Retro-mad review briefly: “A Girl Thing” (US, 2001, TV movie)

There are just so many things wrong with this film, despite the positive reviews from the American media – admittedly from the gay media – but the one thing I’ve realized is gay media will lap up any TV show or film about GLBT people for as long as it portrays GLBT people. Never mind that it is mediocre, or just plain awful, it’s the visibility that matters. Well, I don’t agree with that mindset, and if I find mediocrity in any show or film featuring GLBT people, I would be ruthless.

I came across “A Girl Thing” whilst bored and surfing the internet for more lesbian or lesbian-themed films I can forcefeed down my unsuspecting readers (^^) and saw this one. Like I am wont to do, I surf other sites to see what they thought of it (not because I have no mind of my own, but because I don’t want to waste my time on crappy films). There were positive reviews on this one. Besides, it has a supermodel (Elle McPherson), Steven Spielberg’s wife (Kate Capshaw) and Stockard Channing. What could go wrong, right? Supermodels were a rite of passage for me – while other young girls were busy acclimating to their assigned gender and heterosexual roles, I was busy oggling Cindy Crawford covers on Cosmopolitan (this was before they were franchised and started showing Filipino models instead). This is thus an excuse to show my favorite Supermodel music video of all time, George Michael’s “Freedom 90”:

Anyway,as I mentioned, since there were positive reviews I happily sat down bereft of a sense of foreboding or fear that it would suck. Boy, was I wrong. Sitting through this drive is more excruciating than a root canal. In fact, a root canal might actually be better than this.

The story:

The story opens with hotshot lawyer Lauren Travis (Australian supermodel-turned-actress Elle McPherson, who, clearly having not learned her lesson when she starred in one of the Batman movies, tries her luck again in another movie. Word to Elle: Give up, mate!) going to her therapist, Dr. Beth Noonan (the always awesome Stockard Channing) to process a lesbian experience she has with another woman. The woman in question is Casey Montgomery (Kate Capshaw), an equally successful exec that Lauren meets during a double date. At the end of the night, they find themselves more interested in each other than the bad dates they both end up with, ending up exchanging phone numbers instead. Naturally they call each other, bond, end up having dinner by themselves, culminating in the climactic seduction/love scene, followed by the processing (mostly on Lauren’s part, who is confused by her feelings), the requisite squirm-worthy anti-lesbian things happening (gossip around the office, friends abandoning her, job a bit on the line) and the parting of ways at the end of the story.

See, I have no problem with TV shows, TV movies (this is one of those) or movies tackling post-millenial gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered experience. Changing definitions and ideas of what it means to be gay is well and good, and I am always for open, healthy discourse about this. This film raises issues as, is homosexuality a choice, a lifestyle or something you are born with? Is sexuality fluid? Age-old discussions amongst GLBT circles, I know, but as the world becomes more and more open (and paradoxically more reactionary in the process, as the California Supreme Court shows in its decision to uphold Prop. 8), such discussion helps explore the tricky waters that is sexuality.

Except – watching this was a bit awkward for me, and the dialogue and acting is a bit wooden, excruciating, the plot points grimace-inducing.First of all, it is hard for me to suspend disbelief and be convinced that Elle McPherson and Kate Capshaw are lesbians (or bisexuals, for that matter). Elle McPherson is nothing other than Elle McPherson playing Elle McPherson trying to pull off being a person suddenly interested in a woman. Ditto for Kate Capshaw. The love scenes go on more than is necessary and I had to stay awake during most of it. It was uninspired and trite. Like the acting. I can diss L-Word’s storyline all I want, but that TV show never failed to induce a variety of emotions from me – primarily surprise. Because that show, for all its faults, surprises with the acting and range of its actors.

Another thing is the irrational behavior Travis’ bestfriend, played by Kelly Rowan (from The O.C. – the MILF who introduced me to the word “MILF”) suddenly displays. Yes, being gay can induce many kinds of reactions from homophobes, but Rowan’s character’s reaction – bordering on irrational hysteria and hatred, is puzzling. What? Does she have a crush on Lauren or something? Is she jealous that Lauren is getting some and she isn’t?What?!? Clearly I’m missing something. Maybe if I bang my head against the keyboards some more I’ll be enlightened.

Furthermore, the dialogue is about as exciting as watching traffic. Either that, or as about as excruciating. Consider these lines: Lauren Travis  – “Let me ask you something, do you think that lesbianism and alcoholism are directly related?” and Casey Montgomery answers, “Maybe”.  Also, Casey describes herself as a “career bisexual”. Now, this just makes me say, “What the hell?”

But the winner is Casey Montgomery dishing the dirt about her night with Lauren Travis to her bestfriend: “We did everything but insert foreign objects into each other“. That one just makes me say….eeewww. I understand the need to be detailed when it comes to writing – but that is just way too much information for me.

One line though sums up Casey Montgomery’s dillemma: “I don’t even have the balls to be bisexual”.

Clearly, this movie lacks the balls, full stop.

That being said, the one redeeming value is watching the amazing Stockard Channing. I loved her in “Grease”, loved her in “To Wong Foo”, I loved her “First Wives Club” and pretty much anything where she stars. Here, as a tribute to Stockard Channing, I post my favorite scene from “The First Wives Club”  (or as I like to call it – the First Ajumas Club)

Alright, Stockard Channing is not in this one, but it was still a funny movie and that scene is one my favorites. Goldie Hawn trumps daughter Kate Hudson every time. ^^ It’s scenes like this that make me have this internal soundtrack, playing in my head, like it’s part of a movie or something.

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Retro-mad film review: Fried Green Tomatoes (US, 1991)

I was watching stand-up comedian Margaret Cho’s “Revolution” (might review the DVD soon – she’s gay and funny, I’m a big fan), while waiting for Jon Stewart’s greatest lesbian moments load in afterellen.com, (he’s straight, smart,  funny and pro-gay, what more can you ask?) and listening to the radio at the same time. Suddenly, “Baby I Need Your Loving” came on the British radio. I happen to shamelessly and secretly love Motown. The coolest thing about volunteering at Oxfam is having access to a plethora of music ranging from African music, to Motown to 80s music and so on.

The Secret Life of Bees

Anyway, the song plays and I remember “The Secret Life of Bees”, which starred Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Sophie Okonedo, Alicia Keys and an eeriely older Dakota Fanning. Queen Latifah is an Oscar and Grammy winner (Chicago, Hairspray, but I will always remember her as the bad ass lesbian in “Set If Off” – she rocks a lesbian and she had one hot girlfriend in that movie), Jennifer Hudson is the American Idol runner-up and Oscar winner, Alicia Keys is of course best known for being the New York born, Grammy winning, bad-ass piano prodigy, Dakota Fanning is of course, famous for being the precocious child actor who plays precocious children really well. Anyway, this is another one of those Southern dramas replete with mystery, memories of African American oppression, the fight for civil rights and so on. Set in the 1960s when African Americans were granted the right to vote, it is interesting in the first half, and then it just lost me in the second half. I don’t know why, it just bored me. Though there was tension,  conflict and so on, it just seemed bland, and lacked character motivation and plot. I assume the screenwriters (apparently it was based on a book) assumed that thoughtfully adding issues of class, race, civil rights, a few scenes of violence would make up for its blandness,but that didn’t work. I also think it also has to do with all these award-winning actors all in one movie. I think there should be a rule against that, because I seriously think that one movie can’t take all those award-winning actors all in one show – the universe would simply just…implode. The only good thing I liked about this film was Sophie Okonedo (underrated! She should do more films. And not because she played a mentally challenged young woman in this film), and that’s because I think she has the talent and she could carry a whole film just by her lonesome. I hope she does soon.

Fried Green Tomatoes

fried 1Which brings us to Fried Green Tomatoes, a 1991 film directed by Jon Avnet, adapted from the novel by Fanny Flagg entitled “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe”. I know this is a little dated, it had come out in 1991 and hence is almost two decades old, but it’s worth watching, or re-watching again, because this movie, unlike “The Secret Life of Bees”, is actually a thought-provoking, tender, sweet, well-crafted tale about an American South that’s long gone. It is a movie that is both romantic and bittersweet, and it has all the charm that “The Secret Life of Bees” lacks. Very few stories about the American South touch the heart like this one, and I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a brief respite from the mindless, special effects-laden summer blockbuster line-up this year. I also recommend “The Color Purple” (although I recommend the book more than the movie. But the movie features a very young Whoopie Goldberg in her feature debut, so that’s worth checking out) and “To Kill a Mockingbird” (true, this one has no gay subtext – but I love it nonetheless). And if you’re feeling industrious, you must read and watch (not necessarily in that order) “Gone with the Wind”, the mother of all literature that is American South. Anyway, interestingly enough I get to watch this film only last year – but that was because in 1991, I was in high school, and I had the mistake of reading the movie reviews about this film from a Catholic magazine in my hometown, back in the Philippines, so you can imagine how an impressionable young person would view such a film with such content. But now, I have watched it and I have no regrets.


The Story

Evelyn Couch (the divine Kathy Bates) is in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Overweight, stuck in the suburbs, unhappy with a marriage that has fizzled out and a husband who prefers watching baseball and dinner (preferably at the same time) over her sexual overtures, she is at the end of her rope. A stay-at-home wife, she fills her time going to vagina workshops and workshops that tell her how to rekindle her marriage. Once, when she goes to visit the care home where her mother-in-law (who, of course, hates her) stays, she stumbles across Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy, “Driving Miss Daisy”) who is alone and lonely herself, but is happy and friendly enough to share the story of the Threadgoodes, especially the life and times of Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth Jamison (Mary Louise Parker), who go through the ups and downs of life together.

fried2Ruth and Idgie meet while Idgie’s older  and favorite brother, Buddy Threadgoode (Chris O’Donnell) is flirting with Ruth. A tragic accident (Buddy gets run over by a train while trying to retrieve Ruth’s hat) devastates Idgie and she retreats from her family and community, choosing instead to live on her own and to hang out with the town’s not-so-reputable citizens, drinking, smoking, gambling, getting into fights and strutting around in men’s clothes. Idgie’s mother is up-in-arms, but does not know how to deal with this daughter and so, one summer, a few years later, she enlists the help of Ruth (who is staying for the summer before she gets married) to coax Idgie out of her unlady-like, rebellious, uncouth ways and start living like a proper young Southern woman. This proves unsuccessful, and it only draws Ruth into Idgie’s world. Idgie, in fact, succeeds in making Ruth help her give out goods illegally from the back of a train, jump off a train, have a picnic near a bee’s nest, get drunk, play baseball, swim naked and drunk in the river and play poker. While Idgie is already set in her ways, and does not change, clearly Ruth has a soft spot in her heart.

And this is where a lot of viewers, critics and fans have argued. The book on which the film is based makes it clear that Idgie and Ruth are lovers. The film version has sanitized and effectively de-gayed it. But this 1991, pre-Ellen, pre-Will and Grace, pre-Queer as Folk and pre-L-Word. It was a different time then. So when one views this, one can and might become confused about the relationship. One can view them as really close friends or full-on lesbian lovers. If you think they are just intensely close, then you are leaving in the Dark Ages. ^^ For Ruth and Idgie are gayer than the lesbians at a Pride March, the characters of L-Word and Queer as Folk  combined. ^^

fried 3Case in point: You can see it in the long, lingering, smoldering looks they give each other , most notably during the bee and honey scene, where, as Ruth looks on while Idgie goes to get honey just for her, a multitude of emotions go over her face: fear, trepidation, admiration, awe. In fact, I do believe this is probably where she falls for the charming Idgie. When after getting drunk during Ruth’s birthday, Ruth announces to her that she is getting married, Idgie’s crestfallen expression gives away much about what she feels, and when Ruth gives her a drunken kiss, Idgie’s expression shifts – like she is perplexed, but also, like she has died and gone to heaven.  And so, when Ruth gets married, Idgie refuses to attend the wedding (because what lesbian in her right mind would want to watch her beloved get married to someone else?) , but drives all the way to Alabama (from Georgia) to see Ruth and her husband set foot in their new house for the first time. It becomes more implicitly gay when Idgie gets up the courage to visit her after a few months (because that’s what we do – especially those of us incapable of articulating our feelings to pretty women ^^), finds out Ruth is being beaten up by her husband and gets all worked up. Ruth convinces her not to do anything and Idgie relents. But when Ruth’s mother dies, and Ruth sends a cryptic biblical verse to Idgie (Ruth 1:16), it sends Idgie bursting in Ruth’s house, taking her away from all the violence of her husband  (but not after her husband hits and kicks her one last time). Ruth leaves with Idgie, and Idgie gets enough money to start off a cafe with her. The front area is for white people, while the back area is for black people. All is well, and Ruth and Idgie raise Ruth’s son together. Ruth’s husband comes back though and demands his wife and son to come back with him, but Idgie defends her family and home, because, you know, Idgie is kind of the “man of the house” – and she rocks the part as well. ^^ Anyway – this is where it gets hazy (this is hazier than the implied relationship between the two main characters): the husband disappears and the issue would have been dead and buried, except one day, the husband’s truck surfaces from a river a few miles from the cafe, so the police from Georgia start investigating. Since they can’t find the body and are aware of the tension between Idgie and the husband – Idgie goes court, only to get off scot-free when her mortal enemy, the town reverend,  concocts an alibi for her at Ruth’s request (now, that is true love). They live a long life, until Ruth dies and Idgie raises her son alone.

This is a story within a story,and the other story here is that of Evelyn, who, upon hearing the story of the two women empowers herself, able to stand up to people who regularly ridicule her, gets a job and even puts  her husband in his place.

Dreamy and poignant, this story is actually as much an ode to an American South long gone, as an ode to the strength, beauty and endurance of female friendships, and relationships, at it were. Production values are sound – although this being the early 90s, it does have that gritty, early-90s-set-in-the-60s feel to it – with none of the glossy, clean feel of newer digital filmmaking and special effects. But this film compensates with a solid story that keeps you riveted to the screen the whole time, superb acting from the leads, especially Mary Louise Parker and Mary Stuart Masterson, and supporting leads from Kathy Bates and the late, great Jessica Tandy (who won an Oscar for this movie). The only beef I had about this film was, as I already mentioned, the sanitized, lesbian overtones. When I was watching it, I had this distinct feeling that Idgie fell for Ruth because she hero-worshipped her brother so much this was a kind of f*cked-up way of getting closer to her dead brother, rather than a natural, personal choice for her. Hence her lesbianism was in direct correlation with the brother, not with Ruth. I find out this is also an issue that other critics have raised with the movie, since the book establishes that Idgie was a flaming lesbian (^^) and her brother had nothing to do with her lesbianism or her feelings for Ruth. There are instances in the book, in fact, when Idgie allegedly has sexual relations with prostitutes, a fact that Ruth is jealous about. Anyway, that being said, this film is still as gay as can be, and as afterellen.com notes, it even has a courtship period, a period of long absence, and a period where they actually get together and live a (not-so) happily ever after. As for the consummation of the relationship, the director reveals in his  commentary of the DVD of this film (commentaries! the greatest thing that has ever happened to DVD! yay!) that since there was no way of showing overt displays of affection in the film – the food fight scene is the outlet with which they show and defuse all that pent-up sexual tension between the two. Good call. All that physical action in the food fight, including the food and sex connection, makes for a good articulation of the subtext.

Overall, despite the downplaying of the gay aspects of it, this is an excellent film. As one watches this, one actually becomes wistful for those days long gone when though the fashion was bad,  the hair was bad and the special effects were bad, in films,but the stories and the acting were good. I hope for a cinematic renaissance of those things soon – maybe not the bad hair, and the bad fashion – but the excellent stories and excellent acting.

North Korea fires more missiles, Margaret Cho says Koreans are sneaky-assed people

Bet you didn’t expect this post to have North Korea, missiles, and comedian Margaret Cho on the heading huh? Well, I have.

So South Korea has claimed that North Korea has fired more missiles, according to the latest BBC News. In true international diplomatic fashion, UN has issued a statement, is scrambling to make a resolution, to condemn North Korea actions, and are thinking of tougher measures. Meanwhile, South Korea has decided to join the “PSI – a US-led non-proliferation campaign involving searching ships carrying suspect cargo, aimed at stopping the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction”. North Korea has, of course, claimed this is tantamount to an outright declaration of war. And why did North Korea fire the missiles in the first place? Because they realized the US still has a hostile policy against North Korea.Why did I italicize and put those words in bold letters? Because I find it interesting – even amusing that after firing a missile, this is what the UN does -1. issue a statement, 2. make a resolution that 3. condemns North Korea actions and 4. come up with tougher measures. These euphemisms, vague replies, well, it almost seems as if this is an admission of impotence. I can almost see UN dignitaries wringing their hands, walking to and fro, throwing up their hands in the air, saying, in a Dustin-Hoffman-Rainman-like way, “What are we going to do? What are we going to do? What are we going to do? Def-def-definitely, they fired a missile. Def-def-definitely they fired a missile.”

I am wondering if the global financial crisis is already over. What are they doing now? All I can hear on Philippine news is the Katrina Halili and Hayden Kho sex scandal. All I can hear from the UK news is the MPs charging their exorbitant expenses for non-existent homes to the government. Who knows?

I think a video of Margaret Cho explaining North Korean political attitude towards weapons policies is way better than the UN one. So I am posting it now.

Retro-mad film review: The Secrets (Ha Sodot, Israel, 2007)

There are scenes in this film, when the camera lingers on the face of the protagonist, Noemi (played by the incredibly beautiful Ania Bukstein) right before, during  and after an event has happened in her life. These close-up shots are beautiful, powerful and demand you to look into Ania’s steely gaze, then look away. These shots have no dialogue, hence they do not require any tedious reading of subtitles, but they are quite effective. Bukstein does not speak, but you can sense, just from watching her, the thoughts swirling through her mind, the emotions boiling beneath the calm exterior, raring to explode, like she is teetering over the edge of a precipice and debating whether to jump or not.

secret posterAnd this is one of the few things that make this movie, directed by US-educated Israeli director, Avi Nesher, compelling.

Bukstein’s Noemi is a young Orthodox Jewish woman whose father is a rabbi, and is being pressured to marry a man she is not even interested in. Her mother has just died. She convinces her father to allow her to go to Safed, to an Orthodox Jewish women’s seminary and study for a year before she gets married. Here she rooms with two interesting girls. When the first one comes on, you know this is not the one Noemi will fall for – logic will insist that she will fall for the hot, rebellious young woman who will probably be her exact opposite, who must have already come from some other hedonistic, nihilistic, liberal but incredibly romantic place, like, say Paris,  drinks and smokes and gets into fights with the other ladies, as well as be fascinated with the beauty of the forbidden. True to my prediction – in comes Michel (Michal Shtamler), breezing into their room, the fourth roomie with a penchant for smoking, fighting and the unthinkable.

Naturally, the two don’t hit it off in the beginning, but they do begin to warm to each other, especially since it is impossible to be immune to each other’s charm, especially during a double dinner date with guys. What cements their relationship into a strong bond though is a friendship they form with the town’s outcast,  Anouk (the amazing Fanny Ardant – she walks into a room and you can see something profound fill every square inch of screen. She commands the camera to pay attention to her. This is my first time to see her and I even I sense this), who is driven by past misdeeds (and possibly a crime) to seek redemption at the hands of the patriarchal, sexist rabbis of the church, only to be turned away.

secret1When Michel convinces Noemi to provide Anouk with that elusive, long-withheld, well-deserved redemption thorugh “Tikkun” and the forbidden practice of the sacred Kabbala, this is actually where the film takes off and soars and keeps flying well into the end credits. The rituals they go through, the prayers, the burning, and the climactic immersing into the water, a kind of purification, both thrilling, compelling and fascinating all at the same time, the scene itself almost seems like a prayer, an invocation for us to explore deep within our own societies, and ourselves and even to something even more primal and ancient. Noemi and Michel’s activities do not go unnoticed and for their actions, they receive disapproval, condemnation and the threat of ostracism from their church elders, friends and society. And this is where it sustains my interest. Rather than go the overly melodramatic route (as some filmmakers are wont to do) and scenes of blood and tears and much gnashing of teeth, with the requisite exposition (usually delivered by the protagonist), about the world being unfair and unjust, Nesher chooses to play it smart, and keeps our main characters, especially Noemi, as intelligent as they were when we first beheld them. Noemi, for example, remains strong, adamant, forceful. As she discovers the secrets of their holy books, and their rituals and practices, she slowly becomes even more empowered, and you can almost see her new empowered self emerging from the old one. There is a growing confidence and strength in her, and you can see it as she takes on friends, family, even the church. Her character remains lean, taut, as if ready to strike any minute at anyone who challenges her newfound enlightenment and discovery that she can, in fact, go head to head with any of the male patriarchs of their church. And she manages to do this without shedding a single tear, being hysterical or killing herself. As she discovers who she is, her world outside unravels. She discovers things about the church but it does not seem as if change is possible. She discovers a deep affection and love for Michel, culminating in one night of (not-so) unbridled, consummated passion (more on that later) but it ends with Michel marrying the neighborhood flutist anyway (there is a confrontation scene between the groom-to-be and Noemi that is so explosive it’s amazing: and Bukstein barely even says anything). She discovers that the road to redemption and change is long and arduous.

secrets 4I found this film refreshing and brilliant. And while I may secretly would have wanted the two main characters to end up together and have a happy ending, I also knew, deep inside that it would make sense that they wouldn’t. I already knew from first setting my eyes on Michel’s character that they would probably discover something profound with each other but would never be together. Plus, the movie already made a point of illustrating how hard it is to be a woman in the Orthodox communities of Israel, how much harder would it be for a lesbian living in the same place (are you reading this, fellow gay movie goers? This is not a stereotypical lesbian movie. I don’t even think of it as a lesbian movie,but an Israeli film with lesbian content.). As I already said, I found Bukstein’s acting amazing. It does not hurt that she is beautiful as well and I am totally crushing on her as well. My only regret is that I did not see a more explicit love scene between her and Michel and instead see a lot of legs, granny underwear, and partially obscured faces in what would seem to be throes of ecstacy. In what universe is lesbian sex as weird and as embarassing to watch as this? ^^  Clearly this was directed by a straight man trying to escape the Israeli board of censors. No, wait, it was directed by a  straight man trying to escape the Israeli board of censors. Note to director: either show it or don’t show it all. ^^ Better yet, show them like director Jean Jacques Annaud did in “L’Amant” (The Lover, 1992) as shots of skin, light, in rapid succession – effectively reducing the intimate scene itself to an exhilirating,tittilating abstraction (Sigh…they don’t make them like they used to anymore. If this were L-Word, we would have seen, not only the love scene from all the different possible and probably angles known to man, but we would also see some ass, some accessories and whole lot of  atttitude.).  But this is the only, extremely minor complaint I have about this film. Overall, it is a beautiful film – and it is a testament to the fact that acting isn’t just about delivery of words. It is about being, itself. Sadly something Hollywood has lost in all its years of pursuing global box office glory. Size does not really matter. It’s substance that does. ^^secrets 3

Best quote about this film I’ve ever encountered:

“When considering this film, you won’t have to sigh to yourself, “Oh, another of those Kabbalistic, lesbian, coming-of-age romps.” – Regrets, commands, Rule of Love:’The Secrets’ follows young women into seminary in Israel” (January 09, 2009)

Amidst all this, Michel and Noemi discover a deep affection and love for each other, culminating in one night of (not-so) unbridled, consummated passion (more on that later).

Retro-mad film review: Imagine Me and You (UK, 2005)

The story:

3 imagine-me-and-you-dvd-poster1Bride-to-be Rachel (Piper Perabo) is about to get married to soon-to-be-husband Heck (Matthew Goode). The movie opens with the usual excitement and chaos of a wedding about to happen – there is much flurry and activity as the excited bride, family and wedding entourage prepare for the wedding. On the surface, it seems like nothing can go wrong: the couple has been together since college, they were best friends and lovers and had been living together for years before they decided to get married. They have a rock-solid relationship. They are both stable, successful professionals and are ready t0 start a new life together. But while walking down the aisle, Rachel locks eyes with a gorgeous stranger, Luce (Lena Headey),  about to walk out of the church and, though Rachel goes through with the wedding, her life has already changed.

It turns out that Luce is the florist. Rachel’s younger sister, H (Boo Jackson) has taken a liking to the florist, and Heck’s bestman, the perpetually lecherous Cooper (Darren Boyd) fancies her and so the florist ends up staying a bit longer at the wedding reception than is necessary. Luce is (surprise, surprise) a workaholic with a non-existent love life (as evidenced by hilarious best friend Edie, played by Eva Birthistle telling her, “You need a love life!” to which she replies, “I have a like life, it suits me fine”.), but for some strange reason, she remains at the reception anyway, introduces herself to the bride, dances with the younger sister and with Cooper before leaving. The story would have ended there, except a few months later, Rachel comes to Luce’s flower shop and invites her to dinner. Unbeknownst to Luce, Rachel has arranged for Cooper to come as well, setting the stage for a better awkward double dinner date, especially when Luce comes out to Heck as a lesbian.

This is where the story really begins. Rachel and Heck’s life are perfect. 5 piper pensiveToo perfect, in fact. But beneath this seeming perfection lies a dissatisfaction, based on a relationship that has gone on too long, where the excitement and romance has long gone, and only a comfortable friendship remains. This is seen in Rachel’s defensiveness in an argument with Luce at the dinner table, about whether love at first sight is possible or not. Luce believes in it, but Rachel does not, and finds offense at the insinuation that she and Heck have just settled in their relationship and lack romance in it. But the truth is, there is trouble in their perfect paradise: work consumes both of them, their sex life is lackluster and their life together is just bland. When Rachel finds out that Luce is gay during a trip to the supermarket (where they bump into Luce and bestfriend Edie, in a funny exchange where Heck asks if Edie is gay, and Edie answers back, “Am I gay?!? I’m ecstatic!”), this changes everything for Rachel. Rachel is subtly attracted to Luce, but is aware of the consequences of this should she act on it. So she tries to avoid Luce, but always ends up bumping into or spending time with her – during her younger sister’s school presentation, during a festival and a soccer (football for UK fans) match. Luce is evasive as well, but the more they resist, the more they seem to be drawn together. The tentative moments they have in their scenes together, when both exhibit shyness, apprehension, restraint and whole other mixture of feelings, are exhilirating moments in the film. It calls to mind pre-millenial rom-coms, when they weren’t just manufactured by the dozen in Hollywood.  This is mostly Rachel’s journey, and it is a subtle one. Rachel struggles with her feelings, and tries her best to rekindle the romance with her husband, but at the same time, wonders about her own feelings for Luce. This is manifested in her sudden interest in lesbian porn (not in a eeww kind of way, but in an innocent, cute way), in her endless questions to her colleagues and friends (She asks them random questions such as, “Do you believe in love at first sight?” and “Have you ever thought of dating another woman?”) and in discussions with her husband and family. This eventually comes to a head when she confronts Luce with it, and she realizes that she has, quite irrevocably and inexplicably, fallen in love with the florist. She refuses to give in to her feelings though, and decides to stay with Heck. In the end, it is Heck who finally decides that they shouldn’t be together, because more than loving him, what he cannot take is her loving somebody else more. In the end, Rachel ends up with Luce and it is a happy ending for everyone.

4 piper lenaWhat is not to like about this feel-good romantic comedy? ^^ I believe that it could well be the first well-written, lesbian romantic comedy with good production values (cinematography, acting, etc.). Sure, we’ve had “When Night is Falling” and “The Incredibly True Adventure”, but these films are hardcore indie films – and it sometimes shows in the films. What “Imagine Me and You” gives us is a lesbian film that finally has  a happy ending. That it was written and directed by a straight bloke, Ol Parker, a kind of love letter to his wife, actor Thandie Newton, is beside the point. As compared to the hysterical Paulie “Lost and Delirious”, Piper Perabo’s performance here is subtle and  nuanced and she inhabits Rachel’s character with restraint. Much of the struggle in Perabo’s character is internal and she succeeds in conveying that struggle quite convincingly. Lena Headey, as always, is a delight to watch and is believable as the lonely, cynical Luce. I first saw her in “Gossip”, and she was pretty much the only good thing that came out of that film. I’ve seen her in the UK TV drama “Band of Gold”, as a lesbian prostitute, in “Possession”, as the scorned lesbian lover (all these pre-“300” and “Sarah Chronicles”) and I’d always liked her. There is something about British actresses that is always delightful to watch, I guess. ^^The chemistry between Perabo and Headey’s characters are palpable onscreen and they do light up the screen every time they come on. 1 imagine me and you 4

Sure this film may not be award-winning, and it touches on age-old cliched themes and storylines, but this film is still a joy to watch and it does leave you with a good feeling after watching it. And isn’t that the basic thing that films are supposed to do anyway? ^^

As an added bonus, I’d like to include two of my favorite scenes from the film:

1. “You’re a wanker number 9”

2. “About space” – one of the most intense scenes I have ever seen

PS:

There is a new lesbian-themed Israeli film entitled “The Secrets”. I have seen it, but as it does not have English subtitles and only Arabic/Aramaic/Hebrew (?) subtitles, I shall delay reviewing it until I get a version with English subtitles. Either that or until I learn to speak Hebrew. But from watching it, I think it’s an intense film – and part of the joy of watching it the first time around was discovering new talent in the lead character, Ania Bukstein, who plays the character so intensely, it’s amazing. Anyway, here is the trailer:

Retro-mad film review: Lost and Delirious (US, 2001)

The story:

Mouse (Mischa Barton) has been sent off to an all-girls’ boarding school after her mother dies. lost and delirious photoNaturally shy, quiet and introverted, she rooms with two older teens, the more boisterous, extroverted, rebellious, butchy Paulie (Piper Perabo) and gregarious, talky Tory (Jessica Pare).

Paulie is the more interesting of the two roomies, she smokes illegally in the dorms, spikes the punch bowl, crashes parties with loud rock music and dancing, argues with and embarrasses teachers, and generally just rules the school. Tory is the only one who can rein her in and they have a (seemingly) crisis-proof friendship.

Naive Mouse thinks her roommates are just really close friends, until one day when she wakes up, looks out the window and spies her roommates atop one of the schoolbuildings frenchkissing. At first, overcome by innocence and naivete, she thinks they are just practicing for boys, but of course, she realizes later on, when she wakes up and sees  them in bed together, and after, waking up in the middle of the night to the sounds of their lovemaking, that they are full-blown lovers.

Mouse is pretty tolerant for a roommate and carries on like nothing is happening behind the closed doors of their lost_and deliriousroom. Finally, one day, Tory’s younger sister and her pack of friends, catches the lovers in bed together which sets off a chain of increasingly tragic events as Tory and Paulie confront and deal with the consequences of the discovery of their relationship. Tory desperately proves to everyone in school that she is not a lesbian, or that Paulie is her lover. She distances herself from Paulie, starts dating a boy in the nearby all-boys school, and sleeps with him, quite awkwardly, out in the woods,  just to prove her heterosexuality. While Tory goes the straight route, Paulie experiences a very public, very tragic descent into humiliation and madness as she sees the love of her life turn away from her. She tries to win her back with very public declarations of love, spouting lines from Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”, challenging Tory’s new boyfriend to a fencing duel, grovelling at Tory’s feet in the middle of the night, in their room – to no avail. When it is clear that Tory cannot and will not take her back, heartbroken Paulie plunges to her death infront of the whole school.

End of story.

I only watched this last year, but I’d read the reviews from afterellen.com, a couple of American lesbian magazines, some webzines and film critic Roger Ebert, when it first came out. Roger Ebert particularly, gave it glowing reviews, partly for how passionate the film came off as, and comparing it to a Thomas Wolfe novel. Ebert had said the film had taken him to a (I paraphrase now, since I can’t recall the exact words – these are my words now) forgotten time of passion and possibilities, of recklessness and “howling at the moon”. I had since then, gotten older (this came out in 2001, I’d just come out then and was coming out of my teens) read Thomas Wolfe (“You Can’t Go Home Again”), and have finally watched the film.

lost_and_delirious_xl_03--film-BI agree with what Ebert’s observation – this film does harken back to that forgotten time in our lives when everything was full of possibilities, when it was foolhardy and reckless to be stupid and passionate to fight for the one you love, and yes, there is something vaguely poetic and beautiful about this starcrossed lovers and Paulie’s lost cause, but at the same time, a part of me also cringes at having to watch the rebellious, spirited, Paulie’s disintegration at the loss of her girlfriend and bestfriend. Granted this is a fairly accurate depiction of what a teenager goes through – where everything, even a seemingly innocuous love affair, is magnified, amplified to ridiculous heights, but at the same time, when I was watching it, I felt like it was a bit over the top. The spouting of poetry on top of tables, the fencing, the duel, the grovelling – I can’t do those. But then again, I am a product of a different time, and a different culture, and I would rather die than do that for a girl. ^^ At the same time, when you’ve been gay for a long time already, and have accepted it and are quite comfortable with it, it takes on an ordinariness and the drama just isn’t as amplified as it used to. But at the same time, it does remind one to remember to live life passionately, whatever the consequences, for that is when we feel most alive. ^^

That being said, this film is still enjoyable, although painful to watch in some parts (as I’d already mentioned). The cinematography is a dream, the production values excellent. This is Perabo’s post-Coyote Ugly, pre-Imagine-Me-and-You film, and her exuberance at inhabiting Paulie’s character shines through and eclipses those of the other characters. I just had a problem with Mouse’s voice over (which is a frequent comment about this film), since the voice over in this film does not add anything new to the story – in fact it states the obvious and the visual and is hence  unnecessary. Another beef I had with this film is the sub-plot of the bird that Paulie adopts, and the fencing she takes up to prove her love to Tory. That was over the top for me as well.

Overall, this is a good, passionate film that, for all its faults, is still worth a watch.

Now,if only the lesbians in films don’t die on me, I think I’d be happy. ^^

Retro-mad film review: Red Doors (US, 2005)

The story:

In the tradition of dysfunctional family comedy-dramas (“Eulogy”, “Little Miss Sunshine”) comes director Georgia Lee’s “Red Doors”, the story of the Wong Family, a family, who must contend with their own problems.

Father Ed Wong (Tzi M) has just recently retired and does not know what to do with his life.  His wife, May Li Wong  (Freda Foh Shen) is oblivious and does not seem to care. They have a dog he despises, a teenager daughter he can’t quite understand and a house with little privacy. To cope with this, he tries to commit suicide numerous times, but each time,  he is interrupted and so in frustration, he leaves the family to become a monk.

Eldest daughter Samantha Wong (Jacqueline Kim), a successful professional,  is about to get married to her fiance, Mark (Jayce Bartok) but a chance meeting with brooding high school ex-boyfriend Alex (Rossif Sutherland) gives her second thoughts about marriage and her husband-to-be.

Second daughter Julie Wong (Elaine Ka) is the token (I’m sorry, it feels like it)  closeted lesbian daughter  who is a workaholic doctor (surprise! surprise! there’s a trend here somewhere) in love with a woman who, we are supposed to believe, is some famous actress named Mia Scarlett (Mia Riverton).

Youngest, teenaged, hip-hop loving daughter Katie Wong (Kathy Shao-Lin Lee)  is a misfit engaged in a (quite literally) battle of wits with fellow misfit Mark  (Sebastian Stan) that involve rats, crap and small home-made bombs exploding in high school lockers.

I like to call this film an extremely lighter version of Saving Face (like a “Saving Face” lite), with a little less charm and fun.  After watching loads of Asian films, I find watching Red Doors a bit surreal. This little Chinese American family seems so nuclear, so insulated, so removed from its Chinese American community (where are the doting, meddlesome, grandparents? The nosy relatives? The gossiping, sometimes judgmental Chinese American friends and acquaintances? The Chinese American get-togethers?  Where are the daily trips to China Town?) that I felt like I was watching a typical film about white family dysfunction, rather than a Chinese American one. Although of course, the other I have to consider is the fact that they live in the suburbs, right smack in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by what seems like a largely white community. I also am surprised that both heterosexual Chinese American daughters are involved with white men, and that the one inclusive daughter who dates somebody marginalized happens to be marginalized herself. It feels a little like this film is a bit sanitized, sterile, too restrained in its exploration of the Chinese American sub-culture in America.  This is by far the most assimilated Chinese American family I have seen, which is a bit strange, as the Chinese are one of the most culturally strong presences wherever you go.

As a story, it’s light as well, with occasional moments of interesting sub-plots, most of which are entertaining when concentrated on the father, whose failed attempted suicides come off as funny, painful, and melancholic all the at the same time, and it’s played by Tzi Ma with skill and sympathy. The youngest daughter stands at the opposite side of the spectrum, and proves to be the other one whose character is the most interesting and exciting, next to the father’s. As the youngest, and still teenaged daughter, the cross-sections of identity as Chinese and as American, as well as that of self-discovery, are explored in her and she is actually the most fun daughter to watch. I’m quite surprised she isn’t the daughter who turns out to be gay, for all her interesting secret life. ^^ As for the eldest and middle daughter, they both seem so self-contained that whatever crises they go through (wedding jitters and budding lesbian romance) come off as boring to the point of bland. Besides, the dillemma they go through both have already been explored in much detail and depth in other movies (Saving Face being the most notable successful example) and as such, this effort comes off as a half-baked attempt. Besides, chemistry seems lacking between the daughters and their respective love interests. Plus I had a hard time believing the middle daughter’s girlfriend is an actual famous, hot actress. You only have to re-watch “Saving Face” to see that whenever Lynn Chenn’s prima ballerina, Vivian Shing, walks into a room, the room lights up. She oozes with sex appeal and is quite believable as the intense, brooding, a bit pushy artist-girlfriend (I guess she was too busy to grace this film with her presence). ^^That is not to say,  Jacqueline Kim and Elaine Ka are not good actors. On the contrary, I like their acting in this film (and probably in other films where I’ve seen but can’t quite recall what), but the talent seems wasted on a wasted on less-than-well-rounded characters and a tired, formulaic storyline.

Overall, it’s a not-too-bad film. But after watching it, you feel like there is something missing, like you want something more out of this film that ends a little too soon, a little too happily.

Retro-mad film review: Saving Face (US, 2005)

The story:

SavingFacePosterWilhelmina “Wil” Pang (the talented Taiwanese-born, Chinese American actor Michelle Krusiec) is a workaholic, up and coming New York doctor whose Chinese mother (hilariously played by one of China’s top actors, Joan Chen)  is in denial about her being gay. Thus, Wil juggles time between work,  Chinese-American parties, dodging unwanted arranged dates with Chinese American men, medicinal herbs to improve her chi and marriage prospects and a mom who constantly nags her about marriage, her clothes, appearance and pretty much everything else. Into this frenetic existence enters the lovely and wildly sexy (I just had to put that in) Vivian Shing (Lynn Chen), who’d met Wil when they were kids and has not forgotten her since, and a shocking revelation about Wil’s mother. This sudden and surprising revelation is that Wil’s some fortysomething widow of  a mother is suddenly pregnant, causing shame and loss of face to their family and thus is subsequently  thrown out and disowned by Wil’s grandfather.Wil has no choice thus but to take in her mother. It is these two events that turn Wil’s comfortable existence upside down. As her relationship with Vivian blossoms, Wil’s mother “Chinesifies” (=insert grin here=) Wil’s life, from changing her entertainment choices (Chinese soap opera marathon viewing), redecorating her apartment, to monitoring her every move, to following her around (there’s a funny scene in the subway to illustrate this point) vivian shingand so on. This puts a strain in her relationship with Vivian, who wants something much more serious from commitment-phobic, career-centric Wil. To ease the increasing tension in her life, Wil arranges blind dates for her mother – which is kind of giving her mother a taste of her own medicine. In the end, mother and daughter are forced to confront,  accept and respect each other’s choices, lifestyles, space and boundaries.

This is one of my favorite lesbian movies of all time. It’s not so much a rom-com film as a journey of self-discovery and coming to terms with one’s identity, sexuality and choices. There is an interesting symmetry and simplicity in the film, nothing feels contrived or forced. This is largely due to the fact that first-time director, Alice Wu, goes old school and shows a simple, linear story littered with Chinese-American cultural references and tidbits, as well as successfully coaxing nuanced performances from her leads. She has perfectly captured the Asian culture, and how it has assimilated with one American, and succeeds in making a true Asian-American film that appeals to Asians as well. I had watched this film with Filipino friends and Asian friends (Korean and Taiwanese) and we had great fun seeing the saving face3similarities and differences between and amongst Asian cultures. The doting, nagging, meddlesome, Asian mom with a penchant for bothering you about your singlehood, grandkids, marriage, and soap opera obsession is universal, for example. Those middle-aged, married Chinese couples who get together to dish the dirt and gossip on Chinese friends and acquaintances during parties are classic as well. The other cultural nuances are spot on as well.

The other thing that this film captures well is the relationship that Wil has with her mom and her relationship with Vivian. Wil’s struggle to be an obedient daughter at the risk of jeopardizing a promising and burgeoning relationship with her girlfriend is something that that I believe some Asians (whether straight or gay) can relate to. Alice Wu has also captured quite perfectly how girlfriends (^^) think. There is an interesting scene in the film when Wil misses Vivian’s birthday party, and Wil is standing outside her door. Wil asks if she can come in, Vivian says, “I don’t know” and when Wil turns around, about to leave, somewhat dejected, disappointed and a little sad at being turned down, Vivian suddenly says, “Where are you going?” to which Wil says she is leaving and Vivian says, “I didn’t say you should leave”. That scene, more than anything else, sums up how crazy it can be having a femme girlfriend (^^). This is even more confusing when you have an Asian saving face4girlfriend. But anyway, I love the love story that develops between Wil and Vivian, there is something sweet and tender and dare I say it, terribly romantic about their scenes together.

A favorite scene is the dinner scene Wil has with her girlfriend and her mother, a scene so wrought with tension that you forget it’s a movie and cringe when you remember your own traumatizing meetings with your girlfriend’s parents (my take on this? Mothers are judgmental whether it’s a straight or gay relationship their child has) – of which I’ve had the traumatizing privilege of going through (almost like  a rite of passage as it were).

Alice Wu keeps the pace of this film light and breezy -there are no scenes that are dragging or cringe-worthy, everything seamlessly integrated to come up with a coherent whole – a love letter, if you will, to the Chinese-American community. The characterization is well-rounded and nuanced and every actor plays each one so well that in the end you are invested in these characters more than you will realize and find yourself rooting for each one’s happy ending.

Overall, this is a sweet, charming film brimming with positivity. Oscar fodder it isn’t, but  it is one of the first American lesbian films to veer away from the coming out storyline and into the real world – where the lesbian is not just defined by her sexuality, but is a real, normal person who has other things to  contend with: career, family, cultural pressure, relationships and a bigger society that continually oscillates between tolerance and denial of her existence. But this is done in a non-preachy, entertaining way, and this is where this film succeeds, where others haven’t. This is a film that shouldn’t be missed.

World Cinema retro-review: Blue Gate Crossing (Lan Se Da Men, Taiwan, 2002)

There is something about “Blue Gate Crossing” that makes it interesting as to be almost compelling.

I don’t know what it is, but it’s the same kind of feeling I had when I first watched “Blair Witch Project” (the original indie  one, not the crappy glossy Hollywood one). I know Blair Witch is a weird movie to compare to a teen coming-of-age, coming-out film, but “Blue Gate” shares the same simplicity, minimalism and realism that Blair Witch had.

Blue_Gate_Crossing_filmThis 2002 film, written and directed byYee Chin-yen (a UCLA grad who was heavily influenced by Taiwanese New Wave directors) tells the story of young Meng Kerou (Lunmei Kwai) who is in love with her female friend, Lin Yuezhen (Shu Hui Liang), who in turn is in love with the handsome high school swim jock, Zhang Shihao (Bo Lin Chen). The film opens with Lin Yuezhen daydreaming in PE class about Zhang Shihao as long-suffering bestfriend Meng Kerou, listens. Lin Yuezhen is in love to the point of obsession with Zhang Shihao, so obssessed, in fact, that she keeps a box of his (stolen) things – his basketball, a pair of his shoes, his notebooks, a pen (which Lin Yuezhen believes that if she writes his name until the ink runs out – he’ll learn to love her), and other paraphernalia that make me wonder if what she is doing is even legal – as if it were any other country, this would be rightfully defined as stalking. ^^ Anyway, she even goes so far as keep enlarged, photocopied photos of him which she makes into masks and makes Meng Kerou wear so that she can pretend that Zhang Shihao is with her, and she dances with this pretend Zhang Shihao. One day Meng Kerou accompanies her to the school swimming pool where Lin Yuezhen finds out Zhang Shihao is illegally practicing every night for the swim meet. Just for fun, on a dare, Lin Yuezhen asks Meng Kerou to talk to Zhang Shihao for her, as she is completely shy and gets tongue-tied around the boy. Meng Kerou, being devoted to her bestfriend, does so, and catches Zhang Shihao’s attention instead. Meng insists that it is her friend who wants to meet Zhang, and not her, but Zhang, for some inexplicable reason, even though Meng has rebuffed him many times, starts to follow her around and tell her , repeatedly, is name, his hobbies, how handsome he looks and drops by her mother’s restaurant and their house to see her,  in such a grating manner that I felt like crawling into the screen and beating the crap out of him. Like a typical cocky male teenager who is cocksure of himself when it comes to the ladies, he is so sure that Meng made Lin up just to meet him, and even though Meng confesses that she thinks she likes girls, Zhang still insists on pursuing her, and  believes, in typical stereotypical, political incorrect fashion, that she just hasn’t found the right man.

I had wanted to stop watching after that – but for some strange reason, there was something about this film I found compelling. As Zhang tries to win Meng, and as Meng struggles to come to terms with her sexuality and her feelings for her bestfriend, I found myself rooted to the screen, wondering what will happen next. This is an unusual, non-formulaic film – the boy does not end up with the girl he likes, but the girl does not end with the girl she likes as well, and their common object of affection ends up with no-one as well. It is neither comedy or tragedy – and in that it proves to be more mature than any of the teen films Hollywood churns out. What strikes me most about this film is how accurate its depiction of teen high school life is. Life as a teen and a high school student isn’t really a series of glamorous Beverly Hills 90210, The O.C. or Gossip Girl episodes where teenagers are all good-looking, smart and witty and always seem to be making out with someone or sleeping with someone, where class is virtually non-existent and the future is a distant dream and there is always something exciting beyond the next episode. What Blue Gate Crossing captures is the uncertainty of adolescence, that feeling of being on the verge of something, that endless monotony and adolescent ennui one feels as one goes through endless, repetitive classes,  that awkwardness, especially towards the same sex (if one were gay) or the opposite sex, that confusion and crises one feels but cannot name as one goes through this stage. It’s the kind of film that catapults me instantly to my own adolescence, of uniforms and PE classes and love letters surreptitiously passed to classmates in class, of harboring secret crushes on other girls and feeling confused about it.

And therein lies the charm of this film. Defiantly shunning mainstream film conventions by not giving it either a good or a bad ending, what this film offers us instead is a more in-depth, nuanced, minimalistic, character-driven look at what really goes on in teenagers’ lives. In the end, this film succeeds where others do not.