Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Why “The Kids are All Right” is So Good

1.) Julianne Moore. 2.) An airtight, carefully constructed script. And 3.) the simple fact of representation–an ordinary family that happens to be headed by two women–on the big screen.

A couple friends, my partner, and I joined a sold-out theatre last night for Lisa Chodolenko’s The Kids are All Right. Man, has this movie been gathering momentum (and not in the kitschy NOM way). The Kids are All Right raked in more than a million dollars over the two weeks it’s been in theaters. In Cambridge, where we saw the movie, it was playing on two screens, both sold out. I haven’t been to a theater that crowded since the release of Brokeback Mountain.

There’s obvious parallels between the two movies. Both movies have a gay couple as the focus; both movies boast major movie stars. And though they may seem like indie flicks, The Kids are All Right and Brokeback Mountain manage to also reach for mainstream ambition.

But must mainstream also mean playing into tired old tropes? Stereotypes about lesbians seem particularly jarring in this film by and about gay women (e.g. watching gay porn, over-processing their emotions, transforming from a lesbian to a straight woman by the right man). Though there may be some truth in these stereotypes, portraying them without also questioning them provides fodder for uncritical audiences. When Moore’s character, a lesbian who has two teenage children with her lover, suddenly throws herself at a man, you can’t help but let out a little groan. Why couldn’t she fall for another woman? Why does it seem like all it takes to “cure” the character of her gayness is a handsome man?

Still, for its faults, The Kids are All Right struck a chord for me and my friends. Everyone in the theater, in fact, seemed to laugh (or cringe) as the movie hit all the right notes–comparing marriage to a Russian novel, watching the college-bound daughter awkwardly seduce her crush. Chodolenko takes what’s ordinary in urban gay life (and which many of us take for granter) and uses it to frame her story of an ordinary American family. Good stuff.

Go support this little film that could.

Filed under: film, gay life, humor, , , , , , , , , ,

Tilda Swinton’s Five Favorite Films

Vodpod videos no longer available.

And why does Tilda Swinton love Let the Right One In?

Not because it’s a masterful vampire movie (or I should say, not just because it’s a vampire movie). Not just because it’s a feast for the senses (and yes, I realize I’m using the cliche “feast for the senses”). Why does she hold Let the Right One In in such high regard?

Swinton in Orlando, the gender-bending role in which she played a woman for half the film and a man for the other.

“A great film about being truly androgynous.”

Swinton has always been a gendernaut. Her fascinating list of films includes, surprisingly, Bruno, among others. Orlando, an early role, was one of those early anti-establishment movies in which Swinton established her eclectic taste. More recently, in Hollywood flicks like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, she played nice. But one of my favorite things I’ve seen her in is a little indie movie called The Deep End, in which she was the fierce, overprotective mother of a gay kid–a combination psychological thriller and character study. Seen it?

I can’t wait to see Swinton’s new film, I Am Love. Looks lush.

Swinton in Provincetown, June 2010. Loren King writes a revealing profile of Swinton for the Boston Globe.

Filed under: culture, film, , , , , , , , , ,

An Airtight Argentinian Art Film

I like the original title: El Secreto de Sus Ojos. Translated to English, it sounds far less lyrical and more utilitarian: The Secret in Their Eyes.

We went to see this film last night at the Coolidge Corner Theatre (a shout-out to our favorite cinema in Boston). I wasn’t sure what to expect; I knew it was an Argentinian film, and it had won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (my partner chided the Academy for lumping all non-English films in one category). Truth be told, I like going into a film without too much knowledge of the critics’ pans and praise.

El Secreto is a little bit Hitchcock, a little bit lefty comedy, a little bit unrequited love story. In a strict narrative sense, it’s an airtight film.

Juan Jose Campanella, the director, shows his understanding of Craft–that’s “craft” with a capital “C”–in the movie’s details. For example, an accident with a popped blouse button is tethered to the female lead’s emotional arc. The situation in El Secreto (I’m thinking of Vivian Gornick’s definition of situation and story) is perfectly suited to the story of unrequited love. And I’m always in admiration of any writer, filmmaker, artist, who is in complete control of their craft.

Go see this film. Not the stunning art of some of my favorite filmmakers like Wong Kar-Wai (In the Mood for Love may well be one of my favorite films of the past decade) or Pedro Almodovar (especially his early films like Law of Desire), but a worthwhile film nonetheless.

As my partner put it, “It was entertaining.”

My response: “In the best, non-Hollywood sense.”

Filed under: argentina, film, world, , , , , , ,

Spike Lee Meets The Family Slaveowners

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The heart of Texas. A century after his ancestors were freed from slavery, Spike Lee meets his relatives. And not all of his family were slaves.

We know that our American slave history included the horrendous abuse and rape of slaves; the possibility of white and black Americans being related today is not a surprise. In Lee’s ancestry, we learn that his great-great-great grandmother, Mathilde, was a mulatto in the 1860’s. Mathilde worked in the plantation house of her slaveowners as a cook. As a mulatto, history indicates that Lee’s slave ancestor may have been the daughter of the white slaveowner.

Witnessing Spike Lee’s journey from his New York home to the deep South, I could not help but admire his life work: chronicling the African American experience in film. Do the Right Thing may be one of my favorite movies, and as a teenager growing up in the Midwest with little experience with non-Asian or non-White heritage, Lee’s groundbreaking film opened my eyes to the racism in the rest of America. I’ve always been impressed by Lee’s artistry, integrity, and commitment to fighting racism. His appearance last night on the television show, Who Do You Think You Are?, again shows his thoughtfulness and curiosity.

Filed under: ancestry, entertainment, family, , , , , , , , ,

Demystifying the Hollywood aura

As a recovering film major, I still have an unhealthy obsession with movies.

This video from Stargate Studios (a promotional reel? or just an attempt to demystify the mystique of Hollywood?) shows us the bones of the movie machine. It’s pretty amazing to watch epic landscapes–everything from the desert to Times Square–as they appear or disappear behind the actors.

Filed under: film, , , ,

Writing

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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