And The Rest – Glenn Gaylord’s Capsule Film Reviews 2019

I see a lot of movies but don’t always have time to write a comprehensive review for every one of them. By catching up on screenings these past few weeks, I’ve managed to compile a small batch of artisanal, locally-sourced capsule reviews. While less wordy than usual, you still get my clever/groan-inducing titles, one to five star ratings, and their placement on the Gay Scale. So start your New Year’s Resolutions off right with these bite-sized morsels.

The Aging Of Innocence – Capsule Review: The Irishman ★★★★1/2

So much ink has been spilled about Martin Scorsese’s latest gangster epic, with naysayers lamenting the lack of strong female roles and supporters getting swept away by its grand presentation. While I also missed a Sharon Stone, a Sandra Bernhard, or a Lorraine Bracco in the mix, I loved this film. With a masterful script by Steve Zaillian, it deconstructs the genre, starting with its Goodfellas-like steadicam shot through a nursing home, to its mournful third act, which achingly lays out the consequences for this band of murderous thugs. With great performances from DeNiro, Pacino, and Pesci and a fascinating exploration of male ego and hubris, I’m in the camp who saw it twice and never felt its 3 1/2 hour length. The de-aging CGI work may have proven a little distracting at times, but I’m glad each actor had the chance to be their characters throughout.

Gay Scale: 5 out of 50. There’s a character who gets a mention of his gayness, but it goes unexplored in this very straight, very macho world.

Currently streaming on Netflix.

Performance Of A Lifetime Movie – Capsule Review: Harriet ★★1/2

Despite an extraordinary performance by Cynthia Erivo as legendary freedom fighter Harriet Tubman, there’s no getting around director Kasi Lemmons’ surprising lack of imagination in depicting her life. Her earlier films suggest a strong and unique visual sense, but everything here plays out like an uninspired, standard coverage, bullet points overview we’re used to seeing in Lifetime movies. Still, Tubman remains such an important part of history and Erivo truly delivers, so see it but don’t expect cinematic greatness. Not helping matters is Terence Blanchard, Spike Lee’s talented, longtime composer, who contributes the most intrusive, overblown score of the year.

Gay Scale: 0 out of 50. At about the halfway point, I didn’t expect much from this film, so anything LGBTQ+ was certainly off the table.

Faster, Speed Racer! Thrill! Thrill! – Capsule Review: Ford v Ferrari ★★★1/2

Proving they still make them like they used to, James Mangold delivers an old-fashioned true story detailing the competition between the two automotive companies to win the 1966 Le Mans. The film nails its glorious technicolor aesthetic and offers vibrant performances by Christian Bale, Matt Damon, and in one of my favorite film moments of the year, Tracy Letts with the most unexpected and wonderful crying scene. A pity its lack of character development doesn’t justify its extended running time, but for a movie-movie, you could do a lot worse.

Gay Scale: 0 out of 50. Keep moving, Nothing to see at this Pit Stop.

Days And Days And Days Of Hell – Capsule Review: A Hidden Life ★★★1/2

After the one-two punch of Badlands and Days Of Heaven, the world waited 20 years for Terrence Malick to return with another masterpiece. Since then, he’s made films of quality but seems to keep spinning his wheels with the same whispered voiceovers, endless nature photography, and barely there narratives. I’m happy to report that his latest, based on the true struggles of a pacifist during Hitler’s reign, has a real narrative tucked inside his usual bag of tricks. Yes, every shot is awe-inspiring, but it takes 180 minutes to tell 90 minutes of story. Still, he’s carved out his own cinematic niche and this time has something profound to say about the human condition.

Gay Scale: 0 out of 50. Check out Bent if you want a wrenching experience of gay men in the Nazi era.

All’s Quite Dire On The Western Front – Capsule Review: Little Woods ★★★1/2

Tessa Thompson delivers a raw, quietly powerful performance as a parolee whose desperate financial circumstances point to a return to drug dealing in her small North Dakota town. Along with her sister, played by a lovely Lily James, they try to earn enough money to keep possession of their late mother’s house. Firmly planted in that “low key, indie Sundance” style along the lines of Winter’s Bone and Frozen River, it may not break new ground, but this deadly serious, hope-deprived story feels like America today, for better or for worse.

Gay Scale: 0 out of 50. I’m beginning to think that movie gays don’t exist in the heartland, the historic past, or anywhere there isn’t room for a little sass.

End This Already! – Capsule Review: Terminator: Dark Fate ★★

As much as I loved seeing another triad of strong women in a film (a nod to the Halloween sequel last year), and as sexy as Gabriel Luna is as the latest killing machine, I just didn’t care for a second what was happening onscreen. Despite some fun action set pieces, none of them have stuck with me. I loved having Linda Hamilton’s gravely, mature butch energy coupled with Mackenzie Davis’ tough, baby butch energy, and I prefer seeing Schwarzenegger in this role than as Governor, but this franchise needs to…um…terminate.

Gay Scale: 40 out of 50. While it’s not an explicitly gay film, it teems with lesbian vibes while giving gay guys a dreamy, fit psychopath. Everybody wins! Everybody loses!

Jeez (Thelma and) Louise! – Capsule Review: Queen & Slim ★★★

Road movies sometimes have problematic screenplays due to their often rambling and random structures. While Queen & Slim tells an important story about the perils black Americans face during a routine traffic stop, its forward momentum as a fugitive tale loses steam and credibility every time our leads (a fantastic Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya) stop to make love, ride horses, visit relatives, or go dancing. Although Melina Matsoukas delivers a striking directorial debut, Lena Waithe’s script, which still cuts to the bone, could have used a logic pass before going into production. She tries hard to jump through many hoops and sometimes hits many cultural zeitgeist bullseyes, but its just misses the mark due to a lack of narrative urgency.

Gay Scale: 10 out of 50. Kudos for casting Indya Moore (Pose) in a small but memorable role, and all genders and sexual identities will respond to Turner-Smith’s makeover around the halfway mark, although as a woman on the run, she hardly blends in with her highly noticeable ensemble.

(Sun)Dance Fever – Capsule Review: Brittany Runs A Marathon ★★★

Maybe it’s the altitude or the need to justify the expense of going to a film festival during a blizzard, but this movie, which won the Sundance Audience Award and started an intense bidding war, plays out like a pleasant, indie version of Trainwreck. Amy Schumer-a-like, Jillian Bell, delivers a fine performance as an unmotivated mess who changes her life by, well, look at the title of the film for chrissakes! While definitely sweet, elliptical, inspirational but somehow forgettable, it gets points for getting out of scenes faster than most films of its type, for its oddly off-the-cuff but funny final moment, and especially for a devastating sequence in which Brittany decimates a heavy woman.

Gay Scale: 25 out of 50. Micah Stock excels in the gay best friend role, giving us a quirky but not quippy guy we haven’t seen before in this world of Just Jacks.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Adoptive Behavior – Capsule Review: Luce ★★★1/2

Kelvin Harrison Jr. excels as Luce, an adopted American teen whose past as an Eritrean child soldier calls into question whether he’s a terrorist sociopath or the perfect high school valedictorian. With fantastic support from Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, and especially Octavia Spenser as a history teacher with a healthy distrust of Luce, Harrison’s unnerving performance keeps you guessing up through the very last, chilling frame.

Gay Scale: 0 out of 50. Although based on an Off Broadway Play by out gay writer, J.C. Lee, the subject matter doesn’t leave any room for an LGBTQ+ character.

High Tide/Low Tide – Capsule Review: Waves ★★★1/2

Playing another teen who can’t live up to society’s expectations, Kelvin Harrison Jr. electrifies again in Troy Edward Schults’ fluidly directed, unconventional drama. Unfortunately, while the first half has tremendous power as we watch this young man’s total flameout, the second half loses considerable steam. Still worth a look for the vivid performances, the great cinematography, and the elliptical storytelling style.

Gay Scale: 0 out of 50. Ok, I know it’s set in conservative Florida, but why does it seem like so many films in 2019 have been de-gayed? C’mon, even The Real World Miami had one gay guy!

A Different Kind Of Thing – Capsule Review: I Lost My Body ★★★1/2

Jérémy Clapin’s award winning animated feature uses a fractured timeline to tell the story of a severed hand which seeks to reunite with its host, a lonely Pizza Delivery Man. Prior to whatever event led to his amputation, he stalks a young woman he grows to love. While the characters may seem cold and distant, a palpable sense of longing permeates every frame of this fascinating film. I would have preferred a less obtuse ending, but this is French existentialism, so don’t expect an Addam’s Family tone or a completely filled-in storytelling experience.

Gay Scale: 0 out of 50. Straight, straight, straight.

Currently streaming on Netflix.

Black Savior – Capsule Review: Just Mercy ★★★

This true story of a black attorney who, in the late 80s/early 90s attempts to exonerate black death row inmates, features vibrant performances by Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx and a refreshing lack of a white savior. Think about it. Had this been made in the 90s, Kevin Kline would have starred, truth be damned. While strong, especially in its depiction of a man bravely advocating for his community, it suffers from a very 90s presentation. Still, what it lacks in a true filmmaker’s voice, it more than makes up for it with good old-fashioned storytelling and an offbeat, charming chemistry between our two leads.

Gay Scale: 0 out of 50. This fine but cinematically unspectacular film has other things on its mind than sexuality.

Cool One-Handed Luke – Capsule Review: Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker ★★★1/2

As a casual Star Wars fan, I’m less steeped in the lore and more invested in the Saturday matinee whiz bang, kinetic action of the franchise. I really don’t know a Boba Fett from a Bib Fortuna, and that’s OK. Sure, it may undo a lot of plot elements The Last Jedi laid out and has an annoying habit of refusing to let dead characters stay dead or in one case actually die at all, but I just loved the quest for the macguffin in order to kill the Big Bad. It’s fun, easy to follow, and has spirited performances from our leads, especially Oscar Isaac, who has more than a touch of Harrison Ford’s charisma. It has an unpretentious quality that feels less like a grand finale and more like a good resting place before the inevitable continuations in some form or another. Major “Boo! Hiss!” for its handling of Keri Russell, Lupita Nyong’o and Kellie Marie Tran, who get the eyes only, barely there, sidelined treatment respectively…and I see you Pixar Lamp disguised as a new droid! I see you!

Gay Scale: 40 out of 50. Yes, it features a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it same sex kiss, and yes, you’re not making up the sexual tension between Poe and Finn, but this ranks high on the gay scale because Palpatine is the bitchiest, most bitter queen in all the galaxies.

Killing Me Hardly – Capsule Review: Clemency ★★★

Intentionally austere and drab, Clemency features a fine, brittle performance by Alfre Woodard as a Prison Warden who gets more and more affected by the executions she oversees. Aldis Hodge also excels here as the next inmate on Woodard’s list. A quiet, moody, visually disciplined film with so much to read in between the lines, it’s still a bit of a slog, although Woodard plays drunk better than most actors. So come for the Johnny Walker Black but stay if you’re in a contemplative mood.

Gay Scale: 0 out of 50. It’s a film about death by lethal injection. I think it’s ok if the gays don’t factor into this!

All Children Left Behind – Capsule Review: One Child Nation ★★★★

What this Sundance Grand Prize Jury Award-winning documentary may lack in filmmaking technique, it more than makes up for it emotionally in this harrowing accounting of China’s decades spanning but now defunct One-Child Policy. Showing the issue from many points of view, the law may have seemed like a good idea for population control, but quickly descended into forced abortions and sterilizations, kidnappings, abandonment, destruction of property, separation of families, and lives ruined. A heartbreaking look at what happens when women don’t have control over their bodies and the patriarchy exerts its power over a population. The chilling propaganda on display and the faces of those who suffered make for a terrifying, unforgettable, and highly relevant film. This brutal policy began in 1979 and ended in 2015, just a few years ago. Think about that.

Gay Scale: 0 out of 50. Not surprising, but I definitely am taking an “LGBTQ+ Life In China” deep dive on You Tube asap.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Industrial Resolution – Capsule Review: The Aeronauts ★★1/2

The somewhat true story of a balloonist (Felicity Jones) and a meteorologist (Eddie Redmayne) who team up to soar higher than anyone has before in order to better predict the weather, is oddly threadbare and plays out like a 19th century Gravity. It does feature some thrilling set pieces and stellar cinematography by George Steel. While you truly feel the cold and agonize over the increasingly dire circumstances, the air isn’t the only thing that’s thin here.

Gay Scale: 10 out of 50. With the central relationship being strictly platonic and with Felicity Jones looking scrappy in her Newsie outfit, this film tingles a few subtle but definitely sapphic bells.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Achy Breaky Bloody Bastard Heart – Capsule Review: Wild Rose ★★★1/2

Directed and shot by the same people who made The Aeronauts, Jessie Buckley earns her bonafides as a Scottish parolee, complete with ankle bracelet, who aspires to make it as a country singer in Nashville. While breaking no new ground with its “Quaint Little UK Village” vibe we’ve seen a gazillion times before, its success rests squarely on Buckley’s more than capable shoulders and a wonderful final song written by none other than Mary Steenburgen. It also features fine work by Julie Walters and Sophie Okonedo. Still, as unlikely as they make it seem for a non-American to make it in the country music world, I wanted to shout “Keith Urban” repeatedly at the screen!

Gay Scale: 0 out of 50. Nothing here, but Jessie Buckley was born to play the late, great, bisexual Janis Joplin. Let’s do this!!

Rust Belt Blues And Reds – Capsule Review: American Factory ★★★★

Maybe because I grew up in Ohio and witnessed firsthand the decline of the auto industry, this incredible documentary about a shuttered GM plant in Dayton getting a new life from an anti-Union Chinese billionaire ranks among the year’s finest. Like a slow-moving pileup, the film builds and builds towards an inevitable crash. With sit-down interviews relegated to voiceovers, this scrupulous film makes you care about the people it follows while taking you on a fascinating cross-cultural journey. The fact that the filmmakers had access to all of the parties involved comes across as a miracle. It’s impossible to forget the distraught workers’ reactions every step of the way.

Gay Scale: 0 out of 50. I know we got some LGBTQ+ blue collar Ohio folks out there somewhere, but they didn’t come out for this one.

Currently streaming on Netflix.

Mini Driver – Capsule Review: The Report ★★★

There’s a really good film about the amoral detention and torture tactics sanctioned by the George W. Bush presidency and it’s called Zero Dark Thirty. Meanwhile, The Report, plays out like a dull, disconnected melding of Spotlight and All The President’s Men as we watch Adam Driver’s depiction of Daniel Jones under the auspices of Senator Dianne Feinstein (a fine but fairly one-note Annette Bening) put together an unwieldy report to expose the government’s tactics. While Driver does well and shows great passion and alacrity with his bulky speeches, the whole film feels like a slow-cooked beef chili served at a Vegan Barbecue. It just kind of sits there.

Gay Scale: 0 out of 50. I’m beginning to think there just aren’t any gays in the mob, in auto-racing, in the Third Reich, in future/past sci fi, in Ohio, in Steampunk Era London, or in the U.S. government. This year has turned out to be Gay Redacted.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

By Glenn Gaylord

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