Law of Desire (La Ley del Deseo) 1987

One of Almodovar's early films and arguably one of his best. It is not so much a 'gay' movie but one that can apply collectively to the universal subject of love and desire. Of course, as with many of Almodovar's story-telling,  this is not your typical story of love, but the more obsessive, all-consuming and self-destructive version, the type of passionate love you wish you would be a part of but glad it hasn't happened to you. It could perhaps be compared in plot to the American film Fatal Attraction. But instead of fearing the obsessiveness of an emotionally unhinged one-night-stand you actually feel sympathetic and understanding of the stalker's motives despite his actions.

Almodovar's genius can be seen not only in the beautifully shot imagery full of color and  layered simplicity but it his writing and wit as well. He is truly a master in his craft, referencing Hollywood classics alongside current parallels, his cleverly chooses music to accompany his visuals. He chose a song performed by a long-forgotten Mexican trio from the 1950s, Los Panchos. Here he superimposes the song's plucking of guitar strings with the pounding of typewriter keys as if to insinuate that what is being written is what is being heard, the lyrics to the song become a surrogate to dialogue. But where Almodovar truly shines (and not just in this film) is with his original screenplay, always rendering an out-of-the-ordinary story with an unexpected outcome. He interweaves comedy and suspense, love and fear, camp and drama seamlessly from one scene to another and with every plot twist and turn. In Law of Desire, he plays with your perception and understanding of sex and sexuality by casting Carmen Maura (a famous Spanish actress) as a transexual woman longing for love and normalcy and an actual transexual actress as a heterosexual mother seeking to break free from the binding responsibility of parenting. Ms. Maura gives an Oscar worthy performance capturing the mixed emotions of a tortured soul celebrating the liberating freedom of gender reassignment with a desperate need for love and acceptance. 

Considering this movie was made in 1987 when many of the subject matter in this film was not only misunderstood but also taboo establishes it as both innovative and groundbreaking. But what is most surprising is the realization that it received wide distribution and acclaim in its country of origin, it had been less than 20 years that Spain had been released from the shackles of the righteous four-decade long dictatorship of General Franco, and this movie's mainstream acceptance in a country with strong Catholic heritage just shows the level of liberal cultural revolution Spain was going through at the time. You would be hard pressed to find a movie similar in plot to be made in the United States even today....lo dudo (I doubt it)!


Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender

I originally wrote this review in April 2011. One star out of five.

If you are interested in examining gay subtext during Hollywood's Golden Age, avoid this documentary and watch the much better researched and entertaining Celluloid Closet instead. 

Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender reads more like a lecture than an analysis and quickly loses all its credibility with highly edited dialogue taken out of context and freeze-framed montages peppered with disputable readings. To suggest that Walter Brennan's character in Westerns was a thinly veiled homo-erotic romance with John Wayne is a stretch of the imagination, you have to be really horny to sense any erotic tension between the old geyser and the neutered cowboy. Rappaport confuses Hollywood's use of the pansy in the 1930's and Bob Hope cross-dressing antics as some sort of social code of acceptance when in fact it served more as a reinforcement of strict gender roles through cheap laughs. He erroneously states the Lumiere Brothers' early stock footage of men dancing was a nod to homosexuality when in fact it was just a product of a homosocial society. Men danced together because men and women did not socially interact during the late Victorian era. Same as why the male buddy system in movies during the mid-20th century was in place, women were considered either femme fatales or vestal virgins and neither shared anything in common with male identity not because women weren't desired. Male-bonding is an embodiment of moral society's way of keeping the sexes separate, just because guys seek to hang out together watching football and avoid their wives doesn't mean they want to hump each other. Rappaport reuses clips from a few movies to make sweeping generalizations and merges the intent of a movie's written character with the rumored lifestyle of the actor playing it. There is enough pseudo-psychoanalytical erroneous hypothesis in these 100 minutes to give Freud a headache when the real truth is probably closer to a director's internalized homophobia surfacing as delusional validation. His thesis seems to be saying, it must be okay to be gay only because everyone else is gay too.....color that self-hating.


Small Town Gay Bar

A rather weak documentary on an important yet under-examined topic. This film highlights how homophobia is alive and well in rural america, however the documentary only focuses on a small section of the Bible Belt (Northeast Mississippi) and the couple of gay bars that exist in the area. It would have been interesting to see how the people in these scenarios differ, if at all, from other rural areas in the country or from larger cities within the Bible Belt. The documentary quickly glides by a horrific case of hate crime in the area and the tribulations that the LGBT community has to endure to survive and mostly focuses on the management, state and status of said bars. However this documentary is still a must see if not simply as a reminder on how homosexuals are still relegated to living in danger and rejection in order to live out their desires (something that is taken for granted by the same community in metropolitan cities). What's is even more scarier to comprehend is to see an actual neo-con religious group in the area that targets G.W.Bush as being too liberal and lenient on alternative lifestyle.


Sordid Lives (The Movie)

Review was originally written in June 6, 2010 and refers to the movie, but the same strengths and weaknesses applies to the LOGO television series of the same name aas well.

A hilariously funny movie interspersed with painfully bad scenes. Del Shores wrote and directed his theatrical play's transition onto the big screen (and the television series that followed), and while its low budget gives it an early John Water's look and feel, it fails in its conflicted direction. The film shines with the over-the-top portrayals of southern women in a small Texan town. Beth Grant's attempt to quit smoking and Bonnie Bedelia's obsession with big hair and neighborly gossip are the true gem of the movie. These laugh-out-loud movements are even more enjoyable because of its true-to-life characterization (as can be attested by anyone growing up in the South). It is a shame that these scenes are scattered with really bad acting regarding its 'coming out' story line. Those scenes in particular are played with a mix of over-acted intensity and self-conscious foolishness and threatens to bring the whole movie down with it. (This storyline also ruins the LOGO series, the fact the character was re-casted with Del Shores then real-life boyfriend further taints it with a tinge of nepotism that only highlights the bad acting). In the end it reads as if Mr. Shores was giving us two sides to story-telling. On one side you have the heartwarming, sidesplittingly funny craziness of southern life played to the hilt by solid actors and on the other a painfully preachy and forced coming out story that is mis-casted as well. This is not to say that it shouldn't have been included but perhaps treated with the same approach and touch as with the rest of the movie. 
The cast between the movie and the television series is mostly the same except for a few changes, namely Delta Burke's character played by Caroline Rhea and the addition of Rue McClanahan (not pictured) in the series.


The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green

This movie made in 2005 is based on the syndicated comic strip by Eric Orner which appeared in many LGBT publications during the 1990's. I wrote originally wrote the review in January 2009.

Unfortunately, the movie is less dimensional than the comic strip, the acting and plot feels amateurish and dated. Perhaps if it had come to be in the early 1990's during the raise of independent films and the burgeoning post-AIDS era alternative lifestyle it wouldn't have felt new and fresh but by 2005 the storyline is overplayed alongside the token interracial lesbian couple. 

You can find better acting and a more engaging storyline in a porn movie, at least with pornography you have a valid reason to watch it.

There is little chemistry between the two love interests and the token interracial lesbian couple seems stereotypical.


The Kids Are All Right

A light-hearted adult comedy, I first saw this movie while visiting Philadelphia in the summer of 2010. I was looking for much needed relief from the heat wave that was hitting the city at the time in a dark air-conditioned locale. The movie was funny and heartwarming without pandering. 
Review originally written in July 2010. Five out of five stars.

A funny light-hearted adult comedy, well-written and superbly acted (especially by Ms. Bening who is a joy to see hasn't succumb to the cosmetic knife). Not everyone will be pleased with this indie sleeper hit since it is not a slap-stick roll-in-the-aisle comedy but one that relies on smart dialogue and recognizable moments in human relations, instead it is more apt to just make you smile throughout. What is truly refreshing about this movie is realizing that this unconventional family is anything but...the familial relationship is as banal and ordinary as any other. The parents fret about the kids and the kids just want to be left alone to discover their own identity. However, the parents are lesbians that are as sexual and loving as any heterosexual counterpart in a 20-year relationship, along with the misunderstandings, concerns and misgivings that come with the territory. I was personally a bit disappointed that the impetus to move the characters into self-realization had to do with an extra-marital affair in which (SPOILER-ALERT) a lesbian sleeps with a heterosexual man. Unfortunately this might add fodder to many who are dismissive of lesbianism as merely women in need of men, but I was glad that it was treated properly and the outcome was realistic. In the end, it shows the commonality in family dynamics regardless of its make up. When the kids shout their hatred to their lesbian moms and voice how sick they are of their unconventionality, it is not because same-sex parenting doesn't work but rather because they are simply teenagers rebelling against parental control. Ultimately everyone realizes how important a loving nucleus is once it becomes threatened. 


Naked Fame

Originally reviewed in March of 2010, I rated this movie 2 out of 5 stars.

I don't know whether you need to be familiar with the subject to this unstructured documentary to be remotely interested. On the one hand, you might have to be a fan of his work to be invested but on the other hand watching the protagonist behave like a spoiled brat might destroy any attraction to the persona you previously had. Regardless, this documentary ends up becoming not so much a study on someone but rather more an observation on a self-obsessive culture. It appears that despite a loving relationship and a supportive family we still are unfulfilled without fame. 

Peter, a 'former' porn star known as Colton Ford and his partner, another former porn star, are very likable guys who want to leave the adult film industry and follow their dreams of becoming a singer and actor respectively. Problem is those careers are within the shadow of the Hollywood lifestyle the porn industry emulates. They seek a whole new world far away from what they have done in the past but don't go beyond their backyard to find it. One example is Colton's choice for a manager. He hires another former-porn star who is all too obviously on something (my guess is its the 'legal' speed he keeps offering everyone) and continuously ignores the neon sign over his manager's head that reads 'train wreck approaching'. 

Yet despite any talent, Colton seems to purposely situate himself on a losing battle to be the kind of singing sensation he wants to be. For one, he concentrates only on club/dance music which is dominated by female vocalists, secondly, he is in his late 30s and wants to market himself to a young early 20s crowd, and finally, he keeps one foot in the door to his previous and highly stigmatized career even though he no longer wants to be associated with it. You can't help but begin to wonder whether his desire to be a singer is just a whim or an actual passion and not just a vacuous reason to be admired. Midpoint through this documentary, despite being sympathetic to his challenges, you want to slap him senselessly (and not in the porn film sort of way) when he continually whines and complains as to why his singing career isn't going anywhere. 
Yes, because if you want to be taken seriously as a singer and not viewed as the porn star you once were,
be sure to play up your physique.

Perhaps he should concentrate on the MUSIC! Colton seems to work out in the gym more than on his vocal skills and nowhere in the documentary does it show him sitting down and concentrating on writing a lyric or two or even crafting his artistic stage persona (and from the likes of his performances here this is painfully evident). Instead he frets before a performance about which shirt he should wear (neither choice would have made a difference). Unfortunately he also suffers from tackyitis... he wears his casual street clothes onstage and relies on the ubiquitous and outdated dance moves of the mid-90s. Its going to be hard to be seen as a 'star' when your target audience dresses and dances better than you do. My unsolicited advice to him would be that if you want to stand out in any field you must first start by thinking outside the box. 


Brokeback Mountain

I wrote the following review in October 2007 for the movie Brokeback Mountain on Netflix as a response to reviews I was reading from viewers. I felt that some of those reviewers were missing the crux of the movie and some were bordering on homophobia. This was my response to them.

I found this movie to be a cinematic masterpiece and one whose style and content many reviewers in here (Netflix) may have missed the basis of. This movie goes beyond being a 'gay' movie into a movie that is collective in scope and leaves us with something to learn and take away from. In regards to the slow pace of the movie as some have complained, I think that it is was being purposefully used. The slow panning of the landscape not only depicts the sublime and expansive landscape but also helps to magnify the banality and mundaneness of small rural mid-western towns and Ennis' life in particular. The director Ang Lee, uses a similar tactic in the movie Ice Storm to create a palpable chill depicted through the weather and through the detachment of the characters' lives). Brokeback Mountain is not an 'agenda movie' trying to validate the deceit and actions of these men as some have suggested but rather to serve as evidence and reminder that living a double life is harmful not only to those you deceived but to those that do the deception as well. The women in this story are as much a victim of the rigid social conformity prevalent during that time as the men are. They are afflicted by the betrayal the men are consigned to create. 

This movie does not have a happy Hollywood ending nor can this story be sugar-coated. It instead leaves us with no consolation or resolution and makes us feel the regret and frustration of understanding oneself only when its too late. Unfortunately history is seen with 20/20 hindsight vision and in this post-Will and Grace society in which same-sex lifestyles are much more visible and tolerated than it ever has been, it is hard for us to situate ourselves at a time and place when gay men (and lesbians) had no role models nor narratives in which to live their lives by. This movie gives us an understanding of the actions of individuals during a time when their desire (homosexuality) was considered a pathological disease, their acceptance ('coming out') was a social death sentence, and their love (universal and whole) was riddled with guilt. These men and many like them were resigned into living their entire lives either denying their desires or fulfilling them in the dark shadows of shame.


Chris & Don: A Love Story (2007)

A touching and inspiring story of enduring love and same-sex relationship involving the writer Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachardy. 

The strength of this movie comes from actual photos and extensive footage from home movies and not so much on staged re-enactments that usually pepper documentaries of this nature. These home movies serve as a testament to a strong and happy (and controversial) relationship displayed alongside some of Hollywood and literary greats of the time. Both men are talented in their own right but the movie's true inspiration comes from seeing their courageous 30-year plus relationship lived out in the open during closeted times, and it is Don's actions and motivation during Christopher's death that expresses the true depth of their spiritual and emotional bond. 

Don Bachardy painting a life portrait of his partner Christopher Isherwood

However, it is hard to overlook the circumstances that might have contributed to the success of their love (and to its controversy). Their May-December relationship is disturbing when one realizes just how young Don was when he started dating Christopher and the effect this might have had on Don's own sense of self-worth and identity. This not only comes to the surface when Don admits to emulating Chris's mannerisms and speech but also in his admission to his constant need of approval from Christopher in even deciding what to wear. The fact that Christopher (through his writing) professes to be attracted only to those outside (and beneath) his blue-blood social class taints this relationship with an air of manipulation. Which is unfortunate, because what could be seen as a successful and validating gay relationship during times of adversity at times becomes tarred by seeming as subjugated love. 

Review originally written on 4/2/10


The month of June

June is national LGBT history month in the United States. This is usually designated annually by the President of the United States, so has been the case under the Obama administration and the Clinton administration before that, it was not designated as such during the G.W. Bush administration for obvious reasons.

The reason June is LGBT history month is because it commemorates the Stone Wall Riots which sparked the gay rights movement in this country and around the world. The Stone Wall Riots came about when patrons (mostly transvestites) of the Stone Wall Inn, a small bar on Christopher Street in the West Village of New York City, got fed up of the systematic and targeted police harassment and arrests and began a spontaneous retaliation that lasted a couple of nights. The 'riot' was not necessarily very destructive but was instrumental in bringing about the gay (LGBT) rights movement unto the national discourse which lasts still to this day.   

This is also why June is the month when most Pride parades take place in many cities in the country and in many countries around the world culminating in the one celebrated in NYC in the last Sunday of the month. Of course, as with everything, history gets lost in the generations that don't live through it, which is mostly why Pride parades are no longer the political demonstrations they started as and are more the jubilant activities they are today.

An interesting side-note, it is theorized that the reason the patrons where particularly intolerant of the police harassment on the fateful evening was because it was the day in which Judy Garland was laid to rest. Many patrons had supposedly gone to the bar to mourn and memorialize her. Judy Garland, was from no doing of her own, a gay iconic figure because many sympathized with her tumultuous life of continually being used and abused by lovers and producers alike. Her best known song 'Over the Rainbow' became the de facto anthem of longing for a place of acceptance to live ones happy life....somewhere (and someday)! 

The song is sometimes credited for the formation of the 'Rainbow' flag becoming the symbol for the movement. However, the person who designs it doesn't necessarily agree instead insists that the colors are representative of the diversity and scope of the beneficiaries of the movement. 

Anyway, in celebration of June of this year for no reason in particular, I will be re-posting reviews I have written in Netflix and blogs everywhere of movies whose characters, plots and or protagonists are of the LGBT community (mostly 'gay' and not always in a good light).