Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts

January 26, 2015

Sundance’s Review: James’ Franco “I am Michael…”


Even though he’s straight, it sometimes seems like James Franco, the star of Milk and Howl and director of Interior. Leather Bar, is this generation’s foremost gay actor, toying with ideas of gender and sexuality in his artwork and even his Instagram account. It’s commendable he wants to try something slightly different in I Am Michael, a new movie where he plays a gay activist who decides he’s not gay anymore. Sadly, just like the movie’s main character, the film around him – the feature debut of Justin Kelly – is fatally unsure of its own identity.

Michael is Michael Glatze, who moves to San Francisco with his partner, Bennett (Zachary Quinto) and lands a job at XY magazine, a seminal title for young gay men who came of age in the late 1990s. Our plot is taken from an amazing New York Times Magazine story by Benoit Denizet-Lewis, who worked with Glatze at XY. The couple return to Bennett’s native Halifax where Michael is listless and slowly becoming unmoored without a job or greater purpose. 
Michael starts having panic attacks, plagued by the fear it’s the same heart disease that killed his father when Michael was young. He becomes increasingly interested in Christianity as an answer to his acute existential crisis. He eventually decides that he no longer wants to be gay and ends up at a Bible college in Wyoming where he meets and marries a fellow student (Emma Roberts). 
The movie wants to show Michael as someone who needs to follow his own path, who can’t be defined by labels. He also wants to be a leader of people, whether gay youth or members of his congregation. But by the time it gets around to such interesting territory, the movie is spent. It shows his conversion not as one of conviction but as an ill that besets a young man without direction. And with that it becomes, in essence, identical to some of the evangelist propoganda dished out on public transportation. If you’re not careful, gays, Jesus will come along and take away your Tori Amos posters.
The structure of the movie doesn’t help its propensity to preach. It’s slow and plodding, set up in a series of flashbacks, the years flagged on title cards, to further arrest the pace. The dialogue is stilted and full of clich√©. Franco, unusually stoic, doesn’t give Michael much of an inner life and his conversion is shown less by anything the character does and more by his hair colour and style of dress. Quinto is flat in a thankless, underwritten role.
Part of the problem resides in the feeling that Kelly isn’t convinced Michael isn’t really straight – something the movie follows. It feels like it’s hewing too close to both an agenda and the truth of the story instead of exploring the emotional and intellectual truths that lie beneath it. There would be an interesting movie to be made about the interplay between identity, sexuality, religion and self-identity,in the events and intellectual leaps it would take to turn a gay activist into a proselytizer for heterosexuality. But I Am Michael does not manage it. In a film where the Bible convinces a man to rearrange his entire life, it commits the cardinal sin of being dreadfully dull.      

        by Brian Moylan

March 20, 2014

Nashville Review on “Stranger by the Lake” with Explicit Sex Scenes


Explicit Stranger by the Lake Opens Friday at Belcourt (NSFW)


French director Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake received much attention at Cannes last spring, largely for its unsimulated explicit gay male sex scenes. It's the first Guiraudie film to be released in the U.S., and its success has led to a retrospective of his earlier work and a release of his 2009 film The King of Escape in New York. It opens Friday night at The Belcourt, with Scene critic Jason Shawhan introducing the 9:30 p.m. show.
So far, it’s been almost universally praised, apart from a few closed-minded straight critics — a strange fate for a film whose vision of death-haunted gay sex isn’t too far from magnets for queer controversy like Basic Instinct and Cruising. Indeed, critic David Ehrenstein has suggested thatStranger by the Lake is essentially Cruising as made by a gay man. To my mind that's not uninteresting, but it's certainly problematic.
At a lakeside cruising area, Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) witnesses Michel (Tom Selleck lookalike Christophe Paou) kill a man. Rather than turning Michel in, Franck finds the handsome drifter even hotter. As they start having sex, Stranger by the Lake knowingly toys with stereotypes of gay men as hedonistic, promiscuous creatures who have disconnected sex from emotion.
As that description sounds, the movie's critique of gay culture is harsh. It takes place in an isolated world where there are no alternatives to this chosen mode of existence. Here, the utopia of ‘70s sexual liberationists has gone badly awry — the characters can barely sustain enough intimacy to have friends — and Stranger by the Lake charts the consequences. Lars von Trier's comingNymphomaniac does a better job of it: it doesn't critique its characters for having too much sex, but for lying and manipulating their partners in order to do so.
I think it might have worked better as a period piece — which it feels like apart from one discussion of HIV — or if it acknowledged the possibility of gay men having long-term relationships as something more than a distant likelihood. For young gay men, the "new normal" is pressure to settle down, get married and raise families (where possible), not to go out and cruise in public. (Hook-ups still take place, but the Internet provides much more of an assist.) That said, many of my qualms evaporated in the movies brutally suspenseful final 10 minutes — in which Franck has to face how much his desire for sex really is a death wish.


June 30, 2012

Queer Activism Before Gay Inc Bought it Off, A Movie

I think the review by Steven Thrasher is accurate and fair to the movie.  Therefore I’m posting his article as it appeared on the Village Voice.

How To Survive a Plague: Queer Activism Before Gay Inc Bought it Off

Sundance Selects
Peter Staley in David France's How To Survive A Plague

Two things starkly colored my experience as I went to a screening of David France's fascinating documentary How to Survive a Plague, about the heyday of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), earlier this week.The first was seeing the film through the prism of my feature article in last week's Voice Pride issue, "Does 'Gay Inc.' Believe in Free Speech?" The correlations between the questions the film explored and my article raised of queer activism (and, in a few cases, the actual same activists) were for me many.
I've also never had such a strong experience of feeling like I was watching my current day to day life replicated onscreen, although experienced in a different era and under different circumstances (like in a sci-fi, parallel universe) as when I was watching How to Survive A Plague. Part of this is because David France wrote the first articles in the Voice about ACT UP 25 years ago and my reporting, on similar topics, owes a great deal to his legacy at this publication. Most eerily, I'd spent the day before I saw the film at the Pride march talking for a good thirty minutes to State Senator Tom Duane. The loquacious politician was waxing especially freely as he contemplated his last Pride before leaving the Senate and reflected on his life in politics as the parade passed by. We stood talking about the fights for gay marriage in New York and the right to be able to openly serve in the military in the past tense. To see him the next day in the film at least 20 year earlier, young and lithe (and long before drug cocktails gave any hope to those with HIV), was startling.
For me, the first half of the film was a fascinating exploration of this thought: Aha! This is what queer activism looked like before we were bought off. It's 1987, and gay men were inflicted with a disease that by now had a name (even though it wasn't mentioned much by President Reagan). The answer, the young, tough activists seemed to conjure up, was the educate themselves. Their empowerment was not, unlike today's LGBT movement, to host a gala, go shopping or stand up for Ellen on twiter. Queer people were not yet seen as consumers, even by their (few) advocates. They were largely considered untouchable, and to many Americans, they were willfully deemed invisible.
The response to this leper status in the activist communities portrayed in the film was astounding: to educate and empower queers by understanding science, understanding politics, and becoming so fucking knowledgeable about substantial, intellectually rigorous concepts that they could walk into (by force when needed) drug companies, Congress, the National Institute of Health or the Federal Drug Administration armed with knowledge. And when they did, they knew so fucking much, they could participate in and influence conversations with the world's top scientists and policy makers.
Can you imagine any such thing today? A gay group telling gay people to educate themselves in medicine rather than to go shopping? Afraid of rabble rousing, the line from Gay Inc.'s main lobbyists these days is usually, Don't worry your pretty little head. Leave everything to us. When Queer Rising took to the streets (√† la ACT UP) last year demanding marriage equality, the main lobbyists were not pleased. Today's major gay activist groups were nowhere to be found in Zuccotti Park, as Occupy Wall Street staged a descendant protest owing much to forefathers and mothers like ACT UP.
Of course, LGBT people today are in such a different space in 2012 than in 1987, and for those of us who came of age after that era, it's hard to imagine where things were during the heyday of ACT UP. We have a president who supports equal rights for queer people, and who has reversed the U.S.'s policy of denying entry visas to people with HIV. [Note:Jeremy Sapienza points out that the HIV travel ban lift process started under George W. Bush.] (There is a great scene about this policy in the film.) It's a sign of progress that we can entertain other thoughts as an LGBT community other than attempting to stave off the existential demise of all gay men.
But there is still work to be done here. HIV infections have reached a plateau of about 50,000 new infections a year; this number stubbornly refuses to go down (and rates in some populations are even going up). There are serious health risks for people with proper medication for HIV/AIDS (like, as the Times reported last week, an increased rate of heart attacks). But for those who don't get proper medication because of the prohibitive costs (according to the film, about two million human beings a year globally), HIV is still a death sentence.
How to Survive a Plague treats AIDS as a plague, an onslaught demanding the most urgent attention as an entire generation of gay men faced an abyss. Although there is humor in the film (more on that later), there are no corporate tie-ins with the activism, nor anything cutesy about what's happening. In my reporting, I've found that there is little of that same sense of urgency on a large scale in queer activism today; gay people have become consumers, encouraged to think everything is alright, and (largely in the United States) have been led to believe that popping some pills will make everything OK on the HIV front. Fervency about the worldwide epidemic is largely absent in our nation, economic barriers for queer people are too often ignored and, with a few notable exceptionsorganized political life in the queer community focuses on the one percent as much as politics in general. But in the 1980s, there was a creative, dynamic, utterly brave and totally in your face attempt to make gays snap the hell out of any kind of complacency.
Given my last article about trying to keep conflict out of the LGBT Center, the raucous scenes in the same building decades ago were thrilling to watch. (Indeed, given how the Center would stop allowing public comments even on its Facebook wall to avoid questions from a member of the press a few days after I saw the film, this was all the more fascinating.) In the Center's only public meeting on its policies last year, board member Tom Kirdahy said he didn't like the idea of a Palestinian sympathetic queer group meeting there because vulnerable people, like those in recovery programs, might feel "unsafe" from conflict and controversy. But there was huge, rousing, roiling conflict documented in How to Survive a Plague. Scores of people of people are passionately debating what should be done about AIDS, often screaming at each other in the Center's first floor meeting room. There are no pre-approved talking points. Unlike at garden parties or black tie fundraisers, almost none of the queers are wearing suits. It's direct democracy in what looks far more like an Occupy Wall Street General Assembly than a Goldman Sachs diversity awards ceremony.
As I watched ACT UP get into board meetings of the FDA and storm the campus of the NIH decades ago in the film, I couldn't help thinking how the Center itself (where ACT UP often debated and plotted its shenanigans) does not hold public meetings of its board in 2012. In the film, Ann Northrop is seen passionately debating as a young woman. Last year,Northtrop moderated that one public meeting on the Center's space policies, which went nowhere and resulted in the Center simply refusing to speak about the issue any further.
And the actions ACT UP engages in are almost unrecognizable in their confrontation, even by the most radical Occupy standards of demonstrating. Without giving away too much, I'll just say this: when I met Lt. Daniel Choi to photograph him in front of the White House two years ago, the Secret Service was on top of us before he'd done anything. Simply having handcuffed himself to the fence previously was reason for them to pounce. Yet there's a scene in this film where hordes of ACT UP queers boldly storm the White House fence and throw something unimaginable onto its pastoral, green lawn. Today, I can't imagine that the Secret Service wouldn't shoot them for such an action (and evacuate the entire First Family from the mansion until terrorism and toxicology sweeps could be performed). I thought I knew something of LGBT activism history, but I wouldn't have believed this if I hadn't seen it in the film.
But if the first half of the film read for me as a mediation on queer activism life before it sold out, the second half made me think, Ah, the age old split has always been there.
There were inevitable charges that some ACT UP member were elites, specifically those on the medical science committee, who broke off to form TAG (Treatment Advisory Group). Resentment brewed that some were too close to the drug companies and the government, and some had forgotten the roots of the movement. In this way,it was humbling to see that my reporting on these fights is nothing new. The dilemma over how close activists should be to power (be that power reside with drug companies and the FDA in 1987, or with the White House, corporations and the DNC in 2012) is as old as queer activism itself. (My favorite moment in the second half is hearing an off-screen voice I am sure belongs to Bill Dobbs, a major source for last week's story, screaming in just as cantankerous a manner decades ago as he is apt to now. And then Larry Kramer, who can now be so mellow he wouldn't speak to me for the 'Gay Inc.' article for fear of making gay organizations look bad in an election year, screamed him down.)
The film is weakest, for me, in exploring the split between ACT UP and TAG. It was unclear to me from How To Survive A Plague if and how these groups interacted over the years after the divorce, how close TAG got to the drug companies, and if the two factions resolved their differences after the worst of the plague (in the United States, anyway) was over.
The film is most successful for me in two ways. As the press packet notes, "It's a quirky, but not inconsequential, fact about HIV that the virus made its hideous debut in medical journals just a few months before the first camcorders" hit the stores. The home video which comprises so much of the film holds up beautifully, the audio is shockingly clear, and there is an unexpected elegance in the way France's camera (through editing archival material, as well as shooting new interview footage) has a surprisingly aesthetic consistency. You'd think he and a director of photography had planned an arc with constructed precision, rather than cobbled together found footage.
The other way it flies is in its use of humor. Like African Americans who can get bogged down with "uplifting the race" pabulum in documenting the civil rights struggle, LGBT history can get whitewashed (especially when corporate sponsorship is involved) and trimmed of the sex, aggressive activism, and comedy. How To Survive A Plague made me laugh out loud more times than sniffle (though it did that, too). There's gallows humor through out, and also a kind of uncomfortable laughter born from the shear audacity of what these men and women of ACT UP dared to do. And the scene with CNN proves that the TV idea of "the left," whose representative on a debate show seems less sympathetic to the tactics of gay men with AIDS than a Reagan/Bush I era Pat Buchanan(!), has been laugh out loud funny for decades.
In a way, the creative, comic elements represent one of the greatest triumphs of what those in ACT UP achieved: a refusal to give up being human, even when society shunned them and death stared an entire gay generation in the eye. They still loved, and fought, and kissed, and laughed.
How To Survive A Plague premiered at Sundance in January and is opening theatrically in September. I'll be checking out United In Anger, the other ACT UP documentary (culled from the group's oral history project) next week when it opens at the Quad. 
 Steven Thrasher


January 21, 2012

Turkey gets Shook Up Not Earthquake } Gay "honor killing" movie

To match Feature MOVIE/TURKEY

STANBUL (Reuters) - On a hot summer's day in 2008, 26-year-old physics student Ahmet Yildiz was shot dead when he popped out from his Istanbul apartment to buy ice cream.

The main suspect in the killing, a fugitive still wanted by Turkish police, is Yildiz's father, who could not accept that his only son was in a homosexual relationship.

The case, widely believed to be Turkey's first gay "honor killing", has inspired a movie "Zenne", which opened on January 13 and explores gay sexual identity and prejudice in overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey.

"We had the movie idea in mind right after our dear friend Ahmet was killed," said Caner Alper, writer and co-director of the movie. "His story needed to be told."

Yildiz was born into a wealthy religious family in the ancient city of Sanliurfa, in Turkey's impoverished and conservative southeast, but moved to cosmopolitan Istanbul during his university years, seeking more freedom as a gay man.

In Istanbul, Yildiz started a new life and made new friends; he also began a gay relationship and eventually moved in with his boyfriend, who witnessed Yildiz's murder from the window of their apartment on the Asian side of the city divided by the Bosphorus Strait.

In the movie, Yildiz's character is encouraged to come out of the closet by a male belly dancer, or zenne, and a German photographer who has moved to Istanbul after a personal crisis in Afghanistan, where he accidentally caused the death of several children during a photo shoot. Both are fictional characters.

In real life, Yildiz's coming out as a gay man was seen as an affront in his deeply patriarchal and tribal family, even though his parents adored him, a cousin, Ahmet Kaya, told the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey.


Yildiz's father had urged him to return to their village and to see a doctor and an imam to "cure" him of his homosexuality and get married, but Yildiz refused.

"Ahmet loved his family more than anything else and he was tortured about disappointing them," Kaya was quoted as saying in the foundation's report.

After he was killed, the family did not claim Yildiz's body for a proper Islamic burial -- an indication of the deep shame the family felt and that they had ceased to consider him one of their own. He was buried instead in a "cemetery for the nameless."

"The one scene I wasn't able to distance myself from the character I played as an actor was when Ahmet apologized to his father for being gay on the phone after coming out," Erkan Avci, a young actor who played Yildiz, told Reuters.

"It's such a great tragedy, so cruel and inhumane that anybody has to apologize for who he is."

Avci drew parallels between Ahmet's situation and his own as a Kurd from Diyarbakir province in a country whose Kurdish minority has long complained of discrimination and inequality.

"It would have been immoral for me to turn down this role, as a man who had to apologize for years for being Kurdish," he said.

"Zenne", which won five awards at Turkey's most prestigious film festival, the Antalya Golden Orange, has received a huge amount of attention in mainstream media and is reported to be having reasonable success at the box office.

With a $1 million budget, including financial support from the Dutch embassy, it opened in a luxury movie theatre in one of Istanbul's most fashionable neighborhoods.

Gays are normally depicted in Turkish movies as colorful and exaggerated secondary characters who add a comic element - hardly the main character of a story.

"Zenne" tackles head-on such sensitive issues as gay society, prejudice and equal rights for Turkey's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

"'Zenne' is a very special film for us. It brings to the screen some of the important issues for the LGBT cause such as hate crimes, the complications for gay men to forego the mandatory military service and coming out," said Umut Guner, spokesman for the Ankara-based Kaos GL, a LGBT group.


The film has not been welcomed in conservative circles.

Islamist daily Vakit called it "homosexual propaganda" by a gay lobby bent on "legitimizing perversion through their so-called art."

Despite being the only suspect, Yildiz's father is still at large and is being tried in absentia.

Friends and activists, who have attended some of the hearings wearing masks bearing Yildiz's portrait, say the authorities lack the will to find the perpetrator.

Alper and Mehmet Binay, co-directors of the movie and together as a gay couple for 14 years, said they heard their friend Yildiz receive death threats from his family over the phone.

Yildiz filed an official complaint but failed to receive any protection, they said.

"Honor killings," or crimes carried out against mostly women and young girls seen to have tainted the family's name, are not uncommon in Turkey, particularly in poor and rural areas.

The European Union, which Turkey wants to join, has repeatedly urged Ankara to take a tougher stance against such crimes.


Turkey is often held as an example in the Middle East for marrying Islam and democracy, but Turkish gay activists say Ankara's human rights record is far from perfect.

One practice particularly abhorred by rights groups is the method by which gay men can be exempted from the required 16-month military service: they have to prove their homosexuality in medical tests and are compelled to provide photos of them having sex with other men.

In the movie, two characters undergoing one such examination are forced to wear make-up and dress in women's clothes, while doctors perform anal examinations.

According to Article 17 of the health regulations of the Turkish Armed Forces, homosexuality is considered a "psychosexual deviance."

"Turkey is going through a democratization process, and the army needs to enter this phase, too," said Binay.

"We don't live in a dream world and we don't expect it to happen all of a sudden in such a deep-seated institution, but at least they could stop the humiliating practices against gay men."

Turkish rights groups reported 24 killings of gay and transsexual individuals in the last two years. In most cases, courts reduced the sentences or the perpetrators were not found.

In a report last year, Amnesty International urged Ankara to draw up laws preventing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and to punish perpetrators of homophobic attacks.

The EU in a separate report also last year said lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in Turkey "continued to suffer discrimination, intimidation and violent crimes".

LGBT activists say they get little sympathy from the AK Party, in power for a decade, which has its roots in political Islam and is known for its socially conservative stance.

Selma Aliye Kavaf, Turkey's former Women and Family Affairs Minister, made waves in 2010 when she said homosexuality was "a biological disorder, a disease that needs to be treated".

The current interior minister accused an outlawed armed organization with "engaging in every kind of immorality, including homosexuality".

Director Binay said he hoped the movie would help to change views both among government officials and the wider society, but believed that would not happen overnight.

"These movies will be made in Turkey as long as those from different identities refuse to learn to live together."
Reuters  (Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia and Sonya Hepinstall)

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