Do I Sound Gay? (2014)

The question that forms the title of this documentary (which I supported through Kickstarter) is not one I find the need to ask. Dozens of classmates in middle school and high school who picked on me, along with plenty of strangers I’ve had marginal conversations with have provided that answer for me without it needing to be asked. The documentary focuses on the place of the “gay voice” as it relates to individual gay men, particularly the director David Thorpe, and in the broader culture. Recognizing that the film is not about me, as a nominally straight man, I was still curious if the documentary would explore the effect of the notion of a gay voice on those who aren’t part of that community.

To that particular standard, I wasn’t entirely disappointed, as a brief section acknowledges that the voice isn’t actually a great predictor, and introduces one person as an example, but it doesn’t really dive into the effect for those individuals. However, in its key purpose, it is pretty thorough, if not exactly interested in scientific heft. At one point Thorpe mentions voice as ultimately a product of one’s physical form, but it never really talks about the mechanics of that. It spends more time on things that seem contrary to that point, such as the influence of women in a boy’s upbringing (I certainly have tended toward socializing with women, which could have affected my speech patterns) to the notion of camp as identity performance.

While comfortable enough with my own voice generally, I do have concerns about how it is perceived. I have no problem being perceived as gay per se, but when a woman does that, she’s likely not to consider you as a likely sexual partner, which, being primarily interested in women, poses a bit of a problem. What I found surprising was the way that the gay voice is actually seen as a potentially unattractive trait even to other gay men. To the degree that I have an interest in men, it is toward the more effeminate, which makes perfect sense for me. But in hindsight, it almost seems obvious that for those who are actually interested in men, be they men or women, masculine traits are a major part of that. So while it might be easy for women to get away with strong preferences toward the masculine, when an insular culture has both a preference for masculine and an identity that encourages femininity, there is a certain dissonance.

Students of film will appreciate a section about the origin of the gay voice as a form of code in pop culture when making a character openly gay was not possible. This has its positive connotation of sophistication and creativity (or general class implications), and sense of humor, but has often carried the stigma of an evil otherness, and I’ll never look at a Disney villain the same way again. At a brisk 75 minutes, the film gets in and out and is useful, but ultimately feels like it could have used another 15 minutes to add in some more substance.


Magic Mike XXL (2015)

You know what I never want to see in the credits of a film? This:
Augustus’ Girl
Malik’s Girl #1
Mike’s Girl #1
Mike’s Girl #2
Mike’s Girl #3
Mike’s Girl #4
Tito’s Girl #1
Tito’s Girl #2
Tito’s Girl #3
Ken’s Girl #1
Ken’s Girl #2
Big D*** Richie’s Girl
Malik’s Girl #2
Ken’s Floor Girl #3
Mike’s Girl #2

Now, in fairness to this film, most of these are the women who take an interactive part of the guys’ stripping routines, so it isn’t necessarily important that they be named, and the possessive doesn’t indicate actual romantic possession. I mean, Rick Springfield had it wrong, she wasn’t Jessie’s Girl, she was the woman who was dating Jessie. We’ll ignore that if he “had” Jessie’s Girl, she wouldn’t be Jessie’s Girl. It’s a paradox.

While Magic Mike felt like it had something to say about the economy and masculinity, in addition to flashy dancing, XXL is all rather flaccid until they actually arrive at the convention in the last half hour. The film’s attempt at meaning around doing something personally meaningful rather than playing to expectations others have could be powerful, but it doesn’t really have the potency. But those final scenes, especially Richie’s routine and the dual mirror routine of Mike and Malik. That’s what we came to see. Bonus points for Joe Manganiello’s reaction shot to the Twilight-themed routine from another troop. Ultimately, this reminds me a lot of Pitch Perfect 2, it delivers in what it actually exists for, but just has a bit of a problem with the filler.


The Martian (2015)

Taking a look at the world, it is easy to be pessimistic. Wars, poverty, Donald Trump as the leading candidate of one of the two major parties of the most powerful country in the world. It is easy to feel the world is going to hell. Paul Ehrlich, a biologist, certainly was such a man. Back in 1968 he looked at population trends and saw doom. However, a business professor, Julian Simon, had a different view. He saw in humanity a boundless resource of innovation, the ability to problem-solve to overcome adversities. The two engaged in a wager regarding the prices of scare materials and Simon came out the victor. That win may not be a proof, but his optimism may be justified as overall trends for humanity tend to point towards better lives.

The Martian is an unashamed celebration of optimism and human ingenuity. It is a paean to scientific minds that always find a solution to the problems that arise from out of our control. In a way Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is a stand-in for all of humanity, stranded on Mars. His peril is the source of our tension, and his persistence most central, but it is important to see that this is a group effort. In the characters we see so many of humanity’s admirable traits. The ability to use humor to modulate our emotions and lessen stress in tense situations. The capacity to put ones self at risk, whether to save another, or to accomplish something for a broader human aspiration like science. Even the ability to cast aside the constructs we use to divide ourselves and act together as one people. Maybe it all feels a bit too much like fantasy, but these are all real human traits.

One contrast that I think is valuable is to look at just how precarious Mark’s life is on Mars and appreciate how good we’ve got it on our own planet that, not without its own dangers, is remarkably hospitable. Maybe it serves as a bit of a reminder to take good care of this blessing. This film comes at a vital time, an age bereft with cynicism and generally low faith in institutions. Maybe that cynicism is earned (and Jeff Daniels’ administrator and Kristen Wiig’s PR person stand in for this view) but we need a reminder of what is possible. This story may be fiction, but we’ve done things that were equally implausible seeming at the time. It just takes the will to survive and to strive.


Quartet (2012)

Sports stars careers wind down in their 30s, Elton John and Bono can no longer hit the high notes of their early hits, even in academia, most great innovations come by age 40. What to make of the second half of our lives if it is just the same, but less successfully, and with the attendant aches and hassles of a declining body and mind?

This is all on the minds of the residents of Beecham House, a retirement home for standout musicians. While Wilf (Billy Connolly) keeps things lively with the old, unfiltered rogue act, the film sneaks in some real emotion as Reginald (Tom Courtenay) and Jean (Maggie Smith) are forced to face up their strained romantic past while Jean in particular is haunted by her faded talents.

Taking these strong emotional points and putting them in the hands of some of the very best is a pretty firm guarantee of quality and it doesn’t disappoint. This sort of film may be finding footing due to the baby boomers, with their numbers and money, hitting retirement, but it holds plenty of lessons for those of us still in our younger years.


9 to 5 (1980)

So there’s no good reason I hadn’t watched this before now, but given that, I figured what a better time to watch this film than on Labor Day. The film quickly establishes its central trio of women put upon by the patriarchal work environment: Violet (Lily Tomlin) who has put in years of hard work but keeps getting passed over for promotion in favor of men; Judy (Jane Fonda) who is just getting into the workforce after being a housewife for years, upon her husband leaving her for his secretary; and Doralee (Dolly Parton), a secretary who their boss Frank Hart (Dabney Coleman) is hot to trot for. Aside from these three, we get a glimpse of others who are hurt by the system. One lady is fired for discussing pay, which would generally be a violation of labor law, no matter how much companies discourage doing it, though proving it in court (and affording the lawsuit) would be another thing. Others have work-life balance concerns relating to family. Anyway, it cuts right to the meat of the issue about how businesses were (and mostly still are) hostile to workers, especially women.

The film is a witty satire from the start, but when the three bond over their frustrations, the film takes a turn for the outright zany. When this takes the shape of their respective genre-styled revenge fantasies, it is rather fun. When events lead to real-life hijinks, it strains ones patience a little. This is my feminist empowerment film, I don’t necessarily want a Mr. Magoo act. Still, this serves an essential plot point, which I’ll discuss in the paragraph below WITH SPOILERS.

So the trio ends up kidnapping him to avoid him turning them over to the police and right at the end we find out that during the weeks that they hold him in captivity, Violet and Doralee have conspired to revolutionize the office in Hart’s name, instituting all manner of liberal policies like flexible scheduling or part-time hours and child care to make things easier for the mostly female workforce. That this productive work is hidden so as to get a surprise at the end, while showing all the borderline incompetent criminal actions kind of diminishes the film’s power. It might be slightly more in keeping with the comedic nature/tone of the film, and I’m probably asserting my desires for the film in lieu of what it was going for, but I just would have loved to watch them make the changes we later find out pay off.

So yeah, a few reservations, though none about Lily Tomlin, who is an absolute treasure. As much as I feel there is a film here that I would have loved a lot more, accepting what they are going for, I really appreciated it.


Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

The weird thing is that this film’s most hyped stunt is both right at the start of the movie, and doesn’t deliver much beyond what you get in the trailer. Compare this to Ghost Protocol’s Dubai Tower scene which was certainly shown in the trailer but had so much else going to build it out. Thus we can say that as impressive a feat as hanging onto the side of a plane is, this film does not match the prior film’s middle sequence (or the first film’s climactic train sequence). And while making comparisons, the major heist sequence doesn’t live up to its counterpart from the first film. And yet, in many ways Rogue Nation feels the most successful since that first film.

The concept of the shadowy international organization isn’t new (I mean, the trailer for SPECTRE played in front of this), but they do hint at an interesting framing here, which basically notes that the intelligence operations of recognized powers are legitimated in many acts that would look malicious if not engaged by groups we ultimately trust. And yet, should we trust them, is the status quo they defend actually in our interest. If this offering is more interesting than the plot of any of the others, it isn’t actually capitalized on as any hint that the Syndicate might be using dubious tactics to some greater good is mostly abandoned so that we don’t question the film’s heroes TOO much.

Accepting that the film did go on a bit long and probably could have lost a twist and a set-piece along the way to tighten things up, what Rogue Nation does right is captured in the Morocco sequence at its center, complete with the heist plotting/execution, stunning car/motorcycle chases, Simon Pegg leading the way with greatly scripted/timed comedic relief and generally feeling comfort with our central foursome of characters. While I appreciate Rebecca Ferguson playing a woman who is equal to the men in combat and to some degree in playing the game, it isn’t exactly a rounded character and this film doesn’t even consider passing the Bechdel Test. Oh, and the editing gets a bit chaotic at times with the action. Warts and all though, this is still a better than average blockbuster.


Cub (2014)

Just the other day my father, a boy scout in his youth, was idly ruing that he never got me involved. For me, the thought of being in the boy scouts expands from the camp experience I did have, and generally my expectations of all settings where there is a significant all-male component. This is the horror scenario of testosterone run amok, complete with outward shows of machismo, often in the form of bullying of those who don’t measure up. It is from this mindset that I’d joke that Cub starts as a horror film and fades into fairy tale, though I reckon most would invert those two.

This scouting group is a form of hell for Sam, a bit of an outsider, as they go on a camping trip, with at least Sam put on edge by the story of a young werewolf boy being told by troop leaders Peter and Kris. It isn’t clear what is just ghost story, as the film opens with an attack on previous campers that is woven into the story, with the bizarre justification that it should be the boy scouts to head into and face off with this murderous threat. But I guess that does fit the insane male logic that presides in the group.

The early part of the film does set up an idle menace, from a pair of obnoxious locals to the information that the area has seen some conflict based on a factory that has shut down. It sets up a conflict between the local employment hardship versus these outsider’s recreational ventures, bridging class and national boundaries (these being the Flemish and the Walloons, two nations joined in one state, Belgium). At first there is a certain fantasy story aura as we are introduced to the alleged monster boy and find him more curious than deadly. Things do not remain so tranquil.

When things do descend into full-on horror, it starts with a fairly redemptive sense of revenge on those who seem most inclined to harass others, and we can indulge in some pretty clever kills. The film does ultimately feel like it runs off the rails in the name of shock and savagery. It accomplishes its main point but loses any moral high ground it might have tried for. This keeps it from a place of distinction, but not from being a fairly enjoyable film.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 348 other followers