In an interesting development, two of this year’s big-name holiday releases try to turn (relatively) recent events into contemporary political parables. Neither completely succeeds, but both offer some fascinating moments and great performances.
Directed by Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood, with a script by Billy Ray (“Captain Phillips” and “The Hunger Games”) from a 1997 “Vanity Fair” article by Marie Brenner, “Richard Jewell” is a cautionary tale about investigations gone wrong and the resultant media frenzies. During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Jewell was working as a security guard at Centennial Park, an official entertainment venue. Jewell spotted a suspicious package, alerted police and helped officials clear the area, saving countless lives from a nail bomb explosion.
Although he was initially hailed as a hero, Jewell was soon considered a suspect in the crime, based on his checkered history as an over-zealous security officer and the fact that he fit the FBI’s “lone wolf” profile. Unknown FBI agents leaked his name to Kathy Scruggs, a reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Jewell and his mother became the subject of an intense media circus and an extensive criminal investigation.
Jewell was eventually exonerated; it was subsequently discovered that the bomb was planted by terrorist Eric Rudolph who also bombed a lesbian bar and two abortion clinics.
The movie gets off to a promising start as a character study of the quirky Jewell, a law-and-order fanatic who continually oversteps the boundaries of routine security jobs (for example, he illegally stops cars that are driving near the campus where he works) and who collects a large arsenal of guns in the small apartment he shares with his mother.
Unfortunately, what starts out as a nuanced portrait of Jewell becomes a reactionary tirade against the government and the media. The tone is set when we see a bumper sticker on the wall of Jewell’s lawyer (Watson Bryant played by Sam Rockwell) that says he fears the government more than he fear terrorists. The FBI agents, led by Jon Hamm, are brutal and corrupt. They’re also fond of using homophobic slurs. Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) trades sex for information and the rest of the press corps is equally lazy and venal.
The reactionary tone is sealed when Eastwood stages several climactic scenes against the Confederate flag (which was part of the Georgia state flag at the time).
Despite some great performances (Paul Walter Hauser is amazing as Jewell, Kathy Bates is deeply sympathetic as his mother and Nina Arianda is a welcome breath of fresh air as Bryant’s secretary), LGBT audiences can safely skip “Richard Jewell.”
The poster for “Bombshell” announces that the movie is “based on a real scandal” which is both the strength and weakness of the movie. The expose of rampant sexism and harassment at Roger Ailes’ right-wing media empire is simultaneously horrifying, enthralling and entertaining, but the movie is far too eager to lay all of the blame solely on Ailes.
The chic script by Charles Randolph tries to weave together the stories of three women at Fox News, all of whom are sexually harassed by network head Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). Real-life Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) is at the top of the journalistic game but is fighting to keep her position; real-life Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) is fired for refusing Ailes’ sexual advances and files a lawsuit against him; ambitious newcomer Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), an invented character, is quickly taught the price she must pay to advance at Fox News.
While the dialogue is snappy, the script overall doesn’t hang together very well. Except for one brief elevator ride, the three women never meet onscreen, and Theron gets a lot more screen time than her castmates. Further, Kelly is a well-defined character, whereas Carlson remains a blond cipher and Pospisil is an odd collection of unconnected quirks. With a few exceptions, most notably Doug Brunt (Mark Duplass as Kelly’s supportive husband) and Jess Carr (out actress Kate McKinnon as a closeted lesbian who befriends Pospisil), the supporting characters are also not well developed.
Theron and Lithgow turn in magnificent performances, but Randolph’s script turns the story into a battle between Kelly and Ailes (and to a lesser extent Carlson) instead of a story of broader patterns of discrimination. Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch (a wonderful Malcolm McDowell) only gets a brief cameo at the end when he appears to fire Ailes and there’s no consideration of how the other men at Fox News help maintain the toxic environment.
More importantly, Randolph doesn’t pay any real attention to the women who prop up Ailes’ empire. Why do Ailes’ wife Beth (Connie Britton), his lawyer Susan Estrich (Allison Janney), his gatekeeper Faye (out actor Holland Taylor in an uncredited role) and his rising star Judge Jeanine Pirro (Alanna Ubach) enable his behavior?
For example, there’s a chilling moment where Faye buzzes Kayla into Ailes’ inner office knowing all too well what will happen to the young woman when she steps inside. Unfortunately, Randolph and director Jay Roach waste the moment.
Despite these significant flaws, is “Bombshell” worth the time during the busy holiday season? The answer is yes. Roach keeps things moving at a confident and suspenseful pace, the lead performances are superb and it’s great fun to spot the real-life celebrities and the Hollywood celebrities who play them.
After months of hype, ‘Bros,’ ‘My Policeman’ ready to debut
Fall film season offers big-budget rom-com, a trans Pinhead, and more
This has been a year with an unprecedented number of big titles featuring LGBTQ characters and stories, and given the amount of regressive backlash our community continues to receive from the socially conservative (i.e. bigoted homophobic) crowd, that’s a comforting thing. As we push closer to the year’s close, there are admittedly fewer stand-out offerings on deck for queer viewers – but the ones that are on their way give us plenty to look forward to, anyway. Our list of titles to look for is below:
BLONDE (Sept. 16)
Marilyn Monroe is a Hollywood icon who always held a special place in the hearts of the LGBTQ community; maybe it has something to do with being exploited for her talent and beauty while still being marginalized in a hetero-masculine world. Whatever the reason, queer film buffs should be keen to see this screen adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ classic bestselling novel, which boldly fictionalizes Monroe’s life and re-imagines it as a parable about the fate of women in a culture that treats their bodies as a commodity. Following Monroe from her volatile childhood, it blurs fact and fiction as it charts her rise to stardom, emphasizing the ever-widening split between her public and private personas that led to her tragic end. Written and directed by Andrew Dominik, the film stars Cuban actress Ana de Armas as Marilyn, with Bobby Cannavale, Adrien Brody, Julianne Nicholson, Xavier Samuel, and Evan Williams; it premieres in theaters on the 16th, followed by a debut on Netflix – which produced it – on Sept. 28.
PETER VON KANT (Sept. 21)
Already given a limited theatrical release on Sept. 2, this French romantic drama from writer/director François Ozon was the opening film at February’s Berlin Film Festival and has been eagerly awaited by hardcore film geeks ever since. The reason? It’s a reinterpretation of the play by Rainier Werner Fassbinder, “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant,” which the legendary queer filmmaker himself originally adapted for the screen in 1972 to create a revered classic of European cinema that broke ground for its depiction of same-sex relationships. Now, Ozon has re-imagined the story by swapping the gender of its protagonist – which changes everything yet nothing in this S&M-tinged tale of narcissistic hedonism and obsessive desire. It stars Denis Ménochet in the title role, with an ensemble of players that features Isabelle Adjani, Khalil Gharbia, Stéfan Crépon, and Aminthe Audiard – as well as Hanna Schygulla, the German film legend who also appeared in Fassbinder’s original movie. You might still be able to find a big screen showing somewhere near you, if you’re lucky. Otherwise, don’t worry; you’ll be able to find it streaming VOD from starting on Sept. 22.
THE DREAMLIFE OF GEORGIE STONE (Sept. 22)
We don’t often include short films in our preview lists – an oversight we frequently find ourselves regretting – but this one deserves your attention. Spanning 19 years, it tells the story of Georgie, an Australian transgender teen, and follows her on her journey to adulthood as she helps to change laws, affirms her gender, and finds her voice along the way. Directed by Maya Donna Newell (“Gayby Baby”) as an effort to push back against Australian conservative voices who pointed at children like herself, who grew up with queer and trans parents, as an argument against the country’s movement for marriage equality, it’s the result of a six-year collaborative process (with Georgie and her mom, Rebekah Robertson) that only lasts for 29 minutes – but it’s 29 minutes of inspirational, queer-affirming content you’ll want to experience.
BROS (Sept. 30)
Certainly the buzziest LGBTQ title of the year, the ferociously funny Billy Eichner’s rom-com about two commitment-challenged men and their attempt to have a relationship has already gotten us excited for its debut by way of a teaser trailer full of laugh-out-loud moments. Written by Eichner, who also stars (opposite rom-com veteran Luke Macfarlane), it’s the first time an openly gay man has been able to co-write and star in his own major studio film; not one to be content with that milestone, he went a step further by casting every principal role – even the heterosexual ones – with queer actors. Apart from these notable points, it will be interesting to see how a queer-themed romance will succeed with mainstream audiences; but there are many purely entertaining reasons to look forward to this Nicholas Stoller-directed romp, which also features TS Madison, Monica Raymund, Guillermo Diaz, Guy Branum, Amanda Bearse, Bowen Yang, Benito Skinner, Matthew Wilkas, Jai Rodriguez, Dot-Marie Jones, and a host of other familiar queer faces. It’s worth mentioning that veteran comedy filmmaker Judd Apatow was co-executive producer (alongside Stoller and Eichner), but though his pedigree is appreciated as a part of the joint effort it took to get this history-making Hollywood romance to the screen, it’s bursting with so much talent already that his involvement is only icing on the cake.
HELLRAISER (Hulu, Oct. 7)
Clive Barker’s 1987 classic horror film (based on his 1986 novella, “The Hellbound Heart”) gets a few new twists in this remake by director David Bruckner, which will premiere on Hulu as part of the streaming platform’s “Huluween” celebration. In this re-imagined and updated version, the story follows a drug-addicted young woman who comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box, learning too late that its purpose is to summon a group of sadistic supernatural beings called the Cenobites from the hellish dimension they call home. Inherently queer from the start (Barker himself, who serves as one of the executive producers on the new film, has long been openly gay), this iteration doubles down with its casting of trans actress Jamie Clayton (“Sense8”) as its sinister main antagonist – affectionately known as “Pinhead” by fans. She’s joined by a cast that includes Odessa A’zion, Adam Faison, Brandon Flynn, Aoife Hinds, Jason Liles, Yinka Olorunnife, Goran Visnjic, and Hiam Abbass.
MY POLICEMAN (Oct. 21)
Last up (but definitely not least) is this hotly anticipated adaptation of Bethan Roberts novel about forbidden love and changing social conventions, which stars “It-Boy” of the day Harry Styles as Tom, a policeman in 1950s Britain at the center of a romantic triangle in which he splits his conflicted love between teacher Marion (Emma Corrin) and museum curator Patrick (David Dawson). The story spans four decades, fast-forwarding to the 1990s to give the now-older trio (Linus Roache, Gina McKee, and Rupert Everett) a last chance to repair the emotional damage of the past. Directed by Michael Grandage, this visually elegant, heart-stopping portrait of three people caught in the shifting tides of history might be the most “prestigious” title on our list. Whether or not it’s worthy of the hype that accompanies its pop-singer star, whose perceived sexual fluidity (he’s never labeled his sexuality, and continues to avoid doing so even two years into a relationship with actor-turned-filmmaker Olivia Wilde) continues to tantalize queer fans, is something we’ll have to wait until Oct. 21 – or Nov. 4, when producer Amazon makes it available for streaming on Prime – to find out.
Director sheds light on George Michael’s struggle with the closet
‘Balancing desire for artistic perfection with the struggle with demons’
Of all the great songs the late George Michael left as a legacy, “Careless Whisper” is certainly among the greatest – and yet, ironically, he never really liked it.
“He said he was ashamed of it,” says Simon Napier-Bell, who was Michael’s manager during the WHAM! years. “It had come to him in a moment, and he liked to sit and think about everything he wrote, what he wanted to say. This one just popped out, and it was like, ‘Fuck me, I’ve given away my inner self and I didn’t even know I was doing it.’”
Napier-Bell, now 80, is a music industry veteran with a long roster of legendary clients. In recent years, he’s turned to making documentaries – and his latest effort, “George Michael: Portrait of An Artist,” provides a comprehensive look at the life of his now-iconic former client. And yes, it deals with the proverbial elephant in the room – Michael’s 1998 “lewd conduct” entrapment arrest for cruising in a Beverly Hills men’s room.
In the film, which documents the musician’s public and private lives side-by-side and sheds insight on the difficult balancing act he tried to maintain between his star image and his authentic self, the incident is just part of Michael’s larger story. It’s a key moment, however. For a younger generation, Michael’s “notorious” bathroom incident often overshadows his musical legacy, and some judge him harshly for remaining closeted through so much of his career. As Napier-Bell – an out and proud gay man himself – told the Blade, they couldn’t view him any more harshly for it than he did himself – but in the 1980s, if he wanted the level of stardom he was capable of achieving, he had no choice but to keep his sexuality hidden.
“Every artist has the problem of balancing their desire for artistic perfection with the needs of the industry and the struggle with their own demons,” says the director. “People say stars are uncompromising, but it’s the very opposite – the music industry DEMANDS compromise. George had a dislike of having to compromise, and a lot of guilt for not coming out, which he knew he ought to do.”
Though his documentary doesn’t get granular about the timeline of Michael’s coming out process, the filmmaker claims the singer toyed with the idea in his earliest days of success yet held back when it became clear his record label would not allow it. Instead, says Napier-Bell, he planned to build his career and then come out when he was already a star. But then, as the director remembers, AIDS happened.
“Young people today really don’t understand,” he says. “I recall standing in the balcony of Heaven, THE huge gay club in London at the time, with Paul Gambaccini [a UK broadcast celebrity and author who appears in the film], and he pointed down at the enormous crowd of dancing people pressed together and said to me, ‘Do you realize that nearly half of these guys are going to be dead in five years?’ It was such an outrageous thing to say, you wanted to think maybe four or five of them might get it – but he was absolutely right.”
With fear of the disease setting back gay acceptance on both sides of the Atlantic – “If you knew someone was gay in the 1990s you stayed away from them,” he recalls, “not just straight people but other gays as well” – Michael remained in the closet.
Still, for many in the public, his sexuality was no secret. Despite the heteronormative image he continued to project, millions of queer fans recognized his truth and related to him for it, and many of his straight female followers sensed it, too. Napier-Bell recalls talking to girls at George’s gigs and asking if they fancied him. “They would say ‘Oh, he’s fabulous! But that’s not really possible, is it?’”
It was not until 15 years later that Michael’s closet door was finally flung open by that Beverly Hills arrest. With his secret exposed, there was no reason to hide anymore. He tried to turn the moment to his favor, seizing the opportunity to come out proudly and advocate against homophobic law enforcement policies that targeted gay men for having consensual sex; the world, however, was not quite ready then to embrace his attempt at a sex-positive stance, and both his image and career sustained lingering damage.
Though he can’t know for sure and has no information to confirm his suspicion, Napier-Bell believes Michael intended – “at a highly conscious subconscious level, just near the top of the subconscious, I should think” – to get caught.
“When I was managing him with WHAM!, he was going to gay clubs – and it wasn’t because he wanted sex, because he was getting that anyway. He was doing it because he really wanted to be outed – you could see it – but didn’t know how to come out.”
Later, Michael would often flaunt his queerness in public. “He would be giving an interview, and Kenny [Goss, his longtime partner] would be off camera and say to him, ‘I’m going now, darling’ and he would say, ‘Oh, see you at home, put the kettle on,’ and blow him a kiss.’ He wanted to show that it was just like being straight, just like being married.”
The arrest, intentional or not, may have liberated him from the closet once and for all, but it also tarnished him in the eyes of many of his LGBTQ fans. “He did a huge amount of good by projecting a positive image,” says Napier-Bell, “but then he complicated it with defending cruising and not being monogamous. He never got to a simple position on all that, did he?”
Michael would continue to be in the public eye, but his star faded steadily – partly, Napier-Bell believes, because he encouraged it to do so – and he struggled with substance abuse. He died at 53 in 2016, officially of heart disease.
Reflecting now, Napier-Bell believes that Michael’s star has “gotten bigger” since his death, something he says is “rare for any musical artist,” in large part because of the inner conflicts that haunted his life and found expression in his songs.
“All his struggles – being trapped in the closet, his boyfriend dying of AIDS, his disastrous ending – give us something we can identify with. We project our happy lives when we leave the building, when we’re social. He didn’t just come out about sex, he came out about being fucked up, about his life being difficult. We need people to talk about these things, and to have all that angst projected through his life and his songs is very comforting, for everybody.
“People say it was sad, but life doesn’t have a happy end,” Napier-Bell says. “If you’ve written one of the three biggest Christmas songs in history, it’s not a bad day to die. And his overall canon is pretty dang good. I think he would have been happy with that outcome.“
“George Michael: Portrait of an Artist” is available on demand from Amazon Prime Video, Apple iTunes, and Google Play.
New doc illuminates Patricia Highsmith’s life and work
‘Intercourse with men is like steel wool to the face’
If you’ve been transfixed by the amusement park scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train,” rooted for the sociopath Tom Ripley in the 1999 film “The Talented Mr. Ripley” or been moved to tears by the love of Therese and Carol in Todd Haynes’s movie of “Carol,” Patricia Highsmith is etched in your DNA.
Highsmith, who lived from 1921 to 1995 wrote more than 50 books (novels and short story collections). Nearly all of her books were made into movies.
Recently, “Loving Highsmith,” a fab documentary about Patricia Highsmith has been released. The film, written and directed by Eva Vitija, opens Sept. 2 at the Film Forum in New York and Sept. 9 at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles. “Loving Highsmith” premiered at the Sydney Film Festival and bowed at the Frameline Film Festival in June.
Highsmith, like Tom Ripley and many of her other fictional characters, led a double life. She was a lesbian. But, because of the homophobia of her era, Highsmith had to be closeted about what she called “the ever present subject” of her “homosexuality.”
Except in the 5,000 pages of her diaries and notebooks. (1,000 pages of her diaries and notebooks were published in 2021 in “Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks: 1941-1995.”)
Even if Highsmith weren’t acclaimed for her mastery of suspense, she would be a queer hero.
In 1952, her novel “The Price of Salt” was published under the pseudonym “Claire Morgan.” (It was reissued in 1990 under the title “Carol” and with Highsmith’s real name.)
Then, fiction featuring queer characters had to end unhappily: they died or went to jail. “The Price of Salt,” a rare exception, became a lesbian cult classic. Its protagonists end up together – alive and not in prison.
“Loving Highsmith” deftly uses writings from her diaries and notebooks as well as interviews with her family and lovers to illuminate not only Highsmith’s life and work but queer culture in the 1950s.
The film skillfully interweaves archival clips from interviews with Highsmith and famous film adaptations of her work with stories from her relatives and lovers. Gwendoline Christie (“Game of Thrones”) reads excerpts from Highsmith’s work.
Too often watching documentaries of talented, deceased icons is deadly. You feel like you’re entombed in lifeless talking heads and stagnant images.
You don’t have to worry about “Loving Highsmith.” Its talk and images make Highsmith’s story come alive.
As the film makes clear, Highsmith was quite “loving.” She had many lovers – in New York, England, France and Germany. Despite trying to cure herself with analysis, Highsmith sexually liked women. “Sexual intercourse [with men] is to me like steel wool to the face,” she says.
Highsmith’s mother, by the accounts of Highsmith herself, her family and her lovers, was a horror show. She told Highsmith that she was sorry she hadn’t aborted her. When Highsmith was 14, her mother berated her for “making noises” like a “les.”
New York had many gay bars in the 1950s, we learn from “Loving Highsmith.” But homophobia was so rampant that you wouldn’t get off at a subway stop near a bar out of fear that a straight friend, family member, or co-worker would see you going into a queer bar.
There is one problem with “Loving Highsmith.” It soft pedals Highsmith’s anti-Semitism and racism. It mentions Highsmith’s prejudices only once: saying Highsmith in her old age reverted to the bigotry of her grandparents.
Highsmith’s bigotry grew more virulent in her old age. But, though she had Jewish friends, Highsmith was anti-Semitic throughout her life.
This doesn’t diminish Highsmith’s literary achievement or iconic role in queer history. Anti-Semitism and racism were likely common in Texas where Highsmith was born and lived before moving to New York when she was six. “Loving Highsmith” is a thoughtful, informative documentary. It would have been more insightful if more attention had been paid to Highsmith’s prejudices.
Even with this caveat, “Loving Highsmith” is a must-see documentary. It will send you racing to read the nearest Highsmith book at hand.
Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast
Anti-LGBTQ party leader poised to become next Italy prime minister
Cubans approve marriage equality-inclusive family code
Arlington candidates greet LGBTQ voters at ‘Ice Cream Social’
PHOTOS: Virginia Pridefest
PHOTOS: SMYAL Fall Brunch
Bisexual activists cautiously excited after White House meeting
Kenyan McDuffie for D.C. Council-at-Large
‘Modern Family’ creator returns to form with hilarious ‘Reboot’
Comings & Goings
Biden notes LGBTQ, intersex rights in UN General Assembly speech
Commentary5 days ago
Bisexual activists cautiously excited after White House meeting
Opinions4 days ago
Kenyan McDuffie for D.C. Council-at-Large
Television4 days ago
‘Modern Family’ creator returns to form with hilarious ‘Reboot’
Local4 days ago
Comings & Goings
United Nations4 days ago
Biden notes LGBTQ, intersex rights in UN General Assembly speech
Maryland4 days ago
FreeState Justice files lawsuit against former executive director
Arts & Entertainment4 days ago
March on Washington Film Festival boasts stellar queer content
Real Estate2 days ago
Standing on both feet in the current real estate market