Four gay men of different generations are searching for love, and much more, one cold winter’s night in Philadelphia and this is the story of how their paths cross until the morning breaks.
Brian is a 30-something-year-old writer who is at the end of his tether as he has been unable to write a single word since the successful publication of his first book of poetry. He seeks solace in a local bar in which he is the sole drinker until Chris comes in and immediately hits on him. Chris fesses up to have a girlfriend back home in the burbs but just feels an urgent need to get some hot man-on-man action. Which is exactly what he gets back at Brian’s apartment but the moment their very passionate lovemaking finishes, Chris freaks out, and leaves a stranded Brian desperate to know what he had done wrong.
He shares his insecurities with his ex roommate whom he wakes up in the middle of the night insisting that they discuss his problems there and then. Dan is straight but he too had once shared an emotional and physical connection with him and now Brian wants to know why that ended if it was all as real as Dan claims.
Whilst all this is going on, in another part of town super-hot 22 year old model Jim is being very energetically fucked by Drew his older lover on the bench of his workshop. Drew is a successful famous artist who considers Jim his muse, but a disgruntled Jim just believes he is being treated as a kept boy and threatens to leave and move to NY.
After he storms out of the house in a huff, he encounters Brian, and they hook up, and after more even hotter sex, he quickly abandons needy Brian who is now getting a serious complex about the men who just cannot leave him fast enough. Jim meanwhile gets picked up by elderly Bob who has been cruising the streets all night in a big white limousine drinking heavily and looking to get lucky.
He doesn’t but others do when this intriguing wee film neatly comes to a climax and it is almost a case of all’s well that end’s well, but not quite.
Written and directed by Joseph Graham (‘Strapped’) this edgy and very sensual and unsentimental movie is by no means perfect but it’s forthright take on contemporary gay life ….. well, sex anyway …. is both refreshing and extremely entertaining. Evidently based on a true story, it has a good script which was very stylishly shot and with some rather excellent performances from newbie actor Brian Sheppard (Brian),hunky Zach Ryan (Jim),comedianGrant Lancaster (Dan)and established local actorColman Domingo (Drew).
It’s Christmas Eve in Tinseltown and Alexandra has just blown her last couple of dollars on buying Sin-Dee her best friend a pastry to celebrate her return after a 28 day stint in Jail. The mood quickly changes as these two transgendered prostitutes are dishing the dirty and Alexandra lets slip that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend/pimp Chester has been been dating a ‘fish’ (their slang for a biological female). An enraged Sin-Dee storms off in a huff determined to find this usurper and ‘sort her out’ once and for all .
Alexandra sets out in pursuit of her friend but then quickly gets embroiled in her own dramas. She is trying to hustle up some of the other working ‘girls’ on the block to attend her debut performance at a Bar later that night, but is distracted from that when a ‘john’ in a car asks her for a ‘quickie’. When he refuses to pay up because he cannot get aroused, Alexandra shows her mettle by attempting to beat the crap out of the man in order to get her money.
This is just another day on some of the meaner streets of the underbelly of a city which is the home turf of these very tough sharp-tongue lady boys who make their living selling sex and whatever else they can lay their hands on. They are fearlessly fabulous and rule the roost of these few blocks between Highland Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard where straight ‘johns’ cruise to get a fix.
As the two manically rush around town separately Alexandra comes across Razmik a middle-aged Armenian cab driver who is a regular client of most of the ‘girls’ in the area and he is overjoyed to learn that Sin-Dee is back on the beat. She tells the cabbie that Sin-Dee will be at the Bar later to watch her perform, and he promises to meet them there in the hope of scoring a ‘date’ with her. However nothing ever works out as planned and Alexandra ends up plaintively singing to an audience of one, so tonight is obviously not going to be when she gets the break to go legit that she pines for.
The plot gets messy from there when it takes a farcical turn, but frankly it is really not that important anyway. This whole movie is much more like a bizarre reality show with its the high voltage of energy that its cast of larger-than-life characters bring to it that is the essential ingredient of this wonderful big-hearted frenetic street drama. The fact that filmmaker Sean Baker shot the whole thing on IPhones adds a real frisson plus the performance of his two lead transgendered newbie actors Kiki Kitana Rodriquez and Mya Taylor made such compelling viewing. Baker credits the actors for drawing on their own personal experiences that gave such a authenticity and vitality to all their unstoppable bad-mouthing which is such a sheer delight to watch and listen too.
When this rather audacious indie movie premiered at Sundance Film Festival audiences leaped to the feet at the end, a reaction that I feel will be repeated quite often whenever it is screened.
Greg Louganis is an American Hero. The sad thing is that it has taken such a long time for many people to truly acknowledge that. Despite him being a four-time US Olympic diving champion whose many records remain unbroken today, he never always got all the acclaim and rewards that other sportsmen got just because he was gay. In this new documentary that covers focuses mainly on his more recent past filmmaker Cheryl Furjanic paints an affectionate and stirring portrait of a remarkable man who has survived more his fair share of trauma and who has come through it all with a big smile on his face.
The film starts with Louganis trying to keep the Bank off his back as financial troubles have left him somewhat high and dry (we find out at the end of the movie that it all works out very well). The film then cuts back and forth covering his early diving days to his first days of retirement from the sport when the drama really seemed to get worse. What is remarkable is that right through all this from his abusive father to the blatant homophobia that dogged his career to the people in his life who just took advantage of him, a sanguine and honest Louganis shows no sign at all of anger. A few regrets maybe. Even dealing with the messy and bitter collapse of his relationship with Jim in the 1980’s who had contracted Aids, there is no hint of even a harsh word. Almost broke and now HIV positive, Louganis still supported Jim until the day he died.
Even though the Diving community shunned their greatest athlete for decades until the 2012 Olympics when he was invited to be a Mentor to the US Team, there were a handful of people like Ron O’Brien who never ever wavered in their support throughout. O’Brien coached Louganis through the years of his Olympic years and was present on the fateful day when Louganis cut his head open on the diving board with blood spilling into the pool. It was an incident that filled the closeted diver with dread especially as the doctors providing emergency care had no idea about Louganis’s condition and did not protect themselves.
It was a very emotional Louganis who told this story to Oprah on national TV years later when his memoir (a NY Times Bestseller for weeks) ‘Breaking The Silence’ was published in 1995 and his sexuality was made public. Equally moving is when at a recent reunion he presented O’Brien with the Gold Medal that the Coach had helped him win that day.
What we see on screen is a healthy and happy 50 year-old-man. His health had deteriorated rapidly in the late 1980’s until the introduction of life-saving protease inhibitors, and his new found happiness came to him via Match.com who provided with a rather wonderful husband. Plus he has his dogs
Louganis is a disarmingly charming man but most of all he is a hero, and it seems only fitting that ‘Back On Board’ reminds exactly why.
Jenni is a misfit and a nerd. She is so clumsy that she breaks most of the plant pots at the nursery where she works and that really pisses off her boss. Her self-absorbed roommates all but one ignore her, and she is totally friendless. It gets even worse after she is hospitalized and loses both her job and her home. Clutching one cardboard box of her worldly possessions she makes tracks to the nearest park and sets about hanging herself from a tree.
Even this does not go to plan as she is cut down and rescued by Sam (short for Samantha) a feisty lesbian with a buzz cut and ripped jeans and a great big grin. ‘This’ she tells a downcast Jenni ‘is the face of a nice person’. Something she feels the need to point out after listening to the miserable girl pour out her tale of woe as it seems likely that she has never encountered a nice person ever before in her life.
Part of the story is Jenni’s father who she hasn’t seen since she was brought to the city and dumped there when she was very little. He is still in Los Angeles. Maybe. Jenni is very sketchy about details, but that doesn’t deter Sam who declares that they will set off for LA in search of him immediately. Even the fact they do not have a car, or even the faintest idea where in the vast city he will be, is considered irrelevant by the overly optimistic Sam.
Their road trip is littered with characters that Sam just shrugs off, but which wind up Jenni even more. When they arrive in the city and the search for the father starts, Sam has a detour when she runs into an old fling who invites her …. and Jenni ….. to a wild party. Whilst Sam goes off to make out with her Ex., wide eyed Jenni ends up tripping on a psychedelic cupcake and getting into some bedroom action that she didn’t didn’t count on. She freaks out and then as she has angered the owner of the house as well, runs off into the city and is really on her own now. The question is will she survive, and will she find her father ? Even more important will we have lost interest just like Sam does?
Broken Gardenias is billed as a dark comedy and is the work of first time director Kai Alexander whose bio states that he spent his childhood with his parents who were part of a Travelling Circus which may account for the bizarre roster of characters the two women encounter. The script is by newbie writer Alma S. Grey who also plays Jenni.
The sole bright spot of this film is the performance of Ashley Morocco as the bubbly Sam as asides from this the movie just simply fails to really engage, and for a comedy, it is painfully unfunny.
Alice and Frank have been married for 18 years and are moving with their three children (and Taski their pet rabbit) to a new apartment in the Swiss countryside. From the outside they seem like the perfect nuclear family but as they arrange their furniture and settle into their new home, Alice notices that her husband seems far from excited about being there and is in fact positively distracted. When she prods him about this, Frank simply denies that anything is wrong but she is far from convinced with his protestations.
During the next week when she is at home working on the computer the whole family share, an unfamiliar window suddenly pops up on the screen. It’s a ‘welcome back’ message from a gay cruising site for men to meet men. An alarmed Anna nervously questions Robert her teenage son about the site and his sexuality, something which he just laughs off and tells her categorically he is 100% straight. When she questions Frank if it was him who had been on the Site, she got the answer that she had expected but certainly didn’t want.
Frank confesses that he was simply curious about other men, but Anna is not happy to leave it there, and over the next few weeks she continually chips away at him, until he eventually admits he has met a man and they have fallen in love with each other. Shocked and horrified Anna tries almost everything to understand her husband’s sexuality. Initially she is calm and overly considerate, but then after they go out on a ‘date’ together she sets about physically seducing Frank which totally backfires and she is devastated when he rejects her sexual advances.
The no-turning back point comes courtesy of the computer again when Anna is viewing the photographs she has downloaded from a family trip when she accidentally comes across a video that someone has obviously shot on Frank’s phone. It shows her husband dancing with Pablo his boyfriend amongst a crowd of other men and it is very clear that he is radiantly happy in a way that he has not been with her since they first get married.
Frank by now is staying out late most nights but although he still has very genuine feelings with Anna, the real reason he continues to come home is that their 7 year old daughter dotes on him. When one final attempt at seducing him back fails, Anna demands that he leaves for good.
Bereft of the husband and feeling isolated in the country apartment a rather confused and depressed Anna dramatically takes to her bed crying her eyes out and refusing to eat for days on end. Her two teenage children take charge of both her and their young sibling, until Anna finally realizes the helplessness of refusing to accept the change that has been heaped upon her. When she does take that on board, repaints the apartment, buys some new furniture, get a more contemporary hairstyle, and most importantly gets laid again, then life can finally move and everybody can happily ever after. Almost.
This taut wee Swiss drama neatly tackles the age-old problem of a marriage trying to survive when it becomes obvious that one of the partners should never had said ‘I do’ in the first place. It’s hard enough for women to accept that men in their life can be gay or bi-sexual but when they discover that their own partner is suddenly questioning their own sexuality after being married for so long, its usually quite devastating. Although newbie director and co-writer Claudia Lorenz says nothing new about this scenario, her take on this is compelling and very real, thanks mainly to her very talented cast.
After NETFLIX’s phenomenal success creating original content for its streaming service with two Award winning television series, now AMAZON has also stepped into the area which was once the sole territory of network and cable television with the launch of TRANSPARENT it’s very first own series. If you haven’t caught it yet (it’s free for AMAZON PRIME subscribers) then you’re missing out as it is one of the most innovative and enjoyable family dramas that has been seen on television for years.
It’s the story of Mort Pfefferman who has indulged and spoilt his grown-up children for years and now that he has retired he wants to share with them something that is important to him. When he asks them to gather to hear his news, they all just assume that it’s going to be something very tragic, like having terminal cancer. What they are not prepared to learn is that Mort is going to become Maura. This is the female who has been trapped inside him since he was a kid, and now he wants to be true to him (or rather her) self.
The news doesn’t go over too well as these three self-absorbed siblings are all wrapped in their own lives, none of which are going too well. Sarah the oldest one feels trapped in an unhappy marriage and when Tammy her old college room mate with who she had a serious fling with shows up again, she finds an escape route.
Jay the middle one is a successful music producer and probably the most selfish of the three. He is used to dating girls young enough to be his daughters, although that goes a little sour when one of them double crosses him at the record company where he works. He finds salvation in religion. Well to be more precise, in dating the female Rabbi. His past will catch up with him in the end as is revealed in the final episode of this first series.
Then there is Ali the directionless brainy one who is too bright to hold down a day job so still relies on her father for handouts that she euphemistically calls ‘loans’. Her love life is equally impossible to define and when she starts dating a transman, her brother Josh jokes that there he is now the only one in his family that still likes ‘pussy’. Except his mother, but the mere thought of even contemplating his aged mother’s sex life is rather stomach turning.
She remarried soon after divorcing Mort years ago and her ancient new husband is now fading fast. A fact that Shelly is annoyed about as not only is looking after him as his sole carer a great deal of hard work, but it interferes with her own life.
Amazon have billed this as a ‘downbeat comedy’ but what it is in fact is a wonderfully warm and funny series about the extraordinary journey that Maura is taking with such spirit and determination and how her choices are playing out with her family. It’s an astonishing career-defining performance from veteran actor Jeffrey Tambor who imbues the character with empathy, dignity and resilience even though the transitioning process is not always easy or comfortable. Maura may not be the most natural or charming of women, but somehow Tambor compels us to be so completely drawn to her and so wanting her to succeed.
Great supporting cast that includes Jay Duplass, Melora Hardin, Gaby Hoffman, Kathryn Hain and Amy Landecker. However the only other scene-stealer in piece (besides Tambor) is veteran actress Judith Light playing the classic Jewish mother/widow to the hilt.
The series is created and directed by Jill Soloway (Producer ‘Six Feet Under’) whose father revealed his own transitioning to her just three years ago. Although she claims that this is not at al autobiographical, she does nevertheless handle this potentially controversial subject superbly showing both remarkable insight and understanding. They were a few mumblings when the idea was initially announce that they not going to cast a Transgender actor in the lead but no-one could possibly have portrayed Maura as superbly as Tambor. (Soloway did however make this a trans-friendly production hiring 20 in the cast and crew, and more than 60 were employed as extras.)
Transparent is both bold and groundbreaking and is sophisticated quality programing that is usually the Hallmark of BBC or HBO, and I cannot wait for Series 2 to arrive.
‘Sometimes its the people no-one expects anything from who do the things no one expects’ is the oft repeated mantra in this compelling adaption of Andrew Hodges’s biography on Alan Turing the tortured soul who was the British genius who shocked everyone by cracking the Nazi’s infamous Enigma Code which changed the whole tide of World War 2.
Using a series of flashbacks this very classy period drama showed a teenage Turing being bullied at boarding school for being different. The difference in this case being his homosexuality and a streak of autism. The action moves forward to the outbreak of the War and in one of the wittiest scenes in the movie, 26-year-old Turing, already a Fellow at Cambridge University, is being interviewed by a Navy Commander for a top secret wartime job. Well, it was meant to be secret but Turing shocks the Commander by revealing that he knows its about trying the crack the Germans top secret code, and without even a hint of conventional modesty goes on to insist that he is the only person in the world capable of undertaking this nigh on impossible task.
Set to work in a team under in the leadership of fellow cryptologist, an arrogant Turing totally lacking in any social skills and a complete loner, quickly alienates both his colleagues and his boss, and then totally frustrated at not being able to get his own way writes a letter to the Supreme Commander, none other than Winston Churchill the Prime Minster. The movie doesn’t explain why, but Churchill himself himself known as quite a maverick, puts Turing in charge of the whole project and he thus gets to start building the expensive machine that he alone is convinced is the only option to crack the code that will enable them to decipher all of the German High Command’s secret messages.
Now that he is in charge, Turing persuades the Head of MI6, the British wartime Secret Service, to allow him to fire some of the classically trained cryptologists and employ some more unusual mathematicians who are also skilled at solving puzzles very fast. One of the new intake is Sarah Clarke who turns out not just to be as good as her male counterparts but in fact much better, but Turing has to persuade her strict middle-class parents that this male-dominated work away from home was suitable for a young woman.
Clarke and Turing make a great pair both thinking out of the box and on the same wave length and when down the line she announces that her parents want her back home and married, Turing desperate to keep his brightest colleague, instantly proposes to her himself. His homosexuality was a well-kept secret not just because of the nature of his highly-classified work but the mere fact that it was illegal to be so in the UK.
That’s not the only dark secret that he must keep as when he finally breaks the Code the news is kept not just from the public but most of the British Military High Command to ensure that word of their success doest leak back to the Germans. It in effects means playing fast and loose with peoples lives as decisions have to be made to which of the German attacks the authorities should allow to proceed in order not to tip them off that their secret transmissions are no longer secret.
The movie starts and finishes after the war when in 1952,Turing back at Cambridge University as a Professor has his house burgled. The Police Detective sent to check out the robbery thinks it strange that nothing has been stolen and he is also intrigued by Turing’s laissez faire attitude to the incident. On a whim he decides to investigate further and a red flag is immediately raised when he discovers that Turing’s classified (highly secret) war record on file is totally empty. When he looks deeper he does in fact discover that Turing is not a Communist Spy as he had suspected, but he is in fact gay.
At the subsequent Trial the Judge gives Turing the option of a two year jail sentence, or undertaking a case of hormone therapy instead of prison which has been likened to male castration. A year later, at the age of 41, the brilliant man commits suicide.
It takes a Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum to capture this quintessential British story of this single-minded manic zealot who could crack the most difficult code in the world but could never fathom out the simplest form of human interaction. Genuinely uninterested, and for the most part unaware, of his ability to converse with anyone he considered intellectually insignificant, it gave first-time scriptwriter Graham Moore great scope in making such mundane incidents like ordering lunch into wonderfully funny scenes. Whilst Turing rose to the challenges of being baffled by the intricacies of breaking the Code, it seems like he never wanted to fathom out anything beyond this, and his life outside of work contained no joy at all.
Benedict Cumberbatch gives a tour-de-force career best performance as the troubled genius. He is a sheer joy to watch as the man driven by the insatiable knowledge that he is right, and so has no time for social niceties that he feels just impedes his progress. We come to like Cumberbatch’s Turing way before his Bletchley Park colleagues do because we can see that there is no hint of malice in his actions at all, and under all that bluff exterior he is quite the charmer. Cumberbatch is nothing short of electrifying.
There is a stellar supporting cast with Mark Strong as the sly manipulative Head of MI6; a stalwart Charles Dance as the Navy Commander who is determined to crack Turing before he can crack the Code; Mathew Goode as the lead cryptologist who ends up being the closest male friend Turing eventually makes; and Keira Knightly as Sarah Clarke who’s happy enough solving problems rather than making out with Turing.
There is a wonderful old-fashioned feeling to the whole piece resulting in a crowd-pleasing movie that will delight more than just the members of the Academy Awards.
P.S. 50 years after the War the news of Turing’s success was finally made public. In 2009 the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a Public Apology on how Turing had been treated, and in 2013 The Queen granted him a posthumous pardon. The machine that Turing created to break the code was the first of what we now know as computers.