Movie Review: Everything is Free

[This movie was removed from YouTube. If it goes back up, I’ll update the links. The video he added soon after, How to be a Slut in America – Part 1, is every bit as interesting [and has also been taken down.]]

When I say that Brian Jordan Alvarez’s new queer film Everything is Free—now available for free but age restricted on YouTube—is not afraid of penises, I mean that as high praise, and this is your opportunity to bail out of this review if this isn’t subject matter you’re comfortable with. You also might want to bail if you don’t want anything spoiled; come back after you’ve watched the film.

And when I say this film is further evidence that we are in more than just the Golden Age of Television, I mean that there are so many great web series and independent films and really video content of any kind. There’s a lot more crap out there because it’s easier than ever to capture and edit video, the price of software and hardware has plummeted, the number of platforms has multiplied, and many more people from many different backgrounds are releasing their video visions to the world, but the good stuff is better than ever, too.

[Spoilers ahead.]

Everything is Free comes from the brilliant mind of Alvarez, who wrote, directed, edited, starred in, and composed some of the music for his film. Alvarez is known for his comedy, and his latest effort is really damn funny, but it’s also full of drama, art, surrealism, and heat. Like really fucking hot moments of sensuality and nudity doing more than just titillating the viewer. The unexpected appearance of an erect penis in a YouTube video is a proclamation, a vulnerable character moment, kinda funny actually, hot, and happens as the drama escalates into homophobia and violence.

Ivan (played by Alvarez) is a gay American artist living in Colombia. His best friend and his friend’s brother, Cole, both straight, come to stay with him. As they begin to meet other Americans in Colombia, Ivan finds himself attracted to Cole, and is surprised by Cole’s tentative interest in return. As the relationship sputters and halts to a start, Ivan and Cole soon face an unexpected obstacle that adds a lot of tension and takes the film in unexpected directions.

What I find refreshing about Alvarez’s work is his unapologetic approach to depicting queer experience. I didn’t realize how much I hide and apologize for my own queer sense of identity until I started watching Alvarez’s YouTube videos. I also didn’t recognize  how much I have normalized on heterosexual ways of being, including monogamy and nuclear families. Ivan crafts a family of friends around him, and experiences his sexuality without apology, even to the ostensibly straight brothers who drop into his world. He expresses attraction, tests limits, has multiple partners, and isn’t afraid of being in love and lust. There’s a line late in the movie when Ivan asks why he’s the one being made to look crazy because he’s in love with a straight man that really resonated with me. I have also found myself in love with straight guy friends, relationships made all the more confusing by a level of intimacy and dependence that developed between us that straight guys don’t talk about and frequently end up lashing out unprovoked as they struggle to understand and set their own limits. It’s so refreshing and comforting to see this explored in Everything is Free.

The direction and acting are fantastic, but I am also impressed by Alvarez’s editing and color choices. There are surreal and artsy moments that make the film even more fascinating, and will lead me to watch it again to derive additional meaning. There’s a lot to think about here. I thought the end felt slightly tacked on and more hopeful than necessary, except it’s also really funny and satisfying in it’s own way.

If you’ve seen previous web series and shorts by Alvarez, then you have seen many of the other actors in this film. It’s always wonderful to see Stephanie Koenig, Jason Greene, Jimmy Fowlie, and the rest of the gang. They all work so well together, with a style that’s part improvisational, part pure joy.

So when I say I’m looking forward to seeing more of Alvarez’s films, it’s because he has matured into one of my favorite writer-directors, and I’m learning a lot about myself in the process of appreciating his art. This is a Golden Age of Creativity and of diverse voices describing experiences that haven’t been explored enough.

Movie Review: Juste la fin du monde (It’s Only the End of the World)

I have been eager to see Juste la fin du monde (It’s Only the End of the World) from my favorite director, Xavier Dolan, for so long, and yet I somehow missed that the film has been on Netflix for months. Stupid, stupid…

My goodness is this a rich, complex, brutally emotional movie that I need to watch a hundred more times. The director’s framing of most of the shots is so claustrophobic, a parallel to the angst and hurt that lies within this family on the day the middle 34-year old son returns home after a twelve-year absence to tell them he is dying. The film builds tension through Louis’ one-on-one conversations with each of his family members, which really are monologues as each family member fumbles to express their hurt and confusion about why Louis chose to distance himself from them and eagerness to have him back in their lives. By the end of the movie, the tension is so painfully high as we wait to find out if Louis will utter the words he’s there to say.

As Louis, Gaspard Ulliel is a master of expression, his wet eyes, grimaces, and small smiles conveying how all the things he really wants to say are bottled up behind his face and his two and three-word responses to his family members’ monologues. I was also moved by Marion Cotillard as the sister-in-law that Louis has not previously met. The actor plays against type as a shy woman attempting to navigate the deep waters of this dysfunctional family. Nathalie Baye, Léa Seydoux, and Vincent Cassel are also fantastic. Cassel’s character is particularly unlikeable, but his story arc is fascinating even while he is so brutal. Seydoux broke my heart. The matriarch, played with such life by Baye, and the relationship between mother and son were less of a focus in this film, which was unexpected based on Dolan’s previous films.

Xavier Dolan continues to surprise me with his evolution as a director (and writer and actor.) He has always had a mature eye despite his very early start and success. As he approaches his late twenties and a new chapter in his career, I’m running out of superlatives to describe his work. If you haven’t seen his films yet, I highly recommend them all:

  • J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother)
  • Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats)
  • Laurence Anyways
  • Tom à la ferme (Tom at the Farm)
  • Mommy

Now I am even more eager for his highly anticipated English-language film, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan.

Movie Review: Beyond the Gates (2016)

Beyond the Gates movie poster
Beyond the Gates movie poster

Beyond the Gates (2016), directed by Jackson Stewart, written by Jackson Stewart and Stephen Scarlata

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beyond the Gates is one of those slow-burn horror films that may bore some viewers but the nostalgia and character building are going to make fans of the rest. Barbara Crampton makes a great but frightening VHS guide to another world who is not to be crossed. Graham Skipper and Chase Williamson are great as mumblecore brothers trying to return to childhood camaraderie. Brea Grant is fantastic as the older brother’s girlfriend caught up with the horror unleashed when they play the last VHS tape their dad played in the back office of his video store before he mysteriously disappeared. If you like neon violet back-lighting, unexpected visitors, and 1980’s practical-effect gore, then this movie might be for you!

Olivia De Havilland at 100

Fantastic list from the Nitrate Diva and now I want nothing more than to dive into these movies. I have been wanting to watch The Heiress for years.

This is the age of Olivia de Havilland. We’re just lucky to be living in it. Today, on July 1, 2016, she turns 100. To celebrate her talent, her courage, and her breathtakingly diverse legacy of screen performances, I embarked on an “Oliviathon” and vowed to watch or rewatch all of her films by the end […]

via 100 Reasons to Love Olivia de Havilland (Part I) — Nitrate Diva

The Men You Don’t Like

The amazing Tobey Maguire in IFC's glorious The Spoils of Babylon, you haters.
The amazingly great Tobey Maguire in IFC’s glorious The Spoils of Babylon, you haters. Image credit: IFC.

Okay, enough is enough. Another soon-to-be-disowned family-or-friend told me today they don’t like Tobey Maguire. At all. This all-too-frequent conversation generally goes something like this:

Me: “Oh, and I really like the Spider-Man movies, too.”

Them: “Yeah, I didn’t watch them. I don’t like Tobey Maguire.”

Me: “What! Why?”

Them: “I don’t know. I just don’t like him.”

Me: “But he seems so nice and I’ve read nice things about him and he’s wonderful and unicorns and rainbows.”

Them: “Meh. Don’t like him.”

Me: Unicorn tears.

Repeat several times over the years. Repeat with Keanu Reeves. Repeat with Riley, Buffy’s boyfriend in seasons 4 and 5. Oh, and repeat with Luke Skywalker, because everyone seems to think Han Solo is sooo much better.

Barf.

Well, I’ve had enough! Stop telling me how much you don’t like who I do like! Maybe we should just talk about who we all like instead. Idris Elba, of course. Michael Fassbender. All the actors who have played Marvel and DC characters except for, you guessed it, Tobey Maguire, which just baffles me! How can anyone not like Tobey Maguire!?

Sigh.

Yes, I know I kept saying I didn’t like Bradley Cooper and I had no idea why, but now that I want to have his babies I don’t want to talk about who I don’t like any more. I like everyone. Except for the asshats. And I never said I didn’t like Hugh Jackman!

But you’re wrong; Tobey Maguire is super likeable! He was a great Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He was a great Devon Morehouse and Nick Carraway. He was in Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, for goodness sakes! He’s always been great and he will always be great.

Great, I say!

Tobey Maguire is great
Tobey Maguire is pretty great. You haters. Image credit: Wikipedia.

Book-Making and Other Analog Treasures

group
Geography Club image courtesy http://www.geographyclub.com/

Today in fiction writing class we participated in one tiny step in the small press book-making process. The process is fascinating. I doubt I have the correct terminology to explain the experience well, but here goes:

First we received a stack of collated prints. There are two pages of the book on each side of the thick paper (for a total of four book pages.) They are printed so that folding a stack of five in half creates one section of the book with the book pages now in the correct order. We needed to fold them down the center, carefully, and then use a plastic implement to press down this crease. The folded sections for each book are then stacked. Our class made quick work of, I think, about 30 of these.

All of these will eventually be punched and then sewn together with the hard cover to complete the process. An example of how these books will look (at least from the front) can be found on the Spork Press website.  Spork Press is a small press here in Tucson that our teacher helps run. He received a grant to create a book collection of our writing this semester. We are making a total of forty books so each of us can own a copy with a few extras for the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Obviously, my classmates and I are all extremely excited about this!

My friends know that I was an early adopter of digital media and I primarily purchase digital books, movies, TV shows, music, comics, etc. now. That does not mean, however, that I don’t appreciate physical media and the history of media. I feel so thankful to participate in this small way in the making of these physical books. This experience won’t keep me from the digital realm but it will be something I treasure forever. This is the time to enjoy the way things used to be or are currently, before everything changes due to technology. I value these moments immensely.

This evening I decided to relax and watch movies instead of doing homework. A new movie that has a limited release in select theaters today is also available on VOD as a rental. I have really enjoyed over the past few years being able to watch independent movies at home on my Apple TV while they are still in theaters, an obvious benefit of digital media and the cloud. The movie was Geography Club based on the well-regarded young adult book by Brent Hartinger:

Here is the quick 3-star review I left on Rotten Tomatoes and iTunes:

Every generation has their coming-of-age LGBT story. Geography Club isn’t breaking new ground, but there are a few twists to the usual storyline and the leads are really very good in their roles. Mostly the movie is uneven and episodic, but there are moments that are much more effective and creative. I especially liked a sequence of images that focused on some inanimate object in the foreground while the main character is out of focus in the background, finally coming into focus on him at a pivotal moment. The movie did convince me to read the book, because I suspect something was lost in translation to the big screen.

Movies like these with diverse LGBT representations can really help someone coming to terms with their own identity. What, then, are my generation’s coming-of-age LGBT movies? I don’t really know many LGBT from my generation, and certainly none that covet and review movies like I do, so I will have to give you my personal favorites instead (and eventually this is going to lead back to what I want to say about physical media.)

In my mid-twenties I discovered the 1997 movie Defying Gravity. It is low budget; the acting is, generously, uneven; and it might be considered a too sentimental and obvious. Regardless, I absolutely love this movie. It speaks to me on a personal level, and despite the uneven acting, there are small character moments that still bring me to tears and joy. There is something so earnest about the film. I have watched Defying Gravity so many times over the years. Tonight I rented it on Amazon Video on Demand (it is not available elsewhere except on DVD.) Here is the trailer:

In 1999 the movie Trick was released. It is a romantic comedy about two men meeting in New York City and the chaos they run into over the next few hours while trying to find a place to hook-up. The great surprise of the film is Tori Spelling, who plays the main character’s best friend. Not only is she hysterical, but her own journey in the film is wonderful to behold. Tonight I purchased Trick on iTunes in high definition. Here is the trailer:

The problem with great independent films is that some of them are still difficult to find in digital format. They are even harder to find in high definition. My absolute favorite coming-of-age LGBT film is 2007’s Shelter. It also might be my favorite movie of all time (surprising, right, because I am so into science fiction and horror!?) It is also generally regarded by critics and viewers as one of the best LGBT movies ever made. Some have joked that it is “Brokeback Mountain for surfers” but it is so much more than that. It is truly one of those movies I can watch over and over again and still discover something new. The trailer:

Tonight I cannot watch Shelter because it is not currently available in digital format. To watch it in the past I downloaded it from HereTV’s clunky premium video website, now defunct, or rented the DVD. I did this so many times, though, that I realized I just needed to buy the DVD. Eventually I got rid of the DVD when I got rid of all of my physical media discs, fully expecting I would be able to purchase a digital version online. Years have now gone by and Shelter is still limited to DVD.

In the past I was adamant about removing all physical media from my life. Now, though, I find I have to be flexible for certain textbooks, books like poetry collections and small press, and some of my favorite movies and music. For example, I am eager to read the poetry of Joshua Marie Wilkinson (who also happens to be my craft of writing professor this semester) but his books are only available in physical form. Another example: the 1993 Toronto Revival Cast recording of Show Boat, featuring Lonette McKee’s incredible versions of “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill,” is only available on CD.

So, indeed, this evening I repurchased Shelter on DVD.

Why don’t I just check out my favorites from libraries, rent from the last remaining video stores, or just wait until they make their inevitable debut in digital formats? For most media, I do wait. There is something nostalgic and precious, though, about my tiny collection of my absolute favorite media in physical formats. This collection serves not only as a treasure chest but as a touchstone to the past. Despite my eager embracing of digital media, these few physical media seem somehow elevated. I will love Shelter no less when I can finally own a high definition copy in the cloud, but owning the DVD today reminds me of the years of technological development I have experienced and the physically mediated connection between this movie and my own coming out and personal history.

In addition to this collection, I also now have a collection of fond analog memories, including today’s book-making. There is no question that I am eager about the future and the changes it will fashion, but that does not preclude me fully experiencing the present and recalling the past. There is something delightful and enabling about fusing the past, present, and future in unique and personal ways. We are intelligent and creative animals existing between the biological and the technological, the analog and the digital, the real and the virtual, the literal and the figurative. Our physical artifacts are diffusing into the Metaverse, carrying their abstractions into further abstractions. There is no better time than today to revel in this strange between-space and between-time while holding on to, however briefly, our most valued analog treasures.