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‘Tom of Fin­land,’ ‘Shape of Wa­ter’ shine among De­cem­ber film re­leases

Fin­land’s of­fi­cial Acad­emy Award sub­mis­sion for this year and an­other en­try in an ex­cep­tional year for LGBT film, “Tom of Fin­land” charts the leg­endary il­lus­tra­tor Touko Laak­so­nen, whose draw­ings be­came part of gay pop cul­ture. What might seem to some as a sexy leather­man romp, how­ever, turns into a com­pelling char­ac­ter study in­stead.

As di­rected by Dome Karukoski, “Tom of Fin­land” opens as its tit­u­lar char­ac­ter (played by Pekka Strang) is a sol­dier in World War II, where his time in bat­tle shapes the rest of his life. Later — while liv­ing with his con­de­scend­ing sis­ter and in a relationship with their hand­some male room­mate, Veli (Lauri Tilka­nen) — Tom works at an ad­ver­tis­ing agency, draw­ing on the side. His erotic pic­tures of men — mus­cled, leather-clad, of­ten on mo­tor­cy­cles — are ground-break­ing and lib­er­at­ing but come in a time in the re­pres­sive Fin­nish so­ci­ety of the 1950s when ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is out­lawed and gay men can be im­pris­oned.

His work even­tu­ally finds its way to Amer­ica, though, and to Bob Mizer, the Los An­ge­les ed­i­tor of Physique Pic­to­rial mag­a­zine. His art­work starts to peak in the late ’70s and early ’80s, but when the AIDS cri­sis hits, soon some are claim­ing his work is mis­placed against the back­drop of what is go­ing on.

“Tom of Fin­land” tack­les a lot of (per­haps too much) ma­te­rial and what hap­pens here seems to have been fic­tion­al­ized some­what. Given the sub­ject mat­ter, it’s not as sexy or lusty as it might be. Nonethe­less, it’s very en­thralling with a con­vinc­ing per­for­mance by Strang, span­ning sev­eral decades. The movie ef­fec­tively shows how the meek Touko be­came Tom of Fin­land and also gives the sub­ject some over­due at­ten­tion for cre­at­ing work that even he didn’t re­al­ize the im­pact of.

In other film news, the just-opened “The Shape of Wa­ter” should be a strong con­tenders at this sea­son’s Acad­emy Awards, as well as a film that ap­peals to the LGBT com­mu­nity.

Sally Hawkins stars as Elisa, who works along­side her friend Zelda (Oc­tavia Spencer) in a gov­ern­ment lab­o­ra­tory as a cleaner in the Cold War era of the early ‘60s. Elisa doesn’t speak and com­mu­ni­cates via sign lan­guage. She is also a vir­gin, al­though she

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