My week in film: Melissa McCarthy twice plus Tangerine

Pretty soon the viewing habits of this writer will all feature the sight of a Christmas tree, tinsel, presents and/or snow, but for the last week before the festive holidays commence proper, there’s been time to catch some of the year’s lauded comedies and acclaimed dramas. screen20shot202015-06-2420at203-05-5420pmSean Baker’s Tangerine has been widely praised and discussed since its world premiere at Sundance in January. Shot using an iPhone 5 in West Hollywood, the film follows trans sex workers Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) around LA over the course of one day – Christmas Eve – while Sin-Dee attempts to confront her boyfriend Chester (James Ransone) for cheating on her with a cis-gendered woman. The film is remarkably cinematic, due to Baker and co-cinematographer Radium Cheung’s discovery of an anamorphic adapter for the iPhone that allowed them to shoot in scope. Assumptions about a film shot with a phone are quickly dispelled as wide roof-top shots and street scenes open up the film’s setting and capture the character’s sprawling environment.

Mya Taylor as Alexandra and Kiki Rodriguez as Sin-Dee

Baker developed the story from his friendship with Mya, and there’s an authentic energy to the way Alexandra and Sin-Dee interact, the latter’s fast paced, lisp inflected dialogue conveying an impatience that contrasts with her cohort’s ‘no drama’ principles. Tangerine shows the toughness of its character’s lives, the dangers inherent in getting into a strangers car with no guarantee that they won’t turn violent. Alongside this vulnerability, Baker’s film demonstrates how his character’s care and look after each other, and relate through humour, the result is a film that’s as open to being serious as is to being silly and heartfelt. Melissa McCarthy in SpyOther films viewed this week include two starring Melissa McCarthy, one a re-watch of Bridesmaids, and another Paul Feig helmed comedy, Spy, which also stars Miranda Hart and Jude Law. McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a desk-based CIA agent usually guiding Law’s active spy Bradley Fine through his covert operations via an ear piece. When disaster strikes, Susan offers to go into the field herself, assuming her lack of experience will make her less of a target for the agencies enemies. McCarthy is reliably hilarious, and there’s some sharp observations of workplace sexism in the way her character is frequently assigned aliases that reinforce stereotypes about a person of Susan’s size, age and gender. Jason Statham, is given ample opportunity to ape his Transporter-like persona, throwing out boastful lines attesting to his strength and indestructability with an almost insatiable frequency. That McCarthy is very a dramatic, comedic and action star here is immensely enjoyable, even if spy spoofs bring with them their own clichés.

Coming soon (or maybe after a festive lull), Cinematic Investigations on Star Wars, Christmas movies and a full review of 2015 highlights. For those interested in my official top ten of 2015, check out words in praise of Carol – CineVue’s film of the year plus links at the bottom of the page to my LetterBoxd list.

My week in film: SQIFF and more…

Having presented a scattering of screenings since announcing their existence in summer 2014, the Scottish Queer International Film Festival had its inaugural full festival edition last week, running from 24-27 September and opening with the entirely enjoyable, Dyke Hard. Ushered by fabulous pink poodles into CCA theatre, audiences then saw the SQIFF team share the spotlight before the screening, introducing their inclusive ethos by explaining their use of subtitles, British Sign Language interpretation, wheelchair accessible venues and gender-neutral facilities wherever possible. Such a positive attitude to their visitors is a very welcome aspect of SQIFF, and shows their commitment to encouraging engagement from the entire queer spectrum.
2_Teem_Dyke_HardAt Dyke Hard, director Bitte Anderson was present alongside key cast members (appearing in character) to prepare the audience for a low budget B-movie, but her almost apologetic assurances were unnecessary because the film was a thrill from start to finish. The plot sees the titular band formed in high school but fall on hard times when nasty lead singer, Riff (Lina Kurttila) abandons them. When their manager also dumps them and their mobile home is blown up, Dyke Hard members Peggy (Peggy Sands), Scotty (Maria Wågensjo) and Bandito (Alle Eriksson) hit the road aiming for TV’s battle of the bands. Along the way, a Thai boxer called Dawn (Iki Gonzalez Magnusson) joins them helping them to fend off the attempts of an evil millionaire called Moira (Josephine Krieg) to bring them down. Horny ghosts, a sadistic prison warden, bikers, ninjas, and a roller derby gang are all part of the danger Dyke Hard face on the road to musical success.
4_Teem_Dyke_HardThis genre mish-mash was hewn from Anderson’s vision of putting all the ideas thought missing from genre film and queer cinema together in one film, and Dyke Hard certainly utilises the absurdity of the gang’s adventure to witty reflexive effect. Another key success of the film is the way it wraps up its ‘message’ at the end. To love oneself first of all, is delivered with both sincerity and sauciness.

Sadly, this new Dyke Hard fan missed the rest of the weekend’s plethora of shorts, participatory events, retro screenings and parties (due to attending Berwick Film Festival) but the opening night served as a promise of more fun, action and stimulation to come. Roll on SQIFF 2016!

Also viewed: Fruitvale Station (2013) directed by Ryan Coogler, an authentically sensitive impression, based on real events, leading up to the shooting of Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan) in 2008.

Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival (23-27 September) – installations, a very strong film programme, spooky storytelling and musical performances. Report coming soon for Sight & Sound.

Beyond C.I : Aesthetica, Africa and more…

Cinematic Investigations may have appeared a little quiet in the last months of the year, but elsewhere this writer has been toiling for other outlets, viewing a Scottish showcase of African film, Pabst and Brooks, queer documentary and shorts galore.

Striking mine workers on koppie two days before massacre
Miners Shot Down

First up I took in seventeen films at Africa in Motion Film Festival in Edinburgh (24 October – 9 November), where the theme ‘Looking Back, Reaching Forward’ provided the opportunity for screenings of little seen older titles The Blue Eyes of Yonta and Come Back Africa. Post-apartheid South Africa was also a notable focus in three documentaries, which you can read about in my report for Sight & Sound, here.


Within the same month, I also visited York for Aesthetica Short Film Festival (6 – 9 November), which  showcased the city’s fascinating historical and contemporary venues as well as some outstanding examples of short film. Amongst the eighty-three films I saw, my highlight’s were Sasha Litvintseva’s Alluvion and Sam Firth’s Stay the Same, which you can read about, amongst other fine cinematic works, in my report for Sight & Sound, here.

For CineVue, reviewing G.W. Pabst’s 1929 Diary of a Lost Girl  was a delight, albeit a creepy one, and more satisfying still was the opportunity to view the work of Travis Mathews, perhaps best known for teaming up with James Franco for a reimagining of the lost 40 minutes of footage from William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980), titled Interior. Leather Bar. That project aside, it turns out Mathews is a very sensitive filmmaker, determined to bring the lives of gay men to the screen through his ongoing project, In Their Room. 

In Their Room: Berlin

Coming very soon will be my own annual review (avid readers will notice this was absent in 2013!) where I will select my highlights from 2014, including shorts and features, new releases, restorations and retrospectives. In the meantime, you can read my contribution to CineVue’s Top 20, which, tallying contributions from all their writers, reveals the best films receiving a UK premiere this year. Published in two parts, the second will come out on Monday 22 December but first up, you can read about one of my pick’s, Concerning Violence, which gets in at no. 20.