Tag Archives: LGBTQ movies

What’s In a Name?

Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker

by Hope Madden

Maybe you don’t know who David Wojnarowicz is. Maybe you have no idea how to pronounce his name. It might be safer to butcher the provocative late artist’s last name (voy-nah-ROYH-vitch) than to read the title of director Chris McKim’s documentary aloud—Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker.

It doesn’t really matter what you call it as long as you see it.

The film primarily uses Wojnarowicz’s own recordings, photos and paintings to let him tell his story. A profound influence on New York’s art scene in the 1980s and into the ‘90s, the multimedia artist’s work delivered among the earliest and most startling images of queer art in the city.

McKim had a lot to work with. Wojnarowicz made hundreds of audio cassettes, recording his thoughts in a sometimes wounded monotone. The stream of conscious monologues often dip into the outright poetic and create a poignant soundtrack for the life and work on display.

The documentarian does enlist some additional voices, including friend Fran Lebowitz and frequent collaborator Marion Schemama, but relies mainly on Wojnarowicz’s own visuals to create the sense of isolation, alienation and anger that fueled much of his work.

Wojnarowicz and his work, as well as his death, became a focal point of the mishandled AIDS epidemic that scars the politics and history of the 1980s.

In much the way Wojnarowicz’s work reflected his hellish upbringing and time on the streets, McKim’s film contextualizes the artist among that which he influenced: a city, a movement, a scene, politics, and other artists.

As is crucial in a doc about a visual artist, the screen is routinely filled to brimming with Wojnarowicz’s creations. Powerful, inflammatory, sexually explicit and unmistakably challenging, the work itself looms large in the documentary as if to ensure that it reaches out to as many as possible who forgot, never knew, or may have been kept from it.

Lady in Waiting

The World to Come

by Hope Madden

Valentine’s Day approaches. If you’re looking for a swoon-worthy way to spend it, and you’re willing to risk a public screening, The World to Come may be the date you want to make.

Abigail (Katherine Waterston) and Dyer (Casey Affleck) share a colorless if efficient bond. It may have been slightly more than that a year ago, before their toddler passed. Now Dyer keeps a ledger of expenses and of crop yields while, at his request, his wife writes down what other facts may be forgotten each season.

Facts. Nothing more.

When Abigail meets new neighbor Tallie (Vanessa Kirby, having one hell of a year), facts lose their appeal.

The World to Come is directed with lilting melancholy by Mona Fastvold. She works from a script by Ron Hansen (co-written with Ben Shepard from his short story). The writing boasts the same time stamp and peculiarly observational style as Hansen’s 2007 treasure, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Fastvold’s measured approach and the understated delivery from both Waterson and Affleck suit the writing, but they also require patience from the viewer.

This restraint is punctuated by the barely stifled rage of Christopher Abbott (nice to see you) as Tallie’s husband Finney. His energy stands in fierce conflict with the reserve shown by his neighbors, with only Tallie’s unfettered nature to balance things.

Fastvold films Kirby as if she glows from within, a beautiful depiction of both the promise of love and the light she brings to Abigail’s life. Waterston allows Abigail to blossom in that light, and the warmth the two share is sincere and lovely.

Affleck impresses, again, with a performance of resigned grief that sneaks up on you, but it is Waterston who owns the film. At first unsure but willing to wonder, her Abigail embraces the full burst of emotion that she’d never known, and then must wrangle the sizes of the emotions that follow. It’s a fierce performance—maybe Waterson’s best.

Fastvold’s film calls to mind Céline Sciamma’s 2019 masterpiece Portrait of a Lady on Fire. (Indie horror buffs will also be reminded of 2018’s The Wind, for different reasons.) The World to Come measures suffering—particularly that done quietly and expectedly by women—against what pleasures can be stolen in this world.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Dating Amber

by Hope Madden

Awkward teens pretend to date each other to sidestep the school bullies, only to find a deep and genuine bond. That sounds pat enough, but writer/director David Freyne (The Cured) and a stunning cast have something far messier and human in mind.

Welcome to County Kildare in the mid Nineties. Divorce is still illegal, homosexuality a curse, the Irish army or the hair salon are the likeliest post-graduation vocations. As Amber (Lola Petticrew) says frequently, “This place will kill you.”

Amber should know. She found her father hanging in the forest near the trailer court where she rents out spots to horny teens, which she does to accrue enough dough to head to London the minute she graduates.

But to survive between now and then, she proposes the “let’s pretend we’re dating” con to Eddie (a remarkable Fionn O’Shea). Because Amber is gay. Gay gay gay. And so is Eddie.

No. No, he definitely is not gay. Not at all. But still…it isn’t a terrible idea.

So begins Freyne’s semi-satirical look at the perils of high school generally and sexual conformity specifically. There are delightful, early, broad-stroke comic moments that simply feel like a cheeky Irish upending of John Hughes tropes.

But that’s not Dating Amber. Not at all. The brightly familiar comedy trappings serve to lull you into a comfortable space so the film can unveil something beautifully untidy and really heartbreaking, something simultaneously devastating and resilient.

Freyne mixes darkness and forgiveness in equal measure. Everyone has their own shit to deal with, and an depressed small town full of frightened people lacking in any real opportunity or choice is bound to take its toll—on the gay kids, on the parents who probably don’t want to be married anymore, on the younger brother who just wants to feel like his family is normal, and on everyone facing graduation and whatever likely dismal future lies ahead.

But mainly, Freyne is interested in how Amber and Eddie contend with things. Luckily, Petticrew and O’Shea share a truly lovely chemistry, creating the kind of bond you long to see for every desperate and lonely teenager.

Their honesty gives every scene an extra punch—of laughter or heartbreak. Coming of age still looks like it seriously sucks, but Dating Amber is a keeper.

Bold Patterns


by Hope Madden

How many films, horror or otherwise, open as a moving van leaves a fresh faced family unpacking in their new dream home? Kurtis David Harder and his new Shudder thriller Spiral welcome you to the neighborhood.

What feels like your typical suburban paranoia film, this time given a fresh coat of paint with the introduction of a same-sex couple at its center, turns out to be something else entirely.

Even as Malik (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Aaron (Ari Cohen) try to convince Aaron’s teenaged daughter Kayla (Jennifer Laporte) that she really won’t miss the big city, Malik is seeing some things around the cul-de-sac that worry him.

But Aaron isn’t ready to believe the neighbors are homophobes (or racists, for that matter, even if Tiffany across the street assumed Malik was the gardener).

Spiral quickly falls into a very familiar pattern. Malik, who works at home as a writer, begins to let his research get the better of him. Writer’s block has him paranoid—or maybe there’s a trauma in his past that’s to blame? Is he really seeing something strange in his neighbors’ windows? Is Aaron right, did he go overboard with that new home security system?

It sounds familiar—so much so that the film sometimes just figures your brain will fill in blanks left open.  And while Spiral’s internal logic is never air tight, screenwriters Colin Minihan (It Stains the Sands Red, What Keeps You Alive) and John Poliquin are more interested in bigger patterns. Their social allegory doesn’t achieve the breathless thrills of Get Out, but Spiral swims similar waters.

The filmmakers see patterns in political hatred and the continuing reaffirmation of the status quo, and those patterns are horrifying. While horror has always been an opportunity for the collective unconscious to deal with social anxiety in a safely distant way, Spiral is less interested in creating that comforting fictional buffer. It’s as if the filmmakers want you to see the holes in their plot so you’re more able to see the nonfiction it’s based on.

Man of Your Dreams

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street

by Hope Madden

“It was intended to play as homophobic rather than homoerotic.”

So says David Chaskin, writer of 1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge—a film many consider to be the gayest horror movie ever made. Chaskin has long shared the belief that it was the casting of Mark Patton in the lead role, the “final boy,” that pushed the envelope from homophobic to homoerotic.

Chaskin is right.

Thank God for casting.

The mid-Eighties hardly needed another homophobic movie, or another AIDS-terrified horror flick. Did it need the story of an adolescent boy whose homosexual nature emerges as some monstrous id, only to be cured by the love of a good woman? No, but if you just don’t watch the last ten minutes of the film, Nightmare 2 is a bizarre and glorious B-movie coming out party.

Again, thanks to Mark Patton.

Patton is the center of the Shudder documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street. He also produces, which means he gives the footage his OK, leading to a film that comes off as self-congratulatory and self-indulgent more often than it should. But there is no denying Patton’s life has been fascinating.

Patton’s a charming, charismatic vehicle for the doc and the insight he offers into burgeoning stardom, closeted Hollywood and the Eighties is riveting. He’d lived quite a life before his first feature lead likely ended his career—but what he survived outside Elm Street was certainly tougher.

So much so that Patton’s particular anxiety about how this film affected him and his career sometimes feels misplaced. But watching how his perception of the “gay controversy” has evolved and what that evolution has allowed him to do within the gay community is delightful.

Of course, equally fascinating for horror fans is the debate as to who did and did not realize how profoundly gay Nightmare 2 was. Patton’s co-stars—Robert Englund (Freddy himself) comes off especially well—each add to the conversation in entertaining ways, though director Jack Sholder should maybe stop talking.

First time filmmakers Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen seem unsure of their real aim: to tell Mark’s story, to help Mark find closure, to deconstruct the film’s subtext, to explore its lasting meaning for the LGBTQ community. Because of their meandering focus, Scream, Queen feels longer than it needs to be.

Lucky for the filmmakers, every one of those topics makes for an intriguing investigation, and watching Patton triumphantly recreate his iconic (and likely career-ending) dance scene is sheer joy.  

Wait—Camping Is Dangerous?


by Hope Madden

Here’s the thing about Feral. It’s a decent movie: well-paced, competently directed, solidly performed. And there is not a single interesting, novel, surprising or inspired moment in it.

Maybe one, but it’s not reason enough to make this movie.

Three handsome couples head into the woods. They get a little lost, decide to pitch tents and find the lake in the morning.

They hear a noise.

One of them goes out to pee.

There’s something dangerous in the woods.


Co-writer/director Mark Young follows up half a dozen low budget, middling-to-poor horror and action films with this adequate take on a monster-in-the-woods tale.

The sole reason the film stands out in any way is that Young’s hero, Alice (Scout Taylor-Compton) is a lesbian. Equally refreshing, males are as likely as females to fall prey to the hungry forest beast.

Bravo the nonchalance with which this is depicted, as the film does not strain to call attention to the novelty of this final girl and hero twist.

Yes, it’s about time. And yet, maybe Feral needed at least one other thing to set it apart? Because as it is, it’s simply a checklist of cabin-in-the-woods horror tropes, faithfully rendered, right up to the waning moments of its running time.

Taylor-Compton offers a perfectly serviceable performance, as do most of the actors around her. Olivia Luccardi, Renee Olstead and Landry Allbright all work to provide something close to a second dimension to underwritten, throwaway characters.

Lew Temple is an always welcome sight as the—wait for it—hermit whose assistance in this situation is suspect.

Together, cast and director generate scares by relying less on imagination and more on your familiarity with the genre itself. Therefore, assuming you have ever seen a horror movie in your life, you will not be scared.

You’ll just be reminded for the thousandth time that camping is an undeniably stupid thing to do. That’s what I got out of it, anyway.

An Artist’s Life

Tom of Finland

by Hope Madden

Leathermen, homoeroticism, beefcake—three things you should not expect from the film Tom of Finland.

This biopic, often gorgeously shot with a painterly eye that mirrors the talent of the protagonist, examines the repression and fighting spirit that mark the life of artist Touko Laaksonen (Pekka Strang).

Still, there is something lacking: the energy, the bravery and the daring sexuality of the art of Laaksonen—later known as Tom of Finland.

The hushed restraint of director Dome Karukoski’s film suits its opening act as Laaksonen, a WWII lieutenant in the Finnish army, struggles against the dangers of his homosexuality. Beginning early in the film, Strang portrays a self-defined, quietly defiant figure—never reckless, but unafraid to take chances.

A strong ensemble surrounds Strang. Jessica Grabowsky and Lauri Tilkanen are particularly memorable as the artist’s sister and lover, respectively.

He finds peace and some degree of identity through his drawings—sketches of hyper-masculine men. This treatment—this particular art as a lifeline into Laaksonen’s bleak, solitary existence inside a violently repressive Finnish culture—is echoed later in the film as the art finds a grateful and receptive audience around the globe.

Unfortunately, this is where Karukoski’s presentation loses footing. There are moments where you almost feel the joy and power in this leather-clad image of defiance that Tom of Finland’s characters became, but that tonal shift gets the better of Karukoski.

Though the film touches on powerful themes of identity, art as salvation, even porn as politics, Karukoski’s reserved approach robs the film of the very vibrancy—not to mention subversive vision—of the artist’s work.

Tom of Finland is a solid, finely acted tribute to an man whose bold artistry—self-preserving though it may have been—made him a cultural icon. It just could have used a little more of his fire.