Thursday, December 28, 2017

LGBT Film Review: Breaking Free (2015)

Synopsis (from IMDb):

Filmmaker and gay activist Sridhar Rangayan embarks on a personal journey to expose the human rights violations faced by the LGBTQ community in India due to a draconian law Section 377 and homophobic social mores of a patriarchal society.

My Review:

Filmed over the course of 7 years, Breaking Free (2015) amplifies the voices of LGBTQ people in India. Specifically, it focuses on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, and how it has criminalized a whole community. The heart of this documentary is not only on its brutally honest and graphic look into the harsh treatments that the people face, but on the testimonies on the people themselves who have been subjected to just about every inhumane treatment possible, from rape, blackmail, torture, and so on, that is supported and even encouraged by this law, and who are still here to tell their stories of fear, heartbreak, sorrow, pain, and ultimately, triumph.

Very gritty, an eye-opener, and an emotional roller coaster, Breaking Free tells all, as it emancipates the unsung.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Utopia: My Review

To say that Utopia was overwhelmingly stunning is practically an understatement when you listen to each track deeply, as I did when I listened to it when it immediately dropped on Spotify at midnight:

I listened to the opening track, "Arisen My Senses," with a smile. Admittedly, it's my only least favorite song on the album, but I felt the exuberance and optimism that only makes sense as a way to introduce us to a utopia as how Björk sees it. But it always raises the question: what is Utopia, how do we get there, and does it really exist, or will it, ever?

First: it's about love as it first begins with "Blissing Me" (track 2), and is then very quickly about how when a new love begins, "The Gate" (track 3) explores a deeper world within this thing called love.

From "The Gate," we enter into "Utopia" (track 4): a world of not just light, but birds, and oh, those GORGEOUS orchestra of flutes!

I don't normally like to be too comparative because each Björk album is its own unique world and creation, but I LOVE how Utopia is like a throwback to Vespertine, but, more like, a more forward-thinking version of Vespertine with the essence of Biophilia's love of nature.

"Body Memory" (track 5) is also a slight nod/continuation to Vulnicura, where even though Björk  (or the character of this album) may be looking to a more positive and uplifting future, but without being too polly-anna about it: still have to be grounded in realities too.

"Body Memory" is the "Black Lake" of Utopia. So. Fucking. BEAUTIFUL. Not nearly as heart-wrenching, but oh, the feels: the choir, Arca, the epicness of it all to its darkness and overwhelming depth. It might make you cry. It certainly did for me, it was here where it started since me getting choked up by the flute orchestration, the drums, the beats, the birds, and just...the message of it all.

"Features Creatures" (track 6) is so haunting in the most delicious way. Like a ghost singing in the dark.

As someone who has been taught/playing wind instruments (flute, clarinet, and recorder) for most of my childhood, Utopia is truly a gift and a dream. And on that note along with this aside, the flutes in "Courtship" (track 7) made me swoon. Beats and flutes make a beautiful marriage.

That seamless progression from "Courtship" to "Losss" (track 8) made me teary-eyed. Utopia creeps us through a dream world and a reality world all at once, and both worlds are valid, somehow.

From "The Gate" all the songs after it are my favorite songs, honestly, but of them all, "Losss" is my favorite. The flutes are so haunting and hypnotizing.  With "Sue Me" (track 9) the flutes, beats, and drums alike are a character in this overwhelming, gorgeous, floaty/air-y journey into a vision of utopia. "Sue Me" is definitely a continuation to "Quicksand": not only a warning, but a mission. We must not repeat mistakes and we must break curses. We don't only owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the future to be and do better.

"Tabula Rasa" (track 10) makes it louder and clearer to me that the message of the album is not about a PERFECT world, but a more balanced one. Light and darkness can coincide without one overtaking the other, where they both serve their purpose, in their own way. This song is also telling us to STOP: we have to think about our children and the world we're bringing them up in.

Back to when I mentioned how Utopia has some of Biophilia's essence: "Claimstaker" (track 11) reminds me so much of "Thunderbolt," but with more urgency, in ironically a very gentle, but still defiant, way.

We're back into that seemingly perfect world of Utopia again with "Paradisia" (track 12) with more flutes, bird calls, light, and hope than ever before. It's the shortest song on the album, but is still so chock full of majesty. "Paradisia" takes us into "Saint" (track 13): it's here where it's as if we're basking in this new world, taking the time to stay still and soak it all in.

With the final track, "Future Forever," as cheesy as it will sound, it encompasses how Björk will always be the future and she'll always be forever. Utopia really is about love, so full of it, and blooming with reality, darkness, anxiety, doubt, and pain. But still: it's love.

As to my final thoughts:

Utopia is rooted on a vision that more than likely the hardcore Björk fans will warm up to immediately while leaving the rest of her fanbase cold. But we all know this: Björk music only gets more challenging with every record. And for that, we're blessed.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

LGBT Film Review: How Gay Is Pakistan? (2015)

Synopsis (from Netflix):

This documentary explores the lives of gay people and the challenges they face in Pakistan, a country whose laws explicitly outlaw homosexuality.

My Review:
Oh, this was everything and more. Mawaan Rizwan, born and raised in Pakistan as a kid, takes us back to his homeland where he journeys through what life is like for his fellow Pakistani gay men. Mawaan didn't grow up to know what it is really like to be gay and Pakistani other than having it ingrained in his head by his parents on how wrong it is, so for him, being back home as an adult, he not only is reminded of his roots, but how much has changed, and not changed, since he left. We learn about the gay parties, organized by gay activists, where gay, trans and lesbian people alike are free to be themselves in ways that they can't possibly be outside of the party. We also learn what it's like to be trans in Pakistan, and what it's like when a gay couple wants to get married, but can only dream and hope for it when shopping for bridal gowns and imagining that marriage equality was real. What's most striking is not only us getting to know these wonderful and beautiful people, but how Mawaan navigates through this local and underground world with humor, honesty, respect, and grace even when we're faced with harsh, cold, and deadly realities. There's the hate crimes, the secretive "MSM" (Men who have Sex with Men) sex dens, and Mawaan even dares to go to a clinic where they swear that taking herbal pills will cure the gay away and convert their "patients" to heterosexuality in 2 months. It's as entertaining as it is truly heartbreaking. How Gay Is Pakistan is inspiring. This documentary is only 50 minutes long, but gives us an everlasting impression that will last a lifetime.

* Currently on Netflix *

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Le Concert de Camille

I've gone to a lot of concerts this year, but the highlight of them all had to be Camille.

Camille is hugely popular in France, and has gained some visibility in the USA mostly through her most incredible album, Le Fil, and "Le Festin" from the Ratatouille soundtrack, but more or less she's relatively unknown by most American audiences. I've known and loved her since I first ever started self-teaching French when I was 14. I practically have most of her songs memorized by heart in French, that's how much I have loved her music, her style, her lyrics, and just CAMILLE in general!

She's simply a treasure. She's a pop genius who uses her voice in ways that are as childlike and playful as they're so incredibly smart, witty, brilliant, and something out of this world. With her first time performing in the USA in a LONG time, for her only USA tour date this year and in a venue as intimate and lovely as Le Poisson Rouge, it was an otherworldly experience for me. Unbelievably, Camille was even more amazing in person! I was overwhelmed by how even more incredible her voice is live, how even more fun, playful, and wild she is as a performer, and how an even lovelier person she is. It was an honor to be up so close and personal to one of my most favorite French artists ever.

And after the show...I got to meet her, chat with her a little, and she signed my copies of Le Fil and her new album OUÏ with such a gorgeous, unique and personalized signature to me.

Signed: "Pour Vanessa <3 Camille."

Pour toujours, Camille, xoxo.

Friday, October 6, 2017

LGBT Film Review: The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)

Synopsis (from IMDB):

This documentary uses never-before-seen footage and rediscovered interviews in a search for the truth behind the mysterious 1992 death of black transgender activist and Stonewall veteran Marsha P. Johnson.

My Review:

This is the documentary that Marsha P. Johnson deserved, and also one that should have happened sooner. But better now than never: here we have her story that is as vibrant, full of life, and colorful like she was as it was also chilling, sad, mysterious, and tragic. Marsha P. Johnson was more than a symbol of a movement. She also represents what is still a sad reality today: trans women of color being murdered, most of their cases being cold, and their memory more or less being forgotten except by those who knew and truly loved and accepted them. Every single person in this documentary knew and truly loved and accepted Marsha in not only trying to still figure out how and why she died, but in keeping her memory alive through their trans voices. It was so touching and moving that it moved me to tears. This documentary isn't only a testament to Marsha P. Johnson. This was a testament to all the trans lives we've lost.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Gate: The Music Video

The wait wasn't too long! The music video for "The Gate" is here, and it's truly breathtaking.

Rightfully so, this video is already getting a lot of praise. It's very sci-fi and video game à la Final Fantasy, but is something special in and of itself, telling a story of a woman's emotional journey to healing. I don't see it as only Björk extending love from herself to her lover through the exchanging of light/prisms, but this song for me is definitely a declaration of self-love, and of hope. I already loved this song from first listen and from reading the lyrics, but it's even better in video form.

Not long now until November....

Friday, September 15, 2017


On NOWNESS with Jefferson Hack for a Facebook live chat, in an interview with her collaborator/director Andrew Huang in promoting the film for "The Gate" that will be open to the public FOR FREE in London, Björk was asked what her new album will be called. She was shy and hesitant to say, but she couldn't contain herself: she announced that her new album will be....


The album cover isn't in print yet, so until it is, she could change her mind, but she seems to have her heart set on this title among the thousands of titles that she considered for this album. As she said, she can't think of a name more perfect, especially for these days when utopia is all we can hope for.