CQ Quick Picks are quick-read reviews and double-bill recommendations of both new and classic LGBTQIA+ films and TV shows.
OUTED: GEORGE MICHAEL & OUTED STORIES (CHANNEL 4) ★★★★
I was 21 in 1998 and on a University placement in Cork, Ireland, when I heard about George Michael, the secret policeman and the Los Angeles public toilet. Just a few days before, I had been wondering how to find the hidden gay club on the harbour as my confidence slowly grew in my sexuality. I had known I was gay from about thirteen, but I feared the atmosphere around me so much that I lived in secrecy as much as possible, even as I entered my early twenties. On hearing the news about George, I was filled with trepidation; after all, the British media was vicious and vile in their treatment of gay men. I remembered how they had treated Freddie Mercury, Kenny Everett and others as they died of AIDS and the fear they instilled in me as a young gay man. Outed brought those memories flooding back as it explored a blatantly homophobic media circus and a pop star who wasn’t willing to let the bastards tear him down. George Michael encouraged us all to stand tall and reject the shame the media had fed us; he fought the bullies rather than hiding in the corner and encouraged us to shout “fuck you” from the top of our lungs. Thank you, George. I also recommend you watch Outed Stories, three profoundly moving accounts of ordinary men who were Outed by a press built on hate and oppression that has yet to apologise for its actions.
Double Bill (Peccadillo Pod)
Writer-director Craig Boreham’s fascinating ode to the wanderer is wrapped in a physical intimacy rarely captured on film. Boreham would turn to Grindr in casting his film, leading to a raw, unfiltered style of performance that owes much to Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho and John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy.
Casey (Josh Lavery) is a country boy drifting through the big city, arranging a series of hookups for cash. But Casey’s journey from the outback to Sydney is not the story of a rent boy travelling from town to town earning a trade; it’s the tale of a damaged young man escaping his past through sex, his map torn and his destination uncertain as he walks the streets with a bottle of Jack in his hand. On meeting the firey and confident Tib (Daniel Gabriel), during a threesome, Casey finds something new, a man he can connect with physically and emotionally.
In Lonesome, sex flows through the veins of the story, from tender moments of connection to aggressive encounters and steamy group sessions. But at the centre of this carnal flow sits a beating heart full of conversations on trust, healing, self-worth and personal rebirth.
Boreham’s film is about intimacy, both physical and emotional, and as a result, Casey’s journey is rich in texture, imagery, heat and sexual energy. Lonesome won’t appeal to everyone, and some may find it too stilted. But the bravery of the production choices is admirable, and when coupled with stunning cinematography and gentle yet strong performances, Lonesome is another stand-out example of a new wave of LGBTQ+ Aussie filmmaking
Double Bill (Peccadillo Pod)
Sequin in a Blue Room (2022)
Ask any gay man about their first experience of gay sex, and many will talk about the excitement, apprehension, fear and doubt of their first encounters. For many gay men of my generation, first meetings were secret and full of risk, often kept hidden from public view. Some of us flirted with the social danger of a local gay cottage or cruising on a wet Saturday afternoon. In contrast, others resorted to clandestine meetings away from any public view. In the years since, gay confidence has grown, but has the risk of cottaging or cruising diminished in the new online world of gay hookups and dating?
Cruising was inherently risky for teenage boys who were only just finding their feet. In secluded areas or rundown toilet blocks in the heart of town, men of all ages hoped they would catch a bite leading to a brief non-verbal acknowledgement and a quick sexual release. These meetings could be scary and abrupt but also full of addictive adrenaline and risk.
The arrival of online gay dating apps such as Grindr marked the beginning of the end for many local gay cottages and cruising grounds, with many arguing the apps freed gay men from their years of hiding. But is this new digital world any safer for young gay men? After all, many of these gay apps are full of blank profiles, faceless pictures and unknown identities.
Samuel Van Grinsven’s Sequin in a Blue Room explores the digital world of teenage gay sex by bravely and boldly examining one young man’s quest for anonymous sex and pleasure.
The result is an urgent and timely coming-of-age film that isn’t afraid to explore various issues facing young gay men as they dip their toes into the online world. Here the vulnerability of our teenage protagonist is cloaked in a youthful shroud of invincibility as he enters a digital Sydney sweetshop full of enticing new tastes.
Read our Neil Bakers interview with Samuel Van Grinsven
GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS (BFI PLAYER) ★★★★ (aka. Girl Picture)
Alli Haapasalo’s intimate and honest portrait of emerging womanhood, Girls Girls Girls, tells the story of three girls, Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff), Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen) and Emma (Linnea Leino), over three Fridays as their lives intersect. Exploring themes of belonging, sexual attraction, identity, anxiety and love through a humourous, loving and natural lens, Haapasalo’s drama is both empowering and emotional as it explores the classic coming-of-age journey through the eyes of three young women whose lives are about to change. There is so much to love in Girls, Girls, Girls, from the stunning central performances to the sublime cinematography of Jarmo Kiuru. But it’s Alli Haapasalo’s ability to bring a raw and fresh dynamic to the coming-of-age genre with frank discussions on sexuality and identity that make this a genuinely beautiful North European gem.
Double Bill (Rent or Buy)
At what age does the freedom and innocence of childhood become consumed by the mists of adolescence? The answer is, of course, different for every person – the journey to adulthood rooted in individual self-discovery. These themes have long been central to the coming-of-age genre and the coming-out drama. However, few films capture this transition’s complexity, intensity and emotion, like Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s Heartstone (Hjartasteinn).
Guðmundsson weaves the brutal realities of early teenage life with unspoken community norms, family, social conflict, and rural isolation. Like A Swedish Love Story, Heartstone captures the raw reality of the emotions, fears, and joys of early adolescence; the bodies of our two leads demanding their attention while their minds remain caught in the void between childhood innocence and adult responsibility. Here the sublime performances of Baldur Einarsson and Blær Hinriksson wrap us in a realism that is rarely found in coming-out dramas as both boys emerge from the cocoon of childhood. Guðmundsson’s movie beautifully reflects the urgency and excitement of early sexual exploration in a caged community and the role community and family play in the coming-of-age journey of each young person in their care.
Double Bill (Rent or Buy)
Beautiful Beings (2022)
To label Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s Beautiful Beings an Icelandic Stand By Me is not only lazy but dismissive of the darkness that ripples through his latest challenging, achingly beautiful and uncompromising coming-of-age tale. While Stand By Me is undoubtedly an American coming-of-age classic, Beautiful Beings is firmly rooted in European realism. Following on from his heartbreakingly beautiful feature debut in 2016 Heartstone, Guðmundsson moves his lens from Iceland’s rural communities to its cities, losing none of his ability to capture the darkness, light and emotional complexity of adolescence along the way.
From the heartbreaking and challenging opening scenes of 14-year-old Balli (Áskell Einar Pálmason) being bullied and abused by his peers, Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson builds on his knack for capturing the deep emotional turmoil, pain and confusion of teenage life through an outstanding cast featuring, Birgir Dagur Bjarkason, Snorri Rafn Frímannsson and Viktor Benóný Benediktsson. Beautiful Beings takes many of the themes present in Heartstone and places them into a cold yet vibrant inner-city environment of peer pressure, sex, drugs, alcohol and casual violence. At its heart, Beautiful Beings may be a classic tale of friendship, belonging, and safety, but its soul is dedicated to exploring the unspoken bonds of love between adolescent boys and the packs they rely on for security. It is a beautiful, challenging and powerful exploration of emerging masculinity from a truly visionary director.
CONCERNED CITIZEN ‘Ezrah Mudag’ (PECCADILLO POD) ★★★
Ben (Bertonov) and his partner (Wolf) live in a diverse but often troublesome area of Tel Aviv. They pride themselves on their belief in diversity, liberal ideals and their attempt to transform their local area into a trendy neighbourhood. However, while they may talk of vibrant communities, they live behind locked gates as they discuss the start of a family. Director Igan Haguel cleverly subverts audience expectations with a cutting dissection of wealth liberalism, privilege and gentrification. Here we find a gay couple who are far from being the victims of the piece as themes of immigration, police brutality and race take centre stage. Haguel’s film isn’t afraid to uncover the uncomfortable truth behind many elite liberal values; they are spoken passionately but rarely practised.
THE US AND THE HOLOCAUST (BBC IPLAYER) ★★★★★
Epic documentaries are rare nowadays, especially those that dare to stretch over three two-hour episodes. But anyone familiar with documentary maker Ken Burns and his long-time collaborators Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein will know that epic and detailed are bylines for Burns’ work. Here Burns unpicks and then stitches together a complicated tapestry of US history in relation to immigration, War in Europe, antisemitism and race from the early 1930s to the post-War period. No stone is left unturned as Burns explores two sides of the same coin, one rooted in segregation and a belief in America first and the other in compassion, bravery and a need to protect. Meanwhile, the dark history of Eugenics and psychological discrimination and oppression sees the UK and the US shoulder at least some of the responsibility for the horrors of Nazism. The US and the Holocaust is documentary filmmaking at its most powerful and urgent.
DOUBLE BILL (BBC IPLAYER)
GIANT LITTLE ONES (2019)
Franky (Josh Wiggins) and Ballas (Darren Mann) have been close friends since childhood, spending most of their time together. However, after an alcohol-fuelled night, their friendship is tested like never before as hormonal energy and experimentation mix with explosive results. Early in proceedings, director Keith Behrman dispatches with the tried and tested tropes of the high school coming out story, opting for a contemporary exploration of sexuality and gender in youth culture. Here Behrman reflects on the changing landscape of adolescent experience while delving into the social, gender and sexual barriers that still affect young people as they grow into young adults.
Giant Little Ones explores friendship, peer pressure, and family identities as we follow young Franky, his family and friends. Josh Wiggins beautifully captures teenage life’s confusion, anger, joy, trepidation and ambiguity, while Darren Mann’s Ballas explores the fear and confusion of a threatened sense of self. The result places fluidity and experimentation centre stage in a film that never seeks to label its characters. Giant Little Ones dares to be different in reflecting the new journey of sexual discovery for young people in our modern world, and as a result, it delivers one of the best LGBTQIA+ coming-of-age films of 2019.
(ORIGINALLY REVIEWED AT BFI FLARE LGBTQIA+ FESTIVAL 2019)
DOUBLE BILL (PRIME VIDEO)
DATING AMBER (2020)
Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) is a boy committed to following in his dad’s footsteps by joining the army, with his school life mired in homophobic jokes about his lack of a girlfriend. But to add to his troubles, Eddie’s home life is consumed by his parent’s marital problems and a younger brother who provides daily commentary on his non-existent sex life. Meanwhile, fellow student Amber (Lola Petticrew) suffers the same homophobic taunts and jibes as everyone speculates about her sexuality, her volatile life with her mum caught up in the continuing waves of her dad’s suicide years before.
However, when Amber suggests to Eddie that school life may be easier for them if they pretend to be a couple, Eddie is initially filled with horror. Does this mean Amber knows his deepest secret? As Amber and Eddie enter into a relationship of convenience, their newfound friendship soon morphs into a journey of love, self-acceptance, support, and escape as Ireland slowly changes around them.
There are clear parallels to Handsome Devil, Sex Education and Submarine in the story that ensues. However, Dating Amber holds its own and is a warm, funny, and emotional journey into teenage belonging and pride that is full of energetic performances, sharp humour and bags of charm.
CHUCKY SEASON TWO (SKY) ★★★★
f you thought the first season of Chucky was nuts, just wait till you get a load of this! Any rules built over the years are duly thrown to one side as Chucky Season 2 carves its own unique place in Chucky-Lore. From the return of Glen to doll-obsessed nuns, a heavenly father who looks a lot like a dead dad, dodgy psychologists, and the Lex Luther/ Apocalypse Now-inspired ‘Colonel.’ Season two is a rollercoaster ride of camp horror, gore, comedy and devilishly good performances.
SANTA CLAUS: THE SERIAL KILLER (BBC IPLAYER) ★★★
Mobeen Azhar’s documentary follows in the footsteps of CBC’s Murder in the Village (2017) and Catching a Serial Killer: Bruce McArthur (2021); as a result, it struggles to offer anything new to the evidence base surrounding McArthur’s crimes. Azhar explores the lacklustre Police response to the disappearances while also asking us to reflect on the racial dimension of McArthur’s crimes. But at its heart, Azhar’s documentary explores the cultural barriers of a closed gay community and the fact that any community holds secrets and vulnerabilities that residents would rather not face. There are clear parallels between the Stephen Port case here in the UK and the Bruce McArthur case in Toronto. Here while Azhar’s investigation is interesting and informative, it never quite manages to tease out these similarities, resulting in a missed opportunity to explore Police failures and hidden community concerns. The result is a documentary that occasionally feels overly simplistic in its investigative framework.
DOUBLE BILL (DISNEY +)
BETTER NATE THAN EVER (2022)
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 (Rueby Wood) 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.
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, with his need to be free and be himself in all his glitz 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. 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.
DOUBLE BILL (NETFLIX)
THE INVISIBLE THREAD (2022)
Marco Simon Puccioni’s delightful comedy/drama (Il filo invisible) quietly slipped onto Netflix and remains hidden in the catalogue like 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.
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 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.
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.
THE SCHOOLMASTER GAMES ★
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. 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 an older gay 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.
GIVE OR TAKE (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). But as the tensions rise between Ted and Martin due to the sale of the house, an unexpected opportunity for healing comes into view. Give or Take is beautifully performed and 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. Here Give or Take skirts the broader issues of homophobia, acceptance and coming out in later life that could have elevated it to brilliance.
FOUR LIVES (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.
I AM SYD STONE (RENT OR BUY) ★★
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 is now 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.
BEYTO (RENT OR BUY) ★★★
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.