Archive for category: Film & Television

Boy Meets Girl

Boy Meets Girl

Dir: Eric Schaeffer
Cert: 18 • USA: 95 min • Independent •  2014
Andrew Darley reviews

Romantic comedies have historically reigned and succeeded in selling film-goers, largely unrealistic, notions of love and partners – with a few giggles along the way. A formula can be seen from some of the best of the genre; a love interest, an obstacle in obtaining that love, stunning looking actors and, of course, a happy ending. Regardless of their predictable nature, people go to them in their droves and always come out shining in the box offices.

Eric Schaeffer is no stranger to the “rom-com” genre. He is known for his work in directing, writing and acting in If Lucy Fell and television series I Can’t Believe I’m Still Single. In his newest film, Boy Meets Girl, he has created a script based on the romantic comedy formula but given it a sex positive perspective. Set in the small-town hub of Kentucky, it follows two very attractive twenty-somethings, Robby and his best friend Ricky, as they ponder over their single relationship statuses and the ins-and-outs of their sex lives. Amongst the back-and-forth between the two, we learn that Ricky is a transgender girl. She describes the impossibility of finding a boyfriend in their town and jests about trying women for a change – in walks Francesca. The wholesome all-America beauty strikes up a conversation and friendship with Ricky. The playful banter between the two quickly develops into feelings for each other, which would be fine if not for the fact that Francesca is soon to be married to her Marine fiancé who is away on duty.

The film’s tongue-in-cheek tone tickles as we see the spark between the two develop and its few unexpected twists. Like many good rom-coms, Boy Meets Girl is a pleasant and easy watch and would be the perfect accompaniment to chilling out on Sunday afternoon. Yet, it may not be an easy view for all. The film manages to capture the spectrum of sexualities and identities in an authentic way. Ricky, Robby and Francesca are very fluid in their sexual and gender identities and the way they express them. For viewers belonging or familiar with queer culture, some of the issues this film touches on may be not ground-breaking, but for others unfamiliar, they could be enlightening. It also poses a few questions about the labels we give ourselves and often leaving the viewer and characters alike, a little confused – if a transgender girl who has always been attracted to men is falling in love with a girl – does that make her a lesbian?

Also, as Ricky’s relationship with Francesca starts to grow, we see the venomous prejudice she must face from after being wardened off by her family and her spiteful fiancé. Interestingly, her backstory is threaded to together in segments of a video she recorded of herself as a teenager. She holds up pieces of paper as she reveals her self-hatred and insecurity of being trans. However, it’s inspiring to see the difference in how she lives her life in the present day as an adult, acknowledging the turmoil she went through to get there. She takes on every challenge with a cocksureness and dignity.

Boy Meets Girl has all the key rom-com ingredients; it’s a little kitsch and familiar, yet made with heart and touches on important ideas in queer culture. Schaeffer closes out the film with a sense of achievement with the chimes of Tori Amos’ ‘Cornflake Girl’ – whom like the character of the song, Ricky is an empowering woman who refuses to be tamed by those around her.

Boy Meets Girl is showing at the Fringe! Film Fest

You And The Night (Les Rencontres d’Après Minuit)

You And The Night (Les Rencontres d’Après Minuit)

Dir: Yann Gonzalez
Cert: 18 • France: 98 min • Sedna Films / Peccadillo Pictures • October 3, 2014
Andrew Darley reviews

You And The Night (or its original translated French title Meetings After Midnight) examines how the mind comes alive at night. Yann Gonzalez’s first full-length film follows a suave, young couple and their cross-dressing maid as they prepare themselves for a passionate orgy with strangers. Its sexual premise is enticing; as their guests arrive, each with a specific person (The Slut, The Star, The Stud and The Teen), it begins to feel like an erotic film adaptation of Cluedo. Once all members arrive, it’s agreed that they should get to know each other before embarking on their liaisons. One by one, each character speaks of their past and what has led them here on this night.

Gonzalez suspends his script on the dreams, fantasies and memories of his characters. In doing so, nothing within is certain and becomes a vehicle of ambiguity. He does not willingly offer any insight into where we the film is set, its timeframe, who we’re watching and what, if any, is their relationship to each other. The space in which the majority of the film is set is modern and  sleekly designed with no visible windows to the outside world, giving it this removed, sci-fi quality where it really could be happening anywhere and in any time.

Much like the boardgame Cluedo, each character comes with a very distinct personality with even more dissimilar features. Fabienne Babe gives a rousing performance as an aging actress, as she plays out and comes to terms with her insecurities amongst the group. Beatrice Dalle (of Betty Blue notoriety) makes a brief appearance as a lusty dominatrix. Eric Cantona steals a lot of the film’s focus as the hunky philanderer whose youthful dream of becoming a poet was dashed once he discovered his enormous penis and those who subsequently adored it. Therein lies the particular humour that Gonzalez laces through his work, in which those who take this film too seriously will recoil in its silliness. He balances both the light and the dark with his kitsch, often absurd, humour in tangent with his awareness of sensuality and the spectrum of human emotions.

A key component of the film’s narrative is its soundtrack, composed by Yann’s brother and M83’s brainchild, Anthony Gonzalez. His renowned epic arrangements orchestrates the internal worlds of the characters and their emotional dynamic. Although they may appear still on the surface, rivers run deep underneath. It appears a perfect pairing that they should join forces, since M83’s records has been significantly inspired by cinema, youth and the role of dreams. Also, in the room where the tryst is to take place, a sensory jukebox stands which functions by playing music based on the psyche of the person that touches it – it’s a moment of pure ecstasy when Ruth’s coldwave ‘Mots’ throbs amongst the group. The music Gonzalez includes remains as divisive as the dialogue of the characters.

Nothing is certain in Gonzalez’s world and it is this aspect which grips the senses from start to finish. The way he weaves flashbacks, fantasies and dreams throughout creates this uncanny feeling, in which its scenes feel at once both strange and familiar. From the comical to the sensual, his debut full-length shows his unique perspective and apparent resistance to fitting into a particular genre. As his characters describe the thoughts that haunt them, the writer and director captures a serene beauty in which they are bound together by the night and their collective dream of being no longer afraid. This film suggests that even if things go bump in the night, other things may also come into the light.


Before The Last Curtain Falls

Before The Last Curtain Falls

Dir: Thomas Wallner
Cert: tbc • Ger/Bel: 86 min • Gebrueder Beetz Filmproduktion • July 2, 2014
Michael Langan reviews

In 2010 the avant-garde Belgian choreographer Alain Platel devised the stage show Gardenia, performed by a troupe of elderly drag artists. The piece explores their complicated lives, the difficulties of ageing, and deconstructs the wonders of transformation. It was a great success and toured the world, being performed over 200 times in 25 different countries. Thomas Wallner’s documentary, Before the Last Curtain Falls, documents the show’s return to Ghent, Belgium, for its very last performance, and documents also the lives and loves of the performers themselves, all of whom are in their sixties and seventies.

It’s a beautifully made, tender tribute to the lives of others, the camera’s smooth glide through the beauty of Ghent, mirrored in the slow glide of the choreography. Gardenia’s opening shows the performers, some of them transgender, all dressed in sober suits, stripped bare though clothed, no make-up, nothing to hide behind. But it’s as they transform into their drag personae throughout the show that they truly become themselves

What the film draws back the curtain on is exactly what is at stake for these human beings when it comes to living their somewhat difficult lives, negotiating changing and fluid social attitudes, and their own internalised homophobia, which tells them that happiness is a country they might never fully explore. They get to visit it occasionally, but it’s often taken away from them, whether it’s Gerrit who would have like to have gender reassignment surgery but had promised his mother he would never do it, or Andrea who had the procedure at 45 and who told herself, “Even if I die at 60, at least I had 15 years living as myself”. Danilo is a cleaner in a brothel and Gardenia is his way out of that life, but once the tour has finished he has to go back to it. Vanessa, after her surgery, found it hard to get a job, so a proposed short stint as a prostitute turned into thirteen years. Richard is a nurse, caring for sick babies in an intensive care unit, and in many ways his life seems the most stable, but even that is not without its complications. They are all looking for love but have struggled to find it.

Richard has become great friends with one of the other performers, Rudy, and it’s Rudy’s story I found the most affecting. He’s the least charismatic of the film’s subjects. He’s a man made afraid by his homosexuality, afraid of himself and of being different. Fearing death, he imagines dying alone, discovered days later. In one of the film’s most powerful moments Rudy takes a secret box, owned by his father from a shelf and explains that he was never allowed to touch it as a child. At the age of 12 his mother agreed to show him what was inside; photographs taken by his father when he was imprisoned during WWII, showing homosexuals hanging from makeshift gallows. Closeted for most of his life, he’s been largely crippled by his homosexuality and it seems truly tragic, but Gardenia allows him, at the age of 68, to fully explore himself. “In Gardenia I am doing something that is not allowed, that is not possible,” he says. “It makes me quite anxious.”

Wallner’s voice appears only once in the film and it’s a bravely important moment. Vanessa loses her temper with him, visibly upset, when Wallner casually questions her about childhood as a boy. “What was your name back then?” he asks, apparently failing to understand the emotional strain of talking about her life “back then”, as if it was merely another performance. Lesson learned.

Before the Last Curtain Falls was my favourite of all the films I saw during Queer Lisboa 18 – it is touching, funny, and extremely moving at times, especially when the performers explore their own histories and examine their possible futures. The stage show, Gardenia, has transformed their lives once more, taking them back onto the stage, or affording them a new lease of life – an opportunity to examine themselves deeply, to be validated by an audience and, perhaps, inside themselves. In that way they are also transformed.

Twin Peaks – The Entire Mystery

Twin Peaks – The Entire Mystery

Dir: David Lynch / Various
Cert: 15 • US: 1637 min • Paramount Home Entertainment • July 29, 2014
John Preston reviews

David Lynch and Mark Frost’s wondrously unsettling, endlessly pop-cultural and ground-breaking television series from 1990 can now be seen and heard in all its sumptuous and disorientating glory in what may be presumed to be its definitive version. Previously available as the pretty extensive and not terribly old Gold Edition DVD from 2010, the sound and picture quality have been further upgraded and each frame now looks truly beautiful – crisp but dreamy, as they were meant to be. The 30 episodes – and this set also includes the European closed-ending pilot– have been discussed, analysed, adored and, yes, copied for the last 25 years. Season 1 in particular is as gripping, hypnotic and strange now as it was then. The first trip to the mystifying Black Lodge via a dream had by Special Agent and Lynch conduit Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) in episode 3 is jaw-droppingly surreal, addictive and genuinely unlike anything that had been seen on television up until that point. During those first 8 episodes Twin Peaks became an instant albeit surprise hit and also it seemed the victim of its own success.

There has always been an accusation that the quality of storytelling dropped considerably during the second season whilst Lynch was heavily involved with his 4th feature film Wild at Heart. This is a valid criticism and, due to pressure from ABC for Mark Frost and David Lynch to expose Laura Palmer’s killer, (ironically in a bid to improve what were now flagging ratings which subsequently dropped further) there are 2 episodes that reveal the killer’s identity (episode 15) and then, in episode 17 when Dale Cooper and the inhabitants of Twin Peaks are finally made aware of the demon serial killer. After that and like a slowly deflating balloon, the show never really recovers from this premature revelation and it’s not until the final episode which finds Lynch back in the director’s seat that it re-emerges and engages again with the same beauty and terror evident previously.

And then it ended, with Lynch never confirming what is surely a highly unlikely return to the show.

There are no new major features here that accompany the 8 discs containing the TV show. An extended chat with some of the cast and crew with Lynch facilitating, already included in an edited version on the Gold Edition, is a nice if laid-back treat. The superb, almost 2-hour documentary Secrets From Another Place: Creating Twin Peaks also appears again, re-mastered but unaltered. The chapter dedicated to Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise’s essential, and what has subsequently become massively influential, musical contributions to the show is an insightful and revealing glimpse into the method and personality of Lynch, with Cruise in particular proving to be a delightful gossip. There’s a new and hastily cobbled together Lynch Discography with antidotes from the cast again and various oddities such as an interview with the proprietor of the Double R Diner and a glimpse into a ‘Peakies’ festival. Along with a couple minutes of bloopers and a quarter of an hour’s worth of deleted scenes which vary wildly in quality (both picture and content), that adds up to a lot of stuff that’s already been seen before and certainly nothing that will get fans of the series jumping with excitement. That delight has been saved for disc 9.

Twin Peaks -Fire Walk With Me is the visceral, frequently brilliant but sometimes high-pitched 1992 film that followed the TV series but was essentially a prequel, chronicling the last 7 days of Laura Palmer. Everybody hated it – it went way too far into the darkness and was essentially a master class in Lynchian film making. After all the television show was, as is often forgotten, a shared vision that played with both light and dark. Sheryl Lee plays the fated high school deviant with incredible authenticity and power, it can only be presumed that this is one of the reasons why the film got made in the first place, Lynch seeing her talent and enabling the dead girl to come back to life with such conviction. Along-side a pretty much perfect high definition print of the film which is certainly the best seen to date are what many fans have campaigned years for, with an addition of 90 minutes of unseen footage aka The Missing Parts. The existence of these parts was already known due to leaked scripts and interviews with actors who starred in the film but it had got to the point where hopes of ever seeing them were low.

In total there are 33 scenes that have been mixed, scored and buffed to an impeccable sheen, over-seen by Lynch himself. Some of these scenes are new and some are extended versions that made the final cut. The piece, very much like the Other Things That Happened deleted scenes from Inland Empire, runs in chronological order and plays as a minor variation on the original film itself. The love and obvious care taken to bring these scenes to life is apparent throughout and there are many moments here that equal and, albeit occasionally, improve upon those included in the final edit as decided by David Lynch. To begin with what is probably the most eagerly anticipated scene, Agent Phillip Jeffries, played by David Bowie, sudden appearance and subsequent disappearance now incorporates a hotel in Spain, a man defecating due to shock and what appears to be the incredibly painful process of time travel. It’s quite something and it still makes little sense. Incorporated into this is the extended version of a scene that takes place above the convenience store (oddly never seen again in either the film or show) and features residents of the Black Lodge ‘between two worlds’ – it’s classic Lynch, a terrifying and visionary nightmare and is fantastic to now see in its initially intended state.

Extended and new scenes of the Palmer family seated around the dinner table push the boundaries of ridiculousness and patience in a way that Lynch makes watchable but both tense and hysterical. Sarah Palmer’s (Lynch regular and astonishing actress Grace Zabriskie) crying scene from the TV pilot episode is matched here in respect to length and awkwardness – for the viewer – but instead of an expression of grief she is shown laughing with the same uncontrollable mania, a clue to her knowledge of a tortured family not functioning in a way that she can control. There is also a very short and moving scene involving the Log Lady (Margaret Lanterman) as she overhears the screams of Laura Palmer on the night of her death and a funny and tender moment with Lucy and Andy. The final missing part is surprising; entitled Epilogue is takes place after Dale and Annie (a young Heather Graham) have been deposited outside the Black Lodge which closed the TV series but not the film. It is both revealing and maddeningly frustrating but an enormous treat for fans of the TV show if not the film. Josie Packard (Joan Chen) and Pete Martell (Jack Nance) didn’t appear in the final cut of the movie but, in a typically Lynchian scene that’s both obtuse and funny, both of them appear together here. There’s a lot more to take in, some of it lending nothing to the plot but all of it a joy to watch.

Disc 10 extras all revolve around the making of the film and the actors subsequent thoughts of how it’s stood the test of time, many now claiming it as Lynch’s masterpiece (it isn’t). There is a new interview with Lynch that takes place with the Palmer family in and out of character which is oddly uninvolved. As Annie states in two different scenes which take place in different beds – once in the film and again in an unrelated and previously unseen clip – ‘the good Dale is in the Lodge and he can’t leave’. Until David Lynch decides the potential fate of Dale Cooper then this supremely polished and rewarding collection is the final word in the Twin Peaks archives. There has never been a show like it and it’s unlikely that there ever will be again and if you’ve never seen who killed Laura Palmer then now is that time, this tragic dream-world has never been so inviting and beautiful.



Dir: Steven Knight
Cert: 15 • UK: 85 min • Lionsgate Films • April 18, 2014
Andrew Darley reviews

Tom Hardy’s latest film, Locke, is a character study of a man in the midst of a personal crisis. The British actor, whose career began in 2001 with small supporting roles, has garnered sizeable recognition in the last five years with leading roles in blockbusters including The Dark Knight Rises, Inception and Warrior. In comparison, he has considerably scaled it back with this film, giving himself a challenge of a one-man performance.

It follows Ivan Locke’s journey on the M6 from Birmingham to London. As he sets off on his trip, he is stopped by a red light at a traffic crossing. Visibly lost in thought, it’s not until he is beeped by someone that he comes back to the present and drives on. It is obvious that something is on his mind and waiting to unfold. Through the medium of phonecalls, the plot is told by a series of conversations with family, co-workers and a woman revealed early on to be a past fling whom is about to give birth to their child. Gradually, the exchanges offer enough to piece together a picture of his life and where he finds himself on this night.

Tom Hardy gives an absorbing and natural performance. Looking boyishly handsome and bearded, his expressive face and eyes are the agents of the film; exposing his moments of distress, uncertainty and loss of control. Hardy’s character upholds a steely, pragmatic approach to life, as his problem comes to a head. When questioned by his one-night stand whether he loved her, he coolly states that he could not possibly love her since “I don’t know you”. It’s hugely dismissive and matter-of-fact, yet it is soon found that this stark rationality is how he engages with the world and those around him.

In fact, it is not the imminent birth of his lovechild nor having to confess to his wife that causes him his greatest distress. His real dilemma is the construction site we see him leave at the very beginning. The building under his supervision is due to receive its cement the following morning and Ivan must ensure that everything is in place as he travels to attend his child’s birth. He has a persistent desire to make his mark on the world and the building is hugely significant for him. He describes to a colleague that if one thing goes wrong with the cement pour, everything else around it will fall apart – a motif that parallels his own life.

Director and writer, Steven Knight asserts an admirable confidence by framing the film within the confines of a car and establishes an intimate dynamic with the viewer. He creates moments of calm beauty in the everyday action of driving with the serene lights and colourful reflections of the world outside across the car’s windows. The execution of one-actor, one-place may not have been so stylistically achieved since Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried in 2010. On the other hand, his decision places a greater responsibility on the story to carry the film. The ordinariness of the film’s premise provokes an expectation of a thrill or a plot twist.

And this is where the film fails. Regardless of Hardy’s engrossing performance and the merits of the film’s simplicity, there is a resounding sense that the plot holds a missed opportunity. The twist however, as we watch this man’s life unravel in a 90-minute car journey, never arrives and the pockets of tension throughout subsequently feel anti-climatic. The relentless ringing phone is without doubt an effective metaphor for the situation that threatens to overwhelm Locke, but there is no denying that by three quarters of the way into the film it becomes tedious. It is a deserving film with a script that has a certain mystery which commands viewer’s attention (particularly during the conversations Hardy’s character has with himself), but it lacks a certain spark that transforms it from being a well executed idea into something emotionally stirring. Locke travels in the right direction but it does not quite reach its potential destination.



Dir: Sébastien Lifshitz
Cert: n/a • France: 58 min • Epicentre Films • June 19, 2013
Michael Langan reviews

In 2013 Sébastien Lifshitz’s documentary, Bambi, won the Teddy Award for Best Documentary at the Berlin International Film Festival, one of a series of prizes for films exploring LGBT themes as decided by an independent committee of judges. Bambi tells the remarkable story of Marie-Pierre Pruvot, a French transsexual who became one of the most famous and long-standing performers at Le Carrousel de Paris, the Parisian nightclub where the Travesty Revue drew sell-out crowds. Pruvot, now 78, tells her story in conventional documentary fashion – straight to camera with no interventions from her interviewer – intercut with archive performance footage and Pruvot’s own home movies, filmed on Super 8. This standard, even old-fashioned, format works here partly because the world of the story is so fascinating, but mainly because Pruvot herself is such an intelligent, thoughtful and articulate subject.

Born Jean-Pierre Pruvot in a small Algerian town (then a French colony) in 1935, she tells how, from an early age, she would wear her sister’s hand-me-down dresses and insisted on growing her hair long. It was when she was sent away to school that she was forced to leave all of that behind and live as the boy she felt she wasn’t. It was during these years, Pruvot says, that she plunged herself into books, films and music as a way of constructing and composing her own identity. At the age of fifteen Pruvot went to live with an aunt, a woman she describes as a ‘blessing’ because, unlike Pruvot’s own mother, she tacitly accepted her nephew’s nature and provided a safe space in which to explore it. She also gave young Jean-Pierre a job working behind a bar and this was where Pruvot met her first love, and first lover, Ludo.

Ludo was older than Jean-Pierre and Pruvot describes how, having taken him to the family home for the weekend, her mother discovered them tucked up in bed together. It was the ensuing confrontation that sealed in Pruvot’s mind the determination to go to Paris and lead the life she wanted to lead. A few years previously the performers from Le Carrousel had toured Algeria, and Pruvot’s aunt had taken the impressionable Jean-Pierre to see them. This revelation gave Pruvot a glimpse of an alternative life, a possible existence that seemed to fit the identity Jean-Pierre had constructed.

Throughout the 1950s and 60s Le Carrousel was one of the main attractions in Paris. It provided a haven and a sanctuary for gay men and transsexuals who might have otherwise found themselves working the streets, and it was here that the now Marie-Pierre Pruvot managed to talk herself into a job, taking the stage name ‘Bambi’ and going on to perform there for over 20 years. She was, and still is, extraordinarily beautiful. Pruvot acknowledges with classic French insouciance that Bambi and her fellow performers were seen by many in the audience as ‘circus freaks.’ A film from the time shows footage of the Travesty Revue with an admonishing voiceover describing the ‘monstrosities’ on view as immoral and sick individuals. Popular they may have been but theirs was by no means an easy existence. These were living scandals, walking horrors, feted and feared in equal measure, something Pruvot dismisses with a shrug.

Some of the most famous names from that era are afforded brief cameos in the documentary, notably Capucine (French for nasturtium flower) and Coccinelle (Ladybird). The film could have shown more of these, so captivating are they as performers, but what there is offers a tantalizing glimpse of a glamorous surface masking and highlighting some incredible struggles and brave individuals. Coccinelle (Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy) was particularly pioneering, being the first French person to have gender reassignment surgery. In 1960 she married her first husband in Notre Dame Cathedral (having agreed to being baptized again as a woman), forcing the French state to recognise transsexuals’ right to marry. This episode is documented in a remarkably sympathetic and supportive (for the time) newsreel report of the wedding. Years later, Coccinelle would go on to found the organisation Devenir Femme (To Become Woman) and became one of the main campaigners in France for the rights of transsexuals.

Bambi decides to follow in Coccinelle’s footsteps by having ‘the operation,’ a decision seen as too extreme by many of her fellow performers who prefer to live mainly as women or as young men with their mothers. Bambi herself insists that her own mother comes to live with her, which she does, and they seem to carve out an uneasy relationship based on an understanding of the difficulties each of them faces in the circumstances. So off Bambi trots to Casablanca, to have an operation with an 80% chance of success. The bravery involved in this can’t be overstated, but Pruvot talks about the decision with distinctly French élan. What else is there to be done?

Bambi continues to perform at Le Carrousel until she’s in her mid-thirties, then, with the same steely determination and presence of mind that has characterized her whole life, gives it all up to go back to school where she passes her Baccalaureat and then enrolls in The Sorbonne. Pruvot’s life then takes an unexpected turn, causing her to question everything that has happened and everything she has striven for up to that point. I won’t give it away.

Sébastien Lifchitz has created a very clear, direct, narrative here, as determined by Pruvot’s telling of her own story in her own way, and there is an element of performance in that. Some other voices might have been a good idea – Pruvot’s siblings perhaps? – and the film could easily have been extended to feature length. As it is, this is sixty minutes in Bambi’s company that left me wanting more. More than anything, what you take away from this film is an approach to life that faces up to, and faces down, the challenges that present themselves. Marie-Pierre Pruvot is an inspirational figure because she dared to create the person she knew she is, rather than remain the person she was born as.

Bad Neighbours

Bad Neighbours

Dir: Nicholas Stoller
Cert: 15 • US: 97 min • Universal Pictures • May 3, 2014
Nick Smith reviews

In the most inappropriate opening scene since Bridesmaids, Bad Neighbours aims to have its audience cringing right from the outset, with Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) en flagrante in the worst possible taste. This is the fourth film from director Nicholas Stoller, the man behind Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Five Year Engagement, and promises much with its stellar cast. It’s fair to say that in no way does he disappoint.

Just as Mac and Kelly are settling into their new lives as parents in suburbia, and coming to terms with the loss of their partying days, their new-found artificial serenity is threatened by the arrival of a fraternity house next door, led by Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (David Franco). At first, the temptation is for Mac and Kelly to get down with the kids and relive some of their lost youth, but to emphasize the importance of keeping the noise down to the young frats. As the partying and antics become unbearable, local police officer Watkins is called and, in a truly star turn from comedian Hannibal Buress, the Radners soon become the parents that have cried wolf and realise they will have to become vigilantes of sorts to drive out their dreadful neighbours.

What unfolds is a veritably hilarious tit for tat, fogeys vs. youths tale of retribution, and it’s particularly amusing to watch the random retaliation ideas dawn slowly on the protagonists’ and antagonists’ faces. Some truly uproarious and inventive set pieces ensue – one involving an air bag will leave you prodding every seat before sitting on it. Another involving dildo moulding kits forms a perfectly gross yet ingenious way to earn money for the frats.

The leads are cast perfectly. Rose Byrne threatens to steal the show with her wonderfully bipolar performance, being docile, bored new mother one minute and apoplectic, vengeful guardian the next. Seth Rogen is effortlessly funny and wonderfully self-effacing, capitalising on each of his past comic turns and injecting some emotional honesty. Zac Efron is the real revelation here, however, casting aside his High School Musical roots with magnificent aplomb, delivering an incredibly evil performance as a belligerent fraternity leader. His character’s moral compass spikes at absolute zero in every wicked, vindictive twist and turn in his efforts to infuriate the Radners.

There are some superb supporting performances from Lisa Kudrow (the malevolent and unsympathetic dean of the frat’s college) and the aforementioned Buress.

What sets this gross-out comedy apart from the glut of its peers, is the truly inventive and unique set pieces and the sheer volume of them. There are so many laugh-out-loud and cringeworthy moments – and baby Stella adds an abundance of cuteness to the proceedings.

In an ending that could easily have been cliché-ridden, Seth Rogen proves his metal yet again as he and Efron double up for one last hilarious parting shot. Bad Neighbours is deliciously evil and utterly hilarious, and features some of the most inventive, wicked and outrageous comedy set pieces in cinema.

Les Beaux Jours (Bright Days Ahead)

Les Beaux Jours (Bright Days Ahead)

Dir: Marion Vernoux
Cert: 15 • France: 94 min • Les Films du Kiosque, 27.11 Production • June 19, 2013
Alex Ramon reviews

In Marion Vernoux’s Les Beaux Jours (Bright Days Ahead), which was among the films screened in this year’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema season, Fanny Ardant plays Caroline, a 60-year-old wife, mother and grandmother who’s just retired from her profession as a dentist and who promptly discovers an exciting way to fill her new free time: an affair with Julien (Laurent Lafitte), who is over 20 years her junior. The pair meet when Caroline is persuaded by her family to join the facility of the title, a club for seniors, where Julien works as a computer consultant. And so, rather than immersing herself in the activities the club offers, with a sideline of hosting dinner parties for her gruff workaholic spouse (Patrice Chesnais), it’s not long before Caroline is shirking her duties for the more enticing pleasures of illicit broom-cupboard sex sessions and post-coital spliffs.

An unabashed vehicle for its fragrant star, the entertaining Bright Days Ahead chimes irresistibly with the current vogue for films exploring “Third Age” experiences, and will possibly get a wider release in the UK and the US than it might have done due to this trend. If, just occasionally, the film seems a little bit too pleased with itself for placing an unrepentantly pleasure-driven mature female protagonist centre stage, its focus doesn’t look too calculated, particularly since contemporary French cinema (unlike contemporary US cinema) has excelled at making films that feature well-drawn characters of a range of ages. Indeed, though it lacks their elements of stylistic daring, at its best Bright Days Ahead has something of the free-wheeling, tough-but-tender spirit of Christophe Honoré’s brilliant family portraits (2009’s Making Plans For Lena, in particular), in which the protagonists do and say often dislikeable things to each other without, somehow, losing the viewer’s sympathy and interest. Adapted by Vernoux and Fanny Chesnal from the latter’s novel, Bright Days Ahead features some enjoyably tart dialogue exchanges and often twists its scenes in quirky, unexpected directions.

The film is especially good at conveying the rhythm of an affair – its ebbs and flows of feeling, the mix of excitement and frustration – but it does so in a particular, un-obsessive way. Caroline and Julien enjoy each other sexually but neither one really becomes hopelessly devoted to the other. He’s still checking out other women while he’s with her, and she’s involved for novelty more than love. In this way, the film keeps its cool, distanced wit, avoiding the slide into hysteria that marred the May-to-December affair in Roger Michell’s similarly-themed The Mother (2003).

There are some odd, sketchy elements – Caroline’s attitude to her grandchildren, for example, seems to veer wildly from total indifference to utter devotion – and the plotting in relation to the revelation of the affair (which, all of a sudden, practically everyone else in the movie seems to know about) is fuzzy. But, even so, Bright Days Ahead has the advantage of a true work of art in its lead actress. As Caroline, indeed, Ardant has seldom been more varied or more emotionally engaging, moving beyond the aloofness that’s sometimes characterised her screen persona to create a fully rounded protagonist. At times she resembles Julie Christie here, and there’s something of Christie’s style in her super-subtle, carefully modulated acting throughout: the kind of intimate performance in which the character’s every half-submerged thought is communicated to the viewer. A bedroom scene that finds Caroline with her hair mussed, giggling and getting high, is destined for “instant classic” status.

Certainly Vernoux swoons over her star, but the film does manage to feel inhabited elsewhere, with deft work from Lafitte as the lover, from Chesnais as the cuckold, and from Marie Rivère (lachrymose as ever), as a fellow club member whose depressive episodes provide Caroline with a perfect excuse to escape her family duties and then head to Julien’s place. There’s a whiff of conservatism to the conclusion that Vernoux and Chesnal have devised but, even when the director’s touch falters, Ardant’s great performance makes Bright Days Ahead shine.

Looking: Season One

Looking: Season One

Dir: Andrew Haigh
Cert: 15 • US: 8 x 30 min • HBO • January 19, 2014
Kevin Shaw reviews

The scene fades up on a public park in San Francisco. The foliage parts to reveal Jonathan Groff’s youthful face and earnest blue-eyed gaze-curious, yet hesitant. He clumsily attempts an anonymous hookup in the woods; anonymous, that is, until he interrupts a hand job to introduce himself, and finally calls the whole thing off when he answers his phone: it’s Mom calling.

This is how HBO’s Looking introduces Groff as Patrick, a twenty-nine year-old Midwesterner in San Francisco. Although the eight-episode series, created by Michael Lannan, avoids the common coming-out narrative, Patrick starts out as a gay Adam of sorts. His story even starts in a garden. He’s naïve, and tempted by all the San Franciscan tricks and treats, although sadly not that intrepid. Patrick is flanked by his friends Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez), a would-be artist pushing against the bounds of a longer-term relationship, and Dom (Murray Bartlett), who is questioning his erotic mortality as he turns forty in a youth obsessed hook-up culture. At one point, Dom jokes that Grindr will send a death certificate on his birthday.

It may seem like we’ve been here before (think the UK and US versions of Queer as Folk), yet Looking makes some interesting departures, particularly in its use of San Francisco as a destination for sexual liberation. Nearly fifty years after the Summer of Love however, the city is decidedly gentrified. Many of the early reviews debated whether or not Looking was HBO’s boys-only version of Girls (short answer: it’s not), but it has far more in common with an earlier San Francisco-set lodestar of gay TV: the mini-series adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.

Set largely in the halcyon days of 1970s San Francisco, Tales of the City explored the city’s diversity and the possibility that it offered. Like Looking, Tales of the City was guided by a newcomer from the Midwest, the naïve Mary Ann Singleton. The early ‘90s production of Tales of the City offered a certain sunny nostalgia, yet Looking’s washed-out blue leans toward a post-AIDS, post-identity politics melancholia. While on a date recounting his aborted adventure in the woods, Patrick says he had wondered if people still went cruising anymore. As he learns in the opening scene, they certainly do but now however, they cruise in the conflicted age of gay marriage and Grindr. If, as Agustin’s boyfriend says, “we can be whatever we want to be”—now, is the implication—why are we, as Looking suggests, so sad? Perhaps, if all the mirrors on the show are any indication, we aren’t only looking for sex, but for ourselves – past, present, and future.

Looking’s subtle historical self-awareness benefits from director Andrew Haigh’s realist and almost documentary aesthetic, which resonated with audiences in his popular film Weekend. In this San Francisco, the bathhouses and bars are still there but now the music and conversation have left the tubs – as Linn, Dom’s older friend, laments – and the bars are grungy and badly lit, nothing like the glitzy late ‘90s Babylon at the centre of the US Queer as Folk. Looking does, in part, bring a more realistic depiction of gay life to television. The characters actually use public transport, and they worry about paying the rent. But what does “gay life” even mean, anyway?

The show attempts a representation of Asian, Black, and Hispanic men at the intersection of class and desire without resorting to stereotypes or by glossing over conflicts of difference. Yet they are often in supporting roles. At its core, Looking remains yet another show about an upwardly mobile white guy, this time in the high-tech video game industry. But, perhaps that’s the point.

Dom, who works as a waiter, criticizes the way the city has been overtaken by “I.T. assholes”. When Mary Ann Singleton lands in Tales of the City she has to struggle to make her way in the city, whereas Looking finds Patrick early in a career, mid-stride, if still hungry for success, in the precarious post-economic downturn. While Looking makes a refreshing gesture to the street (in its setting in public parks, buses, and festivals), there remains a tinge of mourning and boredom – a been-there and done-that futility in the glare of the camera’s lingering gaze.

In one episode, Patrick and friends walk through the Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco’s leather and BDSM festival, and though they don leather, they are less willing participants but rather more occasionally shocked and bemused observers. The show’s diverse characters each take from the city’s queer mythos what he needs, and discards the rest. And so while Looking is about gay men in San Francisco, the struggle to make a whole life in and out of the Castro binds the characters as much as – indeed if not more than-  sex. The show actively works to reveal the fractures and scars in the “gay community” rather than to suture a false sense of pansexual healing.

The dialectic of sex and love is explored with the great subtlety that Haigh achieves in Weekend. A rim job, tactfully shot but discussed at length, is allowed to become another episode’s central metaphor of intimacy. Finally, queer filmmakers seem comfortable balancing explicit representations of sex with (or against) the fuzzier feelings, without sacrificing emotional complexity or social commentary.

Despite solid performances from the main trio and a stand-out supporting cast – particularly Lauren Weedman as Dom’s best friend Doris (in a show that is almost devoid of female characters), Scott Bakula as the former’s older friend Lynn, and TJ Linnard as a sex worker befriended by Agustin – the show sometimes feels a bit cinéma-vérité lite, lacking narrative propulsion in the middle episodes, trading character development for slice-of-life glum. If these characters don’t seem overly interested in their own lives, why should its audience? Yet by the later episodes – and the introduction of Patrick’s boss, played by Russell Tovey – tensions between friends, lovers, and coworkers escalate toward a realistic and satisfying conclusion, with enough dropped threads to pick up in the second season.

If Looking has anything in common with Girls, it’s in the comedy of awkwardness that both share, but use to different ends. In Looking, the uncomfortable humour points to the cracks in the otherwise smooth mirror that the mainstream gay media holds up to its audience. For example, when Patrick gleefully Googles “uncut Latino cock” before going on his first date with Richie – and later brings it up in bed (he is wont to make embarrassing confessions right before sex), does the awkwardness reveal the curiosity of the sexually inexperienced, or just a racist exoticizing of Richie? Or both?

The late-season image of a nude Patrick guiltily staring at his own reflection epitomizes Looking’s contribution to current gay culture: while the show may be accused of participating in the all-pervasive hipster narcissism, it does so with a keen critical sense. Neither Looking, nor the people it represents, are perfect. These are sometimes-unlikeable characters but the writers (if not the characters themselves) are refreshingly self-aware of their prejudices and limitations. Patrick and company spend a great deal of screen time simply talking about themselves; hopefully, the second season will reveal that they’re actually listening. What the first season reveals, is that Looking has the potential, at least, to change the conversation.

Pierrot Lunaire

Pierrot Lunaire

Dir: Bruce LaBruce
Cert: 18 • Germany/Canada: 51 min • Jürgen Brüning Filmproduktion • February 9, 2014
Matt Greenfield reviews

Toronto-based director Bruce LaBruce returned to this year’s Berlinale Festival with queercore film Pierrot Lunaire. Set to Arnold Schöneberg’s composition of the same name, this silent black-and-white film is based on the true story of a transgender man’s search for identity and approval in 1970s Toronto. The protagonist, Pierrot, woos a young girl – Columbine – who giddily introduces her newfound boyfriend to her father. He denounces Pierrot as a fraud, seeing through his façade and revealing to an unbeknownst daughter that her boyfriend is not really a ‘man’. Although Columbine’s love for Pierrot continues regardless, the father’s jeers lead a torment-fuelled and humiliated Pierrot to go to delusional lengths to become a ‘real’ man.

The choice to set a transgender storyline to Schöneberg’s work seems to arise from one of the many perplexing directions of the piece; namely that it should be sung by a female soprano voice, although the singer is portraying a male character. Moreover, the style of vocal performance known as Sprechstimme – halfway between speech and singing – that expressionist composers like Schöneberg employed has a entirely unnerving, intense quality to it. This fits well alongside Pierrot’s angst, which we are confronted with throughout the melodrama. Nevertheless, by the 13th of the 21st movements, the constant uneasy tone along with the discordant music starts to feel too familiar and tends toward becoming dull.

There are only a few reprieves from the onslaught of what remains a challenging atonal composition. These intervals come from nascent Berlin DJ duo MadLick and feature a heavy pounding bass and the mantra “Fick, fick, fick!” – which means exactly what it sounds like it means. This may sound rather light-hearted compared to the tense vibe described above but they occur only in the scenes where we see quite a lot inflicted on the penises of go-go dancers in an unnamed club; first by means of a guillotine – during a movement titled ‘Beheading’ – and then by what appeared to be a scalpel blade, which really drove the audience to wince. And that makes the film difficult to tolerate. When we get to listen to something more accessible and less challenging we then have to deal with gruesome mutilations.

Intercut with these scenes of mutilation, however, are some of the most redeeming parts of the film. These come in the form of a minimalist symbolic staging of Pierrot’s genitalia being severed. These scenes – filmed in the theatre ‘Hebbel am Ufer’ where LaBruce put on Pierrot Lunaire in 2011 – are highly stylized, with a softer photographic contrast giving a sense of transcendent beauty away from the rather harsh look of the shots elsewhere in the film. These theatre scenes are the only instances where the aesthetic really complemented the unease of the music with great success. This brought about a far more rewarding experience whereby the music seemed less abrasive and more profound than earlier scenes, where dissonance distracted and overpowered the visual elements. Even so, it would have been better to have had more theatre-staged scenes like the above or a more varied use of visual styles overall to keep the audience engaged with the work.

If there is any social point that comes across in the film, it is only that the current hysteria over whether someone is pre-op or not misunderstands what is means to identify as transgender. It restrains and enforces the boundaries of gender within matters of sex. The film shows how Pierrot is confronted with this by Columbine’s father; it causes a great deal of anguish for the protagonist and leads to pretty gruesome consequences. That said, the film is so insular, the characters’ actions so convoluted and hyperbolic, and the music antiquated, that it appears to aim foremost at being abstractedly aesthetic.

The pretence yields some wonderful imagery and disturbing sequences, but the lack of variation in sound and visuals allows for parts to feel commonplace in an otherwise out of the ordinary and intriguing scenario.