Movie Review: The Crying Game (1992) #AtoZChallenge

I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: The Crying Game
Release Date: October 30, 1992
Director: Neil Jordan
Production Company: Palace Pictures | Channel Four Films | British Screen

A British soldier, Jody (Forest Whitaker), on duty in Northern Ireland during The Trouble is abducted and held hostage by the Provisional IRA. An IRA member, Fergus (Stephen Rea), stands guard over Jody over several days and the two men bond. Jody is accidentally killed when the British military carries out an assault on the IRA safe-house.  Seeking to lie low for a while, Fergus flees to London and takes on a job in construction under an alias.

Jody told Fergus about his lover,  Dil (Jaye Davidson), so Fergus tracks her down. Initially Fergus wants to make sure Dil is okay as a debt to Jody, but he soon falls in love with her.  In a moment that was heralded as the BIG TWIST at the time of release, Fergus discovers that Dil is transgender as they are about to have sex. After his initial revulsion, Fergus continues to be drawn to Dil.

Unfortunately, Fergus’ former IRA accomplices find him and inform him he’s been tried in abstentia for his failing to execute Jody and the fleeing. He’s able to atone for this if he carries out a risky assassination of a British judge. Dil’s life is put at risk is Fergus fails to come through on the assassination. Fergus is left with some difficult choices in a final act that depicts some touching moments of love and sacrifice.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

Like good Irish Americans, my mother, sister, and I went to see this at the theater as a family because it was a big deal movie about The Troubles.

What Did I Remember?:

The broad strokes of the movie stuck with me if not the details.

Also, I have to brag here, but Jim Broadbent is one of those actors who is in like every British movie ever and I never remember who he is, but for the first time ever I recognized him right away as the charming bartender, Col.

What Did I Forget?:

Jody is rather obnoxious in the first few scenes we see him in before he and Fergus begin to bond and the characters soften.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

At the time of release, people talked about the movie as if “THE BIG TWIST” was the main point.  I never thought that then, and 28 years later, I think the movie’s real intent to tell a story of love, sacrifice, and a kind heart in troubled times perseveres. It also has an excellent soundtrack, from Percy Sledge to Boy George to Lyle Lovett, the perfectly compliments the storyline.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

Awareness and understanding of transgender people in popular media has improved in leaps and bounds in recent years (albeit with more improvement necessary) so the depiction of Dil feels a bit clunky, and overall her character seems to lack some agency.

Is It a Classic?:

Yes, indeed.

Rating: ****


5 more all-time favorite movies starting with C:

  1. Casablanca (1942)
  2. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
  3. Citizen Kane (1941)
  4. The City of Lost Children (1995)
  5. Clueless (1995)

What is your all-time favorite movie starting with C? What do you guess will be my movie for D?  Let me know in the comments!

Movie Review: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) #AtoZChallenge

I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Release Date: August 10, 1994
Director: Stephan Elliott
Production Company: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment | Specific Films

Mitzi (who also goes by Anthony and “Tick”) is a performer in drag queen cabaret in Sydney portrayed by Hugo Weaving.  He gets a call from his wife, from whom he’s been separated for several years but never officially divorced, asking for a favor to bring his performance to her casino resort in Alice Springs. Mitzi invites Bernadette (Terence Stamp), a older transgender woman who was a legendary drag performer, to join him as she grieves the death of her partner.  They are joined by a third drag performer, Felicia (a.k.a Adam), a young, narcissistic, and acerbic gay man.  Felicia uses his parents’ wealth to acquire a bus for their journey across the Australian Outback which he christens Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The basic plot is the clash of three different personalities in a bus together on a several days journey, made even longer because the bus keeps breaking down. Along the way they meet rural Australians, some who are welcoming, some who are hostile, and on one occasion brutally violent. They pick up an auto mechanic, Bob (Bill Hunter), who keeps the bus running and forms a romance with Bernadette. Arriving in Alice Springs, it’s revealed that Mitzi also has an 8-year-old son, Benjamin (Mark Holmes) he hasn’t seen since Benjamin was a baby.  But Benjamin’s very cool mom, Marion (Sarah Chadwick), a queer woman herself, has raised Benjamin to be accepting of his father.

After performing for two weeks, Bernadette decides to stay in Alice Springs with Bob (who has found work at the casino) and Benjamin travels to Sydney to get spend time getting to know his dad better.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

My senior year of college, my friend John acquired the soundtrack to this movie which included several disco era hits, including the epically bad and unintentionally hilarious “I’ve Never Been to Me” by Charlene. John’s room was a popular hangout in our dormitory so a lot of people heard the soundtrack and were deeply curious about the movie that went with it.  When the movie finally came to our local art house movie theatre it was a group outing.

What Did I Remember?:

I remembered all the basic plot details and some of the dialogue, including Bernadette’s response to Felicia’s desire to climb King’s Canyon in a drag outfit: “That’s just what this country needs: a cock in a frock on a rock.”  I also remember the dance numbers and costumes are excellent.  And most beautiful of all is Felicia on the roof of the bus, singing an aria, as shiny fabric trails behind the bus.

What Did I Forget?:

I remembered the details of Mitzi’s storyline well, but not as much of Bernadette’s. Perhaps because I’m older, her story (and Stamp’s performance) feel more poignant.  I completely forgot about Bob and their romance, which on this rewatch I found the sweetest part of the movie.

When I watched this movie in the 1990s, I didn’t know who any of the actors were.  Terance Stamp was already an established “tough guy” actor for decades at the time, although I suppose there would be no way I’d remember him as General Zod in the Superman movies.  Weaving would go on to play parts in The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, and Captain America franchises, among other things. And Guy Pearce would also find fame in L.A Confidential, Memento, The King’s Speech, and Iron Man 3.  Watching this movie knowing the actors from their other parts rather than assuming they’re Australian “unknowns” makes for a different viewing experience.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

This was one of the first major movies to offer a sympathetic portrayal of gay and transgender people (and coincidentally gave a boost to Australian cinema in foreign markets).  It’s strikes a perfect balance among road movie with striking humor, romance, a sensitive story of family, and great dance performances and costuming.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

Even 25 years ago, the big problem with this movie is the character of Cynthia (Julia Cortez), a Filipina woman married to Bob (presumably through some sort of mail-order arrangement to gain Australian citizenship) who is also an exotic dancer. There is a possibility of comparing Cynthia to the Priscilla crew as different type of outsider in the Australian desert, but her character is portrayed in the most virulently stereotypical fashion in the few moments she’s on screen.

All three lead characters are portrayed by straight, cisgender actors.  I think in the 1990s it was possible to defend this as an act of solidarity to have cishet actors offer a sympathetic portrayal.  But if this movie was made today it would be rightly called out for denying parts to LGBTQ actors.

The movie also features the use of the term “tranny” and deadnaming Bernadette as jokes. I was ignorant of this in the 1990s, but today I know these are horribly hurtful things to say.  Granted, most of this is done by Felicia, a character who admits to being deliberately obnoxious to get a rise out of people. I don’t think the movie so much defends doing this as it is showing that some gay men, even drag queens, are prejudiced against transgender people.  Either way it’s an unsettling part of the movie.

Is It a Classic?:

Yes, definitely!

Rating: ****

WARNING: This trailer actually makes the movie look bad.

5 more all-time favorite movies starting with A:

  1. Airplane! (1980)
  2. Aliens (1986)
  3. Amelie (2001)
  4. Anne of Green Gables (1985)
  5. Apollo 13 (1995)

What is your all-time favorite movie starting with A? What do you guess will be my movie for B?  Let me know in the comments!

Movie Review: The Last Waltz (1978) #AtoZChallenge

This is my entry for “L” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “L” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, Life Itself, and loudQUIETloud: a film about the Pixies.

Title: The Last Waltz
Release Date: April 28, 1979
Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Company: United Artists

I’ve never been particularly interested in The Band.  I mean, I like “The Weight” and some other songs that get the classic rock radio treatment, but I never delved deeper than that.  Nevertheless, I knew I had to watch The Last Waltz for the A to Z Challenge since its considered the greatest concert film of all time.  The Last Waltz captures The Band’s farewell concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving, 1976.  The audience dined on a turkey dinner while listening to poetry recitals (Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Michael Mclure appear int he film) followed by ballroom waltzing under crystal chandeliers.  And then The Band played a concert with some of their friends.

The Band have some pretty famous friends.  They were joined by Ronnie Hawkins, for whom they were the backing band in the early 1960s.  Another former boss, Bob Dylan, played a set of songs they worked on together in the mid-60s.  Other performers featured in the film include Paul Butterfield, Muddy Waters, Pinetop Perkins, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Dr. John, Van Morrison, and Neil Diamond. For the finale, everyone comes back on the stage and as the ultimate power move, they add a Beatle (Ringo Star) and a Stone (Ronnie Wood) to the backing band.  All the performances in this film are incredible and the audience certainly got what they paid for.

As far as concert films go, there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen in other concert films and music videos over the past five decades.  But it’s pretty likely that Scorsese and company invented this style of concert film that’s become the standard, using multiple cameras to record footage from all over the stage and venue.  During the wide shots you can see just how many camera operators are positioned around the stage.  Ironically, Muddy Waters performance of “Mannish Boy” is largely captured by a single camera, because all the other cinematographers were reloading film. It works out in the end as it presents a disarningly intimate portrait of Waters singing and leading the call and response.

The most fantastic performance of all is a version of “The Weight” featuring The Staples Singers, with Mavis and Pops each taking a verse.  I was impressed by the camera work on this performance as well until I realized that it was filmed on a sound stage after the concert rather than during the concert itself.  But I won’t complain, because The Staple’s make a great song a-MAZE-ing!!!  There are a few other sound stage performances mixed in with the concert footage, as well as interviews with The Band.  It’s surprising to hear Robbie Robertson say they’ve been touring for 16 years since he looks like a teenager here (he was actually in his 30s).

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

All these years I thought we were taking the load of Annie.  I was wrong.  It’s Fanny.  Annie, wherever she is, must still be weighed down.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Eight years later, Talking Heads and Johathan Demme made the next great concert film, Stop Making Sense.

Source: Amazon Prime

Rating: ****1/2

2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.