Tag Archives: Lesbian

Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

25 Jul

‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’: Stardom loses some luster in dusty, bloody wilds of L.A.

 

Image result for once upon a time in hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” isn’t a rescripting of historical events the way “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) envisioned the Nazis toppled by a handful of hard-hitting Jews, but there are definitely some major ripples in time. No, “Hollywood” is more a tongue-in-check, kick-in-the-pants modern fairytale with a hefty side of cinematic homage; it rambles some, to be sure, but it’s more sincere and genuine in execution than the video store clerk-turned-auteur’s last outing, “The Hateful Eight” (2015). It may be Tarantino’s most personal and intimate film to date (tying with “Jackie Brown” on the latter) as the director talks about tapping out after 10 films – which this would be if “Four Rooms” counts, but I digress.

The setting is the late 1960s. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), something of a Clint Eastwood or Chuck Connors, came to fame in a fictional hit television western called “Bounty Law” a decade earlier and now finds it hard to get lead work – he plays mostly heavies on (real) shows such as “The F.B.I.” and “Lancer.” Front and center too is Dalton’s shadow and heyday stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), a smooth, angular chap with an aw-shucks facade and a deeply dark side that gets leveraged to glorious and disturbing effect. Because the two are loyal bros, Dalton, during his downward fade, employs Booth as driver and gofer. Dalton also lives next door to Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski – and, yes, on the eve of the Manson family murders – and in a separate silo we get Margot Robbie as an ebullient Ms. Tate looking grand and fabulous as she dances poolside at a Playboy mansion gig and taking in a screening of “The Wrecking Crew,” which she stars in with Dean Martin.(At the box office, she asks if she can get a free pass, because she’s in it.) Robbie may not say much, but she’s intoxicating in every scene she’s in. Doomed in real life as a Manson victim, Tate is held up by Tarantino as the essence of a sunsetting era.

Continue reading

Booksmart

25 May

 

Image result for booksmart

To say Molly’s a bit of an overplanner would be an understatement, but to date things have mostly worked out – she’s in at Yale. We catch up with the library-loving pair on the eve of graduation, when reality comes crashing in on their four-year abstinence. Molly, in the pleasant surroundings of a coed bathroom, learns that many of the partying jocks and popular girls also got in at their first choices – Stanford for the handsome A-Rod clone, and a much-scorned “easy” girl is also heading to Yale. Talk about a bucket of ice water, let alone a water-filled condom hurled in the hallway that finds its viscous mark. A quick re-eval and Molly decides that the two must hit the most hip and happening party that night to notch “a seminal fun antidote” and that smooch for her BFF who has her eye on a certain someone. 

Directed by actress Olivia Wilde (“Beer Buddies”) making her feature filmmaking debut, and imbued with sharp, witty dialogue by a quartet of female writers (usually not a good sign when there’s a phalanx of penners, but that’s not the case here), the film rides the rails of many a teen comedy that’s come before – the seminal works of John Hughes, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and recents and darker films such as “Lady Bird” and “Eighth Grade” – namely that amid all the teenage hijinks, it’s really about friendship and support during the throes of those angst-filled, defining years.

Even if “Booksmart” pushes a few gags too far, it’s pleasantly smart and silly from start to end. Some of the best moments play off the young ladies’ yen for different genders. Take Amy’s wide-eyed Christian parents who think Molly and their daughter might be an item: Molly seizes just about every opportunity to play up the angle, mostly in the form of overzealous hugs that include conspicuous breast cupping. Then there’s the goofy reveal of self-pleasure items (not all treasured childhood toys remain in their innocent past) and Amy perusing porn in a Lyft driven by the moonlighting school principal for “educational purposes” (what to do with another girl). Add to the mix Billie Lourd and Skyler Gisondo as the school’s two super-rich eccentrics (Gigi, the ubiquitous teenage acid queen, and Jared, a yacht-owning loner and wayward romantic) and you have a rich potpourri that’s full of pop and zing. The romance takes some unexpected turns too, and in the end “Booksmart” is as much of a heart warmer as it is a tummy tickler. It’s not entirely polished, mind you, but the rough edges are small and easily forgotten with the infectious and palpable chemistry between Dever and Feldstein. Not enough can be said about their value to the film’s success – their dynamic duo and Wilde, playing it all just off-center, have made familiar tropes new and wickedly relevant again.

Rafiki

10 May

‘Rafiki’: Kenyan love story is rife with politics, including a true-life oppression of gay culture

 

There’s a lot of stuff to talk about before getting to the cinematic merits of “Rafiki.” The film, about two lovers from opposing political families, is reminiscent of “Romeo and Juliet,” and the Swahili title translates to something innocuous and good (“friend”); neither are the reason for the film’s notoriety. “Rafiki,” directed by Wanuri Kahiu, was the first film out of Kenya to make the lineup at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival – and on the uglier side, was banned in that country, Kahiu’s homeland, which still has (but is debating repealing) colonial-era laws making homosexuality illegal, punishable by up to 14 years in jail.

The reason for the film ban wasn’t explicitly those antiquated and oppressive laws, but because it portrayed a same-sex couple in a positive light. “Homosexuality is a reality,” a film board member said regarding the decision, “What we are against is the endeavor to show that as a way of life in Kenya.” Kahiu was asked to alter the ending – but refused and sued. A judge ultimately flipped the decision, writing, “I am not convinced that Kenya is such a weak society whose moral foundation will be shaken by watching a film depicting a gay theme.” 

Beyond the courtroom brouhaha, the film still serves as badge of courage and perseverance for the Kenyan LGBTQ community for residing under such duress. At the heart of Kahiu’s film, which is based on the short story “Jambula Tree” by Monica Arac de Nyeko, are two young women with different ideals. Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) has plans to go to nursing school, while Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), a wide-eyed free spirit blessed with cool, colorful dreads, wants to break out and explore the world. In their first encounter Ziki pooh-poohs Kena’s mundane aspirations and encourages her to raise the bar. It’s love at first witty barb, but if the inherently hostile nature of the social climate doesn’t provide a big enough obstacle, their fathers’ political rivalry jockeying over a council seat threatens their blissful budding even more.

The pair’s palpably felt companionship – the realization of that rare human connection with someone who gets you, thoroughly and intimately – is the heart and soul of the endeavor, and what makes it such a joy. Given the glum setting in “the Slopes,” a term for the seedy outskirts of Kenya’s capital,“Rafiki” would be an entirely different film without this notion of hope. Perhaps it would be as moving (unlikely), but sadly so, as only a reminder of barren prospects and the pointlessness of dreaming. 

It’s a good thing Kahiu didn’t back down on her principles. For Westerners, her portrait affords a look inside a culture and a country we’re not normally exposed to. To all, it’s a potent reminder that such practices of open oppression still exist. And inside that country, it’s most definitely a demand for progress.

Battle of the Sexes

4 Oct

Emma Stone and Steve Carrell square off in Battle of the Sexes

Courtesy Fox Searchlight

 

Battle of the Sexes is more than just an empowerment victory lap for women and others seeking equality. It’s also a heartfelt tale of two intimate love stories — with the least surprising of the two registering the more surprising result. Oh yeah, it’s also a fantastic time capsule resurrecting the early ’70s with aplomb and a sad reminder of just how deeply chauvinistic mainstream culture used to be (and still is). Take the venerated sportscaster Howard Cossell commenting in the preamble of the titular event (an ABC prime-time broadcast that was almost as big as the Super Bowl) that if tennis pro Billy Jean King (Emma Stone) lost her wire-rimmed glasses and bland bob, she might shock the world with movie star good looks. Did Jimmy Connors or John McEnroe ever get brought up for their appearance?

King by all rights was a trailblazer, the first female professional athlete to earn over $100K in a year and a reluctant feminist icon who sought more equal pay for female players who were paid “eight times” less than their male counterparts. Resolute and unwavering to pro tennis tour honcho Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) and his claim that men were the bigger draw, King quickly retorts that the women sell just as many tickets at the same price. Solid logic that gets brushed aside.

That’s when King and tennis promoter Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) decide to create their own tennis circuit (what becomes the Virginia Slims Circuit). Kramer initially can’t believe the bluff and goes on the offensive in the media saying the idea will fail when it begins to take root. Not onscreen much, Kramer becomes the film’s de facto villain, more so than Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell), the other half of the “battle,” who at age 55, an anointed tennis legend (Grand Slam winner, former No. 1 player, and tennis hall-of-famer) bored with life and addicted to gambling, reinvents himself by calling out King after her fiscal milestone. He’s a lover of the limelight and needs more than the bare-knuckle tennis matches he and his scotch-sipping cronies stage — with a handicap of course. In one deftly comical scene, Riggs has to hold a pair of Afghan dogs on leash while dodging a series of folding chair obstacles placed on his side of the court. For his troubles, he wins a Rolls Royce. Continue reading

The Handmaiden

6 Nov

Park Chan-wook’s sensual psychodrama “The Handmaiden” begins in the epic bowels of conflict and strife, but it’s truly a cloistered affair where nothing is as it seems, growing increasingly more constricted over its nearly two and half hours. It holds its rapturous tease over us with scrumptious visuals, artful poise and dips into kink and gore that would give the Marquis de Sade reason to smile. Most remarkable, however, is that Park, best know for the violent tale of liberation and atonement, “Oldboy” (2003), part of his infamous “Vengeance Trilogy,” transposes Sarah Waters’ “Fingersmith,” a Victorian-era feminist romance, to Japan-occupied Korea in the 1930s. It’s not the first time the Seoul-based auteur has adopted foreign-penned work – his 2009 vampire tale of self-repression, “Thirst,” was in fact based on Emile Zola’s “Therese Raquin.”

102716i-the-handmaiden-bThe term “fingersmith” refers to either a midwife or a pickpocket. Given the film’s title you might assume the former, and we start off by meeting Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri), a young Korean who tends to infants whose fates are more likely dictated by matters of profit than the kindness of charity. But the reality is it’s both – and fingers in general play a large part throughout. Sook-Hee’s plucked from among the nannies by the dashing Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) to become handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim), who lives in a stately manse that would be a perfect fit for a Merchant-Ivory project. As quaint as this all is, we learn quickly that all is not that tidy and proper; Fujiwara isn’t Japanese, or even a nobleman – just a shrewd opportunist trying to get ahead during tumultuous times, and Sook-Hee, for all her nurturing, wholesome innocence, has a past of using her dexterously light fingers for illicit gains. Continue reading

The Duke of Burgundy

31 Jan

‘The Duke of Burgundy’: Arthouse eros brings ’60s sheen to S&M, mind games

whitespace

Water sports, S&M and mind games abound in this lushly shot tale of lesbian role play, but all is not a titillating charade when it comes to the matters of the heart. “The Duke of Burgundy” takes place mostly within the cloistered confines of a Hungarian manse – a study, a kitchen, obviously “the bathroom,” the boudoir (the pair in bed shown provocatively only in reflective and refractive mirrors and metal objects) and a coffin in an anteroom – and the surrounding bucolic meadow where the lovers occasionally meander on their euro-styled bikes. Sure, there’s also the hall of academia, where Cynthia (Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen) dishes her lepidopterology findings with her fellows, but mostly it’s a photo op for well-shined boots set to tedious scientific droning.

013015i The Duke of BurgundyThe dynamic between Cynthia and Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) is ever evolving. Initially Evelyn appears the part of a maid late for work on her first day. She’s obedient and demure in her duties, but under constant scrutiny and certain to make a mistake, and when she does she’s “punished” by being used as “a human toilet.” One might wince at such an act (it takes place offscreen, but the acute sound editing registers it profoundly in the viewer’s mind), but such are the games a pair in love play, and they go on to involve shining boots and being made to bake your own birthday cake without getting to eat it. Then there’s the time spent in that coffin-like chest – and through it all, Cynthia drinks plenty of water, ever ready to dispense her form of urinary discipline.   Continue reading

Blue is the Warmest Color

5 Nov

‘Blue is the Warmest Color’: Tantalizing and très French in its sensual complication

By Tom Meek
November 4, 2013

whitespace

Abdellatif Kechiche’s beguiling portrait of passion and betrayal received much ado at Cannes, where it won the top prize and garnered an NC-17 rating as it came ashore here in the states. At three hours in length, the French film, originally and more simply titled “The Life of Adèle,” is just that: the tale of a young woman coming of age and her sexual awakening. The big brouhaha whipped up is over Adèle’s true love being another woman. For the middle third of the film as their relationship blossoms, the girls, one in high school and one in college, have torrid couplings under the noses of their parents. It’s pretty graphic, with lip-to-labia contact, contorted scissoring and deep-tissue rump massages.

110413i Blue Is the Warmest Color

The first of these protracted scenes feels apt and genuine, as it’s fueled by ardor and emotion, but the following ones feel staged and exploitive by comparison. Still, it’s how the two women, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Léa Seydoux), meet and their journey that drives the film, not the over-the-top sexcapades. Adèle, fairly popular at school, has a quick, trivial interlude with a male classmate who, after achieving the conquest, becomes cold and aloof. Then, out at a gay club with male friends, Adèle wanders into the abutting lesbian meat-market where she’s instantaneous shark bait. Across the bar, she and the blue-haired Emma (perhaps the impetus for the American title – that and the fact Adèle is almost always wearing a blue dress or like-hued attire) lock eyes repeatedly. The sharks circle closer and take their exploratory nips. That’s when Emma steps in and pulls Adele from a persistent plier, offering a sprig of earnest camaraderie without pander or expectation. But clearly there’s desire.  Continue reading