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Why You’ll ‘Love, Simon’

Love, Simon tells the story of one teenager’s coming out and the struggle to find your identity as a queer person.

Let me tell you, I’m a crier—and not a pretty one, either. But when it comes to films, it takes something particularly special to cause me to audibly sob in a dark theater surrounded by strangers. In this case, that something was Love, Simon.

After unceremoniously missing the advance press screening weeks ago due to showing up at the wrong theater, the About Magazine staff was given the chance to see the film (thanks to gay actor Matt Bomer). The film, adapted from Becky Albertalli’s 2015 novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and directed by television writer/producer Greg Berlanti of Dawnson’s Creek fame, stars Nick Robinson as titular character Simon Spier, a high school senior who is so determined to hide his gayness that he goes to extraordinary lengths at the expense of those he loves. And if that story sounds familiar to any of you queer folks out there, that’s because it probably is.

Simon has a good life. He has parents who adore him (played by actors Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and a little sister he actually likes. His friends, Leah Burke (Katherine Langford of 13 Reasons Why acclaim), Abby Suso (Alexandra Shipp of X-Men), and Nick Eisner (fairly newcomer Jorge Lendeborge, Jr), have a Brat Pack-like ritual involving morning drives to school punctuated by classic rock, iced coffee, and stories about Nick’s dreams from the previous night. At school, he blends slightly into the foreground, neither exalted by his peers nor taunted by them). On the outside, one might presume that Simon Spier has a perfectly normal life. Only, he has one very big secret:

He’s a flaaaaaming gay.

After another closeted (read: masc) gay student (“Blue”) posts anonymously to the web that he’s keeping the same secret about himself that Simon is, Simon sends an email to the student’s alias Gmail account. And as the two begin to share their back-and-forths about all the good and all the bad that they have had to deal with since discovering their queerness, Simon finds himself falling in love with someone he’s not only never met, but whose identity is just as much a secret to Simon as Simon’s is to Blue. The forays that follow, however, are less lovely. When Simon’s schoolmate, Martin (Logan Miller) finds Simon’s open email account, he decides to blackmail Simon into helping him win over the affections of Abby, who until that point had only been a nuisance to her. In doing so, Simon must pry Abby and Nick away from one another, trick Leah into believing that Nick is in love with her, all while trying to discover the identity of his new love. However, when Martin is displeased with Simon’s efforts, he publicly outs Simon to the entire school. The domino effect to follow results in Simon losing his friends, coming out to his family, and Blue telling Simon the pressure is simply too much for them to continue their conversations.

However, the most compelling thing about this film is neither its story nor its characters. In fact, it’s what they present by telling story as characters—the feelings. I, as mentioned, found myself sobbing at what others may have thought were silly moments in the story. And why? Because I could relate to them.

True, most of us didn’t have the perfect, John Hughes upbringing bestowed upon Simon in the film. But when you scale back those elements and look at the intensity of the emotions the actors are conveying, it’s relatable. I mean, Christ, who doesn’t remember that panicked feeling of not knowing what the next day at school would bring as a pubescent teenager?

There’s a specific moment in the film when Simon decides to come out to Abby before anyone else in his life—a girl he’s known only a few short months. Later, when his best friend, Leah, asks why he came out to Abby instead of her, Simon explains that it’s because Leah has known Simon for so many years that he wasn’t ready for their entire dynamic to change, and that he wasn’t worried about that with Abby. This was reminiscent of my own coming out to a friend I’d known a handful of months who was also close to my oldest friend. The doubt of telling those closest to you certainly comes with a fear of rejection, but also with the fear of being unable to adapt to the new climate, whatever that may be. Then came the moment when his mother told Simon she’d been watching him for the last few years walking around as though he was scared to take a breath. In a tear-evoking moment on screen in the weeks following Simon’s outing, his mother tells him, “You get to exhale now, Simon. You get to be more you than you have been in a very long time.” The simplicity of the scene is what creates its beauty. For those of us who were lucky enough to have parents that accepted us after coming out, it may flood the emotions back that we felt in that moment. And for those of who weren’t so fortunate, it’s a reminder that there is still good in the world, and that there are people who still love and care.

Everything from Simon’s father struggling to find the right things to say down to the moment when Simon is publicly ridiculed by his peers in front of the entire school following his coming out is a reminder of some part of what binds us together as queer people. In different ways and at different times, we’ve all been there: loved, ridiculed, scared, afraid to breathe, and maybe once or twice, if we’re lucky, in love. Sure, most of us didn’t have the good fortune of finding our one-true-love at eighteen just weeks before graduation after a stellar performance in an amateur production of Cabaret, but that’s cinematic hyperbole for you. It tends to pander to the pathos.

While true, Love, Simon is a film that isn’t a stark mirror of all of our experiences, there are little nuggets of hurt and heart in it that we can all relate to in some way. From the fear of what will come upon returning to school after being outed, to the emptiness in your gut that comes from having your friends tell you they don’t want anything to do with you. Our stories are all so unique, as is Simon’s, but none of them are perfect.

The cast (particularly Robinson, Garner, and Shipp) is stellar in bringing this movie to life. Their performances are honest and uncanny. They lack pretense while also still mustering up some of the nostalgia these YA books-turned-teen flicks tend to bring about. But the film is also well-written with a reserve of snide one-liners that fans are sure to be quoting for weeks to come, (“You look like you were gangbanged by a TJ Maxx”) and is extraordinarily directed. The ability that Berlanti possesses to make this film feel like a Breakfast Club for a new generation is nothing short of remarkable. And true, Simon may be a little bit more masculine than many of us watching the film or even reading this review, but that’s just Simon. He’s a representation of one kind of a gay person. And in the film, as a handful of other gay people are introduced, we learn that there are more effeminate gay men, as well as those who fall somewhere in between.

Where the film does lack, however, is in its inability to cast more LGBTQ actors and actresses. Certainly, Robinson makes an amazing Simon and plays the part in a way others probably could not, but it does beg the question: were there no gay kids in Hollywood that we could have asked to do this? Might they have been able to evoke emotion more strongly than Robinson based on their experiences? It seems a tad bit antiinflammatory of the film’s point to preach on about coming out and gayness when most of the cast is made up a cis-gender, heterosexual actors and actresses. That, however, does not change the fact that the film does hit the high note it ambitiously aims for, then drones off with a soft and relaxing decrescendo that will bring fans of the movie back to watch it again-and-again for years to come.

As a whole, I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to Love, Simon, About Magazine is All About It.

Love, Simon is now playing at a theater near you.

FILM REVIEW: LGBTQ Movie ‘Brotherly Love’

Brotherly Love Film LGBTQ Austin Anthony Caruso

A review of Anthony J. Caruso’s LGBTQ film shot in Austin, TX, Brotherly Love. 

(AUSTIN) – At nearly two hours, Anthony J. Caruso’s slow-paced film, Brotherly Love, feels a bit long; some of the characters might be seen as negative stereotypes; and yet there’s something oddly likable about this low budget indie, shot on location in Austin with a local cast.

Brotherly-Love FILM REVIEW: LGBTQ Movie 'Brotherly Love'Auteur Caruso stars as Brother Vito, a young gay man torn between his life with his gay friends and the vows of poverty and celibacy he’s about to take as a brother with the Catholic church. As the story opens, Vito, who lives in a monastery, still goes out cruising with his gay best friend Tim (Chance McKee). Vito desperately wants to jump into the car of the hot man who’s checking him out, but he stops himself, thinking of his upcoming vows. He goes to the White Party with Tim, where he feels out of place.

Vito doesn’t know what to do. He genuinely loves God and the church, but also loves his former life. He seeks counselling from Sister Peggy (June Griffin Garcia), a friendly, understanding nun, who thinks that Vito needs to get away for awhile so he can think things over. Vito is driven halfway across the country to spend the summer living and working in a halfway house for people with AIDS. There he meets Gabe (Derek Babb), a friendly, lonely landscaper who immediately takes a liking to Vito. The attraction is quite mutual, with Vito once again feeling torn between his love for the church and his natural desires. Will Vito remain true to his vows, or will he give in to Gabe’s not-to-subtle come-ons? The two are obviously falling in love, despite Vito’s pretending otherwise.

Vito and Gabe make for a hot, sweet couple. Actors Caruso and Babb have great onscreen chemistry, with Babb giving a particularly fine performance as a man who cannot live without love in his life. We learn that Gabe was once married.

“Now I have an ex-wife who hates me, a mother who cries whenever she talks to me and a father who fired me from the family business,” Gabe says sadly. Babb expertly conveys the emotions of the sweet, loving Gabe, who knows that he and Vito would be perfect for each other, if only Vito would open his eyes. Caruso is also quite good as he battles his mixed emotions.

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Derek Babb, Anthony J. Caruso

 

Other aspects of the film don’t work quite as well. Chance McKee, as gay best friend Tim, appears to be a good actor, but his role is written as a stereotype. Tim is an over-the-top queen–he’s too over-the-top to be believable. He’s loud and brash, and talks endlessly about parties, clothes, and hot guys. We never learn who Tim is, all we’re told is that he likes to party a lot.

At one point Vito and Gabe meet a friendly lesbian couple, one of whom is an ex-nun who left the church to be with the woman she loves. That woman turns out to be a character who makes Tim seem tame in comparison. She’ll do anything for attention–after Sunday church services she smears chocolate cake on her face and laughs hysterically. It’s embarrassing to see a middle-aged woman carrying on like that. This character is a victim of bad writing–less would have been more.

Another flaw in the film is that the AIDS house where Vito is supposed to be working is presented as an afterthought. Vito shows up and meets the residents, who talk about Barbra Streisand a lot. With one exception, the house residents are not seen again until the end of the film. At no time during the film is Vito shown doing the work he was sent to the house to do–he spends the entire film with Gabe. How did the church elders and the house residents feel about that?

While far from a perfect film, Brotherly Love still entertains due to the terrific chemistry between Caruso and Babb. The burgeoning love story between these characters is sweet and romantic, and their scenes together are well written. They make Brotherly Love worth checking out. The fact that both men are nice to look at is an added plus.

Breaking Glass Picture’s DVD of Brotherly Love includes the film’s theatrical trailer and a lively commentary track from Caruso. You can purchase the film on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon.  Visit its official Facebook page and Breaking Glass’s Picture’s website.

Were-About-It-2 FILM REVIEW: LGBTQ Movie 'Brotherly Love'

Scenes from the Queer Side: Shame, Desire, and the Imaginary

Blue is the Warmest Color Pariah Queer Black Woman Film

Perspectives on Blue Is the Warmest Color and Pariah and how it molded my stages of queerness from a queer, Black woman.

Have you ever sat in a room with Shame? Listened to her suck her teeth and watch her shake her head? Felt the growing fear that she’ll whisper your deepest secrets and fears into the ears of those around you?

I often sat with Shame, coming from a Black Southern Baptist background; but it was one particular night that she felt strongest. She slammed my laptop shut as the loud moans, heavy breathing, and slapping blasted through my headphones. She giggled as I glanced around the pitch black room for something or someone. She convinced me to open my door, creep into my living room, and hold my breath, listening for the voices or breathing of someone in the suite, although I knew that my suitemate had gone for the night and that I was totally alone. She convinced me someone could hear the sounds from my headphones–that they would point and yell, “She looking at that gay shit, y’all!” But I didn’t let Shame have her way. Once I was confident that the suite was empty, I quieted her down, opened my screen, and continued watching with her looking over my shoulder.

Blue-Warmest-Color Scenes from the Queer Side: Shame, Desire, and the ImaginaryI had been watching the film Blue Is the Warmest Color, which stars Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos and is directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. Three hours of an intense love between two young french girls, Adele and Emma, unfolding. Blue Is the Warmest Color–originally a graphic novel I read and loved while working at a bookstore–was adapted into a film by a problematic director. Think-pieces and critiques journaled the violence,inappropriate behaviors, and methods that Kechiche employed throughout the film, specifically the sex scenes. Viewers watch as Adéle, characterized by her messiness and insatiable hunger, struggles to find fulfillment in her desires until the moment she meets Emma, a blue-haired artist. The two fall in love, live together, and ultimately break up after Adéle cheats on Emma. The film ends with the two reconnecting and parting at Emma’s art show as adults.

The film is filled with scenes where viewers are forced to come face to face with Kechiche’s misguided image of womanhood and women’s sexuality in Blue Is the Warmest Color. One moment, in particular, is a scene where a queer male character talks over lesbian characters about female sexuality and expressions of desire. This character speculates about women’s desires and bodies while simultaneously assuming authority over the subject. This moment, not included in the graphic novel and constructed by Kechiche, could have been a space where the women’s politics of desire were addressed, especially in a lesbian space, instead their voices are hidden. It is not until I watch again that I am able to listen to the words of the women, enjoy and understand the looks they share, and the intimate ways desire manifests as they “listen” to the words of the queer male character. This scene, although problematic, proves to be important because it attempts to use desire in dialogue. How is desire constructed and manifested in the lives of these characters. Adéle, who struggles and explores her politics of desire throughout the film also happens to be absent from the conversation. Nevertheless, this scene manages to connect, for me, a construction of desire and experiences of shame.  

2893947-women-adele-exarchopoulos-blue-is-the-warmest-color-water___people-wallpapers Scenes from the Queer Side: Shame, Desire, and the Imaginary

Moments that I find myself drawn to, both the first time I watched and during my most recent experience watching the film, include scenes such as a queer male character talking over some of the lesbian characters about female orgasms. Here we can get a glimpse of the thoughts and opinions of Kechiche. The scene, at first confusing and intriguing, becomes annoying and unnecessary. Why? Because it presents a male character speculating women’s desires and bodies while simultaneously assuming authority over the subject. It’s easy for me to skip the scene altogether.

Later in the film, there’s a pivotal moment when Adéle’s friends confront her about her sexuality when they watch as she walks off with Emma, who they believe to be queer. There is a violent desire and demand for Adéle to explain herself and her relationship with the mysterious woman. We see Adéle react aggressively to the accusations of her lesbian identity. I was, once again, forced to come to face-to-face with shame in all of its manifestations. What during my first viewing seemed to be a shame solely resting on my shoulders as the viewer, erased the shame that manifested for the characters in the film, specifically Adele. The shame Adele feels having her friends confront aggressively and publicly shaming her, as well as the shame she feels for having these feelings of desire and curiosity that Emma brings to life in her.

Nevertheless, Blue Is the Warmest Color offers viewers a chance to watch young lesbian love in seemingly pure and honest ways. There are moments of tenderness and warmth, such as when the two share their first kiss in a park and Adéle leans back to smile. Then there’s a scene when they are at a Pride event, dancing and kissing and loving one another. The most notable is when the two are seated on a bench in the park kissing, touching, and giggling with each other. These are the moments where they just exist in young love. There is no shame.

After my first time watching it, I was eager to share it with my friends. I watched Blue twice more with my straight friends who had read the articles and think-pieces about the film. Our feminist studies background urged us to dissect the male gaze and the violent need for men to insert themselves in queer relationships. But I didn’t really want that to dissect the film or approach it academically. I would have rather spoken about how it sat in and on my body; how it followed me for weeks and tugged at the politics of desire I had long ago buried — or so I had thought. So the conversation, for me, felt unfulfilling. Only one of my friends, my closest friend since high school, allowed me the space to talk about how important the moment of watching the film was for me. No critiques, no dissections, just my reflections and emotions as I finally had access to something else: for me to share my feelings of curiosity and discomfort. This friend was the only person who also managed to see a small moment of freedom for me–a freedom she commended while she sat with it with me. . That moment managed to disrupt the shame that had haunted me.

maxresdefault-1 Scenes from the Queer Side: Shame, Desire, and the ImaginaryFor months afterwards I poured into lesbian films and television shows on Netflix, albeit annoyed by all of the white women.There is undoubtedly an erasure of queer and lesbian black women and women of color in television and film. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see Pariah as a recommendation. Pariah follows a young, black, “closeted” lesbian, Alike, who lives in the Bronx with her parents and her younger sister. We watch Alike attend school, write poetry, and attend church with her family during the day. During her off time–those moments when she is not forced to present as straight and can explore her lesbian identity–she travels and explores the city’s lesbian scene with her best friend who dresses her up in masculine clothing and pushes her to talk with other girls. Pariah looks and feels different. There are friendships, homophobic parents, creativity, and heartbreak. There is blackness and confusion.

Notable moments and scenes from this film include a moment where Alike’s best friend, a masculine lesbian, purchases her a strap-on for her “image”. Alike is uncomfortable and angry at the small white dildo attached to her body and begs her friend to return it.  Her friend urges her to wear it out that night and we see Alike awkwardly move in it and fumble with it moments before ignoring the girl her friend attempts to set her up with. I love the scenes where Alike seems her most vulnerable — standing in the mirror with her closest friend, tugging and shifting a symbol of masculinity, highlighting how foreign it is to her. It also highlighted the intimacy between the two friends. Other scenes include an unnamed masculine lesbian buying beer only to be harassed by a black man who seems to be disgusted, but also threatened, by the woman’s masculinity and sexuality. Pariah felt like a different film because it did not follow the love and relationship of two lesbian women, but rather chronicled the experiences of a black teenager exploring her lesbian identity and masculinity alongside the relationships around her. Balancing life where her sexuality is hidden or suppressed alongside a life full of moments where she feels celebrated and nurtured, which seem rare throughout the film. There is shame and discomfort. Unlike Blue, I did not share this film with others. Pariah was a film just for me.

pariah Scenes from the Queer Side: Shame, Desire, and the ImaginaryYears later, I rewatch it and realize there are moments and habits from Alike–early moments of queerness–that I understand and to which I can relate. Her excitement for the possibility of love and intimacy alongside the fear of actually having love and intimacy. Her feelings of not being masculine enough or queer enough are made visible throughout the film’s entirety. Shame stalks Alike in similar fashion to the ways Shame stalked me. Pulling away from the kiss her friend shares with her and the feeling of being rejected. I understand why, years ago, the film sat with me and why–unlike Blue–it still sits with me to this day. I can still identify the shame, although now it does not haunt me. Because for me, queerness felt like something I was near but could not quite touch. It was with me but it was not in me. Today, I recognize that feeling as a part of the shame I felt and its many faces. Out and at another phase in my life and queerness, the films look and feel different to me. Blue is no longer important to me.; instead, watching it feels exhausting and drawn out, but I see moments, such as Emma’s fight with her friends, as a moment of gasping for breath and holding on to “normalcy”. While watching I can make phone calls, send e-mails, and watch videos as it plays in the background; but that fight brings me back. The moans, and breathing and slapping mean nothing anymore, and I don’t turn it down or search nervously around the room.

I watch both Blue Is the Warmest Color and Pariah as though I’m watching through new eyes. I’m also noticing the difference between watching something in shame and watching something with shame in it. Watching something in shame feels alienating and lonely. Watching something with shame in it feels like looking in a mirror. I am not isolated, rather I am forced to contend with a familiar feeling. I notice that watching something with shame in it (Pariah) sits with me because it feels so close to home.

I imagine my life consists of several phases in queerness; and queer films influenced these phases. There are the early days, your Before Queer (BQ) days. These were the days before I recognized my queerness, much less claimed that queerness. It was hard to imagine queerness or feel what it was like. But queer films provided the space for freedom and creativity that weren’t allowed in the BQ days, and allow you to imagine a queer future. Queerness was there and it was in me, but I did not see it nor did I live it. Then there were my Lost Queer (LQ) days–those days where I saw the queerness and recognized it, but was unable to claim it. It was where I could slowly imagine a queer future and a queer sense of being. Lastly came the Hella Queer (HQ) phase. It is where I am now. Where I have claimed queerness, where I can only imagine queerness, feel that queerness, and share it with those around me.  

That happened because, before watching those films, I had worked hard to suppress my queer imaginary as an act of protection. But watching those films allowed me to give my suppression a rest and exist in a queer world. As a young queer woman coming into queerness and coming out to those around me–as well as to myself–these films were monumental. I watched both films for the first time in my earliest days as a young queer, Black woman, attending my college campus queer organization as an “ally”. These films allowed me to step from behind the façade and sit in the in-between–the in between of my identity, and the in-between of fear and freedom, a vast space where confusion rests. My own in-between.

This is a hello to the queer imaginary as it forms, grows, and struggles to manifest in my day-to-day life and experiences of fighting it, loving it, hiding it, and letting it in. I jokingly refer to both of the films as The Films That Made Me Gay. What they really are, however, are the films that helped me come into queerness on my own terms. This is my first written piece as an out queer writer, creating content that brings to life those worlds and spaces that manifest in my queer imaginary. 

About Greenlights Three TV Shows

How to Break My Neck Lifelong Learning The Anthony Project TV Shows About

About Media greenlights The Anthony Project, How to Break My Neck, and Lifelong Learning

DSC_0059-300x201 About Greenlights Three TV Shows
Anthony Ramirez will write the three adaptations.

(HOUSTON) – About Media (the production company/sister-business of About Magazine) has ordered scripts for three original, scripted series to be streamed exclusively through About. Of the three, one is an original comedy written by About editor-in-chief, Anthony Ramirez, entitled The Anthony Project. The latter two are adaptations of books published by About’s publishing company, About Editions. The first is an adaptation of Jessica L. Walsh’s How to Break My Neck, and the second being an adaptation of Zeke Jarvis’s forthcoming book, Lifelong Learning.

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Co-writer Rebekah Knight

The Anthony Project follows a gay writer who all in one week loses his grandmother to renal failure, finds out his boyfriend is cheating on him with a woman, and must take over a magazine after his boss abandons ship. Set in Houston, the series revolves around a fictional Ramirez and his group of eccentric friends as they navigate their love lives, trite homophobia, depression, substance abuse, and alcoholism. All the while, Ramirez must come to learn that no matter how badly he may want to, he can’t fix everyone’s problems … especially when he has so many of his own to work on. The series was created by Ramirez and is being penned in conjunction with Rebekah Knight and Kimberly Dyan. An open casting call is underway for roles on The Anthony Project, with city-wide auditions taking place Saturday, May 5th, at the Montrose Center in Houston beginning at noon.

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Jessica L. Walsh

How to Break My Neck is an adaptation of Jessica L. Walsh’s collection of poetry of the same name. The series invites us into the life of Jessica “J” Cato, a poet with the ability to see people’s pasts when they are near. However, when J denounces her gift, she finds herself with a sever bout of writer’s block, realizing all the poetry she’s ever written was inspired by the lives of women she’s met and clairvoyantly come to know. But what’s more is the discovery that her poems, when read aloud, have the ability to affect change. The series will be written by Anthony Ramirez & Anthony Project co-writer, Rebekah Knight.

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Zeke Jarvis

Lifelong Learning is an adaptation of Zeke Jarvis’s forthcoming collection of short stories of the same name. The series exists in a world of strange rules: when a relative dies, you must cook and eat their remains; teenagers of impoverished families may commit suicide on camera to earn extra income for their families; blood sacrifices must be made to appease the Darkness; and when the Overlord says something, it is law. But the question remains: why are the rules in place? And who made them so? Following the lives several strangers as they navigate through the rules of their post-apocalyptic world, Lifelong Learning postulates questions about life, death, Heaven, Hell, God, Satan, and how society can fall into a world where nothing really makes any sense. The series will also be written by Ramirez.

The Anthony Project is slated to premier on Tuesday, October 16th, 2018. Learning and Neck have not yet set premiere dates, but are anticipated for early 2019.