Category Archives: GLBT Film

THE CRYING GAME”— 25th Anniversary Edition

“The Crying Game”

25th Anniversary Edition

Amos Lassen

It is hard to believe that it is 25 ago that “The Crying Game” was in theatres. It was considered a shocker and had a scene that if talked about would ruin the film for many viewers and we skirted it whenever writing reviews and/or speaking to others who has not yet seen the film. With the tremendous changes that have taken place in society, I cannot help but wonder if that scene would be so shocking today and with that thought in mind, I am going to write about it here.

The year of “The Crying Game”, 1992, I was enrolled in a post-graduate course on modern Irish literature and that scene was the focus of most of the class. I remember having to write a paper about how the film affected society and so I decided to concentrate on the shocker and came up with the title, “It’s Just a Piece of Meat” and that should give you a general idea of what was so different about the movie.

“The Crying Game” opens with British soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker) getting kidnapped by the IRA in Northern Ireland. They demand that the UK government release one of their top men who’s recently been detained, in exchange for the soldier’s life. Fergus (Stephen Rea), one of the kidnappers, unexpectedly starts to bond with his captive even though he knows they may have to kill him. Jody tells Fergus about his lover, the beautiful Dil, and asks him to check she’s all right if the worst comes to the worst. Months pass and while in London, Fergus looks for Dil and gets to know her and they begin to fall for one another. However, that’s before a revelation that could end their romance and it isn’t that Fergus was involved in Jody’s kidnapping. There’s also the inevitable return of the IRA.

When first released, the film was considered controversial in Great Britain because the hero was a sympathetic IRA terrorist, and as a result this hurt box office even though the film itself doesn’t really have much sympathy for what the IRA were up to. In the US, however, it was quite a hit but that had to do with Dil, Jody’s girlfriend who has a penis (that is boldly shown on the screen). Most people didn’t see this coming, but it became such a huge topic of conversation that the brief moment completely overshadowed the entire rest of the movie.

It just shows how times change. Today, there might be some concern about making a member of the IRA the lead character. The Good Friday Agreement tempered attitudes toward Irish Republicanism wouldn’t be seen as terrible as it was in 1992. The advertising campaign about one of the characters being transgender/transvestite would be thought to be tasteless and would likely result in protests in today’s world. As James Joyce said in his short story “Eveline”, “everything changes”.

While in the film itself the moment is supposed to be a surprise, it is presented with utmost subtlety. That’s largely because of Jaye Davidson’s performance. Fergus completely freaks out in a rather unpleasant way but for Dil it’s just one more time of being mistreated and disappointed. All Dil wants is love. Today, it would not be acceptable to handle it in the same way today but in the context of the time and of the movie itself, it makes a lot of sense.

There is nothing gratuitous about the scene. In fact it’s a key moment in the exploration of the film’s themes. In Fergus’ relationships with both Jody and Dil, “The Crying Game” looks at someone finding a bond that they wouldn’t have thought possible and which pushes boundaries they never expected to have pushed and challenges one to think of the world in ways they had never done before. This is a story of possible internal and personal redemption and the film is basically about whether people can save themselves by changing their point of view and opening themselves up to new people.

 

Another aspect of “The Crying Game” that probably would not be seen as okay is the fact that the film never seems sure what Dil’s gender status it. Both the character herself and the script never seem certain if she’s transgender or transvestite, or whether Dil sees herself as a man, woman or genderqueer. That could be because those involved in the making of the movie didn’t really have a full grasp of the issues, as evidenced by some of the archive interviews in the bonus extras that show something of old-fashioned views of gender identity.

It does work though, even though there are moments when it does get very close to treating Dil as a man in a dress. Dil, herself, who pulls the film through in that she is very aware of people’s perceptions, and while her willingness to mould herself to be what other people want her to be is a character flaw, it is also perfectly understandable in the context of someone desperate for human connection. Even thought “The Crying Game” today doesn’t quite have the impact it once did, it’s still an excellent movie. Even with its dark themes it’s a film that wants to believe in change and that things you might think were impossible for you to face, can make you a better person if you open yourself up to them.

The film looks good in this HD Blu-ray release and has interesting extras. That includes a lengthy ‘making of…’ documentary, made several years after the movie, but long enough ago that you can still see what the attitudes of the time were and gives an interesting insight into both the film and how gender was viewed then (and often is now). It also shows what an unusual film this was, which in its way was rather groundbreaking. While some may have issues with how Dil is depicted, few successful films before or since have treated a romance between a cisgender person and a trans individual so seriously.

It’s not surprising that a film that took on such contentious issues seems a bit dated. The film’s core of hope and dedication to the idea of unexpected bonds being able to change people is something that will probably never change.

“HEARTSTONE”— Facing Adulthood

“Heartstone” (“Hjartasteinn”)

Facing Adulthood

Amos Lassen

Set in remote fishing village in Iceland, “Heartstone” introduces us to two teenage boys Thor and Christian as they experience a summer where one tries to win the heart of a girl while the other discovers new feelings toward his best friend. When summer ends and the harsh nature of Iceland takes over, they realize that the time has come to movie into adulthood.

“Heartstone” shows us the dramatic hardships of cruel, confusing adolescence and fumbling sexual awakenings and does so with detail, and both come from first-time director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson. The film captures a community of wayward youth in an Icelandic fishing village. We focus on fourteen-year-old Thor (Baldur Einarsson), a angelic-looking boy whose voice is maturing faster than his body, and his best friend Kristján (Blær Hinriksson), a tall, blonde withdrawn teen. Both teenagers are on the verge of manhood, with Thor directing his attention to one of the local girls and Kristján silently harboring feelings for Thor.

Set mostly outdoors against a gorgeous landscape, we get powerful performances from young people with no formal acting background. Adolescence in the cinema is not new and we have begun to see more and more films about it. The fact that this is something every person goes through makes it a unique experience that is too personal to share. This is exactly what lies behind the movie: a personal story based on the director’s experience of growing up in a remote fishing village.

Like in any Scandinavian film, nature is a part of the story. What makes this story different is that it is, above all, about human nature. Our story takes place surrounded by a cold sea, flat grounds and green mountains and the natural harshness and beauty are the yin and yang of this story. This is a story of a strong, beautiful bond between two boys that is framed with aggression and violence from the very first moments. In the opening scene we see an act of meaningless aggression by one of the boys calling a fish ugly and then jumping on it. We learn that Thor is exposed to constant humiliation thanks by his sisters and he lets his inner aggression out in a form of offending other people, spitting and kicking the grass. We wonder if there is any escape from this world of cruelty. This is the world that the characters here live in and they are used to it— it is the normal world to them.

The film is made up of many separate details including the relationship between parents and children, homosexuality, life in a rural village and life in a closed society, first love, awakening sexuality, puberty, closed society, friendship, suicide. What the film is really about is discovering one’s true self and this is a painful and harsh process from which no one can escape. We are all exposed to this at an early age and we see here that with no support, it is impossible to express feeling about going through it.. There is always something left behind afterwards and it defines our lives and who we are. The story here is about awkward, obstinate teenagers becoming grown-ups and they are still awkward and obstinate but a little bit wiser, stronger and better.

“JESUS”— Changing

“Jesús”

Changing

Amos Lassen

Even though his widowed father’s (Alejandro Goic) pleads with him to straighten up and go back to school, Jesus (Nicolas Duran) is satisfied with running around town all day with his friends. Then a night of drunken revelry leads him and his friends to commit a despicable crime. With the police after them, Jesus’ friendships fall away leaving his father as his only ally. Director Fernando Guzzoni’s challenging depiction of youth gone astray is quite graphic and unsettling. It’s difficult to sympathize with any of the teenagers in this film but it is especially hard to watch an only child constantly disappoint his father.

Even with several very disquieting factors, Chilean filmmaker Fernando Guzzoni’s story about a dysfunctional father/son relationship, is compelling.   For most of the week 18-year-old Jesús is left alone to his own devices in Santiago whilst his father (Alejandro Goic ) is away working. Instead of going to school or even getting a job he chooses to waste his time away hanging out with his friends. He lies to his father when he returns home and is always finding ways to try to get more money out of him.

Jesús and his pals spend all their time getting wasted on anything they can get their hands on, and randomly pick up girls to have sex. On one of their very many drunken nights out they stumble upon a half conscious gay man in the park who they mock and taunt before they beat him to the point that they think that he is dead.

The next morning when Jesús awakes sober, he sees on the TV news that the boy they attacked is in critical condition in the ICU department at the Hospital. He panics and turns to his best friend Pizaro (Sebastián Ayala), who had also been one of the assailants and they comfort each other by having sex together. (You might want to read that sentence a second time.)

Over the next few days, the victim’s condition worsens and they are large public vigils in the park where the attack had taken place,  Jesús becomes even more worked up, especially after Pizaro tells him that he was thinking going to the police to blame the others. Beto the gang leader comes to his house and threatens him. Jesús is now so scared that when his father comes home he tells him the truth and throws himself on his mercy as he now realizes that he needs help to get himself out of the worsening situation.

The end of this coming-of-age drama/thriller is equally disturbing, and although it comes as something of a shock, on reflection it was the only way that this story could have ended.  While the actions of Jesús, and his pals are not those of a neo-Nazi group of thugs like the Police had assumed, but because of their callous disregard for other people’s lives, we feel intense hatred. 

Guzzoni successfully builds up the tension of the whole piece by deliberately using sparse lighting for many of the scenes, and using some shaky hand-held camera work.  Durán gives an extremely convincing performance as the self-centered and confused Jesús.

This is a harrowing and despicable story that is so powerfully told that we stay engaged to the very last frame. There are ultimately few surprises to found within the film and the atmosphere grows more and more problematic as time slowly progresses. Any hope of feeling sympathy falls flat. The pervasively minimalist vibe holds the viewer at arms length throughout and ultimately dulls the impact of the central character’s increasingly grim life. The film focuses on the question of ‘sin’ and guilt from the point of view of youth and the present. empathy from the viewer.  The film tells its tale in two parts—the screenplay gives meticulous details of the everyday reality of the protagonist, Jesús who lives alone with his father who is seldom home and with whom communication is minimal and mutual incomprehension is very high. Jesus is secretly bisexual and very impressionable. Jesús seems most invested in a group of friends who border on delinquency and spend their evenings doing nothing good. Then comes the event that turns the film into a father/son confrontation. Jesús has to face the consequences of his actions (the burden of guilt, threats from his partners in crime) and his father has to decide how far he’s willing to go to protect his son.

The film is striking in its realism and this is, of course, due to the wonderful realism provided  by photographer  Barbara Alvarez. She plays with the shadows of night and gives the director the perfect conditions for bringing in his style that is filled with menacing atmospheres and a brutal look at society in Chile. We watch the downward spiral that takes Jesús to his catharsis of decision.

“AS GOOD AS YOU”— Dealing with Grief

“As Good As You”

Dealing with Grief

Amos Lassen

After having nursed her wife for a year and a half, Jo (Laura Heisler) faced dealing with the death of the person she loved most in the world. Jo is a published author who is also dealing with writer’s block and has been thinking having the baby that she and her late wife never got to having.  At forty-one-years-old, she is very aware that her biological clock is ticking away, and so has been pressuring Jamie (Bryan Dechart) her much younger brother-in-law to keep to the promise she managed to get him to make at her wife’s memorial of being the sperm donor.

Jo’s life seems to center around just two close friends. Lisa (Anna Fitzwater) an aspiring photographer and punk who owns a seedy bar no one, aside from Nate (Raoul Bhaneja) seems to go. Nate drinks his life away there.  Both Lisa and Nate are in love with Jo and compete for her affection,  However, Jo very carefully avoids this until one day Lisa turns up at her house with a bottle of bourbon and Jo lets herself go with the mood.

One day Jamie turns up unexpectedly and is aghast Jo has seemingly already moved on. He came to tell her that after the psychological interview he had to with Dr Berg a psychiatrist (Annie Potts), he changed his mind about being a donor. Jo reacts by rejecting Lisa who leaves in a fit of anger.

Jo deals with her pain by having too much to drink at a bar where Nate happens to be and feeling weak, Jo aggress to sleep with him and he can fulfill his dream. However, immediately afterwards Jo brushes him off.

Jo realizes that she has now alienated the three main people in her life and with a nudge from Dr Berg, she has to agree that the time has come to finally and positively move on with her life if she is to survive. 

Director Heather de Michelle and writer Gretchen M. Michelfield see this as a serious comedy about dealing with but I did not find much to laugh at as I watched. To me it seems to be a melodrama and the whole idea of the film is a bit too unrealistic. I did feel sympathy for Jo that I think I was supposed to do. Her behavior did not win me over and I failed to identify with her. In fact, she really bothered me.

“CALL ME A GHOST”— An Adult Women

“Call Me A Ghost”

An Adult Film

Amos Lassen

Noel Alejandro’s new short adult film “Call Me A Ghost” which a but of the supernatural to hardcore gay movies.

We do not usually get sad characters in gay porn while in other films we see it but usually because of an act of desperation or the need to feel something. Here sex brings connection and an erotic charge.

“A man is alone in his house, where his world seems solitary and he isn’t happy. Then he goes upstairs into some kind of attic space where he finds another man”, a ghost. Then the man and the ghost speak and the ghost wants to know more about the man and why he’s depressed. He then play him a song that he dances to.

This is quite a different kind of porn and it is interesting.  The film delivers what you’d expect from hardcore—sex-positive filmmaking, well filmed and real sex, between two good-looking guys.

“HEADSPACE”— A Group of Trans People

“Headspace”

A Group of Trans People

Amos Lassen

Director Jake Graf’s new film, “Headspace, stars Laith Ashley, Kieran Moloney, Munroe Bergdorf and Captain Hannah Winterbourne as trans individuals showing us their thoughts as they negotiate the everyday trials of their life. Some of those issues are what you might expect, while others may surprise you.

It’s a great little short, beautifully shot and despite its short running time, it certainly makes you think.

“WILD AWAKENING”— Siblings

“Wild Awakening” (“Salvaje despertar”)

Siblings

Amos Lassen

Emma and Toni are brother and sister who are orphans. It was expected that they would take over the family business, a riding school, with the death of their parents. However, Emma (Julia Hernandez) is still young and Toni (Fabian Castro) leads an uncontrolled and promiscuous gay life, so, in actuality, Ramon, the foreman, and his son Aaron, are the ones who keep the business going on. Problems arise when both siblings fall in love with Aaron and he feels pressured by his father’s homophobia.

The film opens with Toni and Emma at the police station being questioned about the sudden disappearance of Aaron (Christian Blanch) who the Police suspect may have been murdered.  Also with them is Aaron’s father Ramon (also Christian Blanch) their foreman and the man who had always given his son a hard time if he ever suspected he was having fun. We then go back in time to what led up to this.

Emma had been all but throwing herself at Aaron who is the strong silent type and when she did eventually make her move, he rejected her and she rushed off in tears. Meanwhile Toni who is openly gay and is working his way through a local men, was barely aware of Aaron’s existence and in no way saw that Aaron was secretly in love with him. However, once he caught sight of the naked Aaron in the shower, Toni that changed his mind.

Meanwhile Ramon had a big secret that he was kept from everyone, encouraged Aaron to pursue Emma whilst warning him to keep away from Toni.  His son paid no attention to this and thus angered his father. Instead Aaron had a very wild night with Toni.

Yes, there is a twist coming. As Aaron, Blanch is quite good in his first film. There is one other character that shares in the storytelling— a drag queen friend of the siblings and I found her totally unnecessary. Otherwise there is a lot of eye candy and an interesting plot.

“PEOPLE LIKE US”— Looking for Love

“People Like Us”

Looking for Love

Amos Lassen

“People Like Us” is new LGBT web series about four different men looking for love, lust and all things in between. It is set in Singapore and we immediately see that there is little difference in the way we look for love in different locales.

It all starts on a Friday night when our four characters are each getting ready for a night on the town are all individually gearing up for some sort of night on the town. Public relations consultant Joel at twenty-six years old seems to be good at everything he does aside from his meetings with other men. He becomes impatient and seems unable to allow things to happen at a natural pace.  Perhaps this is why his relationships have never lasted more than 3 months.  His latest boyfriend is Ridzwan, a 30 year old closeted accountant who wants sex, but without any attachment or commitment. He is consumed by not letting anyone know that he is gay.  

Rai is twenty-one and in the Army. He is desperate to meet Mr. Right and he has bad date after bed date with guys who want sex and not love. He meets Isaac, an older private banker and he hopes that he is “the one” but Isaac is fresh out of a divorce and wants to enjoy his newly found sexual freedom and this means chem-sex parties.

Leon Chen created this series for a new organization that connects and helps the LGBT community in Singapore, so even though the sex is steamy, it is safe.

“LOVE IS BLIND”— An Original Reality Series

“LOVE IS BLIND”

An Original Reality Series

Amos Lassen

 “Love Is Blind” is a Dekkoo.com original reality series in which each episode introduces two sexy gay singles that are both looking for love. They are sent on a “zany, unpredictable, and totally blind first date” and we go with them. We watch daylong courtship as these men turn each other on
…and sometimes turn on each other. The show is both fun and intimate. Each episode is hosted by Mike Kelton and like voyeurs we are there watching that first date and see how they hit it off or not. For example, we meet Mike Dreyden whose date, also named Mike, shared a past in sex work.

The two began their date with yoga, then a trip to the High Line, and dinner that evening. Since the two were being filmed the entire time, there was a sense of pressure as they guys try to ignore the camera. We see here that in the created situation the two guys did get to know each other a bit but, by and large, this is a competition.

The concept of two individuals, going forward together, seeing where their interests aligned is the premise but everything is fascinating to watch and I began to wonder if the way these guys do it is the same.

 

“COUNTING FOR THUNDER”— Finding Himself

“Counting for Thunder”

Finding Himself

Amos Lassen

Phillip Stalworth is an actor who is unlucky in work, money and love. He goes back home to the Deep South to help out during a family crisis and is there inspired to find his true voice as his mother is finally finding hers.

This is an autobiographical look at Phillip whose relationship with Caroline, a UCLA college professor, is falling apart at just the same time his mother in Alabama receives a dire medical diagnosis. It is then up to Phillip to work through his past with his complicated family, some old high school chums, and the desperate and hilarious southern characters who grace his hometown. As e does, he learns more about his mother than he ever bargained for, and even more about himself.

Phillip Irwin Cooper makes his debut as a director with this film that is based upon his own life. The film looks at the themes of love, life, sex and death. Originally this was a one-man-show based on his experiences where he portrayed 23 wildly disparate characters.