Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt)


Some kisses are more magical than others.

(2020) Fantasy/LGBTQ Coming of Age Dramedy(Gravitas) Sophie Hawkshaw, Zoe Terakes, Marta Dusseldorp, Rachel House, Julia Billington, Bridie Connell, Madeleine Withington, Randall Hua, Melanie Bowers, Ed Wightman, Chiara Gizzi, Olga Markovic, Patrick James, Orya Golgowsky, Lauren Johnson. Directed by Monica Zanetti

 

In our high school years, it is somewhat expected that we don’t really have a clear picture of who we are quite yet. High school is in many ways an exercise in masochism, because we try as hard as we can to fit in, yet we have not even half a clue why, or whether or not if that is truly who we are. Figuring it out gives us the battle scars that come in useful later on.

Ellie (Hawkshaw) is one of those girls who never gets into trouble, who hits the books, makes her mum and teachers proud (her dad isn’t in the picture) and is a bit on the nerdy side. She’s still a pretty girl, but she’s noticed something about herself – she really isn’t interested in boys. At all. In fact, to the upcoming Formal (which is what we Americans, it is pointed out somewhat gently, call the Senior Prom). One of her classmates makes a big show of asking out his girlfriend on social media, delivering a huge bouquet of flowers. Very charming, and makes my inner 17-year-old a little bit jealous; however Ellie has her heart set on going to the formal with Abbie (Terakes)…a girl.

She presents it exactly this way to her mum (Dusseldorp) whih is her way of coming out – and not the best way in the history of coming out. Her mother’s frozen smile turns into a belated “That’s brilliant,” to which Ellie responds in typical teen fashion “You’re such a bigot mom!” before stomping out. Mama, y’see, didn’t signal her acceptance quickly enough for Ellie. But Ellie’s got larger problems.

You see, her Aunt Tara (Billington) – her mum’s sister – starts popping up. Tara is a free-spirit who identifies herself as a “FAIRY Godmother, get it?” which is the Dad Joke way of signaling that Tara is a lesbian. Tara also happens to be dead, having passed on right around the time Ellie was born. You see, the way it works is that when gay people come out and they have no living gay family members to help guide them through, it falls upon the dead gay family members to do it instead – to take up the burden. Ellie was only aware that her aunt had died in a car accident, and that her dying had really torn up her family, including Tara’s girlfriend Patti (House). Tara herself doesn’t remember the circumstances of her own death.

Tara’s advice to feel out Abbie to make sure she’s receptive to having a lesbian relationship is about 40 years out of date, as are most of her cultural touchstones. Ellie eventually musters up the courage to talk to Abbie – who is one of those cool kids that Ellie has never really been able to talk to – by pretending tp be in detention for littering, which disturbs Abbie because she’s really passionate about environmentalism and Ellie had led the school assembly in following proper recycling techniques earlier that year. Whoops.

In any case, Ellie soon gets fed up with Tara’s well-intentioned advice and essentially tells her to get lost. Then during a school report on women whom they admire, Abbie inadvertently does one on Tara – who had been a leading activist for LGBTQ rights back in the ‘80s before she was deliberately run over by a car during a protest. Nobody had ever bothered to tell Ellie the circumstances of her aunt’s demise, which sorely wounds Ellie and brings back very painful memories for her mum. Eventually Ellie learns what an incredible person her aunt was…and she begins to accept that she is who she is, and Abbie is who she is, and that the only thing that matters is that they make each other happy…but will that be enough to make up for all the mistakes she’s made?

I have to admit that the first part of the movie left me a little flat. The humor is awfully broad and sitcom inspired, and there is a little bit too much overwrought drama and not enough insight. But that changes about halfway through and the movie finds its heart, and suddenly you go from wanting to find another cat video to watch to becoming truly invested in the characters and their issues.

Hawkshaw does a very fine job with her character, making Ellie far from perfect – she wears her heart on her sleeve and sometimes jumps before thinking things through, which is not uncommon among people her character’s age. The chemistry between her and Terakes is sweet and awkward and completely believable. Like most teens, they’re just figuring things out as they go along. That’s pretty much how we all do it.

The character of Tara is the one that caught my attention. She’s introduced as a little bit of a goof and someone not too terribly serious, but then we see her on the last day of her life as an activist, a leader of her community and someone passionate and serious and suddenly you want to know more about her. It isn’t often that you really wish that a character in a movie wasn’t dead, but that’s the case here.

Having grown up straight, I won’t pretend to understand what LGBTQ teens go through. I grew up in a different era where gay slurs were used regularly by all and kids who had different sexual preferences kept those preferences to themselves; coming out of the closet was not the norm then, and although I have since discovered that there are members of my high school class that have since come out, I can only imagine what they went through. I wish there had been movies like this one for them. In all honesty I wish there were movies like this for people like ME too – I might have been a little bit more sensitive and a little less of a jerk back then. And for modern kids it might help those struggling with coming out to see that it IS okay and there IS support out there for them. Even if it is from gay ghosts – you knew that it had to happen sooner or later.

REASONS TO SEE: Really picks up in the last third. An awesome watch for LGBTQ youth.
REASONS TO AVOID: The humor can be a bit lame (proof positive that lesbians can crack dad jokes too).
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes, a bit of profanity and some drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Zanetti’s first feature film as a director.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/24/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic:No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan

Tigre Gente


On the hunt for the hunters.

(2021) Documentary (XTR) Marcos Uzquiano, Laurel Chor, Gloria Chor, Zhang Go Yang. Directed by Elizabeth Unger

 

It is no secret that the natural world is under siege, and that largely due to humans. Our expanding population requires that more and more land that was once the sole habitat of animals are becoming developed for human habitation. The toxins we pour into the water and the soil are poisoning animals and the plant life that they feed on at an alarming rate. The carbons and hydrocarbons we release into the atmosphere are warming the planet, rendering some habitats unlivable for some species of animals and insects. We are diverting wter for agriculture and other less pressing needs, turning once lush places into virtual deserts. And particularly in countries like china and Myanmar, folk medicine remedies that depend on various organs, skin and bone of a variety of animals has led to a lucrative poaching trade.

Bolivia’s Madidi National Park is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It is also one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, and is one of the last places which is densely populated by jaguars. However, poachers are reducing the population of jaguars in this protected place at an alarming rate. Park director Marcos Uzquiano is trying to get to the bottom of the problem. He is committed to protecting these beautiful animals, long a symbol of strength and wisdom to the natives of the region.

Meanwhile on the border between Myanmar and China, journalist and environmental activist Laurel Chor is discovering a thriving trade on jaguar teeth and pelts. She is wondering who is buing these items, and what are they being used for. Without knowing it, she is following the same trail that Uzquiano is from different ends.

The sequences set in Madidi are breathtaking and justify the park’s reputation for being one of the places on Earth that is unmatched in terms of natural wonder. Unger, a National Geographic Explorer who has been to all seven continents and is making her documentary feature debut here, builds up the Uzquiano sequence almost like a thriller, with a boat chase of poachers who were likely armed, and a sting operation in which a suspect is found to be trafficking in illegal jaguar teeth and quickly confesses and begs for clemency. We also see Uzquiano interacting with fishermen and villagers in the region, trying to find out who is hunting the big cats and more importantly, who they are selling to.

The Chor sequence is a bit more dry but no less important. She wears a hidden camera as she interviews selelrs at markets who display jaguar skulls and teeth alongside cell phones, others with piles of shark fins to be sold to chefs for shark fin soup. Chor is a bit more articulate than Uzquiano, discussing the situation with her mother who at first disbelieves the claims of environmentalists as “exagerrations” but as her daughter steadfastly informs her that the rhinos whose horns were taken as aphrodisiacs are extinct, she gets defensive. “It’s not just a Chinese problem. There is also a lot of ivory in America.”

Chor realizes that it is a cultural issue, and that changing the hearts and minds of literally billions of people is going to require education rather than indoctrination. She gives talks with school children, trying to open some eyes which Unger hopes to do in the West with her film. Uzquiano comes off perhaps less polished than Chor, but no less committed.

It has been said before and by far more articulate writers that we are custodians of the planet for the next generation; sadly, the generations preceding ours largely failed in their job and while we are getting at least aware of the problem, we are not much more successful. It isn’t just the hearts and minds of the Chinese that have to be changed; all of us are in this together. We owe it to our descendents to give them a world no less beautiful than the one we were given.

REASONS TO SEE: Breathtaking beauty. Heartbreaking and horrifying.
REASONS TO AVOID: The journalist’s sequences are less compelling than those of the park director.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images of animal remains.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There are fewer than 100,000 jaguars left in the wild and fewer than 3,000 tigers left in the wild (there are more tigers in captivity). Some species of rhino have gone extinct, all attributable to Chinese and east Asian demand.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Tribeca @ Home (through June 23rd)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/14/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tigerland
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Censor

Noah


Russell Crowe is about to get Biblical on yo ass.

Russell Crowe is about to get Biblical on yo ass.

(2014) Biblical Epic (Paramount) Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Nick Nolte, Mark Margolis, Kevin Durand, Leo McHugh Carroll, Marton Csokas, Finn Wittrock, Madison Davenport, Gavin Casalegno, Nolan Gross, Skylar Burke, Dakota Goyo, Ariane Reinhart, Adam Marshall Griffith, Don Harvey, Sami Gayle. Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Most everyone in the Western world – and a good part of the Eastern – are familiar with the story of Noah and the Great Flood. How God, in his wrath, wiped out all life on Earth – except for Noah, his family and all the innocent creatures of the Earth…well, two of each species of them, anyway.

The story of Noah actually takes up only four chapters in Genesis however and is lacking in any sort of detail except for those important to the writers of the Bible and/or those they were writing it for. You have to wonder what the real story was.

Darren Aronofsky did. Intrigued by the tale of Noah since the age of 14, he set out to film his own interpretation of the events that led up to the flood and what happened during and after it. He and co-screenwriter Ari Handel did extensive Biblical research and while they did interpret some of it fairly loosely, this is what they came up with.

Noah (Crowe), a descendant of Adam’s son Seth and grandson of Methuselah (Hopkins) lives with his wife Naameh (Connelly) and his sons from oldest to youngest Shem (Booth), Ham (Lerman) and Japheth (Carroll) in the wastelands. They take from the Earth only that which they can use, eat the flesh of no animals and stay away from the civilizations of the time which are the works of the descendants of Cain. Noah had watched his own father (Csokas) slain for no real reason by some of those descendants.

Noah receives visions from the Creator – never referred to at any time as God in the film – that He is displeased with the wickedness of the world and intends to wipe everything out and start over. He will use a great flood to accomplish this. Troubled by his vision, Noah decides to visit his grandfather to see what this all means which makes sense since as part of the vision he saw the mountain his grandfather lives a hermit-like existence on. Along the way they pick up Ila (Watson) whose family was butchered by Cain’s descendants and whose own horrible injuries have left her unable to bear children.

Methuselah gives Noah a tea to drink which brings on another vision – this time of a great ark that must be built to survive the storm. Methuselah gives Noah a seed – the last seed from the Garden of Eden. This creates a forest and convinces the stone Guardians – fallen angels whose light has been sheathed in mud – to help Noah and his family to build the massive structure.

Years pass and word passes to Tubal-cain (Winstone) the King of the local city who recognizes that Noah is serious. He means to possess the Ark for his own and start a new world in his own image while Noah is just as sure that men are a plague upon the Earth that need to be eradicated. Neither outcome sounds particularly palatable to Naameh and her children.

There has been plenty of controversy surrounding the film even before it came out. Evangelical Christians were damning the film based on remarks made by Aronofsky who is an atheist and said in an interview that it is the least Biblical epic made about a Bible story and characterized Noah as the first environmentalist. Of course, that’s the kind of thing that is sure to make an extreme right-wing Christian get their panties in a bunch.

However, in many ways I can’t blame them. They take a good deal of liberty with the story – six-armed fallen angels made of rock, Tubal-cain who barely appears in the Bible and then as essentially a blacksmith being elevated to King and nemesis. The core elements are all there though and the scenes of the flood are spectacular.

Sadly, not all the CGI lives up to that. There isn’t a single animal in this film that is alive – every animal is CGI and many of them are beasts that are no longer around or never were around. They don’t walk like animals do and there are so many that they all kind of run together. I know the story inherently calls for spectacle but the grand scale is too much; we need something as an audience to latch onto.

Fortunately there is Crowe who makes a mighty badass Noah. Noah is a bit pigheaded during a certain stretch of the movie and you can see in him the tenacity that would make a project like the Ark even possible. There is also a tender side to Noah that allows him to sing a gentle lullaby to an injured and frightened little girl. Noah is portrayed in the Bible as someone who follows God’s directives unquestioningly and we get the sense of that here.

Unfortunately, there is also Connelly who is a terrific actress but has one of the least satisfying performances of her career. She has one scene where she has a confrontation with her husband over his increasingly vile point of view, particularly when they receive some startling news involving Shem and Ila. The normally reliable Connelly is shrill and overacts within an inch of her life. I was kind of saddened by it. Watson, likewise, is misused and her character – who is apparently made up for the purpose of testing Noah since she doesn’t appear in the Bible – never really syncs up.

There is a message for our modern day squandering of our resources and our inhumanity to one another. Once again there has been some grousing from the right over these leftist messages, but I have to say that the Biblical parables were meant to be timeless and relatable to all people no matter the era. If Aronofsky is attempting that here, I would think that he’s in line with the intention of these stories if not their execution.

At the end of the day the clumsy CGI and occasional bouts of overacting make this two and a half hour film squirm-inducing particularly near the end. There are some beautiful moments – a dove appearing with an olive branch in its beak signifying that land exists and their ordeal is nearly over, or the rainbow at the film’s conclusion that signifies God’s covenant to never use the waters to destroy all life ever again. I wish I could recommend this more because of them, but the flaws overwhelm the strengths of the film too much that even a miracle couldn’t save it.

REASONS TO GO: Crowe is strong. Draws modern parallels on the story.

REASONS TO STAY: Overreliance on spectacle. Some of the CGI is woeful. Misuse of Connelly and Watson.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some violence and some scenes may be too intense for the sensitive.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was banned in Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE prior to release because it would contradict the teachings of Islam, which forbids the depiction of prophets cinematically. Islam considers Noah to be one of the prophets.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/4/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Fountain

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Florida Film Festival Begins!