"The Crying Game" is an Early 90s Shocker by Neil Jordan

6/24/2020

*Spoiler Alert!  Consider Yourself Warned*

At the end of 1992 Irish writer/director, Neil Jordan debuted his audacious and critically acclaimed film “The Crying Game”.  It has achieved a sort of cult status because of its mind-blowing second-act twist.  Although watching it now it has lost a little something, but the overall themes of the film are as strong as ever.

This is Northern Ireland during “The Troubles” and Stephen Rea plays Fergus, a sensitive if not a reluctant volunteer of the IRA.  They have kidnapped a British Soldier, Jody (played by Forest Whitaker), in an effort to secure the release of some of their own political prisoners.  Fergus has been assigned to watch over him and they soon bond and develop a sort of friendship.  In their conversations, Jody mentions a girl back home named Dil (Jaye Davidson).  When shown a picture of her Fergus is taken aback by how beautiful she is.  Meanwhile, Jude (Miranda Richardson) and Maguire (Adrian Dunbar) who are pretty hardcore in their IRA allegiance, scold Fergus for being so soft-hearted.  When their hostage negotiations go nowhere Fergus volunteers to kill Jody.  He takes him into the woods at gunpoint but his conscious won’t let him pull the trigger.  Jody escapes momentarily until he hits the road and is run over by a military vehicle.  Fergus bolts in the opposite direction and escapes to London to search out Dil.

Fergus, who now goes by Jimmy, works various construction jobs while tracking down Dil who he finds working as a hairdresser.  He goes into the salon and gets a haircut to check her out.  Later on, he follows her to The Metro Bar and talks to her through the bartender.  Dil then meets her abusive jerk of a boyfriend.  Then after following them home watches them undress in silhouette in a second-story apartment.  Fergus is entranced and caught up with the enigma that is Dil.  He returns to the bar the next night to see her on stage singing “The Crying Game”.  That night Dil’s boyfriend is once again roughing her up but this time Jimmy kicks his ass and he is the one heading home with Dil.  Over the next few days, their relationship quickly builds and Jimmy finds himself being the only man in Dil’s life.  This is where things start to change, just as they are about to have sex Dil reveals very graphically that he is actually a man, WHAT!  Jimmy then proceeds to hit the bathroom and puke for about five minutes.  This scene has been parodied numerous times over the years, but when you look at it now Dil is quite obviously a man from the get-go.  However back in the early 90s maybe people had a harder time figuring this out.  Even Dil is like “come on I thought you knew”. 

Days pass and when the ashes clear they eventually come back to each other to talk and form a new relationship.  But not so fast Jimmy or Fergus as his past starts to catch up with him.  Jude has survived the attack back home and she is stalking him and Dil.  He is in a heap of trouble for abandoning the IRA and now being forced to make hit on a British target or face the consequences.  The ending is emotional and bittersweet but also optimistic for both Fergus and Dil.

“The Crying Game” is one of the most uniquely original films of its time.  It won Neil Jordan the Academy Award for Best Screenplay, while also being nominated for 5 others.  Intertwining an IRA terrorist drama within a transgender love story is quite an amazing feat.  Both Jaye Davidson and Stephen Rea received Oscar nominations for their incredible roles.  Even more amazing is the fact that Davidson was not a professional actor and has had only one other role after this one.  At the time I am typing this the movie is available on Netflix and I consider it a must see!


"Scream Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street"

6/20/2020

Anyone who calls themselves a horror fan has seen all of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies, usually more than once.  When the original came out in 1984 it was a revelation in the world of horror and the birth of Freddy Krueger, the fire-scarred child murdered with the razor finger glove.  A year later the sequel “Freddy’s Revenge” left people stunned, confused, and a bit angered by its homoerotic undertones.  It is now widely regarded as the gayest horror movie ever made, but it also destroyed the career of its star Mark Patton, a young closeted gay actor trying to make a name for himself in Hollywood.  The 2019 documentary “Scream Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street” explores the life of Mark Patton and his experiences.

In the early 1980s horror was entering a golden age with Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees leading the way.  Young actors like Johnny Depp, Kevin Bacon, and others were launched their careers in these new slasher films, Mark Patton was no different.  The filmmakers take us through his childhood where Mark reminisces that he knew he was gay when he was 4 years old.  How he didn’t have the best of childhoods (seriously who doesn’t) and leaves home at 17 for New York City where he finds his people and starts to make a life for himself.  After finding success in a Broadway show Patton moves to Los Angeles and quickly finds work in commercials and Television.  He then got his break in the Elm Street sequel as Jesse Walsh, a typical teenage boy who also happens to be possessed by the spirit of Freddy Krueger.  This film was directed by Jack Sholder and written by David Chaskin who still claims that he didn’t write a “gay” movie.  Some movies will have a hidden gay subtext, but in “Freddy’s Revenge” nothing is hidden.  Jessie’s bedroom dance is something that is extremely 80s and extremely funny.  There is a scene in a Leather Bar, and a sort of S&M scene in the boys' locker room just to name a few.  Mark also became the first male scream queen who could give Jamie Lee Curtis a run for her money.

Upon the release of the film, the country was also being griped by the burgeoning AIDS epidemic.  Anger, fear, anxiety, and hate were being thrust upon the gay community, and Mark’s boyfriend at the time, Tim, tested positive and eventually died from the disease.  The pain of living a lie and not being able to come out of the closet tormented Mark and many others, who feared losing work if they were outed.  Mark mentions that he also contracted HIV and had other medical issues but miraculously survived after being hospitalized for over a year.  He chose to walk away from Hollywood and disappeared into Mexico and now lives with his husband Hector.  When the filmmakers of another documentary on the Elm Street films called “Never Sleep Again” sought out Mark he was completely off the grid and unavailable.  Eventually, he was found and was completely unaware of the cult phenomenon “Freddy’s Revenge” had become.  Like many other aging horror actors, he hooked up with the festival circuit and toured the country meeting the fans and signing autographs at Horror Conventions.

This climax to the documentary was a sit-down meeting between Mark and screenwriter David Chaskin who in the past has not been too kind to Mark when discussing the homoerotic vibes that permeate the script.  Chaskin has denied writing a gay film and instead says that the way Mark interpreted and acted in the film is what made it gay.  This is complete bullshit to anyone who has actually seen the film.  Chaskin does apologize to Mark and they seem to have buried the hatchet.  This is a great doc not only for horror fans but for anyone who likes life-affirming stories of people who hold true to who they are.  For Mark and thousands of others in the LGBTQ community its not a choice but the only way to survive.


"Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"

6/10/2020

A dark romantic comedy that takes place during the end of the world would be a good description of the 2012 film with the long title.  With an asteroid careening towards Earth and our last chance of survival gone people have 3 weeks to live their lives before he end.  What would you do?  

Sad sack life insurance salesman Dodge (Steve Carell) sits in his car with his wife listening to a radio announcement that the space shuttle mission to save Earth has failed.  She then opens the car door and runs.  The ridiculously funny apocalypse jokes are jam packed in the first act.  Civil unrest and riots fill the streets of the major cities as civilization starts to come apart at the seams.  Dodge is very similar to other characters that Steve Carell has played.  The lonely down on his luck everyman who is stuck in a monotonous going nowhere life.  In a final insult, while sitting in his car outside his office building, a body falls on his windshield.  In a running gag, he has numerous encounters with his cleaning lady who insists on coming back to clean every week even when Dodge tries to let her go.  How people react to impending doom changes from person to person.  He is invited to a party thrown by a couple of friends and everybody has freed themselves of any inhibitions they might have had.  When people just don’t give a fuck anymore, things get a little awkward and weird.  Back at his place, Dodge is once again alone until he finds Penny (Kiera Knightly) crying outside his window.  When he opens the window Penny says “I won’t steal anything if you won’t rape me” and so their relationship begins.  When Dodge becomes suicidal and passes out in the park somebody leaves him a dog with a note saying “sorry”, which becomes the dog's name.   With the riots now starting to consume the neighborhood Dodge finds Penny, who grabs an armload of records, and they hit the road.

For years Dodge has been longing for the girl that got away, his high school sweetheart Olivia.  After finding a long lost letter from her he must now go out a find her while making a few stops along the way.  They stop off a chain restaurant called Friendly’s which has turned into a rave with all the waiters wearing glow sticks and on ecstasy.  We get some really good character moments between Dodge and Penny before they run off when the place starts to get out of control.  Like most road movies we end up going from one place to another and our next adventure is to one of Penny’s ex-boyfriends Speck (Derek Luke) who is hunkered down with a group of guys in an underground survivalist shelter.  Penny is able to use the guys' satellite phone to call home to England and talk to her parents.  The next morning Dodge and Penny are given a tiny blue Smart Car that will take then to the end of their journey.  The plot is very simplistic, but the writing and acting come across as very genuine and touched with feeling.  Dodge and Penny are a good match because even though they are very different people they seem to connect in a number of ways.  It seems the only way they would have gotten together would be through the apocalypse.  When you only have 3 weeks to live you tend to make decisions a little more quickly.  Hesitation and prejudices just don’t seem to apply anymore.

When we arrive at the third act it is pretty similar to other romantic comedies.  Dodge makes a big decision that will separate the two of them but thinks it’s for the best.  Only to have a big revelation just before the screen fades to white and the world has been destroyed.  Ooh, I just got chills.  “Seeking a Friend for the end of the world” is good fun and a refreshing joy to watch.


A Love Story During an Epidemic Makes "Perfect Sense"

6/9/2020

A love story in the midst of an epidemic is the premise of David Mackenzie’s 2011 film “Perfect Sense”.  When people around the world start losing their senses one by one we must find a way to carry on.  Chef Michael (Ewan McGregor) and Epidemiologist Susan (Eva Green) have just met, is they're love doomed before it begins?

“Perfect Sense” is a structured art-house style film that takes a different approach to the whole apocalyptic virus genre.  The story is more about loving and appreciating life, you never know what you had until it's gone.   This mysterious illness starts will a profound sadness and uncontrollable grief followed by a loss of smell.   Michael and Susan’s relationship quickly develops, each finding something in each other.  People eventually find a way to adapt and life goes on.

Susan and her colleagues continue to research the cause of this illness but come up with nothing.  Is it environmental, terrorism, no answers can be found.  Then people start having panic attacks and develop an uncontrollable hunger until their sense of taste is gone.  Michael’s job as a chef essentially has been rendered useless.  Again people learn to adapt, their remaining sense becomes more acute.  Even as people are now becoming quarantined in their homes, Michael and Susan’s relationship grows stronger.  The next phase of the disease will put it to the ultimate test as people develop a searing rage and anger.  Michael verbally assaults Susan with some of the cruelest language possible as he flies into an uncontrollable rage.  After this people go deaf.  The movie itself goes quiet.  Periodically through the film, Susan has a voice-over that describes what people are feeling.  

The painful inevitability of this disease is heartbreaking, it makes you think about what it means to be human.  Michael and Susan are now separated and miserable until the last phase comes around.  A feeling of intense love, kindness, and acceptance just before you go blind.  In a mad dash to beat the inevitable, they find each just before everything goes dark.  “Perfect Sense”  is actually quite entertaining given its strange premise.  In the end, the only sense people have left is touch.  Yes, it does sound a little cheesy, but it does resonate at some level.  The acting and commitment by everyone involved make this a movie worth watching.