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Thumbnail LGBT Film Reviews [Oct. 26th, 2006|01:15 pm]
A community for gay movie snobs


This is probably a bit ambitious for my first "official" post, but since I've already posted these reviews on my own LJ, I thought I'd just dive in and put them all up at once.

Our cable company offers a Video on Demand network called here! that offers queer films, documentaries and television series (like Dante's Cove). Over the past six months, I've rented quite a few films that are reasonably obscure and behind the cut you'll find my reactions. Please don't be hurt or upset if I'm critical of your favourite film; I'm very tough to please.

Circuit – A small town gay cop leaves Indiana for WeHo and ends up leading the debauched lifestyle of a “circuit boy.” Interesting storyline, solid message and some okay performances are all marred by the unnecessary inclusion of artsy, overlong, softcore-style sex scenes (a la Queer as Folk) which distract from the plot and generally cheapen the proceedings. Despite the gratuitous, cheesy sex, a number of unnecessary extraneous sub-plots and a corny ABC Afterschool Special ending – still somewhat worthwhile. Recommended with caveats.

Skin and Bone – Sleazy film about an LA escort service that caters to clients with elaborate [mostly S&M] fantasies and the hustlers who work there while trying to get their break in the film industry. Writer/director Everett Lewis wants to eat his cake and have it too, decrying the exploitation of these men while putting his own actors on prurient display for the delectation of his audience. In one scene, a casting director asks the protagonist if he would be willing to do nudity for a film, to which the protagonist replies, with indignation, “I’m an artist.” The irony is that B. Wyatt, the actor in that scene, appears here nude as often as he does clothed. Hypocrisy, bad acting, bad production quality and an absurd neo-noirish sub-plot earn this film a big thumbs down. The only pleasures I derived from this one were the surprise of a brief appearance by David (credited here as Fernando) Arquette as a high strung john who has disfigured one of the rent boys with a hot iron and watching actor Alan Boyce as Dean, coyly cupping his penis in every one of his many nude scenes. Watching him sweep the floor with one hand is priceless. What’s he hiding under there anyway? Avoid.

Luster – Another Everett Lewis film about the romantic misadventures of Jackson, a skater-punk boi, as he navigates LA’s hip counterculture scene. Performances are abysmal and characters are uniformly unappealing. Particularly distasteful and unconvincing is Sex and the City’s Willie Garson impersonating a sexually sadistic rock star (yeah that’s right, a rock star), and Another Gay Movie’s Jonah Blechman as his masochistic boy-toy - who comes in a close second for sheer creepiness. The only appealing character is the straight (but latent) record store owner, secretly in love with Jackson. And he kills himself. If I was trapped in this film, I might’ve done the same. Thumbs down.

Totally F***ed Up - Early effort from Greg Araki (Mysterious Skin). Mildly affecting and thought provoking film about gay teens. As with all his early films, Araki turns the LA night into a surreal landscape peppered with colourfully strident weirdos. There are a couple of dreamy romantic moments, particularly the electrifying first kiss between a luminous young James Duval, as Andy, and Alan Boyce (see Skin and Bone, above) as Ian. Not a bad film, but hardly great. Most of the actors are hammy and unconvincing, sound quality is so poor that I missed quite a bit of dialogue and Araki’s misguided political message gets overshadowed by the simple doomed romance at the film’s center.

The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green - Protagonist Ethan Green is unable to commit, always secretly believing that someone better will come along. Eventually he’s torn between three very different hunks vying for his affections. Not as good as it sounds. This is typical of every other formulaic gay romantic comedy of the last ten years. Like Jeffrey, Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss and The Broken Hearts Club, the characters in this film don’t seem to have anything on their minds but their own gayness. They obsess on being gay. All the jokes are about being gay. All the cultural references are gay. All the locales are gay. All the careers are gay. Based on the comic strip of the same name, this is a mere trifle of a film. It’ll pass the time and maybe give you an odd chuckle here or there, but ultimately it’s very forgettable. It’s fairly competently acted and moves at a swift pace, but I felt as if I’d seen it all before. There were even a pair of witty and wise old trannies. Since when has the simple act of donning a dress made a man so insightful? Trite.

Dorian Blues - Don't believe anyone who describes this as a coming out story. It's not really that at all. This is a witty coming of age film about a misfit high school senior who just happens to be gay. Obviously, with a bullying ultra conservative, right wing father, the fact that Dorian is gay certainly plays a part in the plot but it's not really the primary issue the film deals with. It is a film about growing up and learning to be less distrustful and sarcastic and more open and caring. The centerpiece of this delightful comedy is the close relationship between quirky Dorian and his hunky jock younger brother. I've never seen a more realistic depiction of the bond between two brothers in any film - gay or straight. The writing is exceptional with very natural sounding dialogue and the acting is uniformly outstanding. I can't say enough good things about this one. Highly recommended.

The Living End - Another early Araki. This seminal road movie is about gay rage during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Wooden performances and unappealing actors make the non-stop angry proselytizing a little hard to take. If you’ve read James Robert Baker’s novel Tim and Pete – this would make a nice companion piece. As for me, I have a hard time coping with that level of anger…particularly when it’s frequently being played for laughs. The LA of this film is identical to that of Totally F***ed Up – populated with loony and antic bit players straight out of Alice’s Wonderland. Interesting primarily as a historical reminder of the [quite justified] frustration widely felt during the Reagan years.

Brother to Brother - Low-key indie about Perry Williams, a gay black college student navigating his various relationships and forging his own identity as an artist, an African-American, a homosexual and a man. After being thrown out by his parents, landing his first group show and embarking on a doomed sexual relationship with a (straight, white) friend, he meets Richard Bruce Nugent, a destitute elderly man who turns out to have been a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s. Nugent’s fascinating story is told in B&W flashback sequences juxtaposed against the various tribulations faced by Perry in the present day. Beautifully acted (particularly Roger Robinson’s Nugent) and sensitively written. Refreshing to find a film that gives equal time to two different minority groups, highlighting the similarities in the issues they face. Plus, Anthony Mackie’s doe-eyed Perry is utterly radiant.

Play Dead - This film is very hard to categorise. It starts off just like any other “high school drama geek in love with the captain of the wrestling team” story until a carelessly flung cigarette turns it into one of the blackest comedies I’ve ever seen. Nothing is sacred here - child neglect, drunk driving, attempted statutory rape, underage drinking and even necrophilia are all depicted with antic, lighthearted glee. And still the film maintains an oddly sweet and ingratiating vibe. This owes mostly to the performers who are engaging and natural. Special kudos goes to Jessica Stone, who plays that wretchedly overdone stereotype, the jaded seven year old, to hilarious perfection. Not for everyone, but I laughed my head off. Not widely available.

First Love and Other Pains - Short film about an interracial/intergenerational relationship between a bitter, world weary forty-nine year old English Lit professor teaching at a university in Hong Kong and the solemn nineteen year old freshman who pursues him. Despite generally poor film quality, murky sound and a somewhat slow moving story, it’s still fairly literate and engaging. However, the movie fails to achieve any great emotional resonance because both characters are so emotionally reserved. Not earth shattering. All in all, not bad but I wouldn’t make any special effort to seek it out.

Cock and Bull Story - I was surprised to find this on here! This is the most macho “gay” film I’ve ever seen. A young boxer in an unidentified American city (Boston, I think) and his best friend, a maladjusted rough neck, have latent homosexual feelings for each other that they mask with coarse banter, aggression and violence. Don't come to this film looking for romance, or (gay) sex even; their mutual desire is sublimated right through the film’s violent ending. I imagine this one had a difficult time finding an audience. Beverly Hills 90210’s Brian Austin Green turns in a great performance as the thug. A good film but hard to wholeheartedly recommend. All I can say, by way of warning is, if you thought a film like Camp, for example, made a great dramatic statement and is one of your personal favourites...this film is not for you.

Defying Gravity - Serious story about a closeted college frat boy, Griff, carrying on a secret affair with his childhood friend Pete. When Pete is left in a coma after being gay-bashed, Griff finally realizes that Pete is not just a fuck-buddy, but his true love. Decent acting, realistic dialogue and unique characters put this film a cut above the usual stereotypes and pompous speechifying of other gay “issue” films. Even manages to slip positive message about race relations into the mix as well. All this and great looking guys, too. Recommended.

Hellbent - I LOVED this film!! A classic slasher flick with all the bells-and-whistles, except this killer is stalking handsome young gay men instead of busty scream queens. The acting is surprisingly (and uniformly) good. The characters are fully fleshed out so that the audience really cares about them – well I did, anyway. As one of the actors points out in the "making of" documentary on the DVD, there is deliberately no mention of AIDs, no gay-bashing (the killer is not a homophobe…just a killer), no coming out. In other words, this is not at all a gay issues films, just a good, old-fashioned gore-filled fright fest. The guys range from goofy cute to super attractive but Dylan Fergus, as the lead, is beyond beautiful. He exudes the same fresh-faced, dewy innocence as the young Travolta and Robby Benson back in the seventies – all wavy dark hair, fair skin, sparkling baby blues and long lashes. Plus his big love scene is unbelievably hot (I watched it about seven times). I think I need to buy this one…and I’m not even a horror fan!

Under One Roof - It's hard to fault this one because it's heart is definitely in the right place but overall? Pretty terrible. Looks like a videotape porn film, without the porn. A romantic comedy about a semi-closeted young Chinese-American man living with his ultra-traditional Cantonese mother and grandmother in SF who falls for the out-of-the-closet white tenant renting the downstairs apartment from them. Wooden acting and amateurish direction (most scenes consist of only one long shot). Lots of somewhat racy love scenes (accompanied by bad porno music) and a goodly amount of male frontal nudity, if that impacts anyone’s opinion. Not recommended.

Peter Berlin - Kind of dull documentary about a man who is famous for nothing much other than his cartoonish sexual persona. Berlin made a couple of artsy porn films in the early seventies, from which numerous clips are shown and there are a lot of talking heads (John Waters, Armisted Maupin) who give testimonials to his outrageous beauty. Nothing much else. The most elucidating (and entertaining) thing about the film for me was how much Owen Wilson seems to have co-opted this guy's look (everything but his pecs and his package, it seems).

And here is Berlin doing his best impression of Owen Wilson, if anyone was curious:

Sex Politics and Cocktails - Ugh. Just ugh. Julien Hernandez, a Marc Anthony look-alike, wrote, directed and starred in this vulgar comedy about a struggling thirty year old L.A. filmmaker who realizes that he’s gay while researching a planned documentary on the gay community. Non-stop crass jokes about strap on dildos, anal sex and masturbating, along with abominable acting and terrible production values. Stay away from this one.

Also, I'm looking to find anyone who may have seen The Sticky Fingers of Time. I don't know much about it, other than that it's something to do with time travel and lesbians. I'm not much of a genre fan but, if a film is unique enough (think Donnie Darko or Buckaroo Banzai), I can enjoy sci-fi as much as the next guy. Any opinions on this film?

[User Picture]From: thefabone
2006-10-26 10:29 pm (UTC)
I've been looking for Play Dead for almost five years now, I was k,inda thinking it hadn't been released commercially at all.

I've only seen two of those movies (well, actually three, but I saw Totally F***ed Up seven or eight years ago and it didn't really made a lasting impression) and I can't agree with you more - I hated Luster and I loved Dorian Blues. The brother dynamic is so, so good and the ending made me cry (but I also had a lot of laughs along the way). Almost perfect.
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[User Picture]From: blake_fraina
2006-10-27 11:21 am (UTC)
Yeah, I tried to find Play Dead on Amazon, but no joy. I was quite surprised it ended up on here! It's weird and, to describe it, it would sound kinky and dark but it's not that at all. It has a very light, suburban feel to it. If anyone you know has access to the here! network, maybe they can record it for you. Definitely worth seeing.

Any favourites you can recommend? I've seen ALOT of LGBT films but I'm always looking for something new.
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[User Picture]From: thefabone
2006-10-27 12:38 pm (UTC)
Well, one of my favourites is "Dorian Blues", apart from that I'd definitely recommend "Urbania" (which I capped once, you can see it here: http://thefabone.livejournal.com/79938.html#cutid1), "The Trip" and "Straight-Jacket" (totally fluffy gay "Down With Love"). And though it isn't really perfect, I think "Almost Normal" had an interesting premise and is fun to watch (at least once). For a classic, take "Stonewall". Great movie. Those are the first that come to my mind.
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[User Picture]From: blake_fraina
2006-10-27 12:59 pm (UTC)
Wow! Ya done good.

With the exception of Stonewall, I've not seen any of these. I've never even heard of Straight-Jacket (but, I kinda loathed Down With Love, so that doesn't bode too well). I adore Dan Futterman and frequently catch bits of Urbania from the middle. Since I'm really anal about watching a film for the first time from the very beginning, I make myself turn it off so I've seen almost none of it. It looks quite depressing, though. I heard mixed things about The Trip, although I'll definitely catch it now since you recommended it (you and I seem to be on a similar wavelength). As far as Almost Normal, I've been very interested to catch that one as well. I have no clue how it ends but I'll admit, even if the gay character ends up ultimately going "straight," that wouldn't necessarily bother me. Did you see Bedrooms and Hallways and/or Bob and Rose? Both are British - one's a film, the other a mini-series, wherein the gay male protagonist ends up with a female life partner. If done well, anything can work. And after all, life isn't always so simple, why should we expect films to be.

Thanks for the recs. I think I'll rent The Trip this weekend and I'll let you know what I think. Peace.
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[User Picture]From: thefabone
2006-10-27 10:28 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I've seen "Bedrooms And Hallways" and enjoyed it - until the end cause I don't think it was really done right. I've got "Bob and Rose" lying around here, just haven't watched it yet.
"Urbania" can be depressing, yes, but it's a fascinating watch and definitely your usual run-of-the-mill gay movie. Nowadays, with all the bad gay movies out there who even defy the term "film making", it's a gem.
I won't budge down on "The Trip", I absolutely love it. It may not be perfect from an objective point of view, but who wants to be objective the whole time.? It's funny and sad and some scenes are kinda hot, I even learned a few things about gay history and I like both leads. What more do I want?
And I just mentioned "Down With Love" cause they are both modern movies hommaging the style and movies of the Doris Day-50s-movies. If that's not your think, okay. But don't miss out on a hilariously campy comedy just because you didn't like Renée Zellweger or something ;) I'd also recommend the director's debut, "Girls Will Be Girls", though it's not a gay movie per se, it's a drag queen movie.
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