By: Chris Azzopardi*/Special to TRT–
First-time director Stephen Chbosky sensitively explores high school self-discovery and outsider hardships in his big-hearted teen drama about the pains of youth and the people who help us through them. Based on Chbosky’s semi-autobiographical book, Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a troubled loner who sits by himself in the school cafeteria, until a band of misfits – two in particular: an out gay class-clown (Ezra Miller) and his charming stepsister (Emma Watson) – open their hearts to him and demonstrate love, kindness and the transcendental power of friendship. With sophisticated and sympathetic performances all ’round, Miller especially emerges as a major talent-to-watch, bringing levity, spunk and a sad secret pain to his award-worthy portrayal of Patrick. Chbosky’s emotionally poignant screen gem – a film that the Academy Awards unjustly snubbed despite, at the very least, deserving screenplay recognition for its sincere, zeitgeisty writing – is one of the best of last year and a clear all-time standout in the coming-of-age genre. Hearing the author-turned-filmmaker thoughtfully reflect on specific scenes during one of two commentaries – the young cast engages in friendly banter during the other – is almost as inspiring as seeing these teens prevail in a broken world.
For its first time on Blu-ray, the big mama of musicals, Bob Fosse’s stylish romp Cabaret, gets a vibrant restoration that’s as lively as Liza’s beaming cat eyes. Any good gay knows the story: Set in 1931 Berlin, a freewheelin’ tryst emerges between cabaret ingenue Sally Bowles (Minnelli, as magnetic as ever) and two men: the new kid in town, Brian Roberts (Michael York), and a rich playboy, Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem). Inside the Kit Kat Klub is fancy dancing, live music and a playfully freakish MC; outside, Nazi thugs attack anyone against their regime. Cabaret isn’t just chic and immaculately crafted, from Fosse’s flawless direction to Minnelli’s star-making performance; for a film over 40 years old, it was also remarkably revolutionary in tackling not just totalitarianism but abortion, bisexuality and threesomes. A new Liza interview is featured during “Cabaret: The Musical that Changed Musicals,” during which York reflects on his character’s swinging sexuality and Neil Patrick Harris narrates. With the classic looking better than ever in this near-perfect transfer, and housed in a divinely illustrated Digibook, life really is a cabaret, ol’ chum.
The legacy of late modern-dance icon Philippina Bausch is preserved in this mesmerizing and life-affirming dance doc that rightfully earned an Oscar nomination last year. Shot in the German city of Wuppertal, where, at just 68, “Pina” died of cancer in 2009, the exquisitely performed bits of unbelievable physicality – captured through director Wim Wenders’ stream-of-consciousness style of filmmaking – celebrate humanity in all its dark, ugly and beautiful forms and are vividly captured with a wonderfully immersive use of 3D. Its genre-specificity (see: dance, dance and more dance) won’t appeal to everyone, but an appreciation for total body dexterity isn’t necessary to recognize the lovely poeticism of Pina. A zest for life, though, certainly is. The peerless Blu-ray presentation – of course it is; it’s a Criterion Collection release – is suited with an array of supplements that further observe and honor Pina’s artistic influence on her dancers’ lives. Besides an interesting making-of feature and the thorough book companion, Wender’s commentary complements Pina with striking context not present in the visual feast of the film.
With inside jokes and gushy gag-me “I love you” gestures, Celeste and Jesse don’t seem like they’re about to sign divorce papers, but they are, indeed, on the road to splitsville. Even their closest friends don’t believe they’re acting enough like sad-sack divorcees – and, actually, neither do Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg). So they start dating other people. When Jesse gets serious with another woman, Celeste falls into a pool of self-pity, cynicism and the kind of bleakness that derailed Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids. (Hey, at least it’s good comedy.) You know you’ve reached a low when a strange street-roamer dressed up as a teddy bear hugs you and it’s adorable and sweet instead of awkward and creepy. Celeste and Jesse Forever is sometimes weird like that, but always charming as it zigzags through the rom-com formula with genre-busting flair; the pleasing-but-noncomformist ending defies expectations and a surprising level of chemistry exists between Samberg and Jones, who also wrote the screenplay. To boot, Elijah Wood finally goes gay as Celeste’s queer-challenged co-worker. Extras include a Jones/Samberg commentary and a behind-the-scenes feature.
Lee Hirsch’s sobering and revealing look at the effects of youth-targeted bullying in schools was part of a larger initiative to curb such awful hate. Controversy that initially counteracted the film’s intentions when it was released last year gave Bully necessary buzz once the MPAA wised up and swapped the unbefitting R for a PG-13 rating. A version edited for a younger audience is included on this release – and will probably, and hopefully, be used for educational purposes – but the real-life language isn’t anything kids haven’t heard on the playground. Bully mostly focuses on the lives of three young kids in rural America who are victims of bullying: Alex is ostracized for the way he looks; Kelby’s not accepted because she’s lesbian; Ja’Maya fights back with a gun. Missing, though, is the film’s namesake: the bully. Hirsch’s harrowing footage of schoolyard browbeating would’ve been more effective if the actual problem had a face, too. _Bully_, then, isn’t so much a great film as it is an important one. Important enough to get Meryl Streep to endorse the doc in a short talk, where she recalls being bullied herself. Other extras include additional footage, follow-ups on Alex and his Sioux City community, and a short feature on a middle school’s involvement in The Bully Project’s 1 Million Kids campaign.
I’ve always been more partial to the pretty Disney princesses, but a forever-boy in tights who flutters about with a fairy sidekick still appeals to all my gay instincts. Here’s why: He has his fruit fly, he’s a little effeminate and, in musicals, he’s often a girl in drag. You know, if Peter Pan did ever grow up, he might grow up to be gay. We can continue to speculate his could-be gayness now that Peter Pan pops more than ever in flashy hi-def with new extras that include 15 minutes of never-before-seen footage and a feature doc on the core animators. The whimsical story itself, even six decades later, still registers a sweet simplicity – and the blatant bigotry of those Indian scenes – but it can’t hold a flame to many of the greater Disney classics. The storytelling lacks the memorable hook – I’m not talking Captain Hook – of an oft-told love fable or a triumphant lion life-lesson; instead, it’s the legendary characters that turn J. M. Barrie’s book into an enchanting burst of childhood nostalgia and magical make-believe.
*Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com.