Do I Sound Gay?

(USA 2015)

An informative and amusing exploration of the “gay voice,” that effeminate and often annoying over-the-top stereotypical way that so many gay men speak—and that one man (David Thorpe) wants to change. Thorpe looks to speech therapy and academia but mostly pop culture for answers, enlisting gay celebrities like Dan Savage, George Takei, and Tim Gunn along the way. Their responses reveal the conflicted attitudes gay men hold toward masculinity and identity.

Despite its merits, Do I Sound Gay? ultimately underwhelmed me. It provided useful tidbits of information, but nothing solid or groundbreaking.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) C


(UK 2015)

I was not an Amy Winehouse fan, but I am now. Amy traces Winehouse’s life from adolescence to pre-fame and breaking through with “Rehab,” to her druggy antics and early death. Unlike I Am Chris Farley, Amy delves into what was behind the mess and how it played out, showing a flawed and vulnerable person behind the personality. Remarkably, it is not judgmental—though I can see why her family reneged on allowing filmmaker Asif Kapadia access to private material. Throw in some great songs with anecdotes about how they came to be and live performances, and you’ve got a winner.

(Landmark Century) A-

I Am Chris Farley

(USA 2015)

A nice tribute to nice 90s Saturday Night Live alum and Tommy Boy star with nice commentary from family, friends, and celebs like Bo Derek, Lorne Michaels, Dan Akroyd, Mike Myers, David Spade, and Adam Sandler (among many others). And ‘nice’ is the problem: I Am Chris Farley does a nice job of giving some background and insight on what a nice guy Farley was, but unfortunately it digresses into a weird sanitized nostalgia. I imagine most people, like me, wanted more details about the events leading up to his untimely death at age 33, something touched on in a superficial and sweeping manner that turned it into the proverbial elephant in the room

Still, it did show some of his best skits (the Chippendales audition with Patrick Swayze and Matt Foley, motivational speaker, to name two). I guess we have to settle for that.

(Music Box) C


(USA 2015)

A day in the life of two transgender prostitutes, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) of West Hollywood. Sin-Dee just got out of jail and is trying to tack down her fiancé/pimp, Chester (James Ransone), who failed to pick her up. Fellow trans hooker Alexandra lets out of the bag that Chester has been shacking up with a real girl (Mickey O’Hagen) while Sin-Dee was in the slammer. Sin-Dee shifts her plan and sets out to kidnap her. Did I mention it’s Christmas Eve? Thrown into all this is Armenian cab driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian), who is married and has a thing for Alexandra. Where is all this going?

Tangerine gets off to a shaky start, but director Sean Baker lets his characters develop into full-fledged people as the film rolls on and ultimately proves to be a beautiful story. With a pervading sense of loneliness, it makes a point about survival and needing to rely on others to do it. No man (or woman) is an island.

(Music Box) B

Footnote: I tracked down Donut Time, the donut shop where much of the action in Tangerine takes place. It’s located at 6785 Santa Monica Blvd. at the corner of Highland. I used the ATM and bought a cruller. It was awesome.


A Murder in the Park

(USA 2015)

I love movies set in and about Chicago, especially since the time I moved here. I do not remember this, though: a group of Northwestern University journalism students under the direction of “advocate” Prof. David Protess reenact a 1982 murder at a South Side pool and conclude that it could not have happened the way police and the courts determined it did, persuading Gov. George Ryan to free a convicted killer (Anthony Porter), jail an innocent man (Alstroy Simon), and ultimately abolish the death penalty.

The problem is, the alleged killer was by all accounts probably guilty. Walking us through the facts, interviews with those involved, and the sloppy “investigation” of the students, filmmakers Christopher S. Rech and Brandon Kimber demonstrate a worst-case scenario of political correctness, academic corruption, and second-guessing those charged with solving crimes. It’s an interesting and even controversial film considering the current prevailing attitude toward law enforcement.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B+

Infinitely Polar Bear

(USA 2015)

Ah, the ups and downs of growing up during the pre-divorce Seventies, not only in a single-parent home but also with a bipolar dad. Directed and written by former The Larry Sanders Show writer Maya Forbes, Infinitely Polar Bear is a warm look back on a less than ideal situation.

Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide as the lucky daughters create a believable chemistry that works really well with the subject matter. Mark Ruffalo’s performance is outstanding even if it probably isn’t one for which he’ll be remembered—his character’s antics are laugh-out-loud funny at times, and he gives his character (Channing) a loveable dorkish quality. I enjoyed Infinitely Polar Bear: it was funny and touching at once—much like an Afterschool Special.

(Landmark Century) B

The Wolf Pack

(USA 2015)

The Wolf Pack is Crystal Moselle’s bizarre account of one family’s reclusive life imposed upon it by its weirdo patriarch in a public housing project on the lower east side of Manhattan. Forbidden to leave the apartment, pretty much everything the Angulo kids “know” comes from movies. The juxtaposition of the Empire State Building outside the small apartment’s window serves as a constant, nagging metaphor for their situation: trapped in a box inside one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world, watching but not participating as life goes on without them.

The Wolk Pack wowed me on many levels. Watching the Angulo pack get through an awkward trek to Coney Island shined a light on each brother’s personality, perhaps to illustrate nature-versus-nurture. The coping mechanisms they adopted, like acting out perfect imitations of Tarantino and Batman movies as an escape, were downright heartbreaking. To see that these kids, mostly boys, came out of this experience as relatively well-adjusted, cool people is fucking amazing.

(Music Box) A-

Cartel Land

(USA 2015)

This one threw me for a loop. I expected an expose on the Mexican cartels, but that was just the backdrop. What Cartel Land is really about is the self-proclaimed “vigilantes” fighting the cartels on both sides of the border: Jose “El Doctor” Mireles, a Mexican shit-town physician running Las Autodefensas, and Tim “Nailer” Foley, a veteran running Arizona Border Recon. Boasting some intense on-the-ground footage, it isn’t quite clear who the bad guys are by the end. Total mindfuck.

(Music Box) B-

The Little Death

(Australia 2015)

The Little Death is not so much a story as a whole but rather a very amusing series of vignettes with interrelated characters caught in the throes of one fetish or another: podophilia, dacryphilia, somnophilia, rape fantasy, role playing. We laughed out loud often at the situations that played out, particularly between a cute deaf guy (T.J. Powers) using a female sign language interpreter (Erin James) to call a phone sex hotline.

Despite sex and all its weirdness woven throughout, there is a central tenderness that comes through each character. The film deals less with actual sex than the things that people long for: connection, acceptance, excitement, feeling attractive. The Little Death did not get great reviews; but being a fan of dark, quirky, and risqué humor, I loved it.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) A-