One teenager turns against another after a fleeting homosexual encounter; a great author revels in her lost-to-history lesbian romance; and a hustler lavishes affection on others while remaining utterly unable to take care of himself. Read our pick for best movies to see this spring.
Writer/director Mike Leigh is simply one of the besT. I recommend you see all of his films (especially High Hopes, Naked, Secrets & Lies, Topsy Turvy and Another Year). One of Leigh’s greatest strengths is in composing stories of very high intellectual quality while also representing very ordinary people exceptionally well. He now follows up his biopic of Britain’s master ‘painter of light,’ Mr. Turner, with another dive into England’s past, one particularly relevant to the troubles of today. It refers to the “Peterloo Massacre” — a mash-up of St. Peter’s Field (where it took place) and the then-recent Battle of Waterloo.
The film explores a 1819 event near Manchester where establishment thugs and the military attacked a peaceful assembly — including women and children — who had turned out to hear a speech about the need for labor reform. The incident occurred at the dawn of the industrial revolution, when the working poor were already being treated like annoyingly needy machines who were being asked to work harder in worsening conditions for increasingly less pay. But workers hungered for change.
But rather than consider their needs, many of the rich thought it better to crush their spirits (lest they give an inch and lose a mile). Peterloo follows the ordinary working poor of Manchester and the reformers organizing them and speaking out for redress. Loudest among them was Henry Hunt, the gifted orator who drew the especially large crowd on that bloody day. Leigh portrays the working class as praiseworthy and decent, in contrast with the disconnected, uncompassionate and often cruel decadence of the rich.
The grossest example of the latter is an overfed and dribbling prince regent, played disgustingly well by Tim McInnerny (Notting Hill). The rest of the cast are too numerous and praiseworthy to mention, as Leigh’s films always draw into them the cream of England’s thespian crop. The Word: Historically true and unembellished, Leigh’s matter-of-fact style camouflages the brilliance of his cinematic craft. Coming to: TheatersFind LGBTQ-Friendly Resources
Giant Little Ones
The scene is set with 17-year-olds and sexuality. Franky (Josh Wiggins – Max) and his best friend Ballas (Darren Mann – Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) are living a teenage dream. They’re handsome, popular, athletic, smart, kind, and they know how to have fun. But after having a blast at Franky’s birthday party, a drunken sleepover leads to an experience neither of them expected. Though we don’t see exactly what happens under the covers, we quickly see Ballas pulling away from his best friend, and then smearing Franky’s sexuality via the high school rumor mill in an attempt to protect himself. Ultimately, Ballas is caught in a classic example the prisoners dilemma, in which the only perceived safety for oneself lies in condemning someone else. What makes this movie worth seeing is how Franky handles his dilemma, which is both unpredictable and liberating. There are a few twists and turns I’d rather not spoil, but I do recommend taking the ride, as this film by freshman feature director Keith Behrman has a lot to offer.
The best reason why may be Josh Wiggins himself, who straddles the line between handsome and beautiful, all the while exuding decency and sensitivity from soulful eyes and a nearly constant, sublime smile. Darren Mann sports a lot of appeal as well; he’s more masculine and animal than Wiggins, but his performance is no less coordinated. The film also features the ever radiant Maria Bello as Franky’s mom, and Kyle MacLachlan as his father (a character who’s more than he first seems). Taylor Hickson (Deadly Class) is also strong, as another character with her own teenage-sex-problem to overcome and Niamh Wilson (Maps to the Stars) takes a nice turn as Franky’s funny lesbian friend. The Word: The title echoes HBO’s Big Little Lies, although here Ones seems to reference both young adults and lies. Either way, this film contains a potent message about youth and sexuality that many should receive. Coming to: Theaters.
There are a lot of well-worn cinematic clichés that a film about a terrorist attack could fall into. Hotel Mumbai tastefully avoids a lot of them, instead respectfully allowing heroism and horror alike to simply be what they are. The film wastes no time; opening on a small boat carrying the ten men from Pakistan who in 2008 gunned down and blew up 164 people at several locations around Mumbai. We follow them as they spread out, heading to their targets, listening to the voice of a man through earpieces as he instructs them and pumps up their murderous religious resolve. This device works well, and even though obviously fictionalized, the man’s words provide insight into the attackers, who come off as human even while unforgivable in their reckless cruelty.
The bulk of the film centers on the siege at the Taj Hotel where an American (Armie Hammer – Call Me by Your Name) and his Muslim wife Nazanin Boniadi (Homeland) struggle to protect themselves and their infant son. Despite what you might expect of a movie star, handsome Hammer does not find a gun and turn the tables, though Jason Issacs as a surly Russian millionaire does put up a fight. No, the heroes of this film are the hotel staff — like famed chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher – The Big Sick) and waiter Arjun (Dev Patel – Lion), who help the guests to hide from the gunmen instead of saving themselves by simply slipping out the back doors. Be aware that the violence is pretty brutal in this film. There’s no torture, apart from the fear of death, but the filmmakers accurately capture how badly AK47s can tear up human flesh. Perhaps more disturbing than the blood is the callous way in which the attackers execute people that they have been programmed to believe are less than human. The Word: It’s a story of ordinary heroism and perseverance in the face of murderous ignorance with Dev Patel continuing to display his growing star quality. Coming to: Theaters.
Hungarian director László Nemes imbues Sunset with the same haunted and assaulting style as his exceptional film Son of Saul, which took home 2015’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture. This worked particularly well in Saul which where the camera very closely follows a slave laborer in a Nazi concentration camp as he struggles to survive, physically, mentally and spiritually, moment by moment. In that severe setting the non-stop barrage of horrors and dangers constantly flung at the protagonist (and the audience) became a rollercoaster ride through Hell; It was brutal and dazzling filmcraft. In Sunset, a similar assault takes place, as tight camera work keeps viewers almost completely within the sphere of the protagonist’s view while hostile folk and confusing threats swirl around her. Írisz Leiter (Juli Jakab – Son of Saul) has returned to Budapest after spending most of her life in exile to seek employment at the famed Leiter’s hat shop once owned by her parents before their death in a fire.
The mystery of Írisz’s past (including her parent’s deaths and the shadowy brother she never knew) are slowly revealed. They come to help explain why Írisz looks so incredibly haunted and distant, and why so many of the people she meets, even in passing, regard her with icy contempt. Be prepared to not fully know what’s going on for at least 80 percent of the film. Despite this, it’s easy enough to glean that the troubles which will soon lead to the tragic outbreak of WWI are beginning to reach a boil throughout Europe. So prepare for another well-constructed rollercoaster ride. Though some will find it a relief that it’s less grounded in Son of Saul’s instantly familiar context of the Holocaust, they may also feel the ride loses some intensity as one’s attention leaves the tracks to figure out where you are. The Word: The constant immediacy of events begins to seem a bit forced by the end, but this is still top tier and dream-like filmmaking. Coming to: Theaters.
The White Crow
As a director, and movie star with a good deal of industry clout, Ralph Fiennes only chooses projects he feels genuine passion for. His first film, Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, percolates with that passion, as well as fury and blood. It could not have been easy to adapt to film, nor is it easy to take in, but it is impressive. For his second feature, The Invisible Woman, Fiennes was drawn to another legendary author, Charles Dickens — less the man’s work than the man himself, and the decades-long extramarital affair that so eloquently underscores his rare humanity. For his third effort, The White Crow, Fiennes tackles another towering artistic figure, Russian ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev. But in this film, Fiennes takes a back seat as an actor, portraying only Nureyev’s sad-eyed dance teacher and leaving the lead acting role to an actual dancer.
That’s something The White Crow does well — displaying at least a bit of the awesome, soaring power of dance. Watching Oleg Ivenko (Nureyev) leap and spin might be reason enough to see this film. His angular face and intense blue-eyed gaze can captivate, and his acting is serviceable, even pretty decent. What seems lacking is the fact that the story leans too heavily on the oft-declared concept of Nureyev’s irrepressible artistic passion and a somewhat tepid dénouement in which he frantically defects from the Soviet Union before his KGB handlers can permanently lock him behind the iron curtain. The film doesn’t really fail in any distinct way, but some viewers may feel that its charms are not enough to satisfy. The Word: I salute Fiennes for his commitment to passion, to art, to accuracy and to artistic diligence (like actually speaking Russian in the film), but he may have been better served by departing from the truth like Nureyev defying gravity. Coming to: Theaters.
Wild Nights With Emily
It’s a widely held misconception that iconic American poet Emily Dickinson was a loveless, sexless reclusive spinster who wrote depressing poetry about sadness and death. It is true that Dickinson never married and eschewed society, rarely leaving her family’s land. And, yes, her poetry often reads as bleak (though beautiful). But the truth is the woman knew passion better than most can ever hope to. This was suggested by the title of 2015’s A Quiet Passion, in which Cynthia Nixon portrayed Dickinson in the long-suffering, somber way one would expect. An excellent film, it might serve as a complimentary pairing with the often bawdy humor of Wild Nights with Emily. Here, the delightfully quirky Molly Shannon fills the role just as well, although quite differently. Shannon is perfect casting for this highly unusual and refreshing mix of comedy and period poetry, because Shannon is one of those rare actors who can make you laugh and cry at the same time. (2016’s Other People is a great example).
Shannon’s Dickinson, and the choppy vignette-like composition of Wild Nights, operates under light shed by Dickinson’s Sister-in-Law’s daughter’s 1914 book. That work revealed a long, passionate, loving affair between her mother Susan and Emily. Childhood friends long before they were sisters, the two were lovers for many years. In the film, their affair is represented as both beautiful and also full of comic human foibles. Although the dialogue and frequent voiceovers feel accurate to the period, you can also feel Shannon almost want to address the camera at times, like a character on TV’s The Office. Playful is word that best describes this unique film, as Dickinson’s story finally ought to be. For only a person possessing such an ecstatic mind and true love of life could’ve written as she did. The Word: You’ve heard her gloomy words; now experience her wild nights! Coming to: Theaters.
In the opening scene, a young man gets a doctor’s exam that he appears to badly need. He’s handsome but has visibly been living rough. As the attentive doctor probes his naked body, the exam quickly morphs into a ‘happy-ending’ scenario, followed closely by the revelation that the young man is a prostitute acting out a client’s detailed fetish. Next the young man is standing by a verdant stretch of highway dotted with other men like him, each sporting a suggestive stance and searching stare. Their alert, hungry eyes depict them as animals, not so much base as vibrantly alive, and always searching for a meal. The young man, Leo (Félix Maritaud – BPM), is drawn to reveal how he feels about Ahd (Eric Bernard), a hunky hustler just across the asphalt. However, Ahd rejects Leo’s affections in favor of an older sugar-daddy, and he urges Leo to do the same.
Through writer/director Camille Vidal-Naquet’s potent visual storytelling Leo is shown to be both a true lover and truly incapable of caring for himself. Maritaud embodies a captivating character of mysterious beauty. His palpable need for and generous expressions of human affection are utterly disarming. His choices like failing to see a real doctor for his chronic cough or drinking from a gutter puddle are distressing. A portrait develops of a creature teetering on the edge, caught between settling and love, between the comfort of possession and the precarious wilds of freedom. The Word: The film is as visceral as its title (French for ‘wild’) suggests, capturing with magnetic intensity both the vagaries of human need and the graphic carnal realties of gay sex. Easily an early contender for one of 2019’s best gay films, and a landmark performance for Maritaud. Coming to: Theaters.
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Last modified: March 27, 2019