Monthly Archives: March 2011

“MISHIMA”– “A Life in Four Chapters”

“Mishima”

“A Life in Four Chapters”

Amos Lassen

Yukio Mishima is Japan’s most celebrated writer and Paul Schrader has made a remarkable biopic of his life. It is a fictionalized account, done in four segments. Three of the segments parallel Mishima’s life and are named after three of his novels, “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion”, “Kyoto’s House” and “Runaway Horses”. The fourth segment, “The Last Day” depicts November 25, 1970, the day Mishima took his own life.

The life of Mishima was complex and it was obviously quite a task to put it on film. Schrader has managed to give us one of the best biopics ever made with this film. It finally comes to us on DVD some twenty years after it was originally made. “Mishima” is a feast for the eyes and the ears. The cinematography stuns and the musical score by Philip Glass adds yet another layer to an already excellent film. It is not a literal biography of the man as Schrader and his screenwriter brother, Leonard Schrader have taken several incidents from his life and suicide and give us incidental tableaus that are sparse visually yet beautiful. Mishima’s homosexuality is almost non-existent because, I have learned, of legal threats made by his wife.

Schrader succeeds in combining flashbacks and literature with the day of Mishima’s suicide and he foes so artistically. One critic that I read said “Mishima has already said it all, the film simply repeats”. This is not only a true statement but a very high compliment to the filmmakers. The director does not comment on Mishima; what he does is refuse to examine the uglier implications of Mishima’s public suicide. Mishima was his own greatest critic and the first two chapters of the film are near perfection. They are haunting and subtle and suggestive about the differences between Mishima and the audience that he wrote for.

The movie is made in four chapters and on three levels—flashbacks of the author’s life, dramatizations of his written works and the events of his final day alive. Mishima was so large that had he been a fictional character, a creation like him would never be accepted. But there was Yukio Mishima and he was real and this alone makes the film that more incredible. Even with the fictionalization of some of the events, the story is quite factual.

Mishima was a man of many contrasts. He had a gay lover but was a family man. He saw his words as inadequate. He was patriotic but he dreamt of a return to Imperial Japan’s past glories and he was a man who struggled to make movement and action as one but saw everything that he strove to achieve fall apart at the most critical of moments.

Schrader has made this film with love. It is beautifully acted, edited with an amazing eye for detail and scored with music that pleases. It blends three styles of filmmaking together, black and white, docudrama and stylish color depictions of the author’s novels. It was extremely hard to put a complex story about a complex man on film, especially if the man did not hesitate to die for his ideas. Paul Schrader has managed to accomplish that difficult task.

“MIDNIGHT COWBOY”– Everybody Was Talking

“Midnight Cowboy”

Everybody Was Talking

Amos Lassen

“Midnight Cowboy (1969) was the first and only “X” rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It is a very dark and disturbing movie but it is also quite fascinating. John Schlesinger, the director, gives us a very grim portrait of New York City and the people that lives there. The story—of Texas newbie, Joe Buck (Jon Voight) who arrives in New York—is very simple and direct. The plot is quite simple—it is basically about the friendship between Joe and Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman as a sleazy cripple). Together the two men try to survive and get out of the city and movie to Florida. There is an implication that the two may have been lovers but the movie is just a portrait of two damaged men attempting to survive in the cold urban jungle.

Schlesinger uses flashbacks, color which turns to black and white, flash forwards, weird sound effects and many other tricks and they all work quite well. The acting exceptionally fine and the characterizations are well formed. Schlesinger is an inventive director and he handled the relationship between Buck and Rizzo is sensitively portrayed. The director did not give into censorship but instead concentrated on the energies of the importance of a strong human connection in life without regard to sexuality.

The movie is entertaining and depressing at the same time. It looks at cultural change and shows how we have been changed from the age of innocence of the 1950’s and moved into the age of Aquarius of the 60’s.

We get a poignant and beautiful explication of the themes of loneliness and the deprivation of humanity. The characters exist beyond the law and we find ourselves liking them. Jim Buck is endearing because of his optimism and his naiveté even if he tries to be a gigolo and Ratso Rizzo is the common man who we pity as the film progresses. The characters and the motives of the two are interesting.

An interesting fact is that the “X” rating was later changed (in 1980) when it was re-released. That certainly says something about us and how we think. Technically this is a wonderful film and it was revolutionary while being not much more than a simple and sentimental story.

“METEOR AND SHADOW”– Good Idea, Poor Quality

“Meteor and Shadow”

Good Idea, Poor Quality

Amos Lassen

I feel badly about “Meteor and Shadow”. It could have been such a good movie but something happened to the quality of the recording. It is about the rise and fall of Greek poet Napoleon Lapathiotis who lived from 1888 until 1944 and is based on serious documents of his life. The film is set against a period in Greece during which there was a series of political and social developments which were influenced by what was happening in Europe. Even though Lapathiotis was a poet, the film avoids his literary output to focus on the way that he lived. He was a homosexual, a communist and a drug addict who was considered scandalous by the Grecian society and class in which he lived’

Takis Spetsiotis, the director, gives us quite a different kind of biopic than we usually get. He gives us the poet as a “dandy” and a leftist who took his own life when he realized that he could no longer change aesthetics into action or feed his nobility of spirit. Segments of the poet’s life are presented with sublime finesse. The sets are beautiful and the costumes are excellent. The production design is wonderful overall but the film moves along very, very slowly. For a gay themed film, this is extremely non-sexual and sexuality is discussed only in theory.

However the biggest problem is the poor quality of the transfer to DVD. The film jumps and shakes throughout and the entire quality is way below standard. This is such a pity because within all of this is a story screaming to be heard.

“MEETING RESISTANCE”– Telling the Truth

“Meeting Resistance”

Telling the Truth

Amos Lassen

On the cover of “Meeting Resistance” (First Run Features) is the question, “What would you do if America was invaded”. I doubt if we have given much thought to an answer, either as a nation or as individuals since we do not think we will ever have such a situation. But this has happened in Iraq and the film is an astonishing documentary about the Iraqi war. We get to see what is behind the Iraqi insurgence by meeting those who are involved with the struggle against coalition forces. We also hear from the Iraqi citizens themselves how they feel about the occupation of their country and their homeland.

The film goes after the myths about the war and of those who participate in it. Men and women are candidly open about their hopes and aspirations and we see differing human perspectives and we learn about the heavy toll of the occupation of Iraq.

150,000 foreign troops occupy Iraq now. They have looted and killed countrymen and they will not leave. Watching this film gives a new meaning to the words “war” and “occupation”. Iraqis have been forced into making horrible choices—should they leave the country if they can or should they stay and watch their relatives be killed? We also learn that America is not in Iraq because of Al Qaeda. We are there because of the amount of oil that is there and gaining an entrance to the Persian Gulf so that our availability to that oil will not be cut off. The war that we have led to believe is being fought to protect the world against terrorism is not that all and this film will open your eyes to just that.

“MADAME SATA”– Memories of a Bygone Era

“MADAME SATA”

Memories of a Bygone Era

Amos Lassen

“Madame Sata” is a film based loosely on the life of one of the most amazing characters in the popular culture of Brazil, Joao Francisco dos Santos who lived from 190o until 1976.  He was a thief, a transvestite, a street fighter, a cook in a brothel, a convict and father to seven adopted children. He was sometimes known as “dos Santos” but was better known as Madame Sata. Likewise he was also a performer in gay clubs who pushed social boundaries during tumultuous times. He film starts in 1932 in the bohemian district, Lapa, of Rio de Janerio when he was about to realize his dream of becoming a star on the stage. Lapa was a sordid place—its inhabitants included hustlers, pimps and prostitutes and the underworld of Rio. Joao was head of a family that included the prostitute Lorita and her baby daughter, a hustler named Taboo, Joao’s teenaged lover, Renatinho and Amador who owned the Blue Danube the club where Madame Sata performed.

“Madame Sata” is a movie about a bygone era as it concentrates on the life of a charismatic man who had an interesting and colorful life. Joao was a poor black homosexual man living in a society dominated by masochism. As the movie opens we hear a list of charges against him as he is older and then are taken via flashback to watch his life to see what brought him to that point. He begins his foray into bohemia as an assistant to a third-rate chanteuse and see him aching to take her place.

This was an era where women who were larger than life inspired gays to imitate them. When Joao finally gets the chance to perform in the style of the great divas of that day, his success is unheralded because of an innate talent somewhere within. But tragedy ensues when a loud drunk takes matters to himself and brings about serious consequences and Joao begins a life with the doors of prisons revolving around him. As Joao, Lazaro Ramos gives a performance of a lifetime. In portraying a man who was way ahead of his time, Ramos is one reason to watch this film. His performance is subtly nuanced and a real tour de force.

Here is the story that it is inspirational in that it shows the triumph of the human spirit and the victory of love which both can overcome the most sordid of circumstances.The look of the movie is important and evocative, the mages are dark and you can almost smell the cheap cologne and pomade on the slick hair of the madame and feel the sweat and shed the tears. Joao is the epitome of tough, resilient, talented black queer who is also attracted to women for stature and to men for sex. He was born to slaves and then sold as a child and was consumed by rage that only performing in public could ease.

As the movie floats through a series of dark and thinly etched vignettes, the subdued lighting causes moments to flicker as if candles have burned away or electricity has failed. At first it appears that there is not much there but atmosphere. Joao, rejected because he is poor and black, uses flamboyant theatricality to emphasize his presence. Every vignette is intense. There is a great deal of energy in the film and also what appears to be a life force that is inextinguishable. The material is unconventional and bold and it is perfectly sensible. The way wild gay life progresses is clear and beautifully presented and this is a movie tribute to an age gone but not forgotten.

“MAD MONEY”– Stimulating Finances

“Mad Money”

Stimulating Finances

Amos Lassen

In “Mad Money”, Bridget Cardigan (Diane Keaton) is shocked to discover that she is about to lose her home and comfortable lifestyle when her husband, Don (Ted Dawson) is downsized from the job he has had for the last thirty years. Knowing this was coming, Don began looking for a job a year prior but with no luck. Bridget, who has virtually no skills but being a wife and a mother and holding a college degree in English literature, is forced into entering the world of work. The only position that she can get is as a janitor at the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank,

After beginning work, Bridget discovers that she has a lot in common with her co-workers and she and Nina (Queen Latifah) forge an unexpected bond, a hard working single mother who has the job of shredding old money. Then a bond is forged with Jackie (Katie Holmes), a free spirit who moves the money cart. They can’t help but notice that the bank shreds over a million dollars a day. They begin, also, to realize that they are caught up in a system which underestimates their talents and keeps their dreams far from reach. The three set out to make things better and devise a plan to smuggle the soon-to-be shredded money out of the bank. It appears that they have managed to pull off the perfect crime until the authorities are alerted by a minor misstep.

Keaton, Latifah and Holmes are wonderful together and their chemistry really works. “Mad Money” comes across as a “chick flick” but an extremely likeable one. The movie is a good example of how three average women learn to work the system to their advantage. Here are three thieves stealing for no good reason other than that they can. It’s a very funny way to spend a couple of hours.

“LOVE MY LIFE”– Consequences

“Love My Life”

Consequences

Amos Lassen

Wolfe Video has announced that it has acquired the DVD rights to “Love My Life” a movie about two beautiful Japanese students involved in a lesbian relationship. Director Koji Kawano adapted the screenplay from a Japanese manga written by EbineYamaji whose comics primarily deal with gay relationships. The film looks at the hardships of gay youth in a lighthearted way so there is not a great deal of drama in the film.

Ichiko and Eri are beautiful girls. Ichiko comes out to her father who then relays the information to her mother. Her father accepts the news well especially since he turns around and comes out to his daughter and further says that his deceased wife, her mother, was a lesbian. Eri is not as open about herself. She is a law student and wants very much to impress her father who is a lawyer.

The film faces the hardships of being the gay kid. Ichiko’s best friend, Take, is a gay male who is in the closet and is dealing with his own issues. The internal problems of the three students are what make this movie so real. There are no real problems and the only anti-gay feeling is seen when a bunch of classmates make fun of a fellow student who looks through a men’s magazine. There are no villains and no major conflicts. There are no gratuitous scenes of the girls having sex or even kissing. It is a straight (for lack of a better word) forward love story with all of the necessary melodrama and cute actors and a rock music soundtrack. It focuses on the relationship of the two girls and we learn a lot about their characters and their lives.

The film is charmingly sweet but seems to be lacking in substance but this really doesn’t matter. It is one of those rare feel-good experiences that we do not get a lot of in the genre of gay cinema. The story is told matter-of-factly and candidly without having to resort to soft core porn. The few moments of intimacy that we do see are handled tastefully and with sensitivity. I think that the main issue dealt with is dealing with regret and because of this, the movie is like a breath of fresh air.

“LOVE AND OTHER DISASTERS”– Simply Good

“Love and Other Disasters”

Simply Good

Amos Lassen

It is always a pleasure to see a movie that is just good  and “Love and Other Disasters” is one of those. Everything about it enchants. It is one of those romantic comedies that is honest and has no pretenses. It is quite simply cute and fun.

Emily Jackson has a fast paced life and she seems to always be in constant motion. She also plays matchmaker for her friends but she has a real challenge when Paolo, a handsome new photographer assistant arrives at the offices of Vogue where she works. She makes it her mission in life to bring her gay roommate, Peter, together with Paolo. While she is busy tampering with the lives of the men, she remains completely blind to someone who is after her.

Brittany Murphy is perfect as Emily; she is adorable and catches the viewer’s heart from the moment she appears on screen. The dialog is stylish and the rest of the cast is also great. At first the plot seems ordinary but once it begins. “Love and Other Disasters: grabs you and will not let you run away. I guess the best way to describe the film is to say that it makes you feel good. The shots of London where it was filmed are beautiful, the music is delightful, the costumes and fashions are sublime and the laughs are plentiful. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy.

“LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND”– Slow but Witty

“Love and Death on Long Island”

Slow but Witty

Amos Lassen

In “Love and Death on Long Island”, consummate English actor, John Hurt, plays Giles, a lonely and tired writer who is out of touch with the modern world. Jason Priestly plays the object of his desire. When Giles first meets Ronnie Bostock (Priestly), he finds a new reason for living as he pursues the young man. Seeing shades of “Death in Venice” and “Lolita” is this film is not surprising as the younger man is actively pursued by someone much older.

Giles is a stuffy English writer obsessed by an American teenager and grade B movie star. He goes to Long Island to find the guy and actually does so. Giles is an intellectual, crusty and 60ish and Giles manages to woo Ronnie. Hurt is perfect in the part and he gives us some wonderful acting. As he starts his new life while going after Ronnie we see him with warmth that the character has probably never felt before. When he offers to Help Ronnie in his career, it s clear to us that he does so in order to keep the young man close t him.

Giles has been in a state of self-exile from the modern world. He lives in a stuffy flat in London which is dominated by a picture of his recently deceased wife and all of his emotions are totally repressed. When fate aids him and exposes him to Ronnie, he finally begins to understand his true sexuality and he finds a semblance of happiness. His obsession for Ronnie is thoroughly satisfying for him.

The confession scene at the end of the movie is touching and filled with raw emotion. It is exactly the moment when Giles realizes that he is in love with Ronnie and lusts for him sexually. He does not merely admire him. Faced with the risk of losing the young man, he is ready to go actively after him and as Ronnie becomes more reluctant, Giles becomes more desperate.

One of the most surprising things about the film is the ability of Jason Priestly to carry his role nobly. He holds his own against Hurt who is pure magnificence. The artistic convention of the older mentor and the younger muse is not new but it is handled beautifully. Other interesting ideas are raised as well—the nature of love and how those who are set in their ways can find a new reason for life.

“LOOKING FOR LANGSTON”– Poetry on Film

“Looking for Langston”

Poetry on Film

Amos Lassen

“Looking for Langston” is a black and white fantasy. It recreates the men of Harlem during the Renaissance using archival photographs and footage which undercut a story. While a wake is going on, the mourners gather around a coffin. Downstairs is a bar which is quite elegant where men, dressed in tuxedoes, talk and dance. One of the men is dreaming and in his mind he meets Beauty who rejects him. He finds that when he awakes, Beauty is there beside him. It is his story and his visits to clubs that make up the film. As we watch him, we hear voices reading the poetry and essays of Langston Hughes. What is unique about “Looking for Langston” is that we see the freedom of Black men in Harlem in the 1920’s. (The se of the word “Black” is intentional as it represents the period of the movie).

This is an exploration of Langston Hughes’s sexuality. Issac Julien, the director, creates a space of queer liberation around a literary icon. He forces the viewer to think about the period and he gives us a profoundly beautiful and intellectual film. Here is a beautiful film to watch that will also make you think. It parades images of gay Black men across the screen and shows us the world that they created—so much like and so much unlike our world.