fbpx

Author: Jon Paul Roberts

Queer Writer. Northern.
Editorials

‘And Then We Danced’, Robyn, and Music in Queer Cinema

March 21, 2020

No, you’re not going to get what you need. Baby, I have what you want. Merab stands, cigarette in hand, topless, a crucifix on a chain around his neck. Come get your honey. Orange light floods the conservatory. Irakli’s dark eyes watch him as he puts on a white hat, adorned with feathers. I got your honey, baby. Then the beat kicks in. Every colour and every taste. Every breath that whispers your name. It’s like emeralds on the pavement. Merab dances, his body in perfect sync to the bass of the track. Irakli laughs, taken in by the jovial smirk on Merab’s face. The dance is part seduction, part game. It’s sexy and fun all at once. Then the music cuts. 

And Then We Danced, a film by Levan Akin, is a tender story of first love between two men in the world of Georgian folk dancing. Upon its release in Georgia, it was protested and considered a ‘moral threat’ by conservatives in the country. With this in mind, Robyn’s 2018 dance hit ‘Honey’ accompanying this tantalising seduction feels even more potent. The link between queerness and music has long been noted, from the adoration of icons like Cher, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, and Diana Ross, to the likes of Beyoncé, Carley Rae Jepsen, and, of course, Robyn, whose music regularly reverberates of the walls in queer night clubs today. Music, in fact, is one of the first-time’s queer people felt they had some semblance of power, of having a say in something. In the 1970s, to get a disco track to be a hit, the song had to be playing in gay bars. This connection, to the upbeat sound and lyrics about oppression and loss, scared white heterosexual executives so much they that formulated a consigned effort to invalidate its success, and thus entered the ‘disco sucks’ crowd.

Music and cinema have also always been intrinsically linked. From silent movies accompanied by live pianists to the use of the ‘Unchained Melody’ in Ghost to Mr Blonde’s mischievous dance to ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’, many of the most famous scenes in film have been set to now equally renowned music. In queer cinema, however, the relationship between the music and the characters feels more tangible, something that works on multiple levels. In 1970, Kenneth Nelson performed a truncated version of gay icon Judy Garland’s ‘Get Happy’ in The Boys in the Band. Garland’s popularity amongst the gay community is practically unparalleled, the phrase ‘a friend of Dorothy’ was historically used to discreetly describe gay men in reference to Garland’s most famous starring role. In 1989, Longtime Companion, the first studio movie to discuss AIDS, has a character lip-sync to the Dreamgirls cast album while unpacking boxes. The Broadway musical, a roman-à-clef based on the story of The Supremes, was a bit hit in 1981 and was recently described as having a ‘piercing message of self-empowerment and self-love’ that appeals to queer folk, both then and now. 1994’s The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert features a whole host of disco and camp classics on its soundtrack as three drag queens travel across the Australian outback in a supped-up bus. In essence, the music acts as the sound of liberation, freedom, and unabashed queerness. 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post
The Miseducation of Cameron Post / PHOTO: Vertigo Releasing

Often, music in queer cinema works not only as a soundtrack for the experience of the LGBTQ+ characters on-screen, but acts as a signpost to the queerness that exists beyond the edge of the frame. Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood features a pivotal moment set to ‘Diamonds’ by Rihanna, a current icon for the gay community, idolised for her no-bullshit attitude and pop music prevalence. Or Xavier Dolan’s use of Lana Del Rey, famous for her musings on deadbeat men and ethereal ‘sad girl’ energy, in his Palme d’Or, winning Mommy. Luca Guadagnino not only featured new songs by queer-friendly Sufjan Stevens in his coming-of-age story Call Me By Your Name but also included ‘Love My Way’ by The Psychedelic Furs, a song that was written for those who were struggling with their sexuality in the eighties. While Desiree Akhavan’s tale of youths in conversion therapy, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, sees a moment of jubilance and freedom to the 4 Non Blondes song ‘What’s Up?’, whose lead singer, Linda Perry, famously performed with the word ‘Dyke’ scribbled on her guitar at the 1994 Billboard Music Awards. 

That brings us back to Robyn, the Swedish queen of Europop and recent RuPaul guest judge, who has risen to be a substantial icon for the queer community. She was recently described, by Tom Rasmussen for Another Man, as a woman who ‘gets it’, ‘it’ being the queer experience. Her lyrics cater to the ‘outcast’ and capitalise on ‘the exact tension between the agony, and the ecstasy inside the agony.’ Her music understands the unrequited, the existential, the messy, the dramatic, the murky areas between the lines, and as such appeals to a lot of what makes queer desire so specific. 

Levan Gelbakhiani & Bachi Valishvili, stars of And Then We Danced / PHOTO: CAROLINA BYRMO

‘Honey’, which has been described by Robyn herself as being about a sweet and gloopy ‘state of mind instead of the actual substance’, features lyrics of delicate and sensual longing, a desire to provide and open up for a lover. In Merab’s case, he’s been taken in by the dark and brooding Irakli, his passion is seeping from his skin, his longing visible in each pained stare. In this moment, as the only two people awake late at night, they share an intimate moment so palpable, so crammed with sexual tension, that heart rates will pound along to the electronic beat. 

And Then We Danced is the latest in a long line of queer films that utilise that relationship between LGBTQ+ people and music, specifically their connection to the content and power that music historically brings. So often cinema, like music, is an act of translation. Queer people find a way to relate to the stories on screen that rarely represent them, but in those that do, it feels exciting and even liberating. For a soundtrack to acknowledge that musical connection is like acknowledging the whole notion of queer struggle and how music has been central to queer lives for years. 

And Then We Dances (Official Trailer)

And Then We Danced is available to rent / download now

Also Read: “Birds of Prey” and the Curse of Being Casually Queer

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Editorials

The Problem with the role of ‘The Wife’ in movies like ‘Dark Waters’

March 1, 2020
Anne Hathaway - Dark Waters

‘Don’t talk to me like I’m the wife,’ Sarah Billot (Anne Hathaway) says towards the end of Todd Hayne’s latest film Dark Waters. Until now, she’s had a few scenes complaining that her husband, Rob (Mark Ruffalo), hasn’t picked up granite samples on his way home from work, telling Rob’s boss that she used to be a lawyer before she had kids, and complaining that Rob’s workload has overtaken his ability to pay attention to his family. She’s been hovering around the home, chastising their three kids for their behaviour, and acting as a voiceless, sounding board for Rob’s theories about the corporate juggernaut, DuPont. She has existed to support Rob, to show what he is sacrificing in his crusade against the establishment. Now, teary and with her voice cracking, she defends him.

There is a problem with ‘The Wife’. No, not the film Glenn Close film from 2017 but the age-old, underappreciated, and undervalued role that somehow perseveres. It goes like this: A woman, often a well-respected and acclaimed actress, plays ‘the wife’ in a movie about how a man (or a group of men) do great things. She’s often stood in the kitchen when the man returns from work or waits by the cordless phone for bad news. She asks questions like ‘When are you coming home?’ and makes curt statements such as ‘I hope you know what you’re doing.’ More often than not she’ll ask the man not to do the dangerous, political, or selfless thing he’s planning on doing because of the kids, or the risk, or the ramifications. She’ll eventually come round and support him on his journey, standing up for him when someone else doubts his conviction or progress. In the final act, she might have an emotional speech, something she’ll say with tears in her eyes, something that’s just long enough for the Academy to consider her for Best Supporting Actress. Recent examples, alongside Hathaway, would be Claire Foy in First Man, Catherine Keener in Captain PhillipsGugu Mbatha-Raw in Concussion, Laura Linney in Sully, Sienna Miller in American Sniper, Maura Tierney in Beautiful Boy, Tatiana Maslany in Stronger, and the list could go on.

First man Film
‘First Man’ / Universal Pictures

In 2019, The Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that only 40% of women seen in film were seen in work-related roles, compared to 60% of men, and 52% of female characters were predominantly identified by their personal life, such as a wife or a mother. We see women in their relation to men, how they respond and exist within a man’s world. Overall, only 61% of women on film had a discernible job and were substantially less likely to be seen at work than their male counterparts. Hathaway’s Sarah, for example, has a profession but doesn’t practice anymore and, despite seemingly having been to law school, has very little to contribute when it comes to Rob’s burgeoning legal case. In fact, the only contribution she makes is by accident, stumbling upon a leaflet in the glove compartment.

Some films try to subvert this, to consider the domestic trappings of marriage with consideration and gravitas. For example, Glenn Close almost won an Oscar for playing Joan Castleman, a wife who wanted and deserved recognition after years in the background. Ironically, Close told The Hollywood Reporter, ‘It was actually hard to find actors who wanted to be in a movie called The Wife’. 

So, there is a chasm at the centre of moviemaking; wives are essential to cinema, as displayed by the array of women standing by their man, but wives themselves are not interesting. Once a woman has disposed of her maiden name, she herself is disposable. 

The Wife Movie
‘The Wife’ / Sony Picture Classics

The broader implication, of course, is that Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with women outside of placing them next to a man. Whether she, like Claire Foy, has had great success on television or, despite critical acclaim and awards, she’s approaching her forties and as such is ‘harder’ to sell to men as a ‘sex symbol’, like Hathaway, they’re at a loss. So along come the offers to play wives, girlfriends, mothers, grandmothers, or Aunts to a teenage superhero as a way of offsetting the problem. It also has to be noted that ‘The Wife’ role typically appears in films by male directors (who still direct around 96% of major films released) and that work by directors such as Greta Gerwig, Nicole Holofcener, and Lulu Wang, or producers like Reese Witherspoon, consider the female viewpoint with great importance they just don’t get the same recognition, culturally.

The fact is, these ‘wife’ roles don’t bring the awards attention they used to, with so many of them being ignored come Oscar season. Is that a sign of the times? Recently, in The Guardian, Steve Rose wrote about how ‘issues movies’, like Dark Waters, were once the pinnacle of Hollywood and awards season but now they’re ‘drying up’. It is time to say the same for ‘The Wife’? Absolutely! Routinely, women in film end playing second fiddle to developed male characters, they exist to pressure them or provide comfort. Even their deaths are used as character development, to give a man drive and depth. They exist to make sure the audience can see a rounded portrait of the man at the centre, and, as such, the women are painted with broad strokes and the various wives of cinema are often interchangeable from one and other. Changing this might require a more significant cultural shift, one in which society views women as more than wives and girlfriends and then cinema can follow. Or, perhaps, it’s the other way round. After all, what comes first, the chicken or the egg?  

Dark Waters (Official Trailer)

Dark Waters is in cinemas nationwide from 28th February

Also Read: ‘Birds of Prey’ & the Curse of Being Casually Queer

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Editorials

‘Birds of Prey’ & the Curse of Being Casually Queer

February 22, 2020

I’ve been burned before. The promise of queer representation dangled, cruelly, in front of me before it’s swiftly pulled away and edited out for China. Routinely, we’ve seen big studios get a lot of press by announcing the first ‘gay character’ in their particular franchise. It happened with Star Trek Beyond, Independence Day: ResurgenceBeauty and The BeastAlien: CovenantFantastic Beasts: The Crimes of GrindlewaldAvengers: Endgame, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to name a few. First, a fuss is made in the gay media and mainstream news, people on Twitter cry that ‘WOKE PC CULTURE IS RUINING CINEMA’, and then the film comes out and… well, it was all for nothing. There’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kisses, hand brushing, suggestive looks, or single lines (or worse, jokes) that simply hint at a character’s sexuality. It all passes you by so discreetly that most people don’t even notice.  

In some ways Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) does better. Sure, it approaches the bisexuality of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn with an easy-to-miss millisecond in the film’s opening animation and the much-talked-about relationship between villains Black Mask and Victor Zsasz (played by Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina, respectively) is nothing to write home about (even if Zasaz’s bleach-blond dye-job screams ‘gay man in distress’.) All that being said, it does have Renee Montoya, played by Rosie Perez; a jaded queer cop with a penchant for speaking in 80s cop clichés. It’s revealed, in voice-over, that Montoya has an ex-girlfriend (played by Ali Wong) who works for the DA in Gotham. Montoya is far more rounded and substantially queer than anyone in those movies mentioned above but it still doesn’t quite feel like enough. I’ve seen countless muscled white dudes kissing different skinny white women in almost every superhero film ever. I’ve seen men and women, in all kinds of romantic scenarios, kissing while they run from volcanoes, spaceships, or supervillains. I was even recently subjected to Rey and Kylo Ren’s horrendously odd kiss in The Rise of Skywalker. It’s all there, right in your face, all the time. So why, when it comes to LGBTQ+ characters, does it all feel so, well, casual? 

Birds of Prey
Birds of Prey / Warner Bros. Pictures.

Whether it’s categorised as queerbaiting or seen as studios trying to ‘toe the line’ for the elusive and hard to define ‘Middle America’, it always comes down to money. If not for those in ‘the middle of the country’ then the problem is outsourced to other countries, like Malaysia or China, who won’t spend their hard-earned cash on LGBTQ+ content. It seems the big studios, and those in charge of franchises, want to have their Queer Cake and eat it too. A little deniable queerness please, they say, but not too much that it might genuinely mean anything. Mass appeal is the driving force but ultimately that means that queer people, who are so used to watching straight folks copulate on screen, get a whole lot of nothing.

LGBTQ+ relationships, romances, and experiences are frequently side-lined in this system. They’re never central to a film’s plot so it can be recut and still make sense. But what is the overall effect? A feeling of being second-class to heterosexuality? A lack of worth? When queer characters exist on the fringes, in fleeting moments, in the subtext, it sends a message: these stories, these people, are not worth the airtime compared to their straight counterparts. I mean, the most prominent TV show of the last decade, Game of Thrones, featured a substantial amount of straight sibling-on-sibling action. How does incest play in ‘the middle of the country’ I wonder? A whole lot better than a two-second gay kiss, I guess.

Is there hope for the future? Who can say? Patty Jenkins has been spotted filming scenes featuring the ‘Silence = Death’ protest signs for her upcoming Wonder Woman 1984 and Kevin Feige has promised an LGBTQ+ character in The Eternals, a story about God-like entities from space. While recent Oscar-winner Taki Waititi has teased that Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie will finally take flight as a fully-fledged, and explicitly acknowledged, bisexual woman in Thor: Love & Thunder.

Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie / (20th Century Fox/Twitter)

But hope, well hope is a dangerous thing for a queer like me to have. These promises, the big studios waving their rainbow flags on the horizon, don’t inspire much trust. I know we have Ryan Murphy on Netflix with his adaption of Boys in the Bandfeaturing an all-gay cast of actors. We also have Murphy’s grander adaption of the Broadway musical The Prom, with a (mostly straight) all-star cast including Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Keegan-Michael Key, and Kerry Washington to name a few. Actual real-life queer woman Kirsten Stewart is also set to star in a Thanksgiving-themed lesbian Rom-Com from Clea Duvall, and Britain promises to unveil its film adaption of the drag based musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie this Autumn but who can say how big any of these films will hit. It doesn’t feel obtuse to suggest that it won’t be on the level of any major franchise.

At the 2020 Independent Spirit Awards, a clip of the Gay Men’s Choir of Los Angeles singing about ‘The Gayest Moments in Other Films You May Not Have Realised Were Gay’ went viral. Its appreciation of the queer lens, of Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers and Laura Dern’s entire career was funny, accurate, and unmistakably the product of Gay Twitter. Even so, it was a little sad to think that so many queer people are, out of necessity, watching and claiming things that weren’t made with them in mind. Of course, there is power in reclamations, in queering the narrative, in forcing yourself into a place that didn’t consider you and making it your own, but it shouldn’t have to be that way every time LGBTQ+ people watch a blockbuster. Will that ever change? I’m not holding my breath.

Also Read: Where Are All The Young Moviegoers?

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Editorials

It’s Time to Talk About Marielle Heller

February 2, 2020

On the 13th January, Issa Rae, the creator and star of HBO’s Insecure, announced the directing nominees for the 92nd Academy Awards. ‘Congratulations to those men,’ Rae jibed as the names of the depressing all-male line-up loitered on the screen. Moments like this have appeared more frequently over the past few years. At the Oscars in 2018, presenter Emma Stone proclaimed ‘These four men and Greta Gerwig created their own masterpieces this year’ shortly before revealing the (not-so-surprising) male winner. A few months prior, Natalie Portman, at the Golden Globes, prefaced her announcement with ‘And here are the all-male nominees’. Routinely, presenters, notably actresses, have taken their moment on stage to voice the frustration at the numbing lack of female nominees amongst what the academy denotes as the year’s best, as worthy and important.  

In 2015, Maureen Dowd’s piece for The New York Times called ‘The Women of Hollywood Speak Out’ hit the newsstands. The article was built on interviews with around 100 women who worked in the film industry from directors, to actors, to writers, and producers. It’s spark? The routine elevation of male filmmakers to the big leagues while female filmmakers are left clambering for recognition from the industry at large. Specifically, the news that Colin Trevorrow’s admirable, but average, debut indie comedy Safety Not Guaranteed had yielded a coveted gig: to direct Jurassic World with a $150 million budget. It was then followed by news that he would helm the ninth Star Wars movie (something that would not actually materialise). As Dowd wrote, ‘That kind of leap — from indie to blockbuster — is almost exclusively reserved for young guys in baseball caps who remind older guys in baseball caps of themselves.’

Wedged in amongst the other quotes was writer and director Marielle Heller. ‘In some ways, I think women are perfectly primed to be directors,’ she told Dowd, about the nurturing required by actors on sets. Her debut, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, had premiered at Sundance that past January to strong reviews, earning it a ‘fresh’ 95% on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. The film followed Minnie (a jubilant and doe-eyed Bel Powley) as she begins a journey of sexual discovery in San Francisco during the seventies. It took what could have been a tricky and challenging story, that saw Minnie, a 15-year-old, enter her first sexual relationship with Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), a significantly older man. It allowed Minnie agency and feminist authorship of her own story that lent the film a mature and fascinating vantage point. 

Director Marielle Heller and Melissa McCarthy on the set of CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? Photo by Mary Cybulski.
Director Marielle Heller and Melissa McCarthy on the set of CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? (Photo by Mary Cybulski.)

Now, five years after that debut, and the article, Heller has released two films within a year of each other. Can You Ever Forgive Me?, her sophomore feature starred Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel and premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in 2018. A story of loneliness filled with wit and darkness dealt with an acidic queer writer in self-orchestrated isolation who begins forging notes by famous writers. It deftly honed in on the fragments of Israel’s isolation that resonated deeply with audiences and critics. Richard Brody called it a ‘movie of endings, a mournful film, suffused with an air of doom’ in The New Yorker. While Emily Yoshida wrote, for Vulture, it was ‘one of the most visceral depictions of loneliness [she had] seen in a while.’ 

Her third feature, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, has its roots in that 2015 article. Heller, at a children’s birthday party, found herself in conversation with Tom Hanks (Heller was close with Hank’s son, Colin). It had not been long since the publication of Dowd’s piece, and Hank’s had been moved by it. So began a series of events that led to kismet: Hanks, a powerfully empathetic actor, working with Heller, a powerfully empathetic director. 

Director Marielle Heller and Tom Hanks on the set of TriStar Pictures' A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. (Photo by: Lacey Terrell)
Director Marielle Heller and Tom Hanks on the set of TriStar Pictures’ A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. (Photo by: Lacey Terrell)

A Beautiful Day the Neighbourhood is a quintessential Heller film. It’s an exploration of people and the complex nature of good and bad. It’s about forgiveness, nihilism, daddy issues, family, kindness, cynicism, and rage. It’s driven by a stormy performance from Matthew Rhys as a journalist assigned to interview Mister Rogers (Hanks) and is visually compelling, quirky, and vibrant. At its core though is Heller’s profound empathy, something that reigns in all her films. An anthropologist of the human condition, finding every shade and facet of her characters, Heller creates a greying portrait of manhood, of forgiveness, of the aggressions we hold inside us. 

In 2020, Heller is one of many female filmmakers that have been overlooked and ignored by The Academy, but there is something about her omission that feels so glaring. Not only did she direct Hanks to his first Oscar nomination in twenty years but there is something in her style of filmmaking that stands face-to-face with ‘the old guard’. Her brand of filmmaking is emotional without melodrama, wit without cruelty, nuance without broad strokes. It’s what allows a saintly American icon of children’s television, a sour queer woman, and a euphoric teen on the precipice of sexuality equal space and importance. 

Smaller films, bathed in compassion and understanding, are ignored when they’re showcased next to the machismo and violence displayed by this year’s directing nominees. It’s what denied Gerwig a nomination for her masterful helming of Little Women, it’s what kept Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers off the board entirely, and it’s what keeps Heller from taking her rightful place as one of the most talented and consistent directors working today. Against the barrage of war films, violence porn, and movies about fucking cars we need to refocus our attention. We should turn our eyes away from the deeply repetitive boredom of awards season sexism and put in the legwork, start conversations about the merit and style these filmmakers demonstrate, and people will have to listen. So folks, with that in mind, it’s time to talk about Marielle Heller.  

Also Read: The Biggest Financial Film Flops

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Reviews

Review: Bombshell

January 11, 2020

Does it refer to the huge news story? So gigantic it exploded onto the 24-hour news cycle in 2016, dominating the conversation for weeks. Or maybe it means the striking skinny blond newscasters who delivered that story on Fox News? The film’s title, Bombshell, isn’t the only thing that’s hard to pin down in this fictionalised retelling of the sexual harassment scandal that exposed conservative juggernaut Roger Ailes, the head of the controversial cable news channel, as an abuser and predator. 

Bombshell is, politically, a mess. That is to say, its politics are hard to gauge and at times difficult to decipher. The rise of Donald Trump, from an outlier, that no one is taking seriously to the Republican Presidential nominee, plays out in the background, as the severity of Ailes comprehensive harassment becomes clear. Yet, at no point does the film choose to explicitly link the two. It decides to forego the ‘grab them by the pussy’ audiotape or the accusations from at least 23 women, from the 1980s to today, detailing harassment and abuse from Trump himself. It also neglects to mention that after Ailes resigned from Fox News, and took a sizeable pay-out to the tune of $40 million, he walked straight into a job as an advisor for Trump’s presidential campaign

Bombshell / LIONSGATE

You might well wonder if considering the film’s politics necessary. Is this not a bipartisan tale of overcoming sexual harassment? The answer depends on how you view the ‘Fox News’ of it all. Bombshell isn’t any sort of ‘leftist propaganda’ trying to tear down the Fox News monolith. Nor is it really a heroic story of three conservative women, that praises their efforts to cleanse this media giant of bad behaviour. Instead, it sits somewhere weakly in the middle, too scared to really wrestle with the complexity of the situation. One that follows women who worked at the network that helped get Trump elected that has been accused multiple times of doctoring video footage, as well as having severe issues with race and islamophobia. As Alison Willmore wrote for Vulture, the film never significantly engages with the ‘the ideological Jenga of trying to push back at a particular form of oppression while trying to leave all the structures that support it undisturbed.

Outside of the murky omissions and the ignored parallels, the movie faces another hurdle. First and foremost, it is essential to note that sexual harassment, no matter who it happens to, is bad. But when it comes to cinema an audience needs someone to root for, someone you care about and, on some level, like. Thus, the other obstacle facing Bombshell simply: how do you make Megyn Kelly a hero? 

The first step? You get Charlize Theron to play her and have her give an immersive, gripping, and enthralling performance. As an actress, she is relatively unmatched in her commitment to transformation, both here and in her Oscar-winning turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. But Theron isn’t just about make-up and prosthetics, her range is wide-reaching as evidenced by her comedic performances in last year’s Long Shot or 2011’s Young Adult. Theron uses those comedy chops to great effect for some of the films lighter or more self-referential moments – including a fourth-wall-breaking introduction to the Fox News machine. 

The second step? You avoid the stories that made Megyn Kelly the conservative controversy magnet she is. You choose instead to focus on her more palatable actions; namely her challenging of Donald Trump’s misogyny during the 2016 presidential primaries and less on her various shall we say… contrary opinions (though the film does, briefly, address her ‘Santa is White’ comments). 

Bombshell / LIONSGATE

It’s also useful to surround Theron with a cast of likeable and renowned actors including Kate McKinnon’s secretly suffering liberal staffer, Rob Delaney’s sympathetic producer, and Alison Janney’s gruff-voiced attorney. Elsewhere Nicole Kidman is strong as Gretchen Carlson, the original whistleblower, but is in third place, narratively behind Kelly and Margot Robbie’s fictional Kayla Pospisil; a young conservative woman with a dream to be on Fox. Pospisil, our gateway into the newsroom, is a composite character cleverly utilised to show the extent of horrific Ailes abuse without having to expose or monetise any specific woman’s interactions with him. 

Behind the camera, the mixed-messages continue with Jay Roach, the director of grounded political TV-Movies like 2012’s Game Change (that saw Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin), teaming up with Charles Randolph, the writer of the flashy and trick-filled The Big Short. As a result, stylistically, Bombshell falls somewhere in between. The handheld camera and intrusive close-ups give the film a sense of realism. That the action is captured almost like a documentary with multiple cameras on the go at once gives a claustrophobic and newslike feel. Then, occasionally, the film widens out and has actors talk directly to the camera or blends it’s ‘fictional’ narrative with actual documentary as the audio of real testimonies made by six women who accused Ailes of assault are heard with accompanying photos. Yet, the grounded nature of Roach and the showy antics of Randolph never quite gel, leaving it to feel like you’re flicking between two different movies – both of which could be quite interesting.

Bombshell may be a mess politically, disjointed stylistically, and have plenty of other significant issues but, somehow… it’s still entertaining. Maybe it’s a testament to the casting, with Theron especially doing the heavy lifting to pull it all together in spite of everything stacked against her. Perhaps the film is messy, but not quite messy enough. Bombshell might be like the pile of clothes you stuff under your bed or into the bottom of your wardrobe. The room looks clean enough, but the mess is still there, lurking, and you’re going to have to deal with it someday. 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Bombshell is in U.K cinemas from 17th January 2020

Also Read: JoJo Rabbit (Review)

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Reviews

Review: Parasite

December 28, 2019

When a parasite connects to its host, it’s trying to survive. As an organism it has adapted to this way of life, to rely on its host to endure, to feed, and to live. The host is noticeably weakened by the parasite, its resources now feed two beings and as such parasites are merciless. 

In Bong Joon-ho’s Palme d’Or winning Parasitethose organisms are the Kim family. A group who, struck by misfortune and lack of wealth, try to make a living from what they can in their semi-basement apartment. They fold the pizza boxes for a local restaurant, use the WIFI of the person who lives above them, they risk their own health to take advantage of local fumigation via their open windows, and they have to watch each night as drunk men piss outside those same windows. So when an opportunity to tutor the daughter of the wealthy Park family befalls the son of the family, Ki-Woo (played with hope and grit by Choi Woo-shik) a plan emerges. 

Ki-Woo likes plans, to know the next step, to already have his counteraction prepared. As it becomes clear the youngest Park child needs an art tutor, he suddenly ‘remembers’ someone he’s heard of and thus, his sister, Ki-jeong (a deftly cool and calm Park So-dam), takes up the mantle of Jessica – an artistic genius and expert in art therapy who studied in the USA. Soon, there appear to be roles for the entire family and they set about making it happen. Utilising titbits of information they hear from the family they find ways to oust the driver and the housekeeper, leaving room for Ki-teak (Song Kang-ho) and Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin) to take over. Their infiltration of the Park family is ruthless and smooth.

Parasite Film
“Parasite” screenshot (credit: Universal Pictures)

What then of their host, the Park family? The mother, Yeon-gyo (played sweetly by Cho Yeo-jeong) whose ignorance to the world outside is unwittingly antagonistic and her maternal anxiety only seems to stretch to her youngest son. The father, Dong-ik, the CEO of an IT company, who brings home the money and wins over his son with gifts. They are two people who, as the film twists and writhes into unexpected places, become more grotesque as their out-of-touch air wrestles with their lack of empathy for others. As for their children, Da-song, is a seemingly wild, uncontrollable child while Da-hye is a shy, self-conscious teen, aware of the lack of attention she gets from her parents and thus finds romantic entanglements with all her tutors. 

The Parks live in an enviable mansion mostly protected from prying eyes by tall trees in their garden. The suave house, filled with motion sensors, cool chrome finishes, and Voss Water, is the stage on which this symbiotic relationship plays out. The Kim’s infiltrate and live off the Parks and the Parks, ignorant to the toils of the working classes, are none the wiser. 

To talk too much more about the film’s plot would rob the viewer of experiencing its wild ride (and it is wild). Instead, what is more, beneficial is thinking about Parasite has to say, with class strategically centred in this astute and pointed story of a wide and cavernous divide. But, make no mistake, the evaluation of Parasite as class warfare is not this critic engaging with the film’s subtilties, far from it. The film wears its anti-capitalist message on its sleeve, open and in plain sight with no chance you could miss it. That is, in fact, one of its strongest qualities: its unabashed commitment to its thesis. The world of the film is the same as the world we live in, the rich find it hard to see the poverty for the trees that they surround their massive houses with. Global warming leads to hotter summers for those beach getaways and rising house prices mean a stronger investment in property and likely more needy tenants to rent to.

It is not the only film to grapple with this divide that simply cannot be ignored. In a piece for Vulture, critic Alison Willmore wrote, “[C]lass rage on the big screen provides a reflection of the particular despair and frustration underscoring our real-world present, where the divide between security and anxiety, both here and abroad, is ever more cavernous.” Willmore placed Parasite alongside 2019’s slew of films that examined that class gap including Ready or NotHustlersKnives Out, and more. Does this mean things are changing?

Parasite
“Parasite” screenshot (credit: Universal Pictures)

Parasites notably weaken their host, but when it comes to class nothing seems to be budging, nobody appears any frailer. The rich keep getting richer, the money builds up as billionaires see tax decreases and off-shore accounts continue to exist. But the working classes see none of that dough, it isn’t put back into the economy unless you count the poor wages paid for zero-hour contracts or casual work. And if you don’t like it? There’s a line of hundreds just like you, in need of work, lining up around the block to survive. If there were a job opening ‘500 university graduates would go for it’, Ki-Taek says, highlighting the grim prospects that a lot of young people know all too well. 

Bong Joon-ho’s social commentary flick is made more effective through the stylish and gripping way the story unfolds. It’s dark, funny, clever, surprising, and I’m sure I could use almost every adjective in my lexicon. I could go on for hours about the way class and politics come into play but I won’t. All I’ll say is this: parasites don’t intend to harm their host, that is a by-product of the way in which they exist. They want, as all creatures do, to live. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Parasite is being distributed by Curzon in the UK and will be in cinemas 7th February 2020.

Also Read: The Anatomy of a Christopher Nolan Film

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Editorials

“Little Women” & Cinema for the Self Partnered

December 26, 2019
Little Women

When Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women she didn’t want Jo March, her fiery, emboldened, and strong-minded lead, to be married by the novel’s end. This was, like Greta Gerwig’s new film adaptation stresses, a choice of her publisher and a sign of the repressive times she lived in. Alcott herself defied that rule in real life, choosing not to marry and instead devoted herself to artistic endeavours. In fact, history is littered with literary women who decided to forego their expected life paths such as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, Emily Dickenson, and more. 

Gerwig’s film is really an ode to those, to borrow a phrase from one of its stars, self-partnered women. Women who have defied the confines of marriage, whose passion is just as important as their prospective nuptials. As Gerwig said of her aspirations for Jo’s relationship with the audience, ‘What if you felt when she gets her book, the way you generally feel about a girl getting kissed?’ Thus can you imagine, if we cared as much about a woman’s achievements as we do whether or not anyone puts a ring on it? 

The Cast of Little Women
Little Women (credit: Sony Pictures)

Gerwig rearranges the story thematically and structurally to breathe new life into it on screen and puts marriage firmly at the centre. The film begins with the March sisters on the precipice of adulthood. Jo (Saoirse Ronan) is living in New York writing wild stories about violence because that’s what sells. Meg (Emma Watson), the eldest sister, is living in marital bliss with two young children – except she’s broke. Amy (Florence Pugh) is in Paris, practising her painting and being courted by the super-rich Fred Vaughn, and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) the youngest, is at home with her mother, her heart weakened by a bout of scarlet fever. They’re four twenty-something women with their childhood in the rear-view, their memories and losses framing the decisions they make. Meg is releasing the life she aspired for isn’t always perfect while both Jo and Amy navigate the decision on who to marry or if they should marry at all. 

‘I’d rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe,’ Jo says (a line lifted from Alcott’s journals), though she fears the loneliness of such a life, even if she believes that women are capable of more than just love. While Amy sees marriage as an economic proposition, something she can use to support her family. ‘I believe we have some power over who we love, it isn’t something that just happens to a person,’ she says, in a debate that frames her as sensible and explicitly aware of her role in the world. How a woman approaches that role and marriage, be it with contempt of Jo, the practicality of Amy, or head-over-heels love of Meg, is something that still lingers today. 

Florence Pugh in Little Women
Little Women (credit: Sony Pictures)

The shape of marriage in our modern world is shifting. It’s moving away from its history as a business transaction (one that could procure a dowry and help business) and toward being the pinnacle of romantic idealism. Just entirely how that happened, no one is really sure. Capitalism undoubtedly played a significant role – the selling of the ‘dream wedding’ to women soared as a business since Victorian times. Then, of course, came the idea of ‘marrying for love’, a new way of entrapping young singles when their betrothal didn’t come with the promise of a small plot of land and a few cows to boot.  

The fact is that marrying for ‘love’ only entered our collective consciousness around 250 years ago. Before then it was merely one of several factors to be considered when pairing up young singles (and, dear reader let me tell you, it wasn’t very high up the list of concerns either). As Stephanie Coontz wrote in her book Marriage, a History, “it was inconceivable that people would choose their mate on the basis of something as fragile and irrational as love.” And, while people did indeed fall in love, the choice to marry because it was seen as a threat to a particular social order, one that could risk men and women abandoning their commitments to family, neighbours, and, above all, God. 

Even if marriage has rebranded itself as the symbol of ‘everlasting true love’, does that mean it can outrun its deeply gendered history? The gendered concepts of such a union are still unavoidable with a 2014 study of Harvard Law School graduates showing that more than half of the men surveyed expected their careers to take priority over their spouses. As writer Jia Tolentino notes, in her book Trick Mirror, “gender inequality is so entrenched in straight marriage that it persists in the face of cultural change.” Thus, Jo’s (and indeed Alcott’s) disdain for settling down still seems more than reasonable and, in 2019, she wouldn’t be alone. 

The cast of Little Women
Little Women (credit: Sony Pictures)

This past year has been peppered with films that celebrated singlehood. Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers focused on women’s ambition, sisterhood, and their refusal to continue to face abuse from the ruling classes. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee’s Frozen 2 offered Elsa, a Queen who aspired to fulfilment and self-actualisation while being the first Disney princess to nix falling into the arms of an interchangeable price with a china doll face. Sophie Hyde’s Animals came with the view that marriage is an obstacle to a lifelong friendship rather than something to be sought after and prized. While the sad obsessive loner who ultimately commits heinous acts of violence in Todd Phillip’s Joker is #SingleGoals for faceless bros on Twitter. 

Whether it’s 2019 or 1869, marriage still looms large over society and, indeed, cinema. The choice to remain single is still a threat. As the philosopher, Alain de Botton wrote,

“Anyone who lives alone and manifests no longing to be in a relationship is – in our times – almost automatically (though more or less secretly) viewed as both pitiable and deeply troubled. It’s simply not thought possible to be at once alone and normal.” 

– Alain de Botton

Do any of the Little Women end up alone you ask? Gerwig wants you to think so as she suggests that the ending of Jo’s novel (which sees her fall into the arms of a man) isn’t the one Jo chooses for herself and this is an act of tribute to Alcott. It blends the author and fictional character together even further. Gerwig chooses, as Alcott did, not to follow what is expected, to defy the end of the novel and say, boldly, that marriage is not all a woman is fit for, both then and now. 

Little Women is in cinemas nationwide on 26th December.

Also Read: How To Revive A Franchise After Many Years

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Editorials

The Best LGBTQ+ Films of the Decade (2010 – 2019)

December 12, 2019

If the 1990s gave us New Queer Cinema, and the 2000s gave us mainstream successes, like Brokeback Mountain (2005), then what did we find in the 2010s? There was, of course, more mainstream entries like Love, Simon (2018) or Dallas Buyers Club (2013). There was the return, whether we liked it or not, of Queer Eye (aptly dropping ‘For The Straight Guy’ from its title) which showed that LGBTQ+ centric content was on the minds of studio executives but that maybe they were still making the same mistakes.  

However, a dominant swell of independent cinema (sometimes called New-Wave Queer Cinema) that took on identity, the intersection between sexuality and race, homophobia, our collective history, the AIDS epidemic, sex, and so much more came to the forefront. Yes, LGBTQ+ independent film left few stones unturned over the past ten years as it portrayed varied and nuanced experiences. Even so, there is still a significant lack of representation of disabled LGBTQ+ folk, as well representation of trans folk and people of colour is still substantially lower than it should be which will hopefully change in the decade to come.

These films from the past 10 years grappled the challenging decade it has been and found hope, anger, and desire in the process. Here are some of the highlights…


Pariah‘, dir. Dee Rees (2011) 

Focus Features: 2011

Dee Rees’ has become one to watch over this past decade, with her work on HBO’s Bessie and Netflix’s Mudbound, her hazy and fresh style landed her an adaption of Joan Didion’s The Last Thing He Wanted (scheduled for release next year). But it all began with Pariah, adapted from her earlier short film, it is a story of a teenager in Brooklyn navigating identity, first love, and familial pressures. 


Weekend‘, dir. Andrew Haigh (2011) 

Peccadillo Pictures: 2011

In this early indie hit, Russell and Glen men meet at a bar and go home together. Over the following days the two battle with the idea of commitment, monogamy, intimacy, and love in Andrew Haigh’s debut film that is simple, subtle, and modern with a mixture of pathos and joy. 


Stranger by the Lake‘, dir. Alain Guiraudie (2013)

Les films du losange: 2013

A French sexual thriller that dared to be bold and vivid, the film utilised graphic portrayals of sex and violence. The film revolves around a murder in a prime cruising spot and a sexual relationship that is complex and dangerous, passionate and risky. Featuring stark nudity, rising tension, and gorgeous cinematography, Stranger by the Lake is a sultry and dangerous ride. 


Tangerine‘, dir. Sean Baker (2015)

Magnolia Pictures: 2015

A genuinely original independent production shot entirely on iPhones, Tangerine is a brash, bold, and initiative film filled with humour and struggle. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor star as two sex workers looking for an ex-boyfriend on Christmas Eve in LA, and their performances are deeply grounded and light up the screen with a flurry of energy and presence. Also, it’s the best queer Christmas movie to date!


Carol‘, dir. Todd Haynes (2015)

The Weinstein Company: 2015

The slow, cold, burn of Todd Hayne’s Carol whipped people into a frenzy in 2015. The adaptation of famed lesbian author Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, the film saw Cate Blanchett’s housewife fall for Rooney Mara’s sensitive shop-girl in a wildly cinematic romance that could put classic cinema to shame. 


In Between‘, dir. Maysaloun Hamoud (2016)

Peccadillo Pictures: 2016

The story of three women who share a flat in Tel-Aviv who have to navigate their conservative families and the cultural divide. One that leaves them influenced by the West but living in the Middle East – a situation that brings into question things like religion, sexual violence, tradition, sexuality, and female kinship. The director, Maysaloun Hamoud, had a fatwa issued against her for her frank depictions of sexuality, drugs, and womanhood.


Moonlight‘, dir. Barry Jenkins (2016) 

A24: 2016

Taking the Best Picture Oscar at the 89th Academy Awards, Moonlight cemented itself into cinematic history. The film explored queer longing and desire from the black masculine perspective in a way that was tender with cinematography that firmly placed male beauty and black men at its centre.


120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)‘, dir. Robin Campillo (2017)

Memento Films: 2017

Boldly political and deeply enthralling, Beats Per Minute follows the Parisian branch of ACT UP in the 1980’s as they fight for visibility and recognition. It’s an elegy for the people who were lost and visceral protest for them too. Enthrallingly rich, sexual, personal, and queer BPM is queer cinema at its most perfect. 


A Fantastic Woman‘, dir. Sebastian Lelio (2017)

Sony Pictures Classics: 2017

Sebastian Lelio brings his hazy glow to the story of Marina (Daniela Vega), a waitress and nightclub singer, who is grieving the loss of her boyfriend while also facing suspicion from the police that she was involved in his death. Vega’s performance is one of the best this decade with nuance and anger rolled into a mish-mash of jubilation and sadness.


God’s Own Country‘, dir. Francis Lee (2017)

Picturehouse Entertainment: 2017

Set in the Yorkshire countryside, Francis Lee’s protagonists find romance amongst premature lambs and blistering cold. Decidedly dark and moody, the film is beautifully tender with erotic sex in the mud, self-sabotage, and questions of commitment, xenophobia, and love. 


1985‘, dir. Yen Tan (2018) 

Peccadillo Pictures: 2018

1985 flew mostly under the radar but packed an emotional punch into its short runtime. Adrian, (Cory Michael Smith) returns home to his family with some news he’s reluctant to tell them. Smith and Jamie Chung, who plays Adrian’s high school best friend, are superbly matched in this tribute to a generation of LGBTQ+ people who were abandoned. Brutally emotional and superbly considered, 1985 is a true revelation.


The Miseducation of Cameron Post‘, dir. Desiree Akhavan (2018) 

Vertigo Releasing: 2018

The decade brought with it a Vice President of America who believed in conversion therapy. Akhavan’s sweet, harrowing, mature, and underrated tale about a group of young people finding each other at that one of those camps was the perfect antidote. Both politically and emotionally engaging, Akhavan blends the format of a teen comedy with the prevalent spectre of right-wing bigotry as the film found joy in the kinship of queer folk, the awkward nature of teenage sexuality, and examined the evil within those that want to convert them.


Pain and Glory‘, dir. Pedro Almodóvar (2019) 

Sony Pictures Releasing International: 2019

No list on Queer Cinema would be complete without Pedro Almodóvar and his deeply personal 2019 film about legacy, mortality, and memory was extraordinary. Through the vessel of Antoni Bandaras, Almodóvar creates a portrait of himself, his losses and his relationships with supreme precision and emotion. It is a master working at the height of his craft and it’s thrilling to watch. 


Portrait of a Lady On Fire‘, dir. Céline Sciamma (2019)

Pyramide Films: 2019

Radical and tender, Portrait of a Lady on Fire oozes with longing and passion. It’s part gothic novel and part feminist reclamation of the past. There is a trend of ‘repressed lesbian period dramas’ of late, but this film feels more modern than most movies released in 2019 with its approach to examining female autonomy and gaze, with an exceptional retelling of a famous Greek myth to-boot. A true must-see!


Honourable Mentions: And Then We Danced (2019) / End of the Century (2019) / Can You Ever Forgive Me (2018) / Sauvage (2018) / Paris 5:59: Theo & Hugo (2016) / Certain Woman (2016) / Nasty Baby (2015) / Grandma (2015) / Pride (2014) / Love is Strange (2014) / Lilting (2014) / Keep The Lights On (2012) / Kaboom (2010) 

Also Read: Rebel Without A Pulse, Art Without A Soul

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Editorials

Dear Straight Actors Who Want to ‘Play Gay’: Don’t.

November 17, 2019

There is a utopia on the horizon, distant and hazy like tarmac in the heat. It’s one where people sit around in dark rooms watching films and say, without any level of irony or ignorance, that ‘acting is acting’. Where LGBTQ+ actors are playing straight and the straights are playing gay, trans folk are playing cis-roles and everyone is blissfully equal in what they’re offered. But looking around at the dingy and grim corners of modern cinema anyone can see that we’re not there yet. We’re only squinting at blurry figures just about coming into view. 

Earlier this month the author of Call Me By Your Name, noted straight man and self-confessed paedophile, André Aciman called those that question straight actors playing gay roles ‘small-minded‘ while promoting his second book to profit off LGBTQ+ experience. In the past, Cate Blanchett said she would “fight to the death” to play gay roles, while Rachel Weisz and Matt Smith compared playing gay to playing alcoholics and heroin addicts, respectively. Alternatively, Darren Criss recently announced that his role in American Crime Story would be the last gay role he would play. “I want to make sure I won’t be another straight boy taking a gay man’s role,” he said in an interview with Bustle. Similarly, Armistead Maupin, the gay author of Tales of the City, told the BBC he thought “a gay actor can bring something special to the role from their own experience” and that an LGBTQ+ actor would likely stay closeted to avoid getting typecast or overlooked.

Darren Criss is The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story / Credit: FX

As 2020 draws closer, the spectre of Jungle Cruise and Supernova are beginning to materialise. The former featuring Jack Whitehall’s controversial ‘openly gay’ character for Disney (who is conspicuously quiet in the films recently released trailer) and the latter, a recently wrapped dementia based film starring straight men Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci as partners directed by up-and-coming straight director Harry McQueen. The announcement of both projects, once again, sparked debate. ‘IT’S CALLED ACTING,’ people cry on Twitter or in Facebook comments and yes, in that utopia, it is.  But maybe I should say it again, one more time, for the people in the back: We are not there yet. 

Earlier this year Ryan Gilbey wrote “Would there be enough out LGBT actors – brilliant, out LGBT actors, that is – to fill all these vacant parts?” in an article for The Guardian that failed to understand the crux of the issue; opportunity. LGBTQ+ actors are not often considered for straight roles under the guise that audiences won’t ‘believe them’. Out actors have routinely faced difficulty in finding work post-coming out, which has ultimately damaged their career while others are out but try to avoid the moniker of ‘gay’ altogether while straight actors don’t see gay roles in the same light. They are told that ‘playing gay’ will increase their range and potentially bring acclaim (and awards). Why? Rami Malek, Olivia Coleman, Hilary Swank, Jake Gyllenhaal, Cate Blanchett, Timothée Chalamet, Cher, Whoopi Goldberg, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Jared Leto, Tom Hanks, and countless other straight (or assumed straight) actors to be have been nominated (or, in some cases won) a slew of awards for playing LGBTQ+ roles.  

Rami Malek / Credit: ABC Studios

The continued trend of straight folk being awarded for LGBTQ+ roles is a clear indicator of why they don’t want to give them up and what we are facing. For these actors, it is an experience akin to playing an addict and they don’t care that these comparisons trivialise sexuality and frame it as an experience, a passable affliction instead of something intrinsic to someone’s identity. They frame it as a phrase, something that can be thrust upon us and then overcome with a stay in rehab or the kindness of a stranger. And, simply put, it shows that they just don’t understand. 

What do we do then? Do we stop paying to see mainstream films that censor gay sex and reduce all queer intimacy down to quick pecks? The films that are made mostly to appeal to a straight audience and feature so little LGBTQ+ content that it can be edited out entirely and only lose three minutes of its two hours and thirteen-minute runtime. The short answer is: Yes.

L to R: Félix Maritaud, Adéle Haenel, Tracy Lysette, and Tessa Thompson

Maybe it’s time to say enough is enough? To put our money and effort into the rising European stars of Félix Maritaud and Adéle Haenel, who are proof that LGBTQ+ actors can create a name for themselves in queer cinema. Or into actors like Tracy Lysette, who had a role written specifically for her in the critical and box office hit Hustlers, or Tessa Thompson who came out as bisexual in an interview with Net-A-Porter. After all, the French author Édouard Louis suggests that LGBTQ+ people could be the best actors we have to offer as they spend their lives performing to ‘to protect [themselves] from homophobia and masculine violence.’

The aforementioned utopia only shimmers into existence if we are the ones to manifest it. We can explain over and over again to straight cisgender actors that taking the only roles Hollywood will consider queer people for is a problem or we can stop paying to see these movies. We can make movie stars of LGBTQ+ actors, ask LGBTQ+ directors to hire LGBTQ+ actors, shout from the rooftops about the films that get the experience right, and chastise those that get it wrong (or those that try and water it down). We can build that utopia, brick by queer brick. 

Note: The term ‘actor’ has been used throughout this article as a gender-neutral term (as opposed to the gendered ‘actress’) and as such its use is not intended to misgender but rather to level the playing field and avoid unnecessary gender divisions. 

Also Read: Sorry We Missed You: Film & The North

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Editorials

Sorry We Missed You: Film and the North

October 31, 2019

Sorry We Missed You, the latest endeavour from Ken Loach (KesI, Daniel Blake), is a harrowing addition to Loach’s specific brand of socialist realist cinema. Featuring performances from a group of largely undiscovered actors, the film is a damning condemnation of zero-hour contracts and the current ‘gig’ culture that idealizes the entrepreneur, one who grafts alone to achieve and draws us, as a country, further away from empathy and collectivism. Set in Newcastle, Ricky (Kris Hitchen) takes up work as a delivery driver for the fictional courier service PDF. In a role in which he is considered ‘self-employed’ and finically responsible for the parcels he carries, he doesn’t ‘work for’ the company he works ‘with them’. He isn’t hired but rather asked to ‘come on board’, a manipulative twist on language to appeal to those in need. Sorry We Missed You captures working life in the North and the current state of the working-class in Britain with laser-like precision. The setting and subject also lead to a revaluation of the question: What is the relationship between film and the North? 

The North of England is largely misunderstood by those that don’t live here. The thrill of hearing a Northern accent on a night out, the obsession with gravy, and the ‘correct’ word for your evening meal are all points of fascination and humour to those who didn’t grow up above Birmingham. Over in Hollywood, that misunderstanding is even worse. There’s the age-old adage that when asked by an American where you are from in England they are surprised or confused if you don’t say London yet, films from the North have often proved to be complex and intricate, writhing with history and division, with sex and sexuality.

God’s Own Country (Credit: ORION PICTURES)

Last month, I wrote about British Romantic Comedies and how they are, to their detriment, apolitical. They ignore the issues of class, sex, race, and many others that face our country today. Cinema from the North is the exact opposite: Mike Leigh’s Peterloo told a socialist story and portrayed a massacre that most had forgotten, Clio Barnard’s The Arbor is an experimental genre-blend that explored race and gender inequality on a Bradford Estate through the experience of Andrea Dunbar, Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country is a rich, political, and delightfully queer story set in the Yorkshire countryside, and William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is an electric story of deception and desire filled with sexuality and power.

It seems cinema and the North are perfect bedfellows yet to some if you want to experience ‘the arts’ you have to perform the pilgrimage down to London and sell your soul for a Pret A Manger wrap… but creators and artists have had enough. There is a fight to create more opportunities and indeed more stories from the North with the recent move of Channel 4’s HQ to Leeds and the current construction of a film studio in Liverpool to rival Pinewood proving a good start. If the industry in place then hopefully vital voices will come through.

A Taste of Honey (Credit: BRITISH LION PICTURES.)

When Shelagh Delaney wrote A Taste of Honey (one of the most performed plays in British history and adapted into an acclaimed film in 1961) she did so after a boy trying to impress her took her to the Manchester Opera House to see a play. She wrote in a letter to theatre producer Joan Littlewood, ‘I had discovered something that means more to me than myself.’ As such, she created work that found drama and gravity in the world she came from. She found a voice and something to say and dared to push forward into a world she knew wasn’t built for her. 

Like Delaney, the North is a place talent can, if given the opportunity, thrive. It has produced writers from the working-class comedy stylings of Willy Russell to the intrigue and betrayal of Jed Mercurio. It has formed directors like Terence Davies, whose Liverpudlian self-portraits are stunning and musical. Acting-wise, it has offered some of the strongest and most memorable performances in cinematic history. This writer has issues every day knowing we live in a world in which Julie Walters did not win an Oscar for her role as the chain-smoking, brash, ballet teacher living in Thatcher’s Britain in Billy Elliot. Nor will he be able to sleep well at night ever again knowing Jane Horrocks wasn’t even nominated for her dazzling and wild performance as a shy woman with a talent for impersonating musical icons in Little Voice. He will also forever be frustrated that Maxine Peake’s talent continues to go underappreciated and that routinely that affluent actors from the South continue to gain the most acclaim

That relationship then? One in which talent has to stand out and fight for a seat at the table, to work to prove that the North is a place of art and culture, and to tackle politics and class head-on. It will strive to eviscerate British cinema’s idea of classlessness and fight to render the idea of a single ‘British accent’ entirely moot. It will not rest until the North is seen as it really is: diverse, visceral, and truly alive. 

Sorry We Missed You is released nationwide on November 1st.

Sorry We Missed You (Official Trailer)

Also Read: “Sorry We Missed You” UK Premiere Highlights & Interviews

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Reviews

Review: Monsoon [London Film Festival]

October 13, 2019

Monsoon begins at a junction. The cars pass, slowly and orderly, before mopeds and vans swirl into the mix. Chaos fills the road with no markings, no sense of order, but yet there is no catastrophe only narrow misses and swerving bikes. The camera rises up, higher and higher, enlarging the scope of the madness, of the disorder, before cutting to Kit (Henry Goulding), who sits in a taxi, on his way to a hotel. 

Kit has returned to Vietnam after 30 years in England. His family escaped during the war after his father was arrested when Kit was only six. He is back in Saigon to find a location to spread his mother’s ashes but he finds that the little he does remember of his once home is gone – the small pond behind the flat he grew up in where he used to play, has been filled in and built over and the building the flat is in is likely to be knocked down in due course. He remembers flashes, brief and small images from his short time in Saigon, but he lacks more than that. When his family fled they burnt all their family photographs to protect those closest to them, so they couldn’t be identified.  

Monsoon / Peccadillo Pictures

While in Saigon, Kit meets Lewis (Parker Sawyers), an American man in Vietnam to set up his clothing company ‘Curve’ – so named because Lewis is ‘not straight’. The two meet for a drink on a rooftop bar, discussing their online dating profiles, before heading back to Kit’s hotel room. They kiss, take off their shirts, and it feels like it might be leading somewhere but the film cuts to the two men, post-sex. It’s disappointing that the sex in Monsoon is so regulated, with each scene cutting away before anything really raunchy or even tender happens. The only scene with any hint of actual sex is during a hook-up Kit has on a trip to Hanoi, as he turns his lover around and kicks aside his leg in a move of aggressive sexuality.

This is an all too common problem for queer cinema; figuring out who it is appealing to, a queer audience or a straight one? Sex scenes, like those in Call Me By Your Name or Brokeback Mountain, are short and relatively un-sexual in their sparseness to keep a straight audience interested and the former came under fire for watering down the famous ‘peach scene’ from the book. In the case of Monsoon, it feels the director and writer, Hong Khaou, wanted the sex but worried about alienating a straight audience which leaves the film feeling somewhat censored, as if there are parts missing.  Especially in contrast to the other queer film’s screening at the festival like Levan Akin’s And Then We Danced which is deeply erotic and charged, the tender nudity in Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, or the full-framed rawness of the sex in Lucio Castro’s End of the Century.

Goulding and Sawyers have good chemistry and their scenes together do feel the most real and warm, their flirting feels playful and sweet. Goulding’s performance in-particular is quiet and brooding most of the time which adds another string to the bow of a man who’s already been compared to Clark Gable. Yet something feels like it’s missing (and it’s not just the sex). 

Henry Goulding / PHOTO: GQ.

Hong Khaou’s debut film Lilting in 2014 was about a young gay man living in London trying to form a connection with the mother of his dead boyfriend. It was a deep and rich film that delicately unravelled itself before your eyes. In this way, Khaou’s films feel like they are about translation; of language, of emotion, of experience. They find themselves within a world of shifting cultures and personal hardships. They’re often quiet, still, and creeping. They look at disconnection and wonder what fills that gap between people. They look at loss and how it wraps itself around you and consumes you. Yet, Monsoon doesn’t quite live up to the emotional weight of Lilting nor does it seem to have the same focus or drive. It loses itself in what it’s trying to say and ultimately never quite makes its mark. It’s hampered by dialogue that is riddled with exposition. As such it never really feels like the film is in the moment and, as an audience, we’re being asked to catch up constantly. 

As emphasised by its impressive opening shot, Benjamin Kracun’s cinematography is the film’s strongest asset. The slow-moving or often still camera compliments Kit’s position – stuck between England and Vietnam, between past and future. He is mysterious and doesn’t reveal his cards right away and the camera does the same, its slow pans and stationary shots of skyscrapers don’t reveal their intention immediately, but cause you to wonder and guess at their meaning in a way that feels considered and intentionally vague. Kracun, whose recent credits include the dark thriller Beast and the rave oriented Beats, is certainly one to watch.

Despite its stronger moments, Monsoon unfortunately doesn’t feel like a worthy follow-up to Lilting. Instead, it finds itself lost somewhere between romance and family drama, unable to really make an impact in either category. While the chemistry of its two leads is, at times, palpable it’s not enough to turn it into the Before Sunrise or Columbus it feels like it wants to be. 

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Monsoon will be distributed by Peccadillo Pictures.

A release date has yet to be announced.

Monsoon (Film Clip)

Also Read: Understanding The British Rom-Com

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Reviews

Review: Honey Boy [London Film Festival]

October 11, 2019

‘The only thing my dad gave me that was worth anything was pain and you want to take that away from me,’ says Otis, a former child actor who is currently attending court-ordered rehab. He is in the process of therapy, something that is being recorded to prove to the courts he is recovering and  Honey Boy was written from that exact place. 

Shia LaBeouf, once a famed child actor and now more commonly known for his performance art and various arrests, wrote the first draft of the script from rehab where he sent it to Alma Har’el, a friend and confidant (who would later become the film’s director). It was an unfinished draft, born from LaBeouf’s therapy sessions, and once LeBeouf was out of rehab the two finished it together. While this might sound like the kind of Hollywood vanity project fuelled by ego that you might expect from someone in LaBeouf’s position, it’s couldn’t be further from it. It’s tender, disarming, sympathetic, hypnotising, and raw. 

The film follows an adult Otis (Lucas Hedges) as he examines his past and his relationship with his father after being diagnosed with PTSD from his childhood. Through flashbacks, we see a younger Otis (Noah Jupe) on the set of his TV show (with scenes reminiscent of Even Stevens) and his life with his father, James (Shia LaBeouf). Their life, in a motel complex somewhere in LA, is not the life you’d expect a child star to live. Otis often walks himself home and steals food from the set. While his dad grows weed in secret by the freeway and attends AA meetings regularly. It is not the lifestyle that comes to mind when you think of the ‘Hollywood Elite’ who are so often pontificated about.

Writer and star Shia LaBeouf / Photo: Larry Busacca

This life couldn’t be further from that of the Kardashian’s or any other Hollywood ‘royalty’ we have become used to. Otis’s dad refuses to hold his hand anywhere people might see them, he doesn’t want to be seen to be soft or caring. He is an addict, four years sober, who didn’t achieve what he wanted. He is a  former clown and performer who, after an arrest and sexual assault allegation, found himself divorced and working for his prepubescent son. He is an abuser, emotionally and physically. He’s a man in pain. In some moments we feel his pain and at others, we detest him – sometimes feeling both simultaneously. We see his hurt, we see its roots and we see its reach. 

Can we inherit pain? If those around us, who raise us, are racked with hurt do we then carry that burden too? How do we take that on? How does it manifest within us? How does it hinder us, grip us, affect us? Some scientists believe that the trauma of our parents changes our genetic markers while others disagree. Either way, growing up near so much pain is bound to have an effect and Honey Boy wants to understand that effect, to inspect it, and portray it. 

Director Alma Har’el / Photo: AdAge

Har’el’s direction does just that by cutting right through to the essence in this, her fiction film debut. Her ability to jump from bombastic montages set to thumping hip-hop to quiet, sombre, introspection is masterful. She straddles the narrative and the avant-garde with ease, superbly creating a dreamlike, hazy, feel to the overall film while continually rooting it in reality. She makes the film feel like memory and reality are converging on each other, the line between them becoming hazier with each scene but then, all at once, plummeting back into certainty. She continually charms you with humour and light before shocking you with aggression and gloom. It’s LeBeouf’s world but Har’el weaves it into a tapestry that is complex and disarming. 

Har’el is also skilled with actors. LeBeouf’s performance is a career-best as he draws the character, based on his own father, in the grey areas. Outside of LaBeouf, there isn’t a dud performance to be seen. Relative newcomer Noah Jupe shines as a young boy managing his father’s temper and expectations while elsewhere Lucas Hedges continues to prove he’s one of cinema’s most interesting and versatile talents as the older Otis. FKA Twigs (in her film debut) exudes cosiness and melancholy as the girl growing up across the street from Otis, her performance is deeply rooted in physicality and quietness. Even Natasha Lyonne, though never seen on screen, provides audio cameo in one of the films funniest yet tragic scenes as Otis’s mother. 

Honey Boy, at its core, is a portrait of broken people. From those who are trying to build themselves again and those who have shattered beyond repair. It’s about addiction and the ways in which we become our parents. We watch their demise, their mistakes, and then do the same thing in a way that feels almost inevitable, unavoidable, and mythic in its tragic nature. The film itself feels like therapy for its writer but not in a way that feels solipsistic or melodramatic. It feels deeply personal and intimate yet never closed off. It feels like Honey Boy is an example of something not often seen, in which an artist abandons their ego, owns up to their mistakes, and cuts through all the noise to tell an honest, human, story.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Honey Boy is scheduled for release in December.

Also Read: The Lighthouse (Review)

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.