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Love and Hard Wood

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

1724d1I’m a sucker for an obstacle strewn romance.  September Affair, An Affair to Remember, All That Heaven Allows,  all two hankie tear jerkers that leave me emotionally drained yet uplifted. Whether the couple ends up together or are tragically and/or nobly separated, my tear ducts react and I feel somehow rejuvenated by the spectable. 

Now let me just say I avoid renting gay romance films like the plague.  I guess I’m a bit cynical but most of them just plain suck (and often times are just an excuse for gratutious nudity). Now I’m all for watching a good looking hunk of flesh but I’d like to have some sort of entertainment value tied to it (or  a just plain raunchy pornfest).  At the film festival, you don’t always know from the  catalog what it is you’re about to walk into.  Redwoods could have been a brooding, mood piece with little dialogue or action (which I can’t say I would have enjoyed) however, it wasn’t. It was a full on romance. Woo hoo!

I’ll spare you much time on the plot. (Miles is no longer very senstive to Everett. They have a learning disabled son, Billy. Miles and Billy go for a trip leaving Everett at home. Everett meets visiting writer, Chase. Fireworks. Complications. Family meddling. Love. More complications.  Get out your hankie. Surprise Ending. More hankies.)

Is Redwoods a good movie? No. Is it enjoyable? In it’s way. I got sucked in knowing full well where it was taking me but willingly giving myself up to the sap. Would I have fallen so readily had it not been for Matthew Montgomery? Probably not.  There’s an underlying vulnerability to his performance that creates more depth in the character of Chase than exisits solely in the script. His Chase is wounded yet charmingly appealing. Would I leave my husband for him? If he was as cold and detached as Tad Coughenour’s Miles, a resounding yes. However, Mark is pretty damn sweet to me so perhaps if i could sneak away for a weekend with Chase or better yet Matt Montgomery. Well, hell, yes. Otherwise. Hmm? Brendan Bradley does a nice job stuck in the stickier role of Everett.  He gives a maturity and weight to the role that are beyond his years. I believe their story or perhaps it’s more that I want to believe their story and get sucked away for 82 minutes into the same world that supermarket romance novels populate. (Sidenote: Why are all the gay erotic romance novels written by women? And ever slightly odder, why are most of them written by women for women readers?)

Now, the credits role by and I’m feeling cathartically satiated but then it all begins to go wrong. At many of the film’s at the festival we are treated to a post film discussion with the filmmaker and cast. This was no exception (and no treat). The filmmaker got up and began talking and the spiral began. Why did I find him so irritating? Was it the fact that he was a stage hog and wouldn’t let anyone else have the mic, including the director of the short that had preceeded his film? Was it the fact that he had set his film in Guerneville and yet pronounced the name of the town as Gurneyville and had no interest or connection to it? Was it the fact that he was just a big old bag of blithering hot air? All of the above. 

Rent this if you get the chance but don’t go out of your way to see (unless you need your Matt Montgomery fix and then by all means, moon).

And then came Patrik

Monday, June 29th, 2009

1764dMark says: Let me begin by saying I enjoyed this movie about two gay men in Sweden who want to adopt an infant child but get a teenager instead. Many other people did as well; it won the Frameline Best Feature audience award. I have much respect for the director who persevered and got it made. I recommend watching it wholeheartedly. If you’re thinking of seeing it, pause for a moment, and come back after you’ve seen the film.

What really took my perception of this film in a different direction was hearing director Ella Lemhagen speak after the screening. She’s a straight woman who chose the story because she thought it was interesting, but it seems like she didn’t have much personal perspective into the subject matter. She spoke proudly about wanting to shatter stereotypes by not casting the couple as one “masculine” and one “feminine” but then proceeded to talk about how Brokeback Mountain inspired her to make one of the men a country-western type. There’s definitely a cultural gap between her world and gay San Francisco, and at some points I found myself wanting to cover my ears for fear she’d say something that would turn me off more. Sure, perhaps I’m being too sensitive. We do live in a bubble, and there are a lot of things left unsaid here in SF out of respect.

Some of this PC-free perspective shows through in moments of harsh reality in the film, like when a social worker unabashedly says about the couple’s son, “we would not have given him to you if anyone normal had come along”. The lack of irony with which this is presented could only be mustered by a creative team without firsthand experience with this topic.

There were also some plot points that were telegraphed early in the film, which made them rather unsurprising when they happened. Still, I applaud the director for choosing to tell this story, which irrespective of all my reservations above, still feels fresh and interesting.

John says: Patrik, Age 1.5 - Every year at the festival there seems to be one feel good, familyish film that makes you walk away smiling.  I enjoyed this but I did some head scratching as well. My biggest huh? was (SPOILER ALERT) around the return of the lover, Sven. Now I know he was hot, but he was also an alcoholic mess and abusive with rage issues. And then when he doesn’t want to deal with the family stuff,  he runs off with the “cute” office guy he’s having an affair with. I say “Good riddance to bad rubbish!” Goran, the nice one, was better off without him and starts to build a real family with Patrik (and in some ways with his ex’s ex-wife and daughter). It seems very much like the extended unconventional modern family units that are very familiar in our world today. But the director felt compelled to give us a “happy” ending so back comes the abusive bf who somehow during the act of moving his stuff out (with the new BF in the truck) has come to realize how much he misses his old life (through the use of Dolly Parton music and pizza) and voila, happy ending. Ha! Goren and Patrik were a perfect family unit on their own. A proud dad and son. But I suppose just as the religious right feels you need a man and a woman to make a family, apparently, the filmmaker at least feels you need two guys. No single parents allowed! Otherwise it was cute, just suspend disbelief and watch out for non-PC bumps.

Pornography

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

I don’t go out of my way to be irritated but sometimes it sort of just sneaks up on you without noticing.

untitledI love a good puzzle and a sexy, multi-layered mystery around pornography and voyeurism is right up my dark back alley. Pornography spins a convoluted web around the mysterious disappearance of a much-loved porn star, Mark Anton, then jumps 14 years later to follow a writer exploring his disappearance and finally a gay porn star who decides to make his directorial debut in a film around the events leading up to the disappearance in a script that mysteriously writes itself and with the studio requirement that he play the role of Mark Anton (and Bottom on camera!) Throw in some paranormal elements and a secret society of snuff film aficionados and honestly, how could this not be a two hankie twister?

Yes, folks, it’s another triptych of a narrative. When the films Pulp Fiction and Go came out, I thought, “what a brilliant use of narrative construction (and deconstruction)”. Now, not such a fresh idea. And the one main purpose behind weaving these multiple story lines, with very distinct protagonists, is to muddy the lines between what is really happening, when is it happening and which events are in fact putting other events into motion. 

The film was creepy, highly atmospheric and I was never bored.  I could see why others gave up sooner than I did but I thought overall from a stylistic perspective it succeeded. The acting for the most part ranged from good to exceptional. Pete Scherer as porn star Matt Stevens carries the last third of the film and does well with, at times, thankless material. Jared Grey, as the mysteriously disappeared and ambiguously motivated Mark Anton, is well cast, haunting the remainder of the film with his presence and absence. But the real standout is Matthew Montgomery, he fully fleshes out Michael, giving the center third of the film a real weight (and unbalancing the film in a way as it’s clear that the last third is meant to be its most dramatic and powerful, yet he makes you care more about what happens to him). Montgomery makes the writer a very real and compelling character trapped in set of circumstances that are quickly spinning out of his control. He gives you exactly what you want in a suspense thriller: a character to care for and hope can survive the darkness around them. Kudos to him (and Scherer and Grey) for making us care for these people and giving them real life and depth. 

Other than the rather obvious voyeuristic theme explored (and very well might I add - I was looking behind my back and at all security cameras with a suspicious eye for the next few days), the film does bring up some interesting points on the nature of pornography and those who enjoy it. The thought that when you watch a porn, you are watching people in an intimate act (yeah, I know excluding the huge crew on the set and clinical aspect of production) but anyway, engaged in an intimate act (one might even say cathartic) that we can view over and over again years after those engaged in the act may have died. I know this is true of any film but for some reason porn seems more immediate and yet it’s still a moment in time captured that we, as voyeurs, are peeping back at over and over beyond the control of those we watch.

So if the film had an interesting premise and wove a tale that I was drawn into what went wrong? Two things. Length. The director loves his long lingering shots but for the sake of pacing a little tightening would have helped. The other thing? I like complex puzzles but I hate inconclusive ones. I want all the pieces to fit together in a surprising way at the final moment or perhaps even beyond (in the middle of the credits is fine) but I don’t want to go home and have no clear idea of what it was the filmmaker was trying to convey from a plot perspective. It makes me begin to suspect the filmmaker is suffering from “The Big Sleep - I don’t know who shot him either” syndrome.  There are certainly a few different theories on what exactly happened but it just ain’t clear. And that’s an annoyance and a weakness.

Ultimately, depending on what really happened I (a) figured out exactly what occurred (b) haven’t a clue what was going on or (c) no longer gave a shit after 113 minutes.

You may love it, you may get frustrated and want to throw something at the screen or you may love it. Pornography, it’s not sexy, it’s cold, creepy, entertaining, mind-boggling, and ultimately frustrating.

Get Happy

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

Get Happy

Get Happy

I love me some fabulous Drag shorts. Or should I say panties? Get Happy was  a nice, varied program from the hilarious to the huh?

First off let me start with the hometown (and my) favorite: Lipstique. A slick, sassy, stylish short that features some of our most talented and fabulous divas including awe-inspiring “Has anyone ever been more insanely sublime?” Fauxnique (as well as favorites Peaches Christ, Katya Smirnoff-Skyy, Hoku Mama, Vinsantos and Kiddi.) I won’t tell you a thing about it except, Watch it! Here.

Stealing Magnolias: Funny and who hasn’t imagined themselves  in his/her place? Watch it.

Little BFFs: Funny, screetchy, irritating and slightly too long. Kind of like Miley Cyrus’ actual career. While pointedly clever in spots, I didn’t love it.

Galactic Sex Wars: Fun and I wanted to love it but the sound sucked which was strange as it seemed to have high production values.  I know it’s tough people but good sound will make or break you. Otherwise a fun film and I loved the homage to 80s video games.

Golden Diamonds: I remember liking this at the time but as now it is nothing but a dim memory that doesn’t bode well.

Fashion Ho:  Hum.          See for yourself.

Lushes: I wanted to like this film. It’s the kind of film I would have made ten years ago. That is not a compliment. I liked the actors. I liked the characters but it didn’t gell. In many ways, it felt like a feature crammed into a short. I think with some work and a decent budget it might come out as a fun feature. But could also be a train wreck. It teetered between broad strokes and reality and didn’t truly succeed in either direction. I’d say keep to the truth of characters, make the situations as insane as you want and it could be a winner. There is reality to the realtionship between the Cork and Desi under all the nonsense. Like a poor man’s Romy and Michele, Lushes has all the elements that should make it success. I wish them good luck and I’m eager to see what happens but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Ookie Cookie: A crazy commerical starring Jackie Beat. I love Jackie Beat. I wish my memory was better.

Get Happy: The inspiring documentary of Mark Payne, a man who puts his mind to something and succeeds. The film charts his progress from a youth performing in his garage to well known celebrity impersonator (for many years he was THE Liza impersonator), to clothing designer and finally makeup artist to the stars. The most inspring part of this story is the footage of Mark as a teen doing spot on impersonation as Liza, Judy, Barbra and yes, Diana Ross (in full body black makeup) all the while fully supported in his endeavors by his remarkable mother and grandmother. It is clear that Mark is a smart driven man who once he puts him mind to something he does his very best. And one day he decided to make a documentary. About himself.  I am not making this part up. It does tarnish my feelings about the subject somewhat (as I did find his story very inspiring) and yet on the other hand, how brilliant to smartly promote yourself. I suppose I find that even more inspiring. A bit jaw-dropping but still inpsiring. Good for him. And good for his mom. I wish my mother had been as supportive of me when I tapped quarters to my socks and did Ann Miller tap routines in my bedroom. But we can’t all be as lucky as Mark Payne.

Dare

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

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Dare is a new feature based on a short film by Adam Salky and David Brind from 2005. The film features the luminous and multi-talented Emmy Rossum (Christine from the motion picture version of The Phantom of the Opera among other roles) Ashley Springer and Zach Gilford (of Friday Night Lights) ,as well as, an all around talented cast including Ana Gasteyer with fabulous cameos from Alan Cumming and Sandra Bernhard.

A twistedly entertaining look at how we change in high school and how our change affects those around us. Told from three different perspectives, we follow three “friends” as  they struggle to find who they are. Set against a background of performing and theater, it’s the characters themselves who oftentimes are acting and performing as they shed different personas in an attempt to navigate the trenchs in high school. 

As wanna-be actress Alexa, Emmy Rossum lights up the screen and I do mean that. It is very hard to look at anyone else when she is in the frame. Not only does she have the screen appeal of an old time film star, she truly inhabits her character and is not afraid to be unattractive in an emotionally truthful way. Alexa is a girl who is struggling to fit in. She thinks she knows herself but feels she must play an ultimately hurtful game of dress up as she grows into herself. In the hands of a less skilled actress, Alexa would be less than sympathethic but Rossum handles the tough bits and her tranformation with skill.

Ashley Springer, as Ben, is her best friend and that perennially popular character of the slightly nerdy gay boy who’s never been kissed. Ben grows more confidant though arguably not mature as he finds himself falling in love and into a very complicated triangle of teen needs and lust. Springer does well by the part and keeps up with his high powered co-stars.

If Emmy Rossum gives the film it’s style and charm, then Zach Gilford, as Johnny, gives the film it’s heart. Johnny is that sterotype, the misunderstood youth though he’s far from typical. A character in search of home and family, he begins to find what he needs through Ben and Alexa but such things come with a price and ultimately someone has to pay. Gilford creates a painful portrait of youth forgotten and misunderstood in light strokes.

It’s interesting to watch these characters not only grow but to see how the way they appear to themselves (in the section of the film from their perspective) differs from the way they appear to others (in those sections of the film from other perspectives). It’s subtle but telling of the amount of care and craft that was put in to the creation of this film. While Alexa/Rossum may have the showiest role, it’s Gilford’s Johnny you walk out the theater thinking about.

My only complaint. I hate films where they are putting on a show and the laws of theatre are stretched beyond reality. Are the students doing a scene night with scenes from The Children’s Hour and A Streetcar Names Desire? Or are Johnny and Alexa really starring in an entire, very scaled down production of Streetcar? Please explain?

Otherwise, I really enjoyed this film and look forward to a broad distrubution (and much success).

For Alan Turing

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

1729dI picked Calling All Nerds and Art Freaks because it included the short Decoding Alan Turing, which gave some insight into one of the forefathers of modern computing. His work as a codebreaker during WWII gave the British pivotal German intelligence. Turing also happened to be gay, and even though that was illegal at the time in the UK, he never seemed to have trouble living as an openly gay man- until later in his life when the gov’t realized he was incredibly valuable to the intelligence community and it was not good for him to be getting arrested for such impropriety. Ultimately, Turing committed suicide by taking a bite of an apple dipped in cyanide- a tribute to his favorite fairy tale Snow White, but also a whole different slant on the Apple brand.

In this program we also learned about General Idea a Canadian art collective that worked together from the sixties to the mid-nineties. Fascinating. Early on, the three of them lived in a space that happened to be a storefront, and did a few art installations that looked like stores, and fooled many people. Man, that would be fun to do. Maybe I should start squatting at All American Boy.

Boys’ Shorts

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

1832dMark says: My favorites from this program included Thirteen Or So Minutes (pictured) which picks up just moments after two guys have just had sex for the first time- not just the first time with each other, their first same-sex experience. We spend about fifteen minutes with the two men, watching them react to what just happened. One regrets it immediately, stressing out over its implications on the rest of his life, and the other has a much more integrated view, explaining that he’s always made a point of trusting his heart. It’s a well-written and well-acted short, great for this medium. Simple and effective.

Boy Meets Boy is a beautifully-shot, well-produced Korean film, which initially captures a flirtation between two teenage boys on a bus, but then blossoms into a crazy music video. I wish I had a guardian angel to help me out at that age, with informative, high-concept production numbers!

Reunion follows a guy going to his (surprisingly tiny) high school reunion with his boyfriend. It’s familiar narrative territory but feels fresh and has a great ending.

John says: I loved Thirteen Or So Minutes. I thought it was by far the best short in the program. A very smart yet subtle piece. Provocative in all its various definitions. However, the entire piece hangs on Nick Soper’s acting. As Lawrence, the self-aware and enlightened straight man who is open to the world around him, he carries the film, gives a strong sense of truth and is sexy as all hell. It’s a testament to his abilities to be able to so compellingly and fully create a character in a moment of critical self-awareness and change with only his face and voice and very little else. My only regret is the flashback, while nice to see what lead up to events, it’s not as powerful as the moments where Nick tries to bring the less self-assure (yet instigator) Hugh (Carlos F. Salas) to a the same secure place in himself where Nick resides. A very smart, sexy short.

As for the rest of the program:

Frequent Traveller: A bit of a one joke pony.

The Island: Loved the wry, dry wit and detached irony of this piece. A  nice satiric bent valentine to all things sterotypically gay and fear invoking to those who hate us. I don’t know about you but I think I’d gladly live on the Island or at least take a nice long visit. No volcano, thank you.

Boy Meet Boy: Adorable. The most profesionally slick of the program. Just a sweet little film that (as Mark noted) suddenly turns into a crazy music video and becomes twice as entertaining and endearing. Check out the trailer .

STEAM: SSSssss-zzzZZZ. One joke. Can you say I’m no longer a fan of the one joke pieces. Althought not strictly true. If the payoff is hilarious and worth it. This time however it was just a mild chuckle.

Sucker: sucked. It tried. But frankly I’m a little tired of first person narration especially when it’s done to the camera. That all feels very 1990 gay film. However, if the narrator has a unique voice and the actor is exceptional it can work. This was not the case.  The entire piece felt like a great big, “been-there-done-that” rehash of early gay 80s/90s fluff. Acting, not so good; script, worse; production values, nil. I wanted to like it. I didn’t like it. I don’t think I’m the poorer for trying.

Reunion: Cute. Felt like they squeezed every last penny from a very small budget. Acting was good though I felt somehow gypped as a lot of interesting supporting characters were introduced that I wanted to see a little more screen time from. I was only mildly amused until the final scene when the wife of the former high school heartthrob drops a bomb. That one scene kicked this film over the top. You can watch it here.

Dish: I’ve often wondered what it was that we would look back on and think was the cringe inducing fashion trend of current times. Now I know. It’s that Adam Lambert “peek-a-boo bang” rat’s nest do. Dish features a whole slew of fabu-hideous do’s on it’s young cast. A cute film that wants to be a feature and will likely make a very nice one.

What Happens in Clapham…

Friday, June 19th, 2009

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Mark says: Clapham Junction, like Love, Actually, is a movie that introduces you to a ton of characters and slowly weaves them together over the course of the narrative. The film stemmed from a series of violent incidents in Clapham Commons and juxtaposes the new gay visibility vs the tradition of violence against gay people or those perceived as gay. Definitely not a feel-good film, but contains some of the most emotionally intense scenes I can remember seeing on film, both romantic and violent. Excellent performances, and very well-written. Apparently the shorts program in the afternoon (The Young and the Lost also had some really disturbing content, leading some people to remark what a downer the day had been. Still, I’m glad I saw this film.)

John says: I loved this film. I’m a sucker for a film with multiple naratives that slowly weave together. It’s like piecing together a cinematic puzzle knowing intuitively that all the dramatic elements will come together but having the wondeful sense of suspense not knowing the how or why. Clapham Junction succeeds marvelously in this regards and grows more and more intense. I think the script is brilliant. Nothing extraneous and the production (for BBC TV) is superb. Cast is great including three alumn from the Merchant-Ivory classic, Maurice - James Wilby (Maurice), Phoebe Nicholls (Anne) and Rupert “i used to have such a crush on” Graves (Scudder). All three are superb but just a piece of the wonderful ensemble cast. Inspired by the 2005 fatal gay bashing of Jody Dobrowski on Clapham Common, it was shown on BBC Channel 4 to mark the 40th Anniverary of the decriminialization of homosexuality in Britain and Wales. The film spends 36 hours in the lives of various gay and straight characters. While criticized originally for having too many negative gay depictions, I’d disagree. I thought it was very honest and real. Yes, a groom at his own gay wedding might hit on the cute waiter. Yes, there are closeted married men who freguent tearooms (toilets). Yes, there are self-loathing homosexuals who profess to be straight and take out their internalized homophobia but picking up and bashing gays. These aren’t pretty pictures but this is the world. I thought the film did a great job of drawing very real characters. It’s a testament to the actors that they are able to drawn such subtle, strong performance with limited screen-time. Rachel Blake is a wonder of economy giving a shaded strong performance with few lines as the hostess of a dinner party who is suddenly confronted with a fatal gay-bashing outside her posh home. Joseph Mawle and Luke Treadaway both shine in an especially emotionally charged storyline. They have scenes together that left me breathless. I’ll buy this film but sadly it’s unraveling of the inevitability of life probably only works on first viewing. It was a painful reward not seeing it all coming.

Lola x 3

Friday, June 19th, 2009

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Mark says: And Then Came Lola is an unabashed take-off on Run Lola Run in structure and spirit, with plenty of gratuitous shots of San Francisco and lesbian sex, with some fun animation and a high-energy soundtrack. There is buzz about it being a latter day Go Fish. I think that’s apt. This film has a big heart and lot of sizzle, too- there are some clunky moments but Ashleigh Sumner’s performance really elevates the film. The Q and A afterwards was a bit awkward and it seemed like it was over before anyone really asked any real questions. In retrospect, we should’ve asked whether the geography-bending was deliberate or an unintentional editing room side-effect. I mean, if you live here, you can’t help but think “oh, a minute ago, she was in Dolores Park and now she’s coming out of the Panhandle”. Overall, an entertaining experience and I’d recommend it.

John says: I really enjoyed this film. It was fun, fast and frisky. And I  think I’[m in love with Lola (Ashleigh Sumner), she’s like a latter day Jodie Foster (only much hotter), with husky voice, sardonic spot-on delivery and an underlying truth in her performance. She gives the film a sense of urgency, reality and pain yet with a light touch. No small feat. The other gals are gorgeous and give nice performances but can’t hold a candle to Ms. Sumner. Can you see I’m smitten? Overall I liked the tryptych Groundhog Day approach to the story.  I thought it worked well and was surprised at how much character growth could be conveyed in what are essentially rather broad strokes. I’m assuming from the broad disregard to the geography in the cityh (can you run into Dolores Park and come out the Panhandle?) that this was done intentionally. Otherwise, it’s a big, huh? Fun film and I’d watch it again.

Soggy Crisp in San Francisco

Friday, June 19th, 2009

A Crisp Tart

A Crisp Tart

Best part of the opening night of the film festival: Being fondled by Penny Arcade. I’d say I’ll never wash that bicep, forearm and wrist again but I’ve already showered since then. Such is the fleeting notion of celebrity. 

Worst part: This years trailer. Bleugh. I know it’s absolutely appropriate to have something more serious with the climate what it is. But serious can still be - er- entertaining and have a point.  At least, it was pretty to look at.

An Englishman in New York: Great performance, goodish film. John Hurt was wonderful and anchored the film in his second turn as Quentin Crisp. I was suspicious when I saw the running time as 74 minutes. I don’t care what anyone says that is not an appropriate length for a full on feature. As soon as the credits rolled and I saw joint production with LOGO and fades to black, it became  quickly apparent that this was a TV film - 90 minutes with commercial breaks. TV film and feature film. Not exactly the same thing from a dramatic structure standpoint which goes back to the goodish not great comment.  Great for familiarizing younger generation to Crisp and it honestly refreshed my memory as I recall the flap where we modern gays were mad at him for his supposed reactionary ways  but couldn’t recall the specifics. Film did a nice job of exploring that as well as what it means to be an aging queen in a hypermasculine world. Cynthia Nixon pops up as Penny Arcade. Jonathan Tucker gives a lovely turn as artist Patrick Angus. High point of the film was multiple exterior shots on the street I used to live in NY with my old apartment building in the background apparantly this was freak central. How fitting.