Monday, March 15, 2021

Mama Gloria (Athena Film Festival 2021)

2020 marked the deadliest year on record for transgender and non-conforming individuals. Even with the emergence of trans entertainers and activists  likeJanet Mock and Laverne Cox in mind, how rare it is for LGBTQ+ youth to have a blueprint or example of trans icons who defy such unnecessary and transphobic circumstances. Just as equally rare is an inspirational documentary that Mama Gloria joyfully fills the void of. 

Told fully from her perspective, the documentary directed by Luchina Fisher affords Gloria Allen the opportunity to share her journey of transitioning in Chicago’s south side in the 1950s to her contributions as trailblazer today – now in her 70s. Most notably, she’s recognized for starting a charm school for her fellow trans women, especially homeless youth; the school also later became a play “Charm” which has inspired trans actresses to follow in her footsteps and come out as transgender. Where there is such glorious success, however, there are also adversities that have made her stronger including transphobia, sexual assault, and racism. The vulnerability, wisecracking humor, and honesty Allen exudes allows viewers to take a brief yet engrossing portrait of aging that offers insight and the process of recognizing gender and body dysphoria to gradually making the choice and having the access to transition medically.

For the most part, the film is able to capture Gloria's essence as a beloved mom to her "babies" -  students and trans youth who look to her for guidance - and the LGBTQ+ community at large. With letting Allen take the wheel of the film's structure, she’s able to hold the reigns of her story taking us through the nostalgic highs of her youth and the stark lows of challenges she's faced and continues to face in her older age. However, the documentary moves at a fairly brisk pace that doesn’t delve further where it could have. Though the film breaks up Allen’s narrative with a heartwarming high school reunion, interviews with her relatives, and archival footage of Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood nightlife and drag balls, there are elements such as founding her charm school and Allen’s involvement in the Stonewall Riots that could’ve extended more context.

One of the most poignant moments of Mama Gloria is not only her ability to light the torch the next generation of trans women and men to carry, but also the resounding support and struggles she faced to ultimately fall in love with herself. Sadly, this is not always or commonly the same for so many. A conversation with a neighbor at their apartment complex brings the common thread and disparity of generations of LGBTQ+ individuals - “None of us when we were young ever thought about living to be this age, or what life experience would be in this age, and there were no examples.” Hopefully in the years ahead the world will become a place where it chooses to accept everyone for who they truly are and allow Gloria Allen’s story to be one of many examples of resilience, hope, and acceptance that the trans and LGBTQ+ community needs right now and always.

Screening Mama Gloria was a part of my coverage of this year’s Athena Film Festival. Check out more of my reviews here and the official website to Mama Gloria here.

WandaVision (2021)

I've always liked Wanda, but mostly watched her show without a lot of expectations. After it was over, there was a lot more than I thought I'd need to get off my chest about her arc, Vision, and their series WandaVision as an essay? rant? rave? It contains spoilers. Read at your own risk. 

Wanda’s powers has grown in tandem with her emotions - how to understand what she's capable of, how others feared her, and what she has to do to protect her loved ones. Since she and her brother Pietro debuted in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2012, she’s had more than her fair share of repressed emotions to sort through.  Her abilities were, after all, born out of a "hopeful" act of revenge against Tony Stark – whose bombs killed both of their parents and nearly left them for dead. It wasn’t long before they switched teams to The Avengers. With enough pain to wield once Pietro was caught in the crossfire, we got a taste of what she could do if she was affected deeply enough: decimating all of Ultron’s clones and ripping out another murder-bot's vibranium "heart" with her hands. 

What’s made her formidable over the years is that her abilities let her do anything she sets her mind to. They’ve always been consumed or transformed her sense of self through heartache and growth, and defining who she is with and without Vision. She began to learn how to curb her skills until a fiery explosion forced her into internment with Vision at the compound in Captain America: Civil War. Not only did she and Vision connect over their link to the Mind Stone, her escape to stand up against The Accords began when Wanda was reminded she could free herself by crushing him into the surface, “I can’t control other people’s fears, only my own.” The question of her arc so far was never that she wasn’t powerful, but what she could do if she was totally in control of herself. The answer eventually came two-fold.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Julia Scotti: Funny That Way (Athena Film Festival 2021)

For the second time in her life, Julia Scotti rocked the comedy world when she auditioned for America’s Got Talent in 2016. After drawing approval and laughter from the live studio audience and judges, her humbling revelation of having transitioned and comedic verve made her a beloved favorite and later a finalist that year. Though many might know her best from her original televised comeback, it’s one of just many that’s highlighted and explored in the documentary Julia Scotti: Funny That Way.

Shot over a period of five years, director Susan Sandler’s documentary with Julia Scotti trails the comedian’s comeback and her complicated journey of transitioning, identity, and healing. Going primarily from the title, humor is an easy way ‘in’ to enjoying the documentary. There are plenty of jokes and anecdotes sprinkled throughout, as well as heartwarming meetings with comedy pals and stand-up routines, that will put a smile on your face. But underneath the surface the duo – Sandler and Scotti – dig deep to show not just the stand-up Scotti’s spent a lifetime honing, but the multi-faceted journey of compassion Scotti strives for with herself and the world around her.

Taking us back to the start of sorts, the documentary takes its time to explore Scotti living the dream as a headlining comedian appearing in club all across the U.S. in the late 1980s. Though it seemed like Scotti was on top of the comedy world, they struggled personally and professionally as issues of gender identity and sexuality came to light. At a time when gender dysphoria and gender reassignment surgery was rare, Scotti’s process to transitioning led to hormonal treatments, surgery, and a new identity as Julia Scotti at forty-seven. Along the way, she lost wives, family, and her career. After reinventing herself, she’s begun her journey back to the stand-up stage at fifty, while rebuilding relationships with her children after fifteen years of estrangement.

Using interviews with Scotti and her children as well as narrated animation and archival footage, Scotti explores the ‘blessing and the curse’ that happened the day she discovered who she was – how the liberation of enjoying every ounce of her womanhood also left lingering wounds such as the rift with her third ex-wife who supported her transition and gender-related issues that still play a role in her self-discovery today. Her reconciliation with her own misconceptions of gender, speaking out against transphobia such as a doctor misgendering her while recovering from spinal surgery, and helping her son with his own comedy career further opens up a conversation about the limits of what society considers masculine or feminine, transphobia, and homophobia. Though the film primarily centers on Scotti's life and experiences, it also presents further outlooks on society's attachment to vapid and ignorant ideas of "being normal."

As a first-time documentary filmmaker (at 72 years old), Sandler pieces together an inspiring portrait that finds a perfect balance between showing Scotti gaining a stride on stage and in her own life. She streamlines Julia Scotti: Funny That Way with candor, vulnerability, and empathy that lets you ride the wave of joy, compassion, regret, sorrow, and acceptance. Undoubtedly, comedy helps Scotti find her voice again as a comedian to her audience, a mother to her children, and a public speaker. But her whole story also shines a rare light that highlights the roadblocks of waiting too long to discovering your truth and imploring hope that it's never too late to accept who you truly are.

Screening Julia Scotti: Funny That Way was a part of my coverage of this year’s Athena Film Festival. Check out more of my reviews here and the official website to Julia Scotti: Funny That Way.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Everything I Love About Sam Wilson (Part 1)

In 2019, Avengers: Endgame culminated with the end to Steve Rogers's run as Captain America, leaving a new star spangled man with a plan to take over his reign. After returning the Infinity Stones to their rightful timelines, Rogers came back to pass down the shield to his good friend and comrade Sam Wilson, also known as The Falcon. 

Though it remains to be seen whether or not Wilson will become the next Captain America in his and Bucky Barnes' new series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, I thought it'd be fun to continue the tradition that I had started with celebrating Chris Evan as Captain America throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I plan on limiting this continuation to the movies, knowing once the show starts I may fall behind keeping up - though time will tell.

Part 1 is dedicated to Captain America and The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man. Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks - Movies That Haven't Aged Well

Wandering Through the Shelves hosts Thursday Movie Picks. It's a weekly series where bloggers post and share various movie picks every Thursday. 

The rules are simple: based on the theme of the week pick three to five movies and tell us why you picked them. For further details and the schedule visit the series main page here.

This week is Thursday Movie Picks - Movies That Haven't Aged Well. 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks - Oscar Winners Edition: Best Actor and Best Actress

Wandering Through the Shelves hosts Thursday Movie Picks. It's a weekly series where bloggers post and share various movie picks every Thursday. 

The rules are simple: based on the theme of the week pick three to five movies and tell us why you picked them. For further details and the schedule visit the series main page here.

This week is Thursday Movie Picks - Oscar Winners Edition: Best Actor and Best Actress. Unlike past weeks where I've probably over-thought the theme, I kept it simple with highlighting performances that come to mind every so often and remain as impressive now as when the film was released.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

17-year-old  William O'Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) is recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party led by Fred Hamptom (Daniel Kaluuya). As O'Neal gains acceptance and camaraderie with Hampton and his comrades, the FBI pushes their campaign to criminalize Hampton that ultimately leads to his assassination.

Similar to Candice Frederick's review, I couldn't stop thinking about or comparing Judas and the Black Messiah to The Departed - its potential similarities and stark differences.

Both films share the core structure of the spy story. For the former, William goes undercover into the Black Panther Party, and is continuously upended by his involvement. Even though William believes he is the rare example of an undercover agent, there are others lurking all over the place, forcing him to watch his back and always feel threatened by the potential of blowing his cover or having someone blow it for him. With The Departed, centered on the 'rats' trying to dismantle an Irish mob boss ring, there's always a lingering question and conflict of how the entire operation will fall apart. Despite the split focus on multiple characters and their motives, there's always a steady tension of three things - the suspicious intentions of multiple agencies trailing Costello, the true identities of cops surrounding him, and if Leonardo DiCaprio's frenzied character can maintain his sanity until he's free (which he will never earn). You never quite know what anyone's next move is, and everyone feels like they're fallen into a never-ending trap of cat and mouse. No matter how many spies we follow or twists the story takes, the leads are what glue you to both films.