04 December 2015

Movie Review: Snails in the Rain (שבלולים בגשם)

There was something about this movie that made me think the director wrote the whole thing to leer at the lead actor, Yoav Reuveni. Yoav plays Boaz, a linguistics major at a Tel Aviv university in the late 1980s. He lives with his girlfriend and works after school. Everything is alright until he starts receiving short, anonymous love letters from another man. Now, if you ever wonder whether it is the external object or the internal feeling that really animates life, this movie definitely takes a position.

 I recall writing love letters to this classmate of mine in high school. And I always felt that he had an ambiguous sexuality and that to explore his homosexuality had the feeling tone of a fate worse than death. That being said, in my adolescence, I wasn't so sensitive to that, so I wrote him poetry. After the first one, if any of my friends delivered the poem to him, without looking at it he'd ask if it had come from me (as opposed to a girl). They would reply yes and then he'd chaotically rip it up to shreds with such force and effort and precision that it obliterated the writing completely. He did that every time. It was as though to see what was written would unleash something that must not be unleashed.

Anyways, Boaz reads these letters. He comes to expect them. And then he starts to look at every man around him as though its a possible author. This only intensifies something long simmering in him -- that is, his own homosexual feelings. His girlfriend is sensitive to this and so his emotional wobble disrupts their normalcy. We learn that during his compulsory army service, his homosexual feelings also broke through at one point.

I was disappointed with the end, big time. Korean double suicides feel more authentic than this. Although as I age, I have come to realize that life is not drawn only in black and white -- even if I feel one puts themselves in such a situation, black is much more preferred.

02 December 2015

Movie Review: Boulevard

In my own thought processes, I harbor romantic notions surrounding the midlife coming out drama. This movie does not disappoint. It is fortunate that Nolan Mack (played by Robin Williams in his last on-screen performance) does not have children and so the damage that is done in a debilitating cruelty that Nolan and his wife have done to each other for decades and that they didn't drag a bunch of other souls into the depths.

Nolan Mack is a middle aged loan officer at an American mid-West bank. He is married to Joy who is some kind of scholar/writer/academic and hausfrau. He goes about his highly habitual life -- lacking in spontaneity or joy. One night he takes a different street home after running an errand to the store and he ends up going to hooker/hustler lane. He practically runs over a young hustler who ends up "getting in." From there, he has made contact with the dark, repressed depths of his unconscious and from there spontaneity, feeling and everything else he's bottled up for 40 years comes roaring into his life breaking everything in its way.

There was an additional feeling layer woven into the story by the knowledge that Robin Williams suffered from depression and had killed himself. It threw the feeling part of the story into deeper relief that the character will be redeemed but the one playing the character not. A story of redemption is outlined by the truth of tragedy.

30 November 2015

Movie Review: Thanatos, Drunk (醉‧生夢死)

The characters in the title of this film together represent an idiomatic expression in Madarin that has somehow been translated into Thanatos, Drunk. But the component parts are: drunk, alive, dream, death. I think this accurately and clearly describes the film. The movie has some create cinematography (and skinematography) but for what it gains in these formal aspects of film making, it suffers in a clear, easy to follow narrative. 

The movie revolves primarily around Rat, the younger brother, of two son of a hostess. They live in the slums on the outskirts of Taipei. Rat works at the market and has a crush on a mute female prostitute. His older brother, Shanghe, had temporarily migrated to the United States to be with his boyfriend but that plan failed and he returned and works in gay-related entertainment jobs. He works for a distribution company that distributes foreign gay films and eventually we learn he also makes his money as a strip dancer at a gay club. Not to make anything too easy,  

They also live with their female cousin Da-xiong. She dates "brother Shuo" who works in the male escort for rich old women industry. Rat who exhibits austic behavior idolizes "brother Shuo." The movie actually starts to develop into a somewhat coherent narrative near the end when it starts to become clear that "brother Shuo" who sleeps with women for a living and is dating female Da-xiong is not just gay but might have something for Shanghe.

I guess this can be considered Taiwan's contribution to the third world's poverty porn genre. It mixes both gay life with poverty in a new and unique way. I left the movie depressed. But the main male actors are all very handsome so it wasn't a complete loss. But I'd watch it on DVD as opposed to in a theatre.

28 November 2015

Movie Review: Queens and Cowboys

This is a documentary about the American West and Midwest and gay people who stay in these non-urban areas of the United States. From the average age of participants, it appears that the gay rodeo scene developed as a rural alternative to urban gay life in the age of AIDS in the United States. There is a segment about how "gay" cowboys are rejected by the dominant rodeo association(s) and that rodeo staff at the gay rodeos who contract to work each rodeo they work at, were shy to be identified on camera because the non-gay rodeo managers will refuse to hire them.

It's an interesting take on the real life between urban gay America and Brokeback Mountain. One of the things that struck me was the discussion about how gay rodeos are in decline because the membership ages but does not recruit enough younger people. It reminded me of Robert Putnam's discussion of "social capital" in the United States. More people bowl in the United States than before, but bowling league membership has declined. Putnam argues that civic engagement in the United States suffers as people become more isolated and less social.

Without getting to much into Putnam's argument, the notion of doing gay rodeo would seem to be eclipsed by the increase in digital penetration in rural America. All of the risks and limitations of identifying with such a group are eliminated when interactions are limited to chatrooms and hook up apps.

I thought the documentary was very information. I learned a lot about the United States and people in the West and Midwest.

26 November 2015

Movie Review: The Last Straight Man

This movie ended up being a huge disappointment. The plot is simple. Lewis is a closeted gay man throwing a bachelor party for his "straight" best friend and secret crush, Cooper, the night before Cooper's wedding. Twenty or more minutes into the movie, on that special night of nights, Lewis and Cooper awkwardly end up sucking each other off. They then end up hooking up every year on the eve of Cooper's wedding anniversary. If this had occurred over a series of weeks or months, it may have been believable, but the year of gap made it hard to suspend disbelief.

Then there were all of the questions about how can someone like Cooper live in a marriage in which he has no feeling or intimacy or deep care for his wife and then meet up with his best friend for an annual night of what appears to be the most feeling/pleasurable night of the year in his life. Very sad. Unfortunately there is no character development and I almost got the vibe that this was a poorly executed fantasy of a gay guy. Anyways, I skipped ahead at a few points because the dialogue and pace was too slow.

24 November 2015

Movie Review: No Night is Too Long

This was a well written movie. I'm surprised I had never heard of it. It's like a gay Hitchcock film. In short, Tim is a promiscuous gay college student who ends up hooking up with a lecturer from another college named Ivo. They enter into some kind of relationship and in his senior year, Ivo admits to Tim that he's in love with him. Tim then cheats on Ivo at some point and then tells Ivo who hits him. Ivo lectures on a boat cruises in Alaska during the summer and Tim pressures Ivo to take him along.

As Tim prepares to meet up with Ivo for the cruise, he is marooned in some remote hotel and meets a woman named Isabel with whom he sleeps. He falls in love with Isabel. Anyways, Tim joins Ivo's boat cruise but gives him the cold shoulder and refuses physical intimacy with Ivo. Tim tells him that he doesn't love Ivo and regrets coming along. At some point Ivo breaks open the door to Tim's cabin and rapes him. Then, the passengers on the cruise take a day tour on little boats to a remote and uninhabited island. The passengers are given free time to explore while Tim and Ivo argue in a secluded rocky cliff area. Tim discloses that he met Isabel and is in love with her and the only reason why he continued with the plan to join the boat cruise was so that he could get to the end destination and take a plane to find Isabel. Ivo goes ballistic with that news, a struggle ensues, Ivo is knocked against a jagged edge of the cliff. Tim leaves him for dead, joins the last little boat back to the cruise boat and hides Ivo's safety vest, etc.,. I'll leave the ending for your own enjoyment in watching the film but you'll be shocked, a number of times.

If Hitchcock were alive in 2002, he might have just made this film. It was a surprise in that it was a suspense film that avoided some of the pitfalls of coming out narratives or similar. The gay theme was subtle. It's study of human nature and emotions was convincing all the way to the end.

22 November 2015

Movie Review: Wild Horses

I didn't hear about this movie at all. In fact, I'm still not sure how it ended up in my queue to watch. I mean, James Franco is ... well ... James Franco. But I still don't recall anything about this movie before I put it in the DVD player.

Anyways, this is a gay movie. James Franco plays a gay guy and the whole movie is about his relationship with his father set in borderland Texas. Gay is not the only theme in this movie. It has lots of relevant social and emotional themes that weave themselves around the the conflict between James Fraco and Robert Duvall. Has all the interesting aspects: murder, shame, reputation, guns, drug runners, dirty cops, everything. It's definitely an interesting character study about regrets in life and what could have been set in pastoral southern Texas. Definitely a nice cuddle up date night type movie. Oh and did I mention, James Franco is in it? Loved the bar brawl scene the most.

20 November 2015

Book Review: Sex and the Church

Kathy Rudy is an American professor of women's studies at Duke University. This was her second book. The book deals with the intersections of feminism, political history, theology and homosexuality.

I've reviewed several books that deal with Christian conservatism and homosexuality: How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism, God Hates Fags, Recruiting Young Love, The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology, Straight to Jesus,  and God v. Gay?

I've also mentioned it in passing in a number of other book reviews and movies reviews. Didi Herman's The Antigay Agenda, which came out around the time of Rudy's book traces how fundamentalists starting in the 1950s picked homosexuality as a particular evil that needed addressing. She then traces how it accumulated interest until it was a major plank of the political Christian conservatism.

Sex and the Church goes a step further and gives a fairly good explanation for how homosexuality was picked out of all the evils of the world for special consideration -- from history, theology and patriarchy.

After she has completed that tour of history and theology, she then takes aim at the shortcomings of liberal mainline Protestant denominations for holding theologically indefensible positions.

I found her chapter on Christian community, gay community and the family to be interesting. Her aim at the nuclear family may have been helped by a more historical materialist analysis of it -- but this is really a small criticism for what otherwise is a tour de force.The only underdeveloped aspect of the book would be the issue of intimacy avoidance in gay communities and how that connects with her theology of intimacy

All in all, it's a fascinating read. I'm only sorry it took me 20 years to find it and read it.

The version I read was in English at 176 pages paperback published by the Beacon Press (June 30, 1998) with an ISBN-10 of 0807010359. The least expensive version I found online was at amazon.com.

18 November 2015

Movie Review: Front Cover

Now going into this movie I had no idea this was going to be a romantic comedy/drama. I was led to believe the movie was about Ryan (played by Korean-American Jake Choi above) as a gay Chinese-American fashion designer who hates his Chinese-ness. Well, that is in there. He does male fashion spreads and then enters, Ning (James Chen) who is a famous Beijing-based Chinese actor trying to make a splash in the American market.

James Chen as Ning

Ning requested a Chinese fashion consultant after firing his first fashion consultant in American who was not Chinese. Immediately there is a tension between Jake and Ning. Jake dislikes Ning because he's Chinese. Ning dislikes Jake because he is too American, or as Ning says Jake is a like a Panda. Jake and Ning are able to work together, just barely, until Ning changes out his shirt for Jake's pajama-like top and Jake finds himself checking Ning out and Ning finds Jake checking him out also. Ning immediately changes clothes and says Jake is fired. Jake's boss demands Jake do whatever it takes to get Ning's account back. 

Jake goes to Ning's apartment and explains to him that he is gay but that he's a "potato queen" and that he has no attraction to Chinese men and Ning need not feel anxious. So from there, we somehow end up with this:

The movie deals with the problems and struggles of the shadow in the diasporic psyche. It's a great movie that will continue to help Strand Releasings shake off its reputation for distributing low budget poorly made films. The only criticism was whether this movie was only conversing with the diaspora or if there is a role for the Middle Kingdom in the hidden treasurers that Ryan finds.

16 November 2015

Movie Review: How to Win At Checkers (Everytime)

When I read the description of the film, I was under the impression that we'd be watching a film about a transgender showing the boys how to get out of the Thai military draft. But the movie had nothing to do with that at all. The movie is about two brothers -- Ek and Oat (the two pictured on the right). In my mind, it is the story of Ek, the older gay brother, but told from the viewpoint of Oat, the younger brother.

Ek is 21 years old and Oat is 11 years old. Motherless, their father died in an industrial accident leaving them with his sister, their aunt. Ek and Oat are poor although the house they live in with their aunt was owned by the father subject to debt to the local black market money lender. Ek works for that money lender at one of his gay bars in Bangkok. Ek is dating Jai who comes from a much wealthier family.

So one of the threads is the beautiful and happy and normal relationship that Ek has with Jai. Aunty is against the relationship, not because its gay, but because Jai is from a different class than Ek. She warns him that it will end badly.

In Thai life, young men who are 21 must submit to a lottery system that drafts a portion of them into the military for compulsory service. The process is public and ritualized and the idea is that its up to fate. Pull "black" and you're safe. Pull "red" and you're drafted. But behind the formalities and the rules, Oat discovers that Jai and his family have paid the local money lender bribe money to ensure that Jai is not drafted.

At the draft, Jai and the moneylenders son are called by the military officers to get out of their place and go to the back of the queue. Ek pulls "red" but as the lottery gets to the back of the queue, only "black" remains and so Jai and the moneylender's son are safe.

I'm avoiding mentioning much of the excellent story that is written. It really is told from the perspective of 11 year old Oat and while at first you are lured into his world, to see if from his eyes, by the end you are crying his tears.

This is definitely worth watching. I was informed that the Thai government has submitted it to the Academy as its entry into the Oscars this year.

14 November 2015

Movie Review: I Am Happiness on Earth (Yo soy la felicidad de este mundo)

I'll be very honest. I liked parts of this movie a lot. Actually, most of it was quite interesting all around but the hetero/bisexual Almodóvarian sequence in the middle was interesting but misplaced. I also noticed the parts that were most interesting to me included those parts of the story that included Alan Ramirez -- pictured above in navy blue briefs.

Ramirez plays Octavio. He is not the main character in this film. Rather, he is the "first" boyfriend of the main character we are introduced to. But I identified with his character. He plays hard to get for about 2 seconds and then is madly in love with his pursuer only to have the pursuer lose interest. He is a dancer and has a very, very well defined dancer's body.

It's a bit disappointing that the main character goes onto other things in the film and also that the movie itself rambles into an Almodóvarian sequence. The cinematography was splendid even in that awkward sequence. But I wish the movie had been about Octavio and his life, not the main characters.

12 November 2015

Movie Review: Tiger Orange

The concept of this movie is very interesting. Two brothers who are both gay articulate their identity in almost opposite ways due to their age order and their relationship to their father who raises them. The younger brother, Todd, leaves their rural town after high school and goes from job to job and lover to lover in puerile, creative-chaos fashion. The older brother, Chet, remained in their town after high school and took over the family hardware store after the father's death. He is a pillar of the community. Todd's return home destablizes Chet's life which gets even more complicated when his high school crush, Brandon, returns to town to take care of Brandon's ailing mother, which gets even more complicated when Todd begins to actively pursue Brandon.

The production values are excellent and the script was right on. I'd definitely watch this for date night or just for its own enjoyment.

10 November 2015

Movie Review: Blackbird

This is a very interesting movie about the struggle of being gay and Christian in a rural Mississippi town. But it could have been the story of anyone who is gay and super Christian and the struggle to reconcile the two in a homophobic world. I thought it was artfully done. Randy is a young gay man who is devoutly Christian and in a painful struggle about his overwhelming gay feelings -- the more he represses the more they come out.

His mother, played by Mo'Nique, has just about gone mad with the loss of his younger sister. The father, played by Isaiah Washington, lives somewhere else and has a distant relationship with Randy. Randy struggles through his identity when his friends who constitute the theater club decide to stage Romeo and Juliet for their senior play, but the football jock that Randy has a secret crush on and the jock's girlfriend, suggest that Juliet be played by another guy -- namely, Randy. Randy also explores another part of his town which is not predominantly Black. Did I mention he as a gay best friend? Overall, the movie is full of sadness as life struggles against death and meaninglessness and for someone who left a provincial backwater for an urban life, it invoke memories of a life once lived. The last prophetic scene was quite touching.

08 November 2015

Movie Review: Burning Blue

This movie is a fascinating twist on the US military's failed "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy which really should have been called "Hide And Seek" policy. Two navy pilots who are best friends, Dan and Will are hoping to be the youngest pilots accepted into the space program. There are two accidents, however, due to Will's failing eyesight. NCIS begins to investigate. At the same time, another navy pilot, Matt enters the picture. Matt and Dan fall in love and that causes some drama in the Dan and Will friendship. Eventually Matt decides to leave his wife for Dan which sets the stage for the drama.

I don't want to spoil the ending but I have to say that the way the matter resolves, I find hard to believe -- as someone who read e-mail after e-mail alert twenty and more years ago about the Pentagon's disregard for the "Don't Ask" part of the policy.

The production itself was pretty good so for the exception of some problems with the storyline, my attention was kept -- another great made for TV, dramatized some of the historical reality of the background.

06 November 2015

Movie Review: Theft

This film would have had tremendous promise with the correct and proper budget. However, having lived for a time in a word where the budget was what the gay bar could afford, I didn't mind it. In fact, with same-sex marriage legal throughout the United States, I'm certain that this particular movie and its variations have numbered days. The movie is funny and has a romantic subplot going on so its a made for movie type romantic comedy. The issue that intrigued me is the role of the gay bar in gay life. Is successful single pointed focus on same-sex marriage and heteronormative gay life be the cause of the end of the gay bar scene? I guess only time will tell. But I wonder what a post gay bar, gay community would look like. This movie in no way answers that. Instead if pokes fun at another increasingly marginal character in the gay myth: the homophobic, gay-hating Christian preacher. Perhaps, however, that character will first have to have a second run in Third World moviehouses of worship before it disappears.

04 November 2015

Movie Review: The Visitor (Cibrâil)

This movie is low budget and suffers for it. The main plot of the movie is a married Turkish police officer has a friend visit who is a big homo. It turns out that the Turkish police officer is also a big homo. Things get super complicated emotionally for Turkish police officer until the movie comes to a resolution. There appears to have been some criticism about this just being another version of the same thing, but I found the Turkish aspect in the German heartland to be interesting --its understatement or nonstatement for that matter. Short review.

Sinan Hancili as Cibrâil

02 November 2015

Movie Review: Myra Breckinridge

I'm embarrassed that I never read Gore Vidal's novel of the same title or had I seen this movie that was spawn from it. Short synopsis. Myron begins Myra at the beginning of the movie. Myra is on a man-hating quest. She goes to Los Angeles to join the "talent" academy of Myron's uncle, Buck Loner. The whole movie is a biting look at the patriarchy in Hollywood of the 1960s and how Myra intends to reverse that as female domination. Surprising for a movie released in 1970, we watch Myra rape one of her students, young "stud" Rusty Godawski, with a strap-on dildo. I loved Mae West's performance as the randy, aged female talent scout Letitia Van Allen. I'm sorry only sorry I hadn't seen this before now and I hope they don't revoke my tenure for such an omission. It's a great study in gender norms and patriarchy and definitely worth the watch.

31 October 2015

Movie Review: Oy Vey! My Son is Gay!

I had no idea that Desmond Child's The Word is Love got an Oscar nomination. Oy vey! This romantic comedy is a mature variation on the adolescent coming out narrative with the urban New York Jewish cultural milieu as backdrop. The Jewish mother is Lainie Kazan so I knew I'd like it instantly although there is nothing deep about this movie. It could have been made for TV. Bruce Vilanch also plays her hilarious closet-gay married brother. Anyways, it has value as ethnographic self-reflection in relationship to the cultural context of heterosexist patriarchy and how that is articulated in different cultures.

29 October 2015

Movie Review: Arizona Sky

The story was really good so the flaws could be overlooked especially since the writer, producer and director are all the same person. The plot is fairly straight forward. Kyle and Jake are best friends and like boyfriends really in Lake Havasu, Arizona where man-to-man relationships are frowned upon. Jake is moving with his father to urban California and they say there sad goodbyes. The movie fast forwards fifteen years where Jake is a movie producer whose life is full of stress and lacks love. He has something of a meltdown with flashbacks to his relationship with Kyle. Jake puts a pause on his life and returns to rural Arizona to find Kyle. (Spoiler alert, avert your eyes now.)

For someone that is fascinated by unrequited love stories, it seemed something far-fetched that two people could live their lives for fifteen years and have something missing in their life that is only found upon making contact again. I don't think I'm outside the norm when I say that it seems that fifteen years just seems to be too long a period for people to just pick up where they left off -- especially if that 15 years ago is at the age of 16, 17 or 18. I can see someone being separated from someone for 15 years but I can't imagine that separation to include no further contact for those 15 years. I'm impatient but I think there's something that requires living in a feudal context where information doesn't travel or travels so slowly.

Anyways, regardless of that, I still think its a great, made for TV type movie that would have been made decades ago in a less homophobic reality.

27 October 2015

Movie: Love or Whatever

This was another movie that I'm not entirely clear how I ended up watching it. I don't recall even reading a blurb about. However, it's just a simple romantic comedy that you'd see on late night weekend cable television, if the protagonist was heterosexual. Maybe they shows these types of movies on television these days?

Corey is a counselor or clinical psychologist -- either way the writing for this aspect of the character was horrible -- who is apparently "successful" and believes he has a bright future with his "boyfriend." He intends to propose to his boyfriend on their date night. His boyfriend freaks out and goes to a bar, picks up a woman and has sex with her. The boyfriend then breaks up with Corey who starts to show he has an intense need for control. The movie works nevertheless. It's light-hearted but has an understanding and studies a particular archetypal theme in modern (gay) relationships.

(David Page as Corey's flexisexual boyfriend) 

25 October 2015

Movie Review: Salvation Army

I'm not exactly sure how I ended up seeing this movie. The blurb that I had read that got me to order the film had indicated that a young man got out of his provincial backwater to go to college but finds his "freedom" to be more than he expected. That may have summarized two of the last five minutes of the movie -- of course, I guess the title refers to the last three minutes of movie anyways.

The bulk of the movie is a slow moving picture of a young man transitioning from child to man in provincial Morocco. He could have easily been a Pacific Islander or mountain tribe Southeast Asian -- although the customs may have been slightly different. He has sex with everyone and has an idol worship thing with his older brother that straddles incestuous. There's a lot of violence within the family household and a clear depiction of gender hierarchies. The movie is entirely based upon the directors previously published autobiographical novel.

(Abdellah Taïa playing himself in the streets of Geneva)

The novel caused something a stir in conservative Morocco although the movie, it is claimed, was widely watched. Only the very last part deals with him at the college/adult age in Geneva.

23 October 2015

Book Review: American Sex Machines

Hoag Levins is managing editor for digital publications at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics (LDI), a center within The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote this book before taking that position.

I have known a few scholars who research patent filings to come up with some very interesting theories about modern life. But having never read any final products, it was always small talk among scholars. This book, while not written by an academic, is a great history of sex in America through the review of patent applications.

The most interesting chapter had to do with abortion devices and how recent America's war on abortion and its origins in a discourse other than morality. Like everywhere in the world where abortion is not safe and legal, American women were dying left and right due to the total lack of regulation in abortion practice. Women were sprayed with toxic poisons or mutilated causing death by bleeding. Then it appeared, that pessaries became the device within which mainstream society allowed the need for abortions to be satisfied. However, the president of a medical society decried the abundance of pessaries:

Pessaries, I supposed, are sometimes useful, but there are more than there is any necessity for. I do think that this filling the vagina with such traps, making a Chinese toy-shop of it, is outrageous... if there were few pessaries there would be fewer abortions.

I was not aware that there was a market for "anti-rape" devices. These devices range in style but most of them have the same purpose which is to eject a sharp object into the penis of a rapist -- some of these sharp objects are small and some of them are large.

While I was uncomfortable with the recounting of silicone and breast augmentation devices, it was the penile implant devices that I found to be most extreme. I was not keenly aware of the extend of the erectile dysfunction industry which apparently includes surgically inserting things into the penis.

The version I read was a 280 page paper published by Adams Media Corp on March 1996. ISBN: 1558505342. Lowest price seems to be abebooks.com and amazon.com

21 October 2015

Movie Review: Beira Mar (Seashore)

When I finished the movie, I wasn't sure precisely what the plot was. I then went online to see if I could get some kind of plot summary to clarify matters. Sadly, I discovered that there was no plot to this movie. Loosely centered around a journey that one of the boys takes on behalf of his father for some purpose (immigration documents or something), this is snapshot of a summer of two 18 year old boys having a summer. I wonder if this could even properly be considered an LGBT movie really. But perhaps we are coming to a point now where LGBT becomes an empty, universal category that refers to everything and yet nothing. Seashore, how 18 year olds lived life one summer, a few years ago, somewhere in Brazil.

19 October 2015

Movie Review: Urbania

I recall when this movie came out the first time, it was marketed as a movie about "urban legends." I had no idea that the central character was gay or that the underlying story was gay tragedy and redemption. The story centers around Charlie, played by Dan Futterman, navigating through the city encountering experiences and stories of urban legends. His existence seems to be random at first but slowly a meta-narrative takes shape out of the chaos. Charlie is or was in a relationship with Chris. He is now looking for a neighborhood tambay that he has seen throughout the film in various scenes. And it is the story of Charlie, Chris and this tambay for which the entire story is told. Told 15 years ago, violence against same-sex couples in the urban America seem to be a historical footnote. Yet, 15 years ago, such violence was still a central aspect of "gay" life in urban America.

20 June 2015

Movie Review: Pride

I was totally surprised and very happy by this movie. While I had many LGB and T peers after high school, none were political. I was the only one -- really. So, what I found most refreshing about the movie is that it was different than my experience in adolescence. The actors made it an emotionally suspenseful and gripping movie.

The movie is about the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners movement who that collected over £11,000 for the striking miners in Wales in 1984-1985. The strike was an utter failure for a number of reasons unrelated to LGSM. The result, however, was that the persistent support for the miners helped to alter Labour's relationship with LGBT rights. It powerfully describes the kind of bigotry and violence against LGBTs that we associate today with autocratic African rulers.

The underlying theme in the story is to show the similarity between the struggles of the working class are not so different from the struggles of most LGBTs. As I recall it, Christian conservatives in the US marketed, very successfully, that LGBTs are, on average, better off economically, than their "straight" counterparts using some kind of non-scientific survey that included the notion that a two income earning household without children has more disposable income than a household with children. Then, whenever LGBT political groups pushed for anti-discrimination legal protections, these proposed measures would be characterized as "special rights." But the truth is is that most LGBTs are less well off than their "straight" counterparts -- especially LGBTs of color and Ts in particular.

It seems quite natural that LGBTs (even those not of the working class) have a natural affinity with the working classes. And this movie does a great job of telling how that has worked out in real history.

The star of the movie (although not billed that way) is American actor Ben Schnetzer. He added a little weight for the role and played the kind of political young homo activist that I would have taken home to my mother! He did a great job.

As an afterthought, I ought to mention that the movie is also haunted by then coming AIDS public health disaster. The innocence of LGBT activism in the time of AIDS is when this story took place.

18 June 2015

Movie Review: The Imitation Game

I was late to watch this movie its true. The movie is about Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), an English, gay, autistic Mathematics professor who was hired by the British military and intelligence bureau to crack the encryption process used by Nazi Germany in their military communications. We learn the struggles his unit went through in coming up with the machine that eventually did just that.

Alan Turing was gay and while that didn't appear to be a problem during the War effort, it was a problem in the 1950s. Turing was robbed by a trick he had met. This led the police to investigate the matter further and discover that he was a gay and had had sex with another man. He was prosecuted and his sentence was to take chemicals that interfered with his body's production of hormones. He died not long after that of cyanide poisoning. It was ruled a suicide.

The movie is part tragedy and part hagiography. In the end, Queen Elizabeth did give Turing a posthumous pardon -- only one of two she has granted in her long reign.

16 June 2015

Movie Review: Tell No One

Mattia is an Italian 20something year old who lives in Rome. He is gay but he has not come out to his parents. He has fallen in love with Eduardo who is from Spain. His plan is to tell his parents that he has found work abroad so that he can live with Eduardo. Meanwhile, however, he has told Eduardo that his parents know he is gay, accept him and accept his relationship with Eduardo. Everything works according to plan, until Eduardo shows up in Rome to meet his parents. Then it gets a little bit crazy.

You think they've figured out all the possible coming out stories to make and you get presently surprised by oneThis is a great date night movie and Jose Dammert, who plays Eduardo, is especially pretty. Haha.

14 June 2015

Movie Review: The Last Year

This could have been a great movie. The concept was good but unfortunately there were too many things that the writer did not properly research that made the Christian conservatives and the school administration look like a caricature of themselves -- interfering with the all important suspension of disbelief.

The setting is a rural Bible college. Paul is a student there. His friends Hector is also a student there. And there is a new student named Alex. It's not clear what Paul and Hector's actual relationship was in the previous year but somehow Hector has been outed as a homosexual and in need of curing. Alex arrives on the scene and makes life complicated for Paul.

The movie deals with these issues of gay life in the Bible college, but then it also tries to address clerical sex abuse. Unfortunately the bad guys in the movie are too caricatured to make the part about clerical sex abuse by the college's dean/preacher believable in the story -- even though it's obviously very true much of the time.

12 June 2015

Movie Review: Out In the Line-Up

This is a documentary about gay surfers. And while it's a coming out narrative, it's definitely not Tan Lines or Shelter. Surfing is about freedom, openness and a relationship with nature. And yet, much of surfing today is defined by misogynism, homophobia and faux-tribalism and driven by the need for corporate profits by surf companies.

Like any surf documentary, there are great shots of beach and wave action. The message is a little stream of consciousness and all the documentary documents is that the surf work is dominated by misogynism, homophobia and faux-tribalism.

It's a first step and as the youth of the world come to lift off the yoke of 19th century sexual repression, I suspect that one day too, being out in the line-up won't mean much at all. Worth a watch if you surf.

10 June 2015

Movie Review: Boys (Jongens)

Sieger is a teenage boy that lives with his older brother and widower father. He is practicing for a runner-relay race at school. One of the other four on the relay team is Marc, who is slightly older. The first half of the movie is a well executed cinematic description of ambiguous and hard-to-control feelings of the teenager. Sieger is coming to terms with the fact that he's gay. He fancies Marc and perhaps Marc has signaled feelings back. Either way, the two forge an intense intimacy. At the half-way point, the four boys of the relay team go for a swim at the local pond. The other two boys leave for dinner and Marc encourages Sieger to stay. He leaves but returns where they continue to play in the pool until they end up kissing in the water, holding onto a log -- see movie poster above.

That shifts something enough where the delicate balance of things comes undone and things get intense -- just like adolescence. You sometimes wonder if the notion of a gay identity is really just a grindr-ization of feeling. That everything can neatly be put into boxes and then compared. Boys tells about life against such grindr-ization. It is an explosion of adolescent feeling which is conflicting, overwhelming and ambiguous.

08 June 2015

Movie Review: Last Summer

When I think of rural places in the US, I think of places like Arkansas. But that doesn't really mean anything to me. I've never been there and I really only create a composite image from the range of histories I have read and heard about the US South. Obviously Arkansas is not Mississippi nor is it Alabama.

Last Summer is told through the lens of this composite image I have constructed. It does not attempt to give a didactic account of Southern living and it does not paint a caricature. Rather, it shows rural Arkansas. Homosexuality and homophobia are both hidden, in plain sight. Feelings there but not spoken.

The plot can be summarized fairly easily: Luke and Jonah have been boyfriends and best friends in this rural part of the US. They are enjoying/suffering their last summer together before Jonah goes off to college elsewhere -- while Luke will remain. The musical accompaniment was pretentious but the cinematography was lovely.  If you don't like formal movies, then you should pass on this -- this was a no-budget/low-budget movie after all.

06 June 2015

Movie Review: Love is Strange

Love is Strange is a slice of life type movie that is part comedy and part drama and it stars John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. In short, after 28 years together, Ben and George get married. The marriage was open and public. And that publicity causes George to be fired from his job as a musical teacher at a New York Catholic high school. And his termination undercuts their ability to pay for their co-op apartment. They are forced to sell and they must live apart while they figure out what to do next. Ben stays with his nephew and his nephew's family. George stays with two gay cops that are friends who live in another apartment in same co-op. It is in this setting that we daily life comes under the microscope.

The first truth is that Ben would have been better placed with the two gay cops and George with Ben's nephew and family. Instead, after a day of grueling work, George comes home to the gay couples daily parties and television watching. Ben on the other hand, retired, spends the day being a polite, talkative house guest that gets on his nephew's wife's nerves. The separation strains everything about these men and their identities. After being together for 29 years, the strain begins to unravel their identity as a unit.

This slice of life and character study movie is definitely worth the watch because love is strange.

04 June 2015

Movie Review: Triple Crossed

TLA releasing movies can be hit or miss especially when it has a psychological thriller component made in the USA. Nevertheless, Triple Crossed surprised. The narrative wasn't too complex and the actors did a decent job -- at least the two main male actors. The surprise at the end bumped this up from a two to a three. In short: Chris returns from combat duty in the Middle East. He is hired by a platoonmate's sister to kill his platoonmate's lover -- who has inherited his platoonmate's share in the family business. But then he falls in love -- or so it seems.

At the beginning it did a good job demonstrating/portraying the problems of combat veterans suffering from PTSD and unable to adjust back into civilian life. Unfortunately, after a scene with erotic massage as a way to calming anxiety, the whole theme is dropped.

I'd put this on the same level as watching an episode of the television program Law and Order. The ending was surprising and I'm glad that got dropped in because otherwise I wouldn't have written a review at all.

17 May 2015

Movie Review: Lilting

Death is the great mystery of life. Denial is its most favored remedy. Lilting traces the curvature of the pain and grief that an untimely or an unexpected death provides. We've got the husband and the mother. Both are in tremendous pain, grieving yet unable to grieve. The mother, who is a Cambodian Chinese immigrant, makes contact with her dead son's "roommate" to come to understand her son's life. It a strange way, it seems that the only way that she can grieve and make peace with her son's death is to force herself to accept the fact that that he is dead.

It reminds me of this journal article I read years ago where the psychologist somehow used Lacan to adapt Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of loss and grieving to the loss of a projection -- such as a parent believing their child is heterosexual when in fact they are not. It was a read that I apparently noted for something to remember. But in this movie, the mother is using the opposite approach. Using the acceptance of her son's homosexuality as a way to accept his death.

16 May 2015

Movie Review: Vito

I was once asked by nun if I felt I had been born a little late -- if I felt I had been born a decade (or a few) late. As the sassy, precocious adolescent I was, I told her no -- I was needed in my own time to deal with the problems of now. But of course, when I watch movies like Vito, I wonder about her question.

Vito is really the story of the American gay movement -- its passion, its revolutionary sparks, and AIDS. It is difficult to believe that anyone can really understand the history of modern global LGBT movements without having a firm understanding of what this period looked like. Vito does a great job of telling this story and does it through one of its most well-known leaders, Vito Russo.

It is history, biography and hagiography. Its method of storytelling has the same effect as a hagiography or a passio. It inspires one to imitate the martyr, the saint. And it does so not in a limited gay men's rights sort of way, but is inspirational to activists of any progressive stripe.

10 May 2015

Be Worried, Be Very Worried

Prasertsri Kosin

The brouhaha over the not-so-anonymous posting of Prasertsri Kosin (known online as Koko) on the internet making highly offensive and derogatory remarks about Filipinos should leave anyone who believes in creativity or the freedom of expression worried.

As has been reported, the Bureau of Immigration has commenced an investigation into whether Kosin should be deported from the country. I believe the inquiry is being characterized as whether he has broken any laws for which deportation is warranted. In theory, deportation is warranted against an alien when the alien has violated immigration laws. And there are some broad categories upon which an alien may be deported:

1. The alien entered the country with false or misleading statements or entered without inspection and admission by the Bureau.
2. The alien was not lawfully admissible to the country at the time of entry.
3. The alien is convicted by a Philippine court for a term of one year or more involving moral turpitude.
4. The alien is convicted and sentenced for violating drug laws.
5. The alien is a prostitute or connected with prostitution.
6. The alien becomes a public charge for reasons existing after entry.
7. The alien has violated the limitations/conditions of his non-immigrant admission.

8. The alien advocates, advises or teaches the overthrow by force and violence of the Government of the Philippines, is an anarchist, who advises, advocates or teaches the unlawful destruction of property, or who is connected with any organization that entertains or advocates the above positions.
9. The alien violates or evades immigration laws or assists another in violating or evading immigration laws.
10. The alien violate the alien registration act. 
11. The alien engages in profiteering, hoarding, or black marketing irrespective of whether criminal charges are brought.
12. The alien is convicted of an offense prohibited by the naturalization law.
13. The alien defrauds his creditors by absconding or alienating property to avoid court process.

As you can see, offending people through the use of national caricature is not on this list. And why would it be? With the exception of No. 8, each of these justifications for deportation do not reach the expression of an alien but rather conduct that is already unlawful or that seeks to deter avoidance or evasion of immigration laws. In fact, general commission of crime is not a grounds for deportation under C.A. No. 613, "The Philippine Immigration Act of 1940". Only crimes involving moral turpitude that obtain a sentence of one year or more of confinement are grounds for removal and deportation.

Nevertheless, the Bureau of Immigration through custom has seemingly acquired an unwritten power to deem an alien undesirable and to remove and deport them. There are no standards for what constitutes undesirability -- with the consequence being that the bureau has unfettered power to decide which aliens can remain in the country.

So as the written law does not allow for the Bureau of Immigration to remove and deport this individual, perhaps we should ask ourselves, should the Bureau have the power to do this? (This will just side-step important policy questions such as: Should the Bureau of Immigration be spending its limited resources on policing Facebook and the internet generally instead of preventing convicted criminals and fugitives from entering and living openly in the country?)

Philippine caselaw is replete with cases of the U.S. colonial government persecuting individuals for criticizing government officials. Consider cases like People v. Perez, 45 Phil. 599 (1938) where when faced with a clear confrontation with the right of free speech, the Philippine Supreme Court took it upon itself to find a different crime upon which the justify the conviction.

There are a whole series of recent attempts to chill or stifle the freedom of expression in this country. The government, in cooperation with the Catholic Bishops, persecuting Carlos Celdran's protest for the RH bill under an medieval "offending religious sensibilities" crime. Journalists are routinely harassed and subjected to defamation suits. This wholly fascist piece of law was extended recently in the so-called Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 extending defamation to a twelve year jail sentence if done online. It was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court. The martial law era MTRCB still exists and continues to act as government censor of movies and television.

If the constitutional protection of freedom of expression means anything, it means that objective legal tests must be used by the courts to strike down government action that infringes on this fundamental human right. It also means that the courts may not allow themselves to further unconstitutional actions by the government.

Content Based Regulation

When the government seeks to regulate expression based upon its content (the communicative impact of the expression), it must have a compelling government interest and the means of regulating the expression must be necessary and narrowly tailored to meet the compelling interest and no more. For example, it is said that society has a compelling interest in protecting children from exploitation by child pornography. Prohibiting production or possession of child pornography is a narrowly tailored method of addressing the compelling interest of preventing exploitation by child pornography. Prohibiting production or possession of all pornography would be overbroad -- and invalid -- under this rule.

Content Neutral Regulation

When the government seeks to regulate expression without regard to its content, it must have a significant governmental interest, the regulation must be narrowly tailored to serve the government interest and the government must leave open alternative means for communicating the information. For example, if a group seeks to conduct a politically themed parade down EDSA, the government may require a permit be obtained and create certain requirements for obtaining the permit that relate to the public safety and traffic control -- both significant government interests. However, under this rule, the government could not deny a permit because they do not agree with the messages to be shouted in the parade.

If we assume that the Bureau of Immigration can detain and deport an alien unilaterally, such as Kosin, for writing offensive and inflammatory messages on a publicly accessible internet site such as Facebook, we must ask ourselves, what is the compelling government interest (if its content based regulation) or what is the significant government interest (if its content neutral). The case has not been made. Preventing people from being offending is not a compelling or significant government interest.

Now, let's look at my other examples. The case of Carlos Celdran is clear -- the government has no compelling government interest in regulating what he said. The crime he was convicted of was content based, it was based on what he said. Had they charged with him tumult or simple trespass, that would have avoided the issue of content based regulation. Instead, they charged and convicted him based on the content of his message. There is no compelling government interest and so his conviction should be vacated by the Supreme Court on those grounds. (There are others also in that the application of penal law to protecting religious sensibilities both entwines government with religion prohibited by the non-establishment of religion provision and also could impair the free exercise of religion provision.)

With respect to penal laws against defamation, the rule that the freedom of expression prohibits a public figure from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood unless he proves that the statement was made with the knowledge that the statement was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false. This is an alternative phrasing of the content based regulation rule. In other words, using the courts to obtain a money judgment through defamation is content based regulation. The only compelling government interest in preventing defamation is (1) when false statements are published against a public figure knowing that the statements are false or recklessly disregarding whether the statements are true or (2) when false statements are published against a private figure negligently. Defamation actions can only be sustained when the actions are brought to vindicate those very narrow windows of exceptions. That means that investigative reporting seeking to review the sexuality of Piolo Pascual would never be subject to a defamation suit. And if someone like Lolit Solis were to publish statements about a showbiz actor's sexuality, truth would be a defense because defamation actions can only be brought to remedy falsehoods that are known or recklessly published without regarding to their truth. Speaking the truth cannot be curtailed through defamation because there is never a compelling government interest in preventing people from knowing the truth.

In regulating broadcast television accessible over the public airwaves, the government generally asserts that it has a compelling government interest in preventing children from observing indecency. The MTCRB system, with respect to television, may be a narrowly tailored method of prevent children from observing indecency. However, the censoring and control of the content of movies under the MTCRB system does not stem from the same compelling government interest. Unlike the public airwaves of broadcast television, movies are produced and distributed primarily through threaters and video sales -- although some movies do end up on Saturday television. The rating system of the MTCRB (and the more often experience of directors changing the content of their films to qualify for a more expansive/inclusive rating) is undoubtedly a prior restraint on the director and violations the requirements for Content Based Regulation. There are less intrusive methods of preventing children from observing indecency in movies than to directly censor movies. Narrowly drawn regulations of movies theaters and distribution of video can achieve those goals without interfering with adults ability to choose to view movies that might otherwise be indecent. It is because a movie theater does not have a captive audience the way a broadcast television station using the public airwaves does that television and movies cannot be regulated the same further. (And just in case you were wondering, cable television could not and should not be subject to the same regulation as broadcast television since cable television has the technological means of preventing indecency being seen by children and people have to opt into cable television by buying a subscription.)

Now, let's briefly get back to this unwritten power of the Bureau of Immigration to deem someone undesirable and deport them. This unwritten power that appears to lack any standards (and be different from the standards set out in statute) violates the protection of freedom of expression and to due process as being vague. Due process requires that someone be given fair notice of what conduct is prohibited. In the realm of free expression, a regulation is vague when one does not know precisely what is prohibited and ends up having a chilling effect on expression. Sometimes its impossible to determine what the compelling government interest is in a vague regulation and will always fail the "narrowly tailored" requirement since it is impossible to know what is being regulated. Vagueness is such a danger to freedom of expression because it empowers government actors with unfettered discretion to make determinations about content which can only occur when a compelling government interest is present.

I'm sorry for such a long and windy entry about this issue. The Bureau of Immigrations detention and possibly deportation of Kosin, however, cannot be justified in view of the limitations it has regarding the freedom of expression. It's targeting of Kosin is content based regulation. It has failed to demonstrate a compelling government interest (especially since he has been convicted of no crime and it doesn't appear that he otherwise falls under the justifications for deportation) and therefore deportation is not narrowly tailored to meet this non-existent government interest.

Everyone who believes in creativity and the freedom of expression should be worried. The use of government power to pick and choose whose ideas may be legitimate and punishing those whose ideas have been deemed illegitimate has a chilling effect on all of us. It distorts the landscape of ideas and prevents, by degree, the ability to come to know the truth at all. Expression should not be permitted based on the popularity of its content. It is only in being secure in our beliefs in the face of difference do we really encounter the touchstone of our truth.

22 February 2015

Movie Review: To Russia with Love

Because Johnny Weir headlines this documentary, I was somewhat suspicious that this was a marketing piece for Johnny Weir, who was a sports commentator for NBC at the Sochi Winter Olympics.  Leading up to the Olympics, Russia passed a law prohibiting the communicating of anything LGBT called an 'anti-propoganda' law. Various LGBT movements around the world responded by demanding a boycott of Russian (and at first Eastern European) products and a boycott of the Olympics. Johnny Weir as a Russophile/Sovietphile called those LGBT activists "idiots."

The short of it is is that Russia is presently a fascist-imperialist state that has used LGBT people as the Othered common enemy (hence the "anti-propaganda law"). The official fascist line is that the economic problems of Russia are not incompetent cronyism of Putin and his inner circle, it's LGBT people infecting the youth with subversion. This translates in the remote and rural areas of the provinces, as one Russian activist from Sochi, who was followed by the documentary explains, being attacked by Nazis on the way home every day and then blamed for it by the principal of his high school.

So Johnny Weir is one thread, the youth is another. This youth meets Billy Jean King -- who US President Obama had appointed to lead the US Olympic delegation. She is so moved and it was so unexpected that her handlers had to "move her along."

One other thread is a Russian athlete who holds the "Open Games" in Moscow. He tours North America and Europe drumming up support. After the Sochi threads, we turn to Moscow where the police harass the Open Games activities except for table tennis and the events attended by US Olympic medalist Gregg Louganis.

In the end, the Sochi youth makes it to New York City and meets Bill Jean King again who promises to help him by sending him to school in the US. The movie ends with him boarding a bus to California and it cuts to a black out and it says he will seek asylum.

19 February 2015

Happy Lunar New Year! Tashi Delek

May a rich timely rain of the nectar of auspicious blessings shower upon you hundreds of times,

Enlivening the leaves and petals of your longevity, merit, glory, and wealth, which sprout from the seeds of virtuous acts, source of happiness and excellence.

May magnificent fruit—spiritual experience and realization—ripen as a spontaneously appearing crop that fulfills your and others’ well-being.

16 February 2015

Book Review: Queer Compulsions

Amy Sueyoshi is associate Dean in the College of Ethic Studies and an American associate professor jointly appointed in race and residence studies and sexuality studies at San Francisco State University.

I have to admit that I had a vague remembrance of the name Isamu Noguchi, the creator of the Noguchi table. But I had never heard of Yonejiro Noguchi (pictured right).

Yone Noguchi, was the father of Isamu Noguchi. He was also a turn of the twentieth century Japanese and American poet. He is apparently well studied in some Japanese and American academic circles and has been consistently considered heterosexual.

But as it turns out, he was far from it. Before he was straight, he was gay. He moved to the US when he was young and he mingled through out the bohemian scene where he came into his own sexuality. And what was that? Gay love with older white men.

But as he grew older and more famous and Japan began its imperial aggression in Asia, there appears to be some shift in Yone which led to him impregnating Isamu's mother and getting engaged to a Southern aristocrat. But as his most intimate male friend predicted, if he returned to Japan, he would be forgotten.

In the end, Yone was mostly forgotten in the bigger circles of poetry and literature. But what I found most interesting about Yone's story was the life story of his passions and emotions and the historical circumstances within which they were felt. And I'll put it on the record, it really must have sucked to be poor, not white, homo in American in the early twentieth century.

The version I read was a 232 page cloth published by University of Hawaii Press on March 31, 2012. ISBN: 978-0824834975. Lowest price seems to be abebooks.com and amazon.com