Tag Archives: LGBTQ+ films

Fantasy V Reality

The Latent Image

by Christie Robb

When thriller author Ben rents a remote, isolated cabin so he can get away and focus on writing his latest manuscript, his writing time is interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious stranger. Fascinated and a little attracted to the tall, dark, and brutally handsome man, Ben begins collaborating with him on the plot. Really trying to get in the head of the villain. Trying to figure out how he might get away with murder. Eventually, the lines between fantasy and reality start to blur.

Director Alexander McGregor Birrell, in collaboration with co-writer Joshua Tonks (who also plays Ben), creates an unnerving tale based on his 2019 short of the same name.  At the start, the movie drags at bit, but once it gets going, this new Latent Image keeps the audience guessing all the way until the end. It’s a movie of creeping unease rather than jump scares or gore.

The evolving relationship between Ben and “the Man” is the heart of the film. Jay Clift’s performance as the Man is unsettling in all the best ways. Tonks and Clift are both theatre performers, so you might assume that they would skew into the more broad style of acting that plays well even to the cheap seats in the back. But, except for the very occasional misstep, they really deliver on the subtleties necessitated by film.

If you are planning on a cabin trip this spooky season, consider adding this one to your watch list. Just make sure to lock the doors and windows at night and try to avoid any drifters.

Unmasked

Makeup

by Tori Hanes

The financial-turned-emotional bond of two people joined by the matrimony of a shared lease – who couldn’t relate? Following the individual yet interlacing lives of food critic Sasha (Hugo Andre, who also directs) and trans woman at the start of her transition Dan (Will Masheter), Makeup attempts to connect the struggles and secrets under the shared roof.

Makeup is ambitious in its interest. The arguable protagonist, Dan, is a closeted trans woman moving through a world laden with toxic masculinity, which she outwardly embraced and embodied. Dan’s identity is found out, but neither explored nor accepted, leading to prickling social pain points. However, Makeup fails to fully dig into the meaning of these moments.

After being outed and then fired, for example, Dan’s grieving is stripped to a few moments of heavy breathing accompanied by a shaky camera. This seems to be the pattern: the ball is tossed and volleyed, waiting to be spiked into true emotion, but we never quite see that deeper understanding. While Masheter delivers a multifaceted performance, he never gets the opportunity to show us Dan’s longing. 

The film is, for all intents and purposes, Dan’s. Sasha often seems to be a secondary thought, necessary for moving Dan’s larger beats. But as we steer into the meat, it becomes obvious Sasha and Dan’s relationship is supposed to be the major thread; the veins leading to the film’s heart.

But the unevenness makes itself apparent: one character struggles in a world created by bigotry while the other has an unnamed ailment affecting his hand. Andre’s performance implies something more interesting and important lies just out of view. Unfortunately, it stays out of sight indefinitely, leading to an unbalanced chemistry and soul.

Representation is an ever-important conversation spanning media, and films highlighting trans women aid in this continued journey. However, while its heart is in the right place, Makeup’s story winds up short despite its best effort.

In the Trenches

The First Fallen

by Rachel Willis

Writer/director Rodrigo de Oliveira shapes a not-so-subtle soldier metaphor for the first victims of the AIDS crisis in his film, The First Fallen.

The film follows biologist Suzano (Johnny Massaro), and his band of friends and family as he navigates the frontlines of a war waged within his body.

The first half of the film is less engaging than the more personal second half. Though we meet several characters over the course of the first hour or so, no one really has much depth – that comes later. Suzano has been away in Paris but has returned to his sister Muriel (Clara Choveaux) and her son Muriel (Alex Bonin) to reconnect. His friend Rose (a transcendent Renata Carvalho) has not only been turned away from the hospital where she seeks care, but they have misgendered her – the indignities of which lend the film its most powerful scene.  

Most of the first act is concentrated around boisterous NYE celebrations, ringing in the year 1983. Rose performs for the celebrants at a gay club; Maura and Muriel attend a party. Suzano spends his evening alone.

There is a downheartedness that follows both Suzano and Rose, but it isn’t until the end of the first half that we get confirmation of what causes their sorrow.  

A sarcoma on Suzano’s neck is our first hint that several of these characters have fallen victim to the devastating AIDS epidemic. De Oliveira doesn’t spend time catching up those who might not know the history of AIDS and its startling explosion onto the scene in the early 80s, particularly in the gay community. At the time of the film’s events, the medical world didn’t even know the cause of AIDS (HIV would be identified in May of 1983), let alone how to treat it.

Seeking to document how the disease ravages his body, Suzano isolates himself, along with Rose and another afflicted man, Humberto (Victor Camilo). This is where the film excels. We’re privy to an experience not many have witnessed, particularly at a time when fear of the unknown isolated those who suffered most. How Rose, Humberto, and Suzano deal with their illness is at times touching and other times heartbreaking. The film’s home video approach lends authenticity to the experience.

The soldier metaphor is apt. For the first victims of the AIDS epidemic, many became numbers, dehumanized to understand what plagued them. De Oliveria wants us to remember those who fell.

And the Tissue Goes To

Spoiler Alert

by Hope Madden

In 2017, Michael Showalter directed the best romantic comedy of the modern age, The Big Sick. So, even though the majority of his filmography feels like a near miss – The Eyes of Tammy Faye, The Lovebirds, Hello My Name Is Doris – whatever he delivers, I want to open. Even an avowed tear-jerker, even the same week I see The Whale. I loved The Big Sick so much, I gladly signed up for two public displays of bawling.

And yet…

Spoiler Alert is Michael Ausiello’s (Jim Parsons) true tale of romance, loss and sitcom love. A TV Guide writer, Michael tended to look back on his tragic childhood as if it were an 80s sitcom, replete with life lessons and a laugh track.

Showalter stages these moments like they are right out of Gimme a Break or any of that era’s centrally located couch-and-hijinks programs. They stand out, not because they’re clever or funny, but because they don’t fit in a film that is otherwise a tender if traditionally structured tragedy.

The socially awkward Ausiello meets and quickly falls for gorgeous, fun-loving Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge). This ushers us into the sweet and odd moments (Ausiello has an extreme Smurf collection) that mark the couple’s development.

Showalter works from Dan Savage and David Marshall Grant’s adaptation of Ausiello’s book. The writers have primarily done TV – a medium clearly suited to Parsons. And here’s where the film really stumbles. Spoiler Alert is, of course, not a TV show and only feels like a TV show on occasions that pull you out of an emotional moment. Rather than creating a narrative thread or even an interesting gimmick, the TV angle distracts – sometimes quite frustratingly – from what otherwise feels like a very honest and necessary look at love.

Showalter alum and all-American gem Sally Field brings needed authenticity to the film, and Aldridge often excels as the hot Oscar to Parsons’s Felix. Plus, the sometimes frank sexuality is more than welcome.

But none of it fits. The framework – Ausiello delivering his life story as if he’s recounting a favorite TV show – is distracting at best. It robs the film of its passion and guarantees the feeling of inauthenticity. It has its moments, but it never delivers any honest laughter or tears.