of the film. Subplots, such as a flirtation with a hunky downstairs neighbour and one of the suave ghosts who watches Pietro sleep yet admittedly still comes off as alluring and romantically charming instead of creepy– all these are cut short or disappointingly lead to nothing. Even the main plot, Pietro’s investigation into the history of the troupe, has a troubling plothole: [spoilers herein] Why would Livia Morosini report them? If it was out of jealousy or for her own career, why flee to South America after? What was her relationship with the troupe, anyway?

Instead of fleshing out the who’s and the how’s, Ozpetek tries to juggle too many subplots at once, including Pietro’s own transformation, and none of them are really satisfying, ultimately, not even the main plot. It’s all very well to have a comedic film have some funny lines, but what keeps audiences truly mesmerized, like Pietro’s subtle facial expressions in the end, is a good, thoughtfully constructed story.

Grade: C+

Oh, and the actor playing Pietro, Elio Germano, looks ridiculously like my friend Ryan Clayton, except Elio is older. And speaks Italian. But they’re both so adorkable!

Ferzan Ozpetek





How to Survive a Plague

10 11 2012

This movie has been on my watchlist for some time now, and I was afraid I wouldn’t get to see it in theatres, since it’s 1. a documentary, which means it already has a limited release, and 2. that it’s not a huge, well-known doc right now, like The Queen of Versaiiles or Ai Weiwei.  I was pleasantly surprised to see on the Van City Theatre’s site a week ago that it was indeed coming to town, and quickly noted down the showtimes.

Well, I finally saw it tonight, and wow.  I’ve seen two documentaries on the AIDS Crisis this year alone, and this one is by far the best, and the most emotionally moving.  Needless to say, I cried at a few parts in the film, and had to restrain myself from downright sobbing in my seat when activists dumped their loved ones’ ashes on the lawns in front of the White House in protest.  Just watching the trailer makes me tear up.

I really hope this film gets nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary.  It’s so well put together and so devastating.  It’s just one of those films that you wish everyone would — no, must — watch to understand.





Dirty Girl

30 08 2012

Synopsis: a so-called “dirty girl” (ie. a slut) goes on a roadtrip with a fellow outcast from high school — gay, overweight, Clark.

Super awesome things: well, I had seen this before and I thought it wasn’t that great.  However, everyone on the programming committee seemed to really like the jokes and the humour, while I wasn’t impressed by the story and the lack of anything of substance when it came to the plot involving family, but alas.  When I saw it again, where the audience was laughing like crazy at the one-liners and the references to ’80s things, I did like it a bit better.  Sure, this movie is just fun and doesn’t take itself seriously.  And that’s the fun of it.  The best part is Joan’s eyes magically changing between scenes.  Simple but clever.

Not so awesome things: a film can be fun and all, but if you’re presenting something as serious as family issues, then you need to have something solid and somewhat non-sentimental to say — which this film does not do.  The film resolves itself fairly predictably in both the main plot with Danielle looking for her father, as well as the subsequent subplots, which include Clark’s departure to the army (forever?  Of course not), and Clarke’s meek, verbally-abused mother (does she leave her husband?  Of course).  For a film so bent on being fun and not serious, it doesn’t work when it’s trying to be serious.

Good for watching: on a Friday night with your gay friends.

Overall: meh.  Entertaining, I suppose, but that’s all.

Grade: C+