Friday, February 27, 2015

Reverend's Reviews: Trans, Boys & a Queen


Now that Hollywood's award season is finally over after a lackluster Oscars presentation, there are some really interesting new movies opening theatrically this weekend in one city or another. Two of them now playing in Los Angeles, Boy Meets Girl (featuring breakout performances by Michelle Hendley and Z Nation's hot zombie slayer Michael Welch) and Drunktown's Finest (which boasts Robert Redford as executive producer), have strong transsexual characters at their hearts. Both deservedly won numerous awards on last year's film festival circuit and are must-sees for LGBTQ moviegoers.

Newly-minted Oscar winner Julianne Moore may well find herself nominated again next year for her raw but winking performance in veteran director David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars, now playing in theaters as well as On Demand and iTunes. Moore was already named Best Actress at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal here of Havana Segrand, a former starlet desperate to make her comeback in the remake of a film that starred her now-deceased movie star mother.

Havana hires a new girl in town, Agatha (a trippy turn by Alice in Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska), to serve as her personal assistant. Little does Havana realize that Agatha is the long-exiled daughter of Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), self-help guru to the stars. She is also the older sister of Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), star of a Home Alone-like franchise and fresh out of rehab at the age of 13.

Maps to the Stars is a dark film to be sure, even for Cronenberg (1986's The Fly, Naked Lunch, A History of Violence). It is written by Bruce Wagner, who has long poked fun at/criticized the industry via such previous screenplays as Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills and I'm Losing You. While there are a few laugh out loud moments in Maps to the Stars, it emerges as an unpleasant, overly harsh critique that depicts virtually all Hollywood players as shallow, literally incestuous addicts of one stripe or another. The game cast's performances are great across the board, and Carrie Fisher has a fun running cameo, but only Julianne Moore's knowing take on the self-absorbed, washed-up actress can be called truly significant and worthy of further awards consideration.

Opening this weekend at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City is Eastern Boys, the new and very gay movie by French writer-director Robin Campillo (Les Revenants, the 2004 source of the more recent hit TV series The Returned, and 2008's Oscar-nominated The Class).

Set in Paris, Eastern Boys explores the plight of immigrant youths from Russia, the Ukraine and other parts of eastern Europe. Many are forced to hustle for a living, which is how Ukrainian teenager Marek (sensitively played by Kirill Emelyanov) meets the wealthy, middle-aged Daniel (veteran actor Olivier Rabourdin from Taken 1 & 2, Midnight in Paris and Of Gods and Men). What Daniel expects to be a sex-for-pay encounter with Marek instead becomes a home invasion by members of Marek's gang who end up robbing Daniel of practically everything he owns.

It isn't long afterward before Marek makes amends and his relationship with Daniel gradually moves from sexual to romantic to more unexpectedly familial. Campillo's script takes several surprising turns before culminating in a showdown with the head of Marek's gang, who keeps him and the other boys subservient by holding their passports under lock and key. The film's denouement is quite touching. Eastern Boys manages to be both sexy and compassionate, which makes it all the more impressive.

Director John Boorman has had a long list of cinematic achievements — some great (Deliverance, Excalibur), some dubious (Zardoz, Exorcist II: The Heretic) — during his 50-year career. Most critics would probably call 1987's Hope and Glory his masterpiece. Inspired by his childhood in London during World War II, it was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay.

Queen and Country, Boorman's long-delayed sequel to Hope and Glory, is now playing in LA, NYC and San Francisco. It is a welcome, thoroughly enjoyable follow up that covers the further misadventures of Boorman's stand-in, Bill (Callum Turner), when he is drafted as a 19-year old into the British military during the Korean War. He falls into mischief with his funny but troubled new best friend, experiences first love for a lovely philosophy student who may have ties to the royal family, and butts heads with commanding officers played by the esteemed likes of David Thewlis, Brian F. O'Byrne and a hilarious Richard E. Grant.

While Queen and Country doesn't feature as large-scale a depiction of war and its aftereffects as Hope and Glory, possibly due to a more limited budget, the film still boasts exquisite period details thanks to its excellent, longtime production designer Anthony Pratt and gorgeous photography by Seamus Deasy of the English countryside. Most critically, the 82-year old Boorman hasn't lost his touch for finding humor and even wonder in the seemingly mundane experiences of life.

Reverend's Ratings:
Boy Meets Girl: B+
Drunktown's Finest: B
Maps to the Stars: C+
Eastern Boys: B+
Queen and Country: A-

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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