The Skeleton Twins (2014)

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Directed by: Craig Johnson

There’s been a trend in the last decade or so for comedy actors, some of whom have appeared in a big ratings drawing US sitcom or the hugely popular SNL, to try their hand at acting in a serious indie drama with an undercurrent of dark comedy. They usually play characters who are misfits, often socially dysfunctional, depressed, on anti-depressants and full of self-loathing. I suppose the starting point for this was when Zach Braff discarded his scrubs and starred in ‘Garden State’.

‘The Skeleton Twins’ is a story of two siblings who are reunited under difficult circumstances. When her brother Milo (Bill Hader) tries to take his own life, Maggie (Kristen Wiig) arrives at his bedside. The twins, who were inseparable during their childhood, then struggle to reconnect when Milo moves in with Maggie and her everyman husband Lance.

Both Milo and Maggie begin to slowly confront their own internal dilemmas that are deeply rooted in the past. Maggie wonders about whether she should have a baby, and Milo tries to reach out to his older lover played by ‘Modern Family’s’ Ty Burrell. By confronting these dilemmas both twins find that the only solidity in their lives is the relationship they have with each other.

The film has a few missteps; the short scene with their estranged Mother doesn’t quite work, offering barely a glimpse into the twin’s childhood. Then there’s a horribly syrupy lip-synching scene where Milo tries to cheer up Maggie by miming along to Starship’s ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’, a song originally made famous when included in the soundtrack to ‘Mannequin’. Something about that seem jars with me, it seems so forced, so shoehorned in.

I suppose I was also on the fence about how the film dealt with Mental Illness, the director kinda skirts around the pain of suicidal feelings, though at the same time it must be said that the film doesn’t glamorize the suicide attempts. Milo quietly closes his eyes as his bath water turns red, and Maggie’s melodramatic drowning seems to fit that of a frustrated housebound wife whose life lacks excitement. There’s enough caution and care here that goes beyond post-mumblecore tropes related to Mental Illness.

Any joy in the film is captured when the siblings joke around with each other. When Milo and Maggie lark about in the dentist, fooling with braces and nitrous oxide, the scene, likely improvised by the two fine comedy performers, has a lovely natural quality to it. The fabulous campy Halloween party is also rather sweet, although that scene does turn rather sour as dark revelations come from conversations about the past.

‘The Skeleton Twins’ is a watchable drama, ideal for a dreary winter afternoon.

 

– RJW

7/10

 

The Skeleton Twins on IMDB

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Pride (2014)

 

 

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Before the Miners Strike, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)’s newspaper, “The Miner”, had a Page 3 girl. For those of you reading this who aren’t British, page 3 is the bizarre and misogynist phenomenon where some of our normal mainstream daily newspapers will devote their page 3 to a huge picture of a topless woman, a “tradition” that sadly continues to this day. But due to the fantastic support of both women and groups such as Gays & Lesbians Support The Miners and the shift in understanding that came from that support, not only had they removed the Page 3 girl by the end of the strike, but marched proudly at the front of the 1985 Gay Pride parade in London.

A young man, Mark (Ben Schnetzer) is on the 1984 Gay Pride march, and he instinctively understands that if the police are attacking the miners, when before they were attacking gays, then they have common cause. That simple but incredibly powerful idea starts off the group, Lesbians And Gays Support The Miners (LGSM), centred on a gay bookshop in London. Dropped into the middle of this tumult of ideas comes Joe (George Mackay), who’s a fascinating character. He’s not out to his parents but is brave enough to go on the Gay Pride march, and from his life in the suburbs he blossoms.

For a film about an event which we know didn’t end the way we wanted, “Pride” is packed with humour. The mix of characters in LGSM is wonderful – from sensible shop owner Gethin, to his wonderfully flamboyant partner Jonathan (Dominic West), who’s gradually won over by the arguments and activity; to the couple who started off in LGSM because they just wanted an activity they could do together; to Steph, the woman who takes Joe underneath her wing. Mark is fantastic too, as is Mike, his sidekick (Joseph Gilgun).

But it’s when they meet Dai (Paddy Considine), an NUM rep from the small village that LGSM have chosen to support, that the film really kicks off. Barriers start coming down, Dai speaks at a gay bar and our heroes take a van and go to South Wales, to give the money and supplies they’ve collected and to meet the people they’re helping.

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The villagers are…well, how we all are. Some of them make the same connection that Mark made, instinctively and immediately, and welcome the group with open arms, some people get lesbianism and veganism confused, some are openly hostile while some are more worried about what the outside world will think than they ought to be. But it’s extraordinarily difficult to maintain a homophobic attitude when, out of a world that tries to kick you to the ground, one of the only hands that wants to pick you up belongs to a group of gays and lesbians; and the wonderful, funny, heartbreaking main portion of the film shows how quickly people can change in times of crisis, and how friendships and bonds are formed when you stop treating people as an X, or a Y, and just treat them as a person. If you aren’t roaring with laughter when a group of people from the village visit London for the huge benefit concert LGSM have organised, visit a fairly hardcore S&M bar, then party so hard that they exhaust the gays, then I don’t think we can be friends.

One of the vitally important things about “Pride” is, no-one’s a cartoon. From the most flamboyant of the gays to the most virulently homophobic (both in the mining village and the London suburbs), everyone is shown to have an inner life. And it shows that not everyone will change, no matter how obvious the reasons are, but where the current generation may be lost to outdated ideas, the next generation will not be so encrusted in the “muck of ages”. It also shows that the gay people who didn’t support the miners had good reason – some of them came from places where they’d be beaten up by miners for their sexuality, and for others the threat of AIDS was more worthy of their time and effort. There are no obvious or easy copout answers in this. But, most importantly, it shows that when prejudice simply makes no sense anymore, people can and will change quickly.

It’s also a film packed with fantastic performances. Dominic West, Paddy Considine, Imelda Staunton, Jessica Gunning (as Sian, the woman who saw herself as just a miner’s wife but went on to become an MP), Rhodri Meilir (as Martin, Sian’s husband), Bill Nighy, Andrew Scott as Gethin…I could keep going on. There’s a real feeling that these actors know how important this is, and even the smallest character is great.

It’s not just a film about an important topic, though, it’s very well made. The Valleys of South Wales look beautiful, and there’s some really well-done mirroring of scenes throughout the film, shorthand for the changes going on. The 1980s interiors feel real and lived in too. It’s billed as a romantic comedy, but the romance is between the communities, not the people. What a film! It’s heartbreakingly sad at times, and the end, when LGSM are told they can’t have political banners on the newly non-political Pride march, but then bus after bus after bus pulls up full of miners…well, it’s wonderful and sad and the perfect ending.

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Full disclosure: as well as coming from several generations of miners, I am friends with one of the real-life members of LGSM, and she loves the film. It’s an absolute triumph, deserves every bit of success it has and more, and ought to be watched by absolutely everybody. That this film can be made in 2014 shows how far we’ve come, but the treatment of LGBT people round the world shows we’ve still got a long way to go. I watched this film, laughed and cried, then felt inspired to go and keep fighting to make the world a better place.

Rating: thumbs up

The Gays (2014)

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Directed by: T.S. Slaughter

At points I wondered if ‘The Gays’ was the worst film I’ve ever seen. It is certainly provocative and each scene attempts to make you hate it, but I think that’s the bite.  Part of me thinks that filmmaker T.S. Slaughter is craving negative reviews and a spiral of hate to whip up some attention.

Essentially ‘The Gays’ plays almost completely on OTT gay stereotypes, and ratchets these stereotypes to the point where they go beyond parody and satire and into the profoundly annoying. There are moments which remind me of John Waters at his most trashy, and bizarrely certain parts reminded me of the surreal South Park episode ‘Major Boobage’, only with dicks instead of tits. But sadly it’s mostly terrible with few redeeming qualities. There’s nothing clever or funny about this film.

Throughout the movie, which thankfully only lasts for a little over an hour, I felt like I was constantly being asked subliminally by the people who made this film to “Go, on. Turn this off. You know you want to”.

The Gays are the kind of strange incestuous family you might find in an American Sitcom from the 70s, a overwhelming homosexual antithesis to hetero-campy The Brady Bunch. You have Bob and Rod (Mum and Dad) and their two kids Alex and Tommy. The film floats between Alex chatting to a guy called called Kevin at an LA gay bar (“LA’s an easy place to be gay”) and flashbacks featuring the disturbing domestic bliss of the Gays as Alex fondly reminisces about his family.

The shockfactor rating on this film oscillates between 95 to 100%. You’ve got anal sex, a “tranny” (using the character’s own description of them self) giving birth out of his rectum (think ‘Alien’ meets ‘The Exorcist’ on a budget) and the opening scene which features a more disturbing vision of childhood than the revelations that have come out of Lena Dunham’s latest book.

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I’m not quite sure what’s going to make people watch this movie other than if this site, and several other reviewers declare it as “the worst film they’ve ever seen” or award it zero stars or on the ‘On Cinema at the Cinema’ scale – no bags of popcorn and no sodas.

Sexploitation cinema that sucks. ‘The Gays’ is a ridiculously bad film. I hated it.

 

– RJW

0/10

 

 

To learn more about ‘The Gays’ visit:

http://www.thegaysmovie.com/index.html

Bound (1996)

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Directed by: The Wachowskis

Corky is a blue collar beer drinking badass who winds up doing some maintenance at a plush apartment. After doing a little bit of DIY SOS Corky ends up running into a gangster called Caesar and his moll Violet. Violet flirts with Corky and the pair soon get together. Their relationship cranks up in intensity. Corky is in deep, and wants to save Violet, and the pair come up with an audacious plan to steal a substantial amount of mafia dosh from under the nose of Caesar and run away together. What could go possibly go wrong?

Oh, I forgot to mention this film got the Wachowskis career up and rolling, which in a roundabout way got them enough recognition as filmmakers for ‘The Matrix’ to get greenlit and subsequently go on and change the Hollywood landscape in 1999.

And also I forgot to mention another thing… Corky is a woman.

Yes, ‘Bound’ is a lesbian love story, and there is a couple titillating sex scenes in the first half of the movie, but it isn’t really an essential part of the film. ‘Bound’ is an extremely well-crafted mob noir flick. You’ve got all the ingredients, the reformed hero with a shady past, the alluring moll, the cocaine hyped Mafia man looking to climb the ladder and the stylish Mafia men that talk the talk and walk the walk.

The three main actors in this film Corky (Gina Gershon), Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) are on fire. Tilly in particular was going through a hot streak, having scored an Academy Award nomination for her role in ‘Bullets Over Broadway’. Gershon’s performance in ‘Bound’ followed up a delightfully trashy role in ‘Showgirls’ and proceeded a bizarre turn in a movie about incest starring Billy Zane called ‘This World, Then the Fireworks’. Pantoliano would go on to work once again with the Wachowskis by playing Cypher in ‘The Matrix’.

It’s interesting when reading about the movie to learn that studio executives were keen on the storyline but reluctant to get involved in a movie with a lesbian led storyline in it, preferring instead to change it to a hetero flick. It therefore took a lot of perseverance to get the movie made in the first place. But what makes the movie even more subversive is that it is a mafia movie about female empowerment. The moll, who usually ends up used and abused in most mafia movies, is able to stand on her own two feet and actually gain the upper hand over her male oppressors.

Gershon is very masculine as Corky, both in her look and dress. She brings this shaky braggadocio, a sense of cool and danger which acts as a veneer over genuine fear and vulnerability. It’s this sense of vulnerability which permeates throughout the whole movie. This shit; we’re really doing this feel. Can we get away with it? ‘Bound’ is a daring piece of filmmaking from two directors who’ve since gone on to be groundbreaking visionaries.

  • RJW

8/10

 

 

Bound on IMDB

 

Nighthawks (1978)

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Directed by: Ron Peck

‘Nighthawks’ is considered to be one of the most important films in the history of British LGBT cinema. It is also one of those films which appear to be horrifically dated, although I don’t think its datedness takes away how ‘brave’ or ‘daring’ the film must’ve been when initially released.

The film opens with some jarring synth; a creepy tune which sounds like the kind of music which might accompany an rum drunk overweight clown as he enters the circus tent. The director drives us through London at night. We arrive at a night club, which features more atrocious nagging synth. I need to pause and address this because we’ve been told how pioneering gay culture was in relation to the early electro and house music scenes, but from the evidence of this film I can only assume that this was post-’78 because by Christ the soundtrack to ‘Nighthawks’ is bloody unbearable. It’s like listening to Iggy Pop’s ‘Nightclubbing’ after spending six hours spinning around in a cement mixer. They seem to use the same song every time we are taken to the night club. It causes my ears to leak blood.

So, the night club scenes. They occur frequently as the main character Jim keeps returning for hook-ups. There’s awkwardness in the air inside the club. Early on, there’s not a lot of conversation at the club, or even checking out of talent. Men mostly dance alone; they seem to be looking at the floor. Was this what it was really like? Or is it a London thing? Similarly to the vibe you get today in the capital’s unsocial hipster bars.

‘Nighthawks’ is about Jim, a closeted Geography teacher, who balances his rather straight job with his night time gallivanting. The film provides a glimpse of how difficult it was for gay men back in the late seventies to be open about their sexuality. Arguably they couldn’t have picked a worst profession to demonstrate this, because even in 2014 teachers don’t disclose all that much about their private lives. Why couldn’t Jim have worked in a factory in Dagenham alongside a group of uber-masculine cockney geezers?

A lot of the film is bleak, as Jim lives this Work, Work, Work (Pub, Club, Sleep) lifestyle. Towards the end of the film his incongruent personal life begins to catch up with him. He’s late for class after an encounter. Then when having to share his classroom with another class whose teacher was absent, the rowdy pupils from the other class out him in front of his own class. Jim then holds an inpromtu open forum discussion about his sexuality which gets him in hot water with the school’s headmaster. It’s a fascinating scene, which is one of the most politically loaded in the film, expressing the conflicting views of those who don’t really understand homosexuality. The subject is broached initially after an acne scarred youth asks “Is it true that you’re bent?”

The film has amazing depth to how it deals with shame. Jim’s struggle isn’t necessarily all about his sexuality, but his inability to actually form any lasting relationships. Jim even lies about being in a steady relationship to his supply teacher friend. It seems he doesn’t want to be judged for what he gets up to, despite his ‘honorable’ intentions to find that special someone. In a sense, the director seems to be saying that straight or gay when you’re single, you’re constantly overwhelmed by the weight of this heavy anchor of existential loneliness which you have to drag around with you.

I think when viewing ‘Nighthawks’ today you have to ignore the clunky dialogue, and generally poor acting. The film is a social study, a glimpse into the reality of London’s gay scene. It was unchartered territory on screen, and it took a determined director to make it happen.

– RJW
6/10

Nighthawks on IMDB

Kill Your Darlings (2013)

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Directed by: John Krokidas

The Beat Generation was an inspiration but they were also a bunch of bastards, alcoholics, junkies, deviants and… murderers?

‘Kill Your Darlings’ focusses on Allen Ginsberg’s days at Columbia and the forming of a group of writers who changed everything in modern American literature. I suppose the problem with any of the Beat films released to date, like the recent adaptation of ‘On the Road’ or James Franco in ‘Howl’, is that no actor can seem to capture once in a lifetime personalities that have been mythologized beyond adaptation. The Beat Generation were God’s to so many people and as fans of the novels and poems we all have in our heads our own ideas about who Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs really were as people.

For those who know the ‘real story’ ‘Kill Your Darlings’ misses a few key characters and underwrites a few others. Edie Parker played by Elizabeth Olsen is reduced to playing a housebound girlfriend who moans at her boyfriend Jack Kerouac for getting home late, continuing the theme of two dimensional female characters associated with the Beats in cinema. There’s also no room for Herbert Huncke, the man who connected the beats to the dark side during those energetic excitable New York days.

Dane DeHaan, who also featured in ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’, plays Lucien Carr, the angry young man who lit a fire under Allen Ginsberg, played by Daniel Radcliffe, an actor forever trying to shake free from the shackles of Harry Potter franchise in a similar way Elijah Wood and Mark Hamill have tried to get away from the iconic characters they have been woven into. DeHaan and Radcliffe are ably supported by the always watchable Ben Foster who provides the necessary oddness as William Burroughs and Boardwalk Empire’s Jack Huston who attempts to bring Kerouac alive.

‘Kill Your Darlings’ tries to capture the rebellious spirit of the Beats, presenting the genesis of what fuelled them to write. Lurking in the shadows is David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), a man obsessed with Lucien Carr. The story builds to the major blot on the copybook of the Beats early history when Kammerer is murdered by Carr. The truth of what happened that night has been illuminated in various works of fiction, and it is difficult to get an objective take on what really happened that fateful night. The film tries to present a balanced view.

The good thing about ‘Kill Your Darlings’ is that it makes the great Beat writers mortal. All have their vulnerabilities, even the usually elusive Burroughs. What the film doesn’t do is inspire the next generation, for some reason it seems difficult to present just how ground-breaking these writers were. Krokidas tries to bridge the gap with modern music. I don’t really like the use of modern music in a film set way back in the past, a trend that was also prevalent in ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Django Unchained’. Why was the band TV on the Radio be used during the library scene? Do TV on the Radio represent rebellion in any way?

‘Kill Your Darlings’ doesn’t quite do the Beats justice, but it does provide an interesting coming of age story about how Ginsberg found his groove.

– RJW
6/10

Kill Your Darlings on IMDB