Q Bites: Short Reviews
- A Sexplanation (Rent or buy)
- The Schoolmaster Games (Outshine Film Festival)
- Better Nate Than Ever (Disney +)
- The Invisible Thread (Netflix)
- Give or Take (Rent or Buy)
- Four Lives (BBC)
- I Am Syd Stone (Rent or Buy)
- Beyto (Rent or Buy)
- Bliss ‘Glück’ (Curzon Home Cinema)
- Chucky: Season One (SKY)
- Sex Education: Season Three (Netflix)
A Sexplanation (Rent or buy)
Q Bites: A Sexplanation is now available to rent or buy.
Let’s talk about sex; after all, we don’t talk about it enough, do we? How you answer this question may depend on how comfortable you feel with your body, sexual identity and desires. After all, while many people are happy to discuss porn, brag about their conquests or drool over a celebrity’s body, open and honest conversations about sex remain rare. Why is this? After all, you would think we would have moved past nervous giggles, denial and shame by now?
Thinking back to my own sex education (if you can call it that) as a teen in the late 80s and early 90s, masturbation was never discussed, while I was forcibly told gay people die from AIDS as the classroom descended into homophobic jokes and banter. Since then, things have improved here in the UK, yet sex education remains limited in the school curriculum and is barely discussed on TV beyond daytime shows. While in the USA, the conservative right still suggests that wearing a chastity ring prevents all the carnal desires a teenager may have.
In his compelling journey of discovery, Alex Liu investigates why he was encouraged to feel shame for years as a gay man and how our lack of positive and informed sex education led to those feelings. The result is a documentary road trip exploring the vast diversity of human sexuality while shedding light on the shame many LGBTQ+ young people take into adulthood regarding their bodies and desires. Liu’s openness is infectious as he interviews a range of folk, from a conservative politician to a Jesuit priest. But the power comes from Liu’s ability to reframe sex, no matter your orientation, into a discussion on human sexuality, desire and beauty. So come on, folks, let’s ditch the shame and properly discuss sex in all its diversity.
The Schoolmaster Games (Outshine Film Festival)
Q Bites: The Schoolmaster Games is showing at OUTShine Film Festival (Miami)
Sometimes movies get lost in a tangle of conflicting and problematic themes from the outset. Unfortunately, The Schoolmaster Games is one of those movies. Based on the erotic gay novel Magisterlekarna, it’s clear that the director Ylva Forner had ambitions of exploring concepts of power, place, generational divide and sexual freedom. However, these themes are encased in a deeply problematic, overly camp and frivolous atmosphere that plays to every possible LGBTQ+ stereotype. The result is a film that, while beautifully shot, rarely challenges the audience with anything remotely profound or meaningful until the closing thirty minutes.
In a homoerotic fantasy world, St. Sebastian college is home to gay male students only. That also applies to the faculty of teachers who have fought to build this gay utopia free from hate or discrimination. However, beneath the veneer of perfection is a cesspit of turmoil, secrets and lies. Here a schoolmaster engages in BDSM with a student as he struggles to move beyond his own painful memories. Meanwhile, students fall in and out of love while manipulating the faculty and each other. But as the traditional Christmas concert approaches, the cracks in St Sebastian’s apparent utopia begin to show.
Despite this being a fantasy world, one of the first problems of The Schoolmaster Games lies in the very foundation of its story; a gay school where a gay older teacher is engaged in sex and power play with one of their students. This problematic narrative structure plays to long-held and deeply damaging stereotypes of older gay men as sexual predators of the young. If this had found a significant challenge by exploring psychological themes of society’s obsession with youth and beauty, The Schoolmaster Games could have offered something genuinely interesting. However, little effort is made to weave anything meaningful into the narrative until the closing thirty minutes.
Despite its lacklustre and poor opening, there are a few redemptive nuggets to be found. For example, conversations around differing generational experiences of inclusion do at times find a voice. While themes of gay shame occasionally burn bright, only to be snuffed out. Are these nuggets enough to save The Schoolmaster Games? Alas, while interesting at times, the answer is no!
Better Nate Than Ever (Disney +)
Q Bites: Better Nate Than Ever is streaming now on Disney +.
Sometimes big things come in small packages, and with Better Nate Than Ever, Disney + and 20th Century Studios have given us a small and perfectly formed musical drama for the whole family to enjoy. But Better Nate than Ever is also a colossal step forward in representation and inclusion, equaling the impact of Love Simon in 2018 when it arrived with a 12 certificate. This is an LGBTQ+ coming of age musical in all but name, but it doesn’t feel the need to shout from the rooftops because Nate’s burgeoning sexuality is just a part of what makes him fabulous; it’s not a problem to be solved, or a hurdle to be jumped.
Nate Foster (Rueby Wood) lives for theatre, but he can’t get a break in middle school productions. However, when his best friend Libby (Aria Brooks) informs him of auditions in New York for a new Broadway version of Lilo and Stitch, the potential is something neither can resist. Therefore rucksacks in hand, Libby and Nate fake a sleepover while their parents are away and head to New York – with Nate’s big brother Anthony (Joshua Bassett) left in the dark. But when Libby and Nate arrive, the scale of the opportunities ahead of them becomes crystal clear, as does the fact they need a parent or guardian with them to make anything happen. Luckily Nate’s estranged Aunt Heidi (Lisa Kudrow) is also in town and utterly unaware that Nate and Libby’s parents know nothing of their escapade.
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The resulting movie is an utter delight as it celebrates all those kids who feel different, love dance, music and drama or find themselves ostracised in school. Here its discussions on Nate’s developing sexual orientation are beautifully handled throughout, his need to be free and be himself in all his glitz and glamour sitting centre stage. Better Nate Than Ever is a rare Disney + family gem as it avoids pandering to its audience, keeping itself grounded while also bathing in moments of pure fantasy as we see the world through Nate’s eyes. No matter your age, there is so much to love in the optimism, heart and soul of Better Nate Than Ever. Plus, keep an eye out for Rueby Wood’s name in future productions because this is one kid who truly shines alongside the equally brilliant Brooks, Bassett and Kudrow.
The Invisible Thread (Netflix)
Q Bites: The Invisible Thread (Il filo invisible) is streaming now on Netflix.
Marco Simon Puccioni’s delightful comedy/drama quietly slipped onto Netflix on March 4th and remains hidden away in the Netflix catalogue like so many European LGBTQ+ themed movies. Part coming of age and part family comedy/drama, The Invisible Thread is full of heart while also tackling some important topics, from gay parenting to surrogacy and coming out. But if all this sounds heavy, fear not because Puccioni’s movie is light, fresh and wrapped in Italian charm and humour while maintaining its core messages on diversity and belonging.
Leone (Francesco Gheghi) has just begun working on a new school project about LGBT rights in Europe. But this is no random subject matter pulled from the air for Leone, as his video is based on his own personal experience growing up with two loving dads. However, on the night of their twentieth anniversary, his dads, Paolo and Simone (Filippo Timi and Francesco Scianna), suddenly hit a relationship hurdle neither can accept nor move beyond, leading to their separation. Leone finds himself caught in the middle as he quickly realises that the security he thought would last forever may be changing before his eyes. But matters are made even more complicated for Leone when he falls for a girl at school, only for her closeted brother to fall for him.
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While it may occasionally slip into melodrama, The Invisible Thread is a fresh, enjoyable and light comedy/drama embedded in important discussions on family, sexuality and identity. Puccioni’s movie echoes many of the themes found in the underrated 2008 Swedish gem Patrick 1.5, and The Kid’s are Alright (2010). But it’s the central performance of Francesco Gheghi that provides the icing on the cake, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t hear a lot more from this young actor in the years to come.
Give or Take (Rent or Buy)
Q Bites (February 2022): Give or Take is now available to rent or buy.
Martin (Jamie Effros) has just returned to his hometown in Cape Cod following the death of his estranged father. It is immediately apparent that the father and son drifted apart following the death of Martin’s mother, an event that led Martin’s father to finally come out as gay and move in with his life partner Ted (Norbert Leo Butz). For Martin, this sudden announcement only further created division, but now as he grieves his father’s sudden death, Martin finds himself with Ted while he decides whether to sell his father’s home and possessions. But as the tensions rise between Ted and Martin, an opportunity for healing comes into view.
There is much to admire in the narrative journey Paul Riccio, and Jamie Effros create as we explore themes of grief, separation and past missed opportunities for reconciliation. Give or Take is beautifully performed and incredibly engaging throughout, with some standout moments of emotion and humour as the ice between Ted and Martin slowly thaws. However, the conflict between Martin and Ted also feels underexplored and, at times, too simplistic in its construct. Here Give or Take often skirts the broader issues of homophobia, acceptance and coming out in later life that could have elevated it to true brilliance. However, while it may lack some substance, Give or Take is an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable Sunday afternoon flick with some cracking performances and moments of inspired humour.
Four Lives (BBC)
Q Bites (January 2022): FOUR LIVES is showing now on BBC iPlayer.
Over sixteen months during 2014 and 2015, Stephen Port murdered four gay/bi young men, Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth, and Jack Taylor. These vibrant, energetic and loving young men were connected by their use of gay dating apps (most notably Grindr) and by the nature of their death and discovery. However, despite the clear links between each murder and ongoing interest in Port, justice and safety were denied by an incompetent, lacklustre and homophobic investigation by Barking and Dagenham Police. Here Police failures almost certainly led to the deaths of three of the young men following the discovery of Port’s first victim, Anthony.
Four Lives methodically unpicks the countless police failures at play while demonstrating the pain family and friends were put through as they were forced to become investigators in their own right. But even more importantly, Four Lives focuses on the lives of Port’s young victims and the fight of their family and friends to uncover the truth about their murders. The result is an emotional, heart-wrenching and urgent drama that places institutional homophobia in our police service under the spotlight for all to see.
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I Am Syd Stone (Rent or Buy)
Q Bites (January 2022): I AM SYD STONE is now available to rent, buy or stream.
Denis Theriault’s 2014 short film of the same name was expanded into a six-part web series called I Am Syd Stone in 2020 and now finds itself pulled together into a feature-length movie. However, as with many web series converted into feature-length films, I Am Syd Stone struggles to maintain its pace and loses the interest of its audience early on in the narrative. Of course, that’s not to say there are not some fascinating themes wrapped up in Theriault’s story of a closeted Hollywood star searching for inner peace and public acceptance. But unfortunately, I Am Syd Stone never rises above the soap-opera inspired melodrama at its core.
The resulting film offers few deep or meaningful performances and lacks an urgently needed back story. Some may find just enough interest to see the movie through to the end, but others will find themselves tuning out after the first 35 minutes.
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Beyto (Rent or Buy)
Q Bites (December 2021): BEYTO is now available to rent, buy or stream.
Based on the novel Hochzeitsflug by Yusuf Yesilöz, you would be forgiven for thinking Gitta Gsell’s, Beyto was a classic coming-of-age gay drama in its opening twenty minutes. However, Gsell’s drama soon takes an interesting detour as we explore immigration, cultural homophobia, and arranged marriage. Here, the experiences of young Beyto share the screen with those of his childhood friend and bride Seher. In a film rooted in the expectations, oppression, and cultural baggage surrounding young men and women attempting to build new lives away from their home country. While it may not always find a clear voice, Beyto offers us a fascinating mix of themes and discussions that help it transcend the simplicity of the average coming-of-age gay movie.
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Bliss ‘Glück’ (Curzon Home Cinema)
Q Bites (December 2021): BLISS is available to stream now on Curzon Home Cinema.
Director Henrika Kull’s second feature is both powerful yet understated, as we follow the lives of two sex workers and their search for love in each other’s arms. While our female lovers have issues that prevent their happiness, their profession is neither glossed over nor vilified. The resulting film bluntly debunks many of the stereotypes associated with sex work while embracing the fact that love and sex are two distinctly different entities in a world dominated by the male gaze.
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Chucky: Season One (SKY)
Q Bites (December 2021): Chucky is available to watch now on Sky Max and SyFy.
Who would have thought Mancini’s new foray into TV would offer us something unique and decidedly fresh. However, that is precisely what we get with Chucky; a direct sequel to the films and shows proceeding it. What makes Chucky work so well is its focus on teenage life, discrimination, difference and bullying; one could almost argue that the doll comes second to the horrors of adolescence.
However, this is very much Chucky’s show, with his new owner Jake a mere plaything in his tiny, deadly hands. But it’s in the show’s discussions on sexual orientation, difference and inclusion that Chucky excels and marks its card as something genuinely different in TV horror. Sitting somewhere between teen melodrama, prequel, sequel and slasher horror, Chucky is a wild, entertaining and unique slice of TV horror that will appeal to older fans and bring on board a whole host of new ones.
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Sex Education: Season Three (Netflix)
Q Bites (November 2021): Sex Education: Season Three is available to stream now on Netflix.
While it may not feel as fresh as it once did during its third season, Sex Education has certainly not lost its bite. This is a show that joyously continues to push boundaries and elevate understanding while exuding love and humour. There are times when season three feels like a far more sophisticated and sexy version of Grange Hill, and believe me, that’s no criticism, as I haven’t seen a show make such cutting remarks on the UK’s broken school system since Grange Hill seasons 8 to 10. That does not mean there are no faults in Season Three, as it sags somewhat in the middle. However, there is also much to love, especially in its continued emphasis on diversity and inclusion while pushing the boundaries of older teenage drama, just as Skins did many years before. The result is a mixed but delightful return to Moordale.
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