As I write on Independence Day, it is a more historic 4th of July than ever in my life thanks to the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality across the country. Those of us who have long been considered outsiders are celebrating our new, hard-won inclusion. God bless America!
Several new home video/VOD releases depict men and women yearning for acceptance not only in the US but around the world. While brothers David and Nathan Zellners' Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (available from Anchor Bay) isn't LGBT-specific, its story of an unappreciated Japanese woman's quest emerges as one of my favorite films of 2015 thus far. Rinko Kikuchi (an Oscar nominee for Babel and more recently seen in Pacific Rim) plays the title character, a past-her-prime "office lady" by day who becomes fixated on the briefcase full of money buried in the snow in the 1996 Academy Award winning film Fargo. Believing it to be real, Kumiko steals her boss's credit card and heads to North Dakota in search of the loot.
The movie is similar to Alexander Payne's Nebraska in following a deluded (or is she?) character's obsession with a gimmicky promise of financial windfall, and Payne actually served as an executive producer here. Kumiko, though, is the better and more believable film. While its plot seems as far-fetched on paper as Nebraska's, which centered on a demented elderly man intent on claiming his million-dollar "prize" from Publisher's Clearinghouse, Kumiko benefits from a more stylized directorial approach. Kikuchi's performance is minimalist but heartfelt, and the cost of her character's yearning is made more palpable when she has to give up her beloved pet, an adorable rabbit named Bunzo (don't lose heart, new viewers, as Bunzo makes a later appearance). This is a great movie, not to mention a thoroughly loving tribute to its source of Coen Brothers-made inspiration.
While they aren't quite as ambitious nor as accomplished, a handful of new LGBT titles also find outsiders striving to fit in by accepting who they are and with the help of a loved one. Boys in Brazil (from TLA Releasing) follows several gay friends struggling to come out to their parents or, in one case, their wife. They make a pact among themselves to do so before Pride in Rio de Janeiro one year later. Andre Colazzi's screenplay plies well-worn territory and the handling of a young wannabe drag queen is painfully stereotypical, but the film and its subjects nevertheless possess an admirable integrity.
Of Girls and Horses, which was popular on last year's festival circuit, is now available from Wolfe. Acclaimed lesbian director Monika Treut (Gendernauts, My Father is Coming) helmed this romantic tale of a rebellious teenager, Alex, who is banished by her parents to a remote equestrian estate. Alex (played by German TV star Ceci Chuh) quickly becomes smitten not only with the horses but her riding instructor, Nina (Vanida Karun). Things become further complicated when another, more privileged young woman arrives. Well-acted and sensitive, the film is a must see for the ladies.
Finally, Tiger Orange (also from Wolfe) is a low-key but worthwhile story about two very different gay brothers coming to terms with one another. Frankie Valenti, better known as gay porn star Johnny Hazzard, makes an impressive dramatic debut as the more out and hunkier of the siblings, while Mark Strano (who also co-wrote the film with his partner, Wade Gasque, who directs) won a special Jury Award at last year's Outfest for his similarly sincere performance.
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter: A-
Boys in Brazil: B
Of Girls and Horses: B+
Tiger Orange: B
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, Boys in Brazil, Of Girls and Horses and Tiger Orange are now available on Blu-ray or DVD:
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.