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Good, solid production
Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 (1979) was directed for the BBC by David Giles. Like most of the BBC productions, the acting is solid and the text is respected.
Although the play's title would make you assume that King Henry was the central role, that's not correct. The real story of the play--and the movie--is the coming of age of Henry's son, Hal, the Prince of Wales. A major theme is the contrast of the Prince with his warlike contemporary, another Hal, called Hotspur. (In reality, Hotspur was much older than the prince, but Shakespeare's version is much more dramatic.) Also, of course, this is the play in which Shakespeare introduces the roguish fat knight, Sir John Falstaff.
David Gwillim as Hal, Tim Pigott-Smith as Hotspur, and Anthony Quayle as Falstaff are all excellent. Almost all of the BBC productions are shot indoors, but I think director Giles shot the battle scenes outdoors. As usual with the BBC, the supporting actors are good, as are the actors playing minor roles. Costumes are great, settings are minimal. (It worked for the Globe, and it works for the BBC.)
If you know the play well, you'll be happy with this version. If you don't know the play, Henry IV, Part 1 is a good history play with which to start. (It's not the first play in chronological time, but it's a great introduction to Shakespeare's history plays.)
The BBC films were made for TV, so they work well on the small screen. I saw one scene on a large scene in a classroom setting, and that also worked well.
Kerron sinulle kaiken (2013)
Open Up,to Me
The Finnish film Kerron sinulle kaiken was shown in the U.S. with the title Open Up to Me (2013). It was directed by Simo Halenin.
The protagonist of the movie is Maarit, played by Leea Klemola. Maarit is intelligent, caring, and attractive. At the moment, she's working as an office cleaner, but she's a school counselor, and she's looking for professional work. She's also looking for a man from whom she can get the love the wants and needs. The issue is that she's transgendered. Apparently, even in Finland, professional jobs are harder to get if you're transgendered. Of course, love is possible, but it would have to be with a man who accepts--and is happy with--loving someone who is transgendered.
Maarit does something unethical, and probably illegal. When a therapist leaves town, Maarit, who has been cleaning the office, offers to help a client. (It sounds really bad, but it sort of makes sense in the context of the film.). This leads to love, but is it true love?
I enjoyed this unusual film, and recommend it. We saw it at the Little Theatre as part of the awesome ImageOut, the Rochester LGBT Film Festival. It will work well on DVD.
Snails in the Rain (2013)
A good film about a serious situation
Snails in the Rain (2013) is an Israeli film written and directed by Yariv Mozer. It stars Yoav Reuveni as Boaz, a handsome and intelligent college student. Life is going well for Boaz--he's awaiting a scholarship offer that will probably arrive, he's well-liked, and he has a charming woman who is his fiancée.
When Boaz checks his mailbox for the scholarship letter, what he finds instead is a series of notes written by an anonymous male admirer.
Boaz is uncertain about his sexual orientation. He had a male partner when he was in the military, but appears committed to his female partner now.
The problem--for me--arose when Boaz committed an act of sexual violence against his partner. She let him off with, "That hurt. Don't do it again." I think she should have seen this as a red flag.
You'll have to see the movie to learn how it ends. My guess is that the story will play out for Boaz long after the closing shot of the film.
We saw this movie at the Little Theatre as part of the wonderful ImageOut Rochester LGBT Film Festival. It will work well on DVD.
Alex & Ali (2014)
Not the documentary he set out to make
Director and writer Malachi Leopold set out to film an extraordinary story--the reunion of two men who had been in love for 45 years. Alex was a young U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Iran, and Ali was a young Iranian athlete. The men fell in love, and Alex stayed in Iran until the revolution forced him to go home. The documentary begins 35 years after Alex left Iran.
The men had kept in touch, and they decided that it would be possible--and safe--to reunite in Turkey. That should have been the documentary. Do the men still love each other? Do they find each other physically attractive? What about the fact that Alex is HIV positive?
Unfortunately, Ali came on the trip carrying documents that were confiscated by the Iranian authorities at the airport. He was allowed to travel to Turkey, but he faced possible prison and torture if he returned to Iran. What were his options, and which option would he choose?
That's the documentary that director Leopold ended up making. It's fascinating if you can step back from it. However, it's not a narrative film, so you can't step back. The movie follows the story as it played out, and we have no choice but to go along.
This is a tough, honest film. Only go to see it if you're ready for a hard, difficult, ride. We saw Alex & Ali as part of the truly wonderful ImageOut, the Rochester LGBT Film Festival. It will work well on DVD.
Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho (2014)
Outstanding movie from Brazil
The Brazilian film Hoje eu quero voltar sozinho was shown in the U.S. with the title The Way He Looks (2014). It was directed by Daniel Ribeiro.
The movie has three major characters--Leo (Ghilherme Lobo), a sensitive, intelligent young man, who has been blind from birth. His best friend is Giovana (the wonderful Tess Amorim). Enter Gabriel (Fabio Audi), a new student who is extraordinarily handsome, and is pursued by all the girls.
There are several sub-themes to the movie--the cruelty of some of the boys to Leo, Leo's attempt to break away from his loving, but very protective, parents, and Giovana's attraction to Gabriel.
The main theme, however, is whether there is an attraction between Leo and Gabriel that goes beyond friendship.
We saw this movie at the Dryden Theatre as part of the exciting ImageOut, the Rochester LGBT Film Festival. It will work well on DVD. Note that, as I write this review, The Way He Looks has an IMDb rating of 8.2, which is very, very high. It's wonderful to see a low-key foreign film gain such respect. Thanks to Michael Gamilla and the selection committee for bringing it to Rochester.
Life Partners (2014)
Pretty good film about very good friends
Life Partners (2014) was directed by Susanna Fogel. Sasha--Leighton Meester--is best friends with Paige--Gillian Jacobs. Sasha is a lesbian, and Paige is straight. Neither of them has a problem with this--there's no romantic interest, but lots of love.
Enter Tim--Adam Brody--who falls in love with Paige. (There's a movie in-joke here, because in real life, Brody is married to Meester.). Tim and Paige are engaged, and living together. The movie takes a strange turn at this point, when Paige backs into a neighbor's car. She refuses to take responsibility, which bothers Tim. This theme apparently was required to fill out a 95-minute movie. The whole business was trivial.
The real theme, in my opinion, was the inevitable break between Sasha and Paige. The theme of female friendship being broken when men become involved is old--think of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. It may be old, but it still resonates. I think that's what this movie really was about. It's certainly a theme worth exploring.
We saw this film at the Dryden Theatre as part of the well-chosen offerings of ImageOut, the Rochester LGBT Film Festival. It will work well on DVD.
Boy Meets Girl (2014)
Great movie about transgender romance
Boy Meets Girl (2014) was directed by Eric Schaeffer. Rickie, played by Michelle Henry, has known she's a woman since childhood. The problem is that she was born in a man's body. She has been transgendered medically, but not surgically. The people of the small town in which she lives know all this, and they've accepted it. (I live in a small town, and this rings true. People may think transgendering, or being lesbian, or being gay, is a little strange, but Ricky is one of their own, and they accept her for what she is.)
Ricky's straight best friend Robby, played by Michael Welch, truly cares for Ricky. There are some funny scenes where Robby tries to answer questions about what heterosexuals do when they make love. Remember that Ricky has male genitalia. When she's attracted to a beautiful straight woman, she doesn't exactly know how it all works. The beautiful woman is Francesca, who is engaged to a Marine. He's stationed in Afghanistan. He's there, Ricky is here, and romance with Francesca develops.
I felt that the plot weakened at that point, and that the last portion of the film didn't live up to what we had seen before. Even so, I highly recommend Boy Meets Girl. It's charming and worth seeking out.
We saw this movie at the Little Theatre as part of the brilliant ImageOut Rochester LGBT Film Festival. It will work well on DVD.
Cuatro lunas (2014)
Four stories--all interesting.
The Mexican film Cuatro Lunas was shown in the U.S. with the title Four Moons (2014). It was directed by Sergio Tovar Velarde. (I'm not sure if the title refers to the fact that the movie depicts four separate stories, or takes place over four months, or both.)
Sometimes, a director will interweave the stories so that characters of one story interact with characters of the other stories. Not so here. Each story is independent, but the theme of all four stories is the same--difficulties face by gay men. The stories have an age separation: one is about a pre-adolescent, one about a college-age couple, one about a couple in midlife, and one about an elderly professor who is married, with grown children, but who still seeks love from a gay hustler.
I found all four stories to be realistic and very moving. I was especially impressed by the story of Joaquin, the professor, played by Alonso Echinove. He has been awarded a literary prize by a small college. It's obviously a pretty minor event, but it's the only award he's likely to receive. He pays the young hustler to attend, and the young man keeps his promise to be there.
We saw this film at The Little Theatre as part of ImageOut, the always impressive Rochester LGBT Film Festival. It will work well on DVD.
Trying to cross cultural barriers
"Lilting" (2014) is an English film directed by Hong Khaou. The film begins in the aftermath of a tragedy. Kai--a young gay Chinese-Cambodian man--has died in an accident. He never came out to his mother. She is bereft of her only son, and is not in the mood to be comforted by his "roommate." Meanwhile, she is having a relationship with a man her age. The problem is that he speaks English, and she speaks Chinese.
In order to be helpful, Kai's partner, Richard (Ben Whishaw) hires an interpreter to allow the mother (Junn, played by Pei-Pei Cheng) to communicate with her friend.
The problem is that, although the gesture is well-meant, the situation is more complicated than it looks. Nothing works the way Richard had hoped, despite the efforts of the wonderful translator Vann.
The movie is poignant, but enjoyable. We saw it at the Little Theatre as part of the great ImageOut, the Rochester LGBT Film Festival. It will work well on DVD.
An important, but somewhat forgotten, feminist author
The French film Violette (2013) was directed by Martin Provost. It tells the story of Violette LeDuc, who's was considered an important feminist author in the postwar period, but who is now largely forgotten except by feminist scholars.
When the film opens, Violette (played by Emmanuelle Devos) is running from the police. We assume that she's wanted by the Gestapo, but, in fact, she is just caught hiding some black-market food, for which she spends a few days in prison.
Eventually, after the war, LeDuc goes to Paris, where she is befriended by Simone de Beauvoir (played by Sandrine Kiberlain). LeDuc is introduced to de Beauvoir's circle-- Sartre, Camus, Genet. LeDuc began to write--mainly semi-autobiographic novels--that attained some popularity, despite being heavily censored. The censorship was due to the lesbian content, as well as the graphic sexuality. (Tame subjects now, but not in post-war France.)
I didn't enjoy this movie much. Violette, as portrayed in the film, wasn't really a fascinating character. The movie ran for over two hours, with too many scenes of discussions in publishers' offices. I thought the best component of the film was Kiberlain's portrayal of Simone de Beauvoir. Her Beauvoir was beautiful in a non-traditional way, and very forceful and direct. Despite the title of the movie, the screen didn't light up when LeDuc was portrayed. For me, Beauvoir was the character who was truly at the center of the movie.
We saw this film at the Little Theatre, as part of ImageOut, the admirable Rochester LGBT Film Festival. It will work well on DVD.