Besides the current crop of Oscar contenders, a new batch of films is opening soon (or has just opened) in the ATL that should be of particular interest to the LGBT community, including James Franco’s latest and a documentary centered around gay activist and writer James Baldwin’s views.
“Elle” is one of the most controversial films of 2016, now opening slowly around the country. Directed by Paul Verhoeven, whose films (“The Fourth Man,” “Basic Instinct”) almost always have some sort of LGBT theme, “Elle” centers around a businesswoman (played by Isabelle Huppert) who gets raped in the first moments of the movie. Yet this isn’t a typical revenge thriller. It has a lot more on its plate, with a very complex, sexual, open heroine. “Elle” won two surprise Golden Globes – Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actress, Drama – and alternates between being truly disturbing, darkly funny and even bat-shit crazy. It’s not for everyone, but the fearless Huppert holds it together.
“Julieta” is the new drama by out director Pedro Almodovar. Although it’s no longer in the running for an Oscar, it’s well worth seeing. Through flashbacks, we see how the titular character (played by Emma Suarez) loses contact with her daughter and spends much of the movie trying to understand why and find her. This is fairly mild turf for the director – no explicit sexuality or gender bending, although a late conversation reveals that one of the central character’s sexual orientation is not what we were led to believe. Almodovar has always loved his female protagonists and he shows it here as well. By the end, the film tips over into high melodrama, with Julieta walking nonchalantly into a car while grieving. With Suarez at the center, however, it is very enthralling, emotional stuff.
Endlessly fascinating, “I Am Not Your Negro” is based on the unfinished novel “Remember This House” by James Baldwin. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, it uses archival, historical footage to look at Baldwin’s views of race and his projections for the future, using the author’s own text. Amazingly Baldwin’s words are as relevant as ever and director Raoul Peck stitches this all together beautifully. It is one of three documentaries dealing with race – the others being “O.J.: Made in America” and “13th” – that are on the Oscar Best Documentary shortlist, to be narrowed down to five on Jan. 24. It would be a shame if this inspired work didn’t make the cut.
After a film festival run in 2015, the gay-themed “I Am Michael” is now getting a limited theatrical release. It stars James Franco in another of his gay roles. This time, he is Michael Glatze, a gay rights journalist who eventually turned his back on his former life and became a Christian pastor. Zachary Quinto stars as his boyfriend and the cast includes Emma Roberts and newly-out actor Charlie Carver. Directed by Justin Kelly, this one is fairly nondescript, without even the lurid appeal of last year’s “King Cobra,” also with Franco. No doubt Glatze’s story is a juicy one, but “Michael” doesn’t have much punch, despite solid, subtle work from Franco.