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.