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Marco Filiberti’s
David’s Birthday (Il Compleanno)
QFEST
July 8th - July 19th, 2010
Ritz Theaters |Old City Philadelphi
a

Written by Marco Filiberti

Starring: Alessandro Gassman; Maria de Medeiros; Massimo Poggio; Michela Cescon; Christo Jivkov; and Thyago Alves

In Italian with English subtitles 106 min.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Lately, Italian filmmakers are proving quite gutsy when it comes to the last taboo in that country: homosexuality. Along with Ferzan Ozpetek (Loose Cannons is his latest gem), Marco Filiberti examines one man’s repression and how, once those desires become overpowering, his actions have potentially devastating consequences.

Matteo (Massimo Poggio) is a therapist who is seemingly happily married to Francesca (Maria de Madeiros). They join their friends (Alessandro Gassman & Michela Cescon) on vacation along a sunny Italian beach awaiting the arrival of David, the latter couple’s stunning teen son who will be celebrating his birthday. Once David arrives, Matteo’s attraction to him begins to overtake him while David’s seeming sexual ambiguity begins to come into focus.

David’s Birthday (Il Compleanno) is a sweeping and operatic melodrama, gorgeous to look at (kudos to Roberta Allegrini’s camerawork) and listen to (likewise Andrea Chenna’s powerful score). And the entire ensemble is to be congratulated on giving nuanced and perfectly modulated performances.

Gassman is a hoot as the abrasive father. His Diego is the typical pigheaded Italian male who wants to control his wife but wants to seek out other women as well. Gassman steals almost every scene he is in with his dynamic comic timing.

Poggio strikes all the right balances of longing, tension—sexual and otherwise, dissatisfaction and, eventually, bliss. His Matteo feels intellectually superior to most others (including his patients) but he is a sexual mess. Poggio’s ogling of David as he hoses himself down is simultaneously hilarious, sad and highly seductive.

Maria de Medeiros gives a lovely and rich rendering of a woman trying her best to be the perfect Italian wife—even when being demeaned by her husband. De Medeiros gives off faint hints that she is aware something is off about her mate, but nothing too obvious.

Thyago Alves is an absolutely gorgeous male specimen. I defy heterosexual men to gaze on this god and not have a doubt or two. The wonder of Alves is that he is also a very good actor, imbuing David with just enough mystery to keep us guessing. It’s shocking that this is his film debut!

Filiberti has meticulously structured his script, down to the last detail and, at first; I was taken aback by the climax until I realized that it was the only way to show the dangers of repression. In the Italian culture there are certain things you cannot discuss. If you must do these things then you do them behind closed doors. And then you go back to your family. Or you simply deny yourself who you are and live a lie. Bravo to Filiberti for having the balls to depict this onscreen and for doing it in such an artistically triumphant manner.

QFEST 2010 begins July 8th and ends July 19th with all screenings at the Ritz Theaters in Old City Philadelphia. www.qfest.com





Todd Verow’s
Deleted Scenes
QFEST
July 8th - July 19th, 2010
Ritz Theaters |Old City Philadelphi
a

Written by Todd Verow

Starring: Ivica Kovacevic; Michael Vaccaro; and Brad Hallowell

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Edgy, enigmatic and divisive gay storyteller, Todd Verow is back this year with a fascinating entry, Deleted Scenes, where he cleverly uses the notion of discarded footage to tell the story of a gay relationship from meeting to breakup to potential…well, I won’t spoil things…

Wolf (Ivica Kovacevic) is a hot Eastern European hustler (so many gay films about hustlers lately!) who is good at his job but is also very healthily (always uses a condom) and morally conscious. On a NYC West Village pier, he meets neurotic Sean (Michael Vaccaro) in a charming scene. The two have pretty intense sex and start seeing one another. Sean instantly begins to show signs of the scary, possessive stalker-type, but when we learn why, we can almost forgive him. When Sean finds out about Wolf’s choice of career, he loses it and his unhinged behavior forces the two apart. Do these two damaged souls really belong together?

The two leads are game and dive into their parts with gusto. We aren’t given much backstory therefore character insight suffers but the actors do their best to fill in the gaps.

Verow’s films are always sexually charged and loaded with nudity and this one’s no exception. The cool thing about Verow is he shows us his characters the way they would really be during and post sex: naked. But the nudity also lays bare the actors, who have to, then, perform without vanity—which they do here.

Verow has always been attracted to the seedy, dark underbelly of gay nature. Here he is almost tame. Except…

Midway through Deleted Scenes, we are introduced to Fast Eddy (a perfectly alluring and shady Brad Hallowell) a mercenary creature with quite a swagger who I wanted to know much more about. The film follows him for a while but does not do the character justice. A feature on Fast Eddy should be considered; there’s a nasty and sexually messy story that begs to be told.

QFEST 2010 begins July 8th and ends July 19th with all screenings at the Ritz Theaters in Old City Philadelphia. www.qfest.com




Haim Tabakman’s
Eyes Wide Open
QFEST
July 8th - July 19th, 2010
Ritz Theaters |Old City Philadelphi
a

Written by: Merav Doster

Starring: Zohar Strauss; Ran Danker; Tinkerbell; Tzahi Grad; Isaac Sharry; Avi Grainik; and Eva Zrihen-Attali

(In Hebrew with subtitles, 90 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Haim Tabakman’s sensitive and compelling Eyes Wide Open has the audacity to depict the dangers of religious zealotry. The film also dares to follow through with its narrative ambitions.

The ultra-indie film takes place in an ultra-orthodox community in Jerusalem where thirtysomething Aaron, a devout butcher and devoted husband and father of four boys, hires twentysomething Ezri, a good looking Yeshiva student, to work in his shop after his father dies. Ezri has come to the city in pursuit of another man who is now ignoring him.

Aaron’s brotherly feelings for Ezri quickly become something more.

As the layers of Aaron’s repressed homosexuality begin to peel away, he experiences a joy he has never felt before. A starkly photographed scene where the two men bathe in a spring nicely captures their growing attraction to one another.

Aaron lives in a small community where everyone has their noses in everyone else’s business and soon certain townfolk demand that Aaron send Ezri away. Posters begin appearing warning of the deviance that now exists in their community.

Helmer Tabakman and writer Merov Doster are uncompromising in their portrait, never deluding themselves or the audience into believing their characters live in any type of world other than the one they live in. Consequently, the film’s ending is devastating, poetic and absolutely perfect.

Eyes Wide Open probes how religious righteousness often stifles individuality and retards sexuality. The film is not a condemnation of Judaism as much as it is a warning against narrow-minded extremism.

Zohar Strauss is extraordinary as Aaron, showing us his conflict but also making us privy to his life-altering awakening. Popular Israeli star Ron Danker gives Ezri all the shadings necessary; he’s walking sex but he’s also a lonely boy in search of love and acceptance.

The intimate moments in the film are awkward, ergo, realistic and strangely erotic. There’s a genuine sadness in watching these desperate men hold one another.

Eyes Wide Open is ultimately Aaron’s story. He’s a man who discovers a passion he never expected to find in his life—and it’s life changing. I never really believed Ezri was in love with Aaron. I don’t think we are given enough info to really know, but the film isn’t about a forbidden love that dare not speak its name. It’s about one man’s spiritual and sexual awakening. It is also about how vital it is that people be allowed to express who and what they are. And about the many milieus within this world that shun and ostracize those who would dare be themselves.

QFEST 2010 begins July 8th and ends July 19th with all screenings at the Ritz Theaters in Old City Philadelphia. www.qfest.com



Robert Gaston’s
Flight of the Cardinal

QFEST
July 8th - July 19th, 2010
Ritz Theaters |Old City Philadelphi
a

Written by: Robert Gaston

Starring: Ross Beschler; David J. Bonner; Claire Bowerman; Matthew Montgomery; Liz Douglas; Jeremy Marr Williams.

(U.S. 87 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

On first glance, the title Flight of the Cardinal brought to mind the Catholic sex abuse scandal, so I prepared for an expose on the clergy.

What I got instead was quite unexpected: a very gratifying thriller set somewhere in North Carolina (a remote locale I never want to visit, thank you) that grabs you and takes you on an uneasy yet exciting journey. The irony is that writer/director Robert Gaston does this without cinematic pyrotechnics or an action-adventurey narrative. Instead, he basically turns the camera on his five fascinating character creations (six, if you count an early guest who returns at the end) and gives them room to analyze, probe and near-devour one another. It helps that one of them is a creepy reprobate trying to manipulate each and every guest for his own gain.

Beetle Hobbs (David J. Bonner) is the bad news boy trying to infiltrate his way into the life of Grady (Ross Beschler) and his visiting friends. Grady runs a lakeside lodge in the Great Smokey Mountains. Beetle talks his way into helping out for the weekend, knowing full well that one of Grady’s friends happens to be a powerful talent agent (Claire Bowerman). She arrives with her hunky boyfriend (Jeremy Marr Williams). Rounding out the guests is Grady’s estranged beau (the ubiquitous Matthew Montgomery) who has arrived with bad news for Grady.

Beetle is seen as “intuitive” and charming by most of the guests but is really an ambitious troublemaker with an agenda as well as a disturbing past. He’s also a devious little cocktease.

Grady, who attempted suicide a while back and is on meds, becomes increasingly paranoid as the weekend wears on.

The film is well cast with Bonner, especially, having a field day playing such a deliciously wicked cad.

Gaston creates a fabulous sense of foreboding as we get to know this gaggle and Grady becomes more in tune with what is really going on. And the film’s climax is richly satisfying.

It was also refreshing as hell that this pic wasn’t ABOUT homosexuality, or coming out, or gay dating or any of these oft told and now dull-as-dirt “gay” movies.

Flight of the Cardinal could have used a little more polish, but as low-budget Indies go it is vastly superior to most.

In an early moment of foreshadowing, while looking out a window, Beetle explains how the cardinal marks his territory and becomes furious when another cardinal invades his nest. Gaston is marking his territory as a terrific storyteller and a deft film director. No need for anyone to be furious about that.

QFEST 2010 begins July 8th and ends July 19th with all screenings at the Ritz Theaters in Old City Philadelphia. www.qfest.com




Aluisio Abranches’s
From Beginning to End (Do Comeco Ao Fim)
QFEST
July 8th - July 19th, 2010
Ritz Theaters |Old City Philadelphi
a

Written by Aluizio Abranches

Starring: Julia Lemmertz; Fabio Assuncao; Jean Pierre Noher; Louise Cardoso; Gabriel Kaufmann; Lucas Cotrim; Rafael Cardoso; and Joao Gabriel Vasconcellos

In Portuguese with English subtitles

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

In this country no one would ever have the chutzpah to make a film like From Beginning to End. And I am pretty certain most reviews here in the U.S., will be dismissive or convey disgust.

But if we could get beyond our pretend Puritanism we might realize that writer/director Aluizio Abranches has made a beautiful film about deep and true love. And, yes, the lovers are brothers (half-brothers to be precise).

Probably one of the most controversial queer films this year, it also happens to be one of my favorites, not just for it’s daring but because Abranches has the courage of his own character convictions and refuses to turn his tale of incest into something dark and terrible.

Twelve-year old Francisco (Lucas Cotrim) and his six-year old brother Thomas (Gabriel Kaufmann) are closer than most siblings. Their mother (the lovely Julia Lemmertz) seems to know something is up but has no intention of trying to fix it. The early scenes of the boys together might be off-putting to some because Abranches sees their bond as playful and natural.

Fifteen years later, Francisco (now Joao Gabriel Vasconcellos) and Thomas (now Rafael Cardoso) are as close as ever and the viewer is given full view of their sexual relationship. The two men happen to be incredibly attractive, but also good actors who make us believe in their love for one another.

Yes, the pic gives its target audience (gay men) plenty of buff naked bodies to ogle but there is more going on than soft-core porn.

The film isn’t perfect with an unbelievable yet forgivable plot contrivance meant to break the brothers apart as well as the fact that no one ever really questions them face-to-face about their relationship. But perhaps the latter was deliberate. Perhaps Abranches didn’t want to waver.

From Beginning to End is a startling, provocative, deeply engrossing film that doesn’t advocate incest as much as it insists on showing us an atypical love story.

QFEST 2010 begins July 8th and ends July 19th with all screenings at the Ritz Theaters in Old City Philadelphia. www.qfest.com




Bette Gordon’s
Handsome Harry
QFEST
July 8th - July 19th, 2010
Ritz Theaters |Old City Philadelphia

Written by Nicholas Proferes

Starring: Jamey Sheridan; Steve Buscemi; Mariann Mayberry; Aidan Quinn; John Savage; Campbell Scott; Asher Grodman; Titus Welliver; Karen Young; Jayne Atkinson; Kevin Reed; Tom Degnan; Blake Lowell; and Emily Donahoe.

(U.S. 95 min)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Handsome Harry has been around for a couple of years now. It premiered at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival and was actually released—albeit barely--in April of this year. Now Qfest is featuring this abandoned gem and audiences should be grateful. How an exquisite film like this one isn’t getting the due it deserves is head scratching when you look at some of the drek that gets attention.

The film is a grim but compelling exploration (and indictment) of an old-school view of masculinity that needs to be killed and buried once and for all. It also happens to be incredibly moving and well-acted.

Harry (Jamey Sheridan, the handsome one in the title—now weathered and battle-scarred) has chosen to live his life in a small town after his divorce and estrangement from his son (Asher Grodman). But his puzzling past—which he’s been hiding from for thirty years--is about to bite him on the ass when he receives a call from a dying Navy buddy (Steve Buscemi) who is hoping to clear his conscience and not “got to hell” for a particularly horrific incident from his and Harry’s past.

Harry is now propelled to embark on a road trip of sorts looking up other Navy buddies and reliving a terrible moment none of them have ever been able to forget in hopes of some type of absolution.

That the incident involves a gay bashing (of a fellow seaman named David Kagan) becomes clear early on, but there is another revelation that comes as an extraordinary surprise in this moody, poignant and evocative film.

Director Bette Gordon creates an absorbing milieu (with help from a fab jazz score by Anton Sanko and great camerawork by Nigel Bluck) and works wonders with her cast, even when the script (by Nicholas Proferes) doesn’t delve as deep as it should.

Sheridan anchors the film with a lovely, understated performance. He gives hints of what he’s repressed from long ago, but is never obvious about it. Campbell Scott’s too-brief, but powerful appearance is absolutely riveting.

And the ladies are to be commended as well. Jayne Atkinson is amazing in a brief but stirring turn as the Buscemi character’s long-suffering wife. Mariann Mayberry makes a strong impression as the sex-starved spouse of the John Savage character. And Karen Young does her best with a very underwritten part as the gal who carries a torch for Harry.

The younger Harry and Kagan (Tom Degnan & Kevin Reed respectively) are nice eye-candy and have a wonderful flashback scene near the end that leaves the audience wishing the film had given us more of these two characters, in the past AND present.

Handsome Harry is disturbing, thought-provoking and engrossing. It deserves to find an audience.

QFEST 2010 begins July 8th and ends July 19th with all screenings at the Ritz Theaters in Old City Philadelphia. www.qfest.com


 

 



Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman’s
Howl

QFEST
July 8th - July 19th, 2010
Ritz Theaters |Old City Philadelphi
a

Written by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

Starring: James Franco, Mary-Louise Parker, Jon Hamm, Jeff Daniels, David Strathairn, Alessandro Nivola, Treat Williams, Aaron Tveit, Bob Balaban

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

James Franco effectively embodies poet Allen Ginsberg in the cinematically ambitious Howl, a new film by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Franco’s performance is absolutely compelling as he immerses himself into the time, the place, the man and the man’s groundbreaking poem.

Franco’s readings from the then-infamous, now-landmark, work are powerful and I would often close my eyes to let the words truly resonate with me. The other reason I’d close my eyes was to not have to view the surreal yet often too literal animated scenes that accompanied many of the readings. This is a misstep in an otherwise terrific film.

Ginsberg’s poem is a highly personal yet transcendent piece. It speaks to each person differently (although that can be argued about any literary work but poetry, in particular is pretty intimate) and Franco’s interpretation is so commanding that it might have been more effective to just put the camera on the actor and have him speak (as in done in several fab coffeehouse segments).

Besides the underwhelming animated sequences, the only criticism I can toss at Howl is that I wanted more; more of the potent courtroom moments; more background on Ginsberg and his relationships with Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and, especially, his lover Peter Orlovsky (Aaron Tveit), who is seen too briefly. But if Howl inspires viewers to do some research on their own, that is always a good thing.

The film is edited by interspersing four specific segments-- interviews with Ginsberg as played by Franco, the trial, readings via Franco in a coffeehouse and animated sequences and moments from Ginsberg’s life shot in a home movie style. The look of the film is wonderful across the boards, with splendid camerawork by Edward Lachman.

Howl is about how language can rattle people. It was the honest, explicit nature of the poem that shocked people when it was first published in 1956. That led to an obscenity trial (this was the 1950s where everything needed to stay surface squeaky clean), which is depicted here, via intercut segments, with dialogue taken from the real court transcripts. The trial section features many a familiar face such as Jon Hamm (dapperly at home in a suit and tie), David Strathairn (ditto), Treat Williams, Jeff Daniels, Bob Balaban and Mary Louise-Parker—all very good.

But in the end it’s Franco’s becoming Ginsberg so effectively that anchors the pic and gives it it’s soul. Ginsberg was an openly gay man at a time when EVERYONE was in the closet. You had to be. At the time he wrote Howl, homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder and, too often, those with queer tendencies were forced to undergo electro-shock and sometimes lobotomies, to “cure” their disease. Ginsberg, himself, spent time in a mental hospital until he promised he would change.

His work captured the loneliness and alienation of a generation of artists and people who were told they were lesser humans because they were different. This appealed to both gay and straight alike. He captured the anger and restlessness of a group that felt their voices weren’t being heard; that felt they were being condemned because they didn’t fit what was considered “normal.” Ginsberg was at the forefront of a literary movement that would eventually explode into the social movements of the 1960s that would change this country forever.

QFEST 2010 begins July 8th and ends July 19th with all screenings at the Ritz Theaters in Old City Philadelphia. www.qfest.com



Enrique Buchichio’s
Leo’s Room (El cuarto de Leo)

QFEST
July 8th - July 19th, 2010
Ritz Theaters |Old City Philadelphi
a

Written by Enrique Buchichio

Starring: Martín Rodríguez; Cecilia Cósero; Gerardo Begérez; Arturo Goetz; Mirella Pascual; and Rafael Soliwoda.

(Argentina, 95 min. In Spanish with English subtitles)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Another coming out film. Imagine.

Leo’s Room is an evocative and odd feature about a seemingly apathetic and confused young, closeted gay man who comes to terms with who he is…slowly and on his terms.

College student Leo (a wonderful Martin Rodriguez who carries the film magnificently) is dumped by his girlfriend when he can’t get aroused. Leo soon begins cruising the Internet for hookups and seeing a therapist for clarity. His mother talks about his needing to meet a nice girl…or boy. His stoner roommate (Arturo Goetz) offers his own wisdom. Nothing seems to help. Via a chat room, Leo meets Seba (Gerardo Begerez) and they instantly connect, carnally and otherwise. But Leo isn’t ready for a relationship. He isn’t ready to leave his comfortable if claustrophobic room. Meanwhile, Leo encounters a female friend from grade school, Caro (Cecilia Cosero) who, devastated by a recent family tragedy, may be suicidal.

Leo’s Room examines how denial can hurt others—those who surround you, those who love you and sometimes hope you can love them back the way they need to be loved. A particularly moving scene between Leo and Caro shows the pain caused by Leo trying to be something he’s not.

The film is contemplative and compelling. The Caro subplot sometimes feels extraneous but, in the end, buoys Leo out of his homophobic cocoon and into a, hopefully, excitingly new life free of self-loathing and denial.

QFEST 2010 begins July 8th and ends July 19th with all screenings at the Ritz Theaters in Old City Philadelphia. www.qfest.com



Marco Berger’s
Plan B
QFEST
July 8th - July 19th, 2010
Ritz Theaters |Old City Philadelphi
a

Written by Marco Berger

Starring: Manuel Vignau; Lucas Ferraro; Mercedes Quinteros; and Damián Canduci

(Argentina, In Spanish with English subtitles. 103 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Marco Berger’s Plan B tells a simplistic story, where you can see the ending coming in the first reel. But he does it so well that you don’t mind going along for the cine-ride.

Bruno (sexy Manuel Vignau) is upset when his girlfriend, Laura (Mercedes Quinteros), leaves him for adorable Pablo (equally sexy Lucas Ferraro). Upon hearing rumors that Pablo has admitted to gay experiences, Bruno comes up with a plan (B) where he will get Laura back by seducing Pablo, thus revealing his bisexuality and infidelity.

As Bruno and Pablo begin to bond, a funny thing happens; they discover they genuinely like one another. Bruno begins sleeping with Laura again, but much to his surprise, he has become enamored with Pablo, who it turns out has never had a gay experience but is has feeling for Bruno.

Cultural note: Homosexuality is still a big taboo in Latin and South America so admitting to same-sex attraction is tantamount to emasculation.

Vignau and Ferraro deliver honest and complex performances that keep the viewer’s interest throughout.

Plan B is a worthwhile sit, although it could have used another five or ten minutes at the end to give the obvious target audience what they spent 100 minutes craving, instead of blue-balling them. However, given the repressed culture, less probably needed to be more in hopes of reaching the unenlightened.

QFEST 2010 begins July 8th and ends July 19th with all screenings at the Ritz Theaters in Old City Philadelphia. www.qfest.com


 


Darren Flaxstone’s
Release
QFEST
July 8th - July 19th, 2010
Ritz Theaters |Old City Philadelphi
a

Written by Darren Flaxstone and Christian Martin

Starring: Daniel Brocklebank;, Wayne Virgo; Bernie Hodges; Garry Summers; and Simon Pearce

(U.K. 87 min.)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Darren Flaxstone & Christian Martin wrote last year’s harrowing festival entry, Shank. And although I admired its audacity, I wondered whom exactly were these filmmakers making films for? That question came up again as I watched the brutal and unendingly bleak world these artists created onscreen in their new feature, Release.

Most of the gritty narrative is set in prison and surrounds Father Jack (Daniel Brocklebank in a towering performance) who is incarcerated for a crime he has committed. Most of the inmates assume it’s pedophilia and they taunt him about it. Father Jack has embarked on a gay affair with a prison guard but, because of his past sins, feels he does not deserve love.

In addition, Father Jack comes to the defense of his cellmate, Rook (Wayne Virgo, star of Shank), who is almost beaten to death by other prisoners.

The film is most powerful when it focuses on the intense relationships between Father Jack and the guard as well as Father Jack and Rook. But when the film meanders and veers from these intense scenes, the results are uneven.

Flaxstone’s blend of the nasty realism of prison life with otherworldly and supernatural elements never fully gel. Also, there’s a moment near the end that is almost laughably reminiscent of the Prom scene in Carrie and the denouement is contrived (although poetic).

The villainous leader is an ambiguous and one-dimensional character and simply frustrates the viewer since there is never any payback.

Like Shank, Release presents a singularly pessimistic view of the world. But it is also refreshingly original in parts. Release sees redemption as a possibility but not a tangible reality. And in a medium saturated with films designed to please and entertain, there is certainly room for…a different vision.

QFEST 2010 begins July 8th and ends July 19th with all screenings at the Ritz Theaters in Old City Philadelphia. www.qfest.com



Rob Williams’s
Role/Play

QFEST Festival Centerpiece
July 8th - July 19th, 2010
Ritz Theaters |Old City Philadelphi
a

Written by Rob Williams

Starring: Steve Callahan; Matthew Montgomery; David Pevsner; Brian Nolan; Matthew Stephen Herrick; and Jim J. Bullock.

(U.S. 86 min)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Rob Williams knows his audience, but he is also a gay filmmaker who has something to say. How to meld the two? By featuring his hot, hunky actors naked and sneaking in lots of smart dialogue that comments on current gay culture.

He then sets the film in a remote, gorgeous Palm Springs resort that acts as a hideaway for gays—out and not-so-out--and presto: audiences are given the perfect package, so to speak.

Steve Callahan plays Graham Windsor, a soap actor who is in crisis because someone recently leaked a revealing sex tape online where he’s seen receiving some love a’ la’ Dustin Lance Black, consequently he is fired from the network due to their ‘morals clause.’

Matthew Montgomery is Trey Reed, marriage-equality activist extraordinaire who has arrived to flee the nasty publicity surrounding his impending divorce.

Graham and Trey verbally spar—each presenting their often-polarizing sides on important topics such as closeted actors coming out as well as how far gay activists have a right to go in outing someone. As the debates intensify, so does the chemistry between the two guys, resulting in a passionate romance.

This is the fifth feature by Rob Williams and, having only seen the disappointing 3-Day Weekend, I was not expecting a clever, impressive and well-acted romantic drama.

Williams has a lot to say and, often, Role/Play plays like a powerful two-character stage work (that’s a compliment) asking pertinent questions like whether the public has a right to know about people’s private lives and the role of the press in keeping actors in the closet. Williams also takes on the gay press for building up certain figures only to enjoy tearing them down the minute they fall from grace, but the dialogue never feels didactic. In addition, Williams tosses in quite a few veiled references to real life figures that savvy viewers will have lots of fun with.

The relationship between the two leads happens very quickly—even by film and gay standards, but the actors go a long way towards making us believe they have true feelings for one another.

Matthew Montgomery is quite the prolific “gay themed” movie actor starring in two Qfest entries this year (Flight of the Cardinal, being the other) as well as two last year (the terrific Redwoods and the audacious Pornography A Thriller). This year he is receiving the Artistic Achievement Award from Qfest. He’s an exceptional actor (and producer) and continues to grow with each new performance.

As stated earlier we get to see both actors perfectly buff bodies as well as their bubble butts (there’s a whole lot of ass on display in this film!) and the notion of narcissistic doubling and the superficiality seemingly inherent in gay dating is also touched upon making the nudity important and not just ass-candy. The film, itself, is beautifully shot but Ruben F. Russ.

I was a bit disappointed in the plot machinations in the final quarter of the film where things became a bit too preachy and moralistic. Williams creates such wonderfully flawed characters--a couple of compromised souls--that to have them decide to do so many of the “right” things in the end, seems silly and unnecessary, feeding into the exact things Williams rails against for most of the movie. But his heart is certainly in the right place. Role/Play is one of Qfest’s best offerings (saying a lot this year because the slate is impressive) and deserves to be seen for it’s beauty, it’s topicality and it’s significant content.

QFest 2010 begins July 8th and ends July 19th with all screenings at the Ritz Theaters in Old City Philadelphia. www.qfest.com





Joseph Graham’s
Strapped
QFEST Centerpiece
July 8th - July 19th, 2010
Ritz Theaters |Old City Philadelphia

Starring: Ben Bonenfant, Nick Frangione, Paul Guerrier, Carlo D'Amore, Raphael Barker, Artem Mishin, and Michael Klinger

Written by Joseph Graham

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Joseph Graham’s Strapped deceptively begins with a typical gay encounter: hot young hustler seduces tentative, nervous older man. Foreplay includes shocking revelations about their respective pasts. One story is believable, the other is absurd. It soon becomes clear that our eager and sexy prostitute likes to reinvent himself for each new client—or simply let the john do the assuming.

The other thing that becomes clear is that our boy hooker is pretty atypical, not menacing or cutthroat, he’s simply trying to figure himself out. As he leaves one apartment, he becomes quickly engaged in another oddball scenario in the building. As a matter of fact, our boy is unable to leave the building throughout the entire feature. Instead he keeps encountering various tricks, potential tricks and potentially dangerous tricks. And with each subsequent scene, he learns something new about himself.

The La Ronde-esque structure adds to the seamy yet exciting feel of the film as the viewer is transfixed, wondering what the next meeting will be--and lead to.

Newcomer Ben Bonenfant embodies the lead in a wholly believable, but wonderfully original way, so that when his architectural odyssey leads him to a surprising realization, the viewer buys it completely. Bonenfant also looks like he is actually having fun playing the role, which is refreshing.

I wish I hadn’t read somewhere that Bonenfant is heterosexual. Not knowing his sexuality gave me the freedom to not care. Knowing, pissed me off because it’s, yet another, “straight” actor playing gay so convincingly when there are so many good gay actors out there not getting work. But that shouldn’t take away from Bonenfant’s achievement here, but it would be astonishingly bold to have actors NOT reveal their sexuality in interviews--for a change!

Nick Frangione (whose sexuality I happily do not know) delivers a poignant and flawless turn as a guy craving the sensual instead of the sexual.

Strapped stayed with me for days. I’m still thinking about it and some of the themes it explores. The film is an honest and intelligent work that deserves to find a large audience.

QFEST 2010 begins July 8th and ends July 19th with all screenings at the Ritz Theaters in Old City Philadelphia. www.qfest.com




Israel Luna’s
Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives

QFEST Centerpiece
July 8th - July 19th, 2010
Ritz Theaters |Old City Philadelphia

Written by Israel Luna

Starring: Krystal Summers; Kelexis Davenport; Willam Belli; Erica Andrews; Jenna Skyy; Tom Zembrod; Richard D. Curtin; Kenny Ochoa; Gerardo Davila; Todd Jenkins; Chase Wade.

(U.S. 90 min)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Boy is this film provoking strong reactions!

GLAAD has condemned it as anti-trans, especially since it’s writer/director is an alleged straight man.

My own boyfriend stormed out in a huff within the first half hour, feeling it was violent exploitation. He came back, only when he saw scenes of revenge against the perps.

I found it to be a sassy, campy, bitchy, ridiculous, lunatic, gratuitous mess of a lot of icky-fun!

The hokey, appropriated plot revolves around a gaggle of transgender women who are hunted by grungy and nasty one-dimensional scumbags who seem to get their rocks off by brutalizing trans-women. In particular, Boner (Thomas Zembrod) is seeking revenge on Bubbles (Krystal Summers) for not disclosing her (trans) gender. Boner and his imbeciles prey on Bubbles and her friends and horrible things happen.

Of course the title should tell you that these galz will be coming back with a, quite literal, bloody vengeance so before you storm off in a homo-huff like my beau did, realize you will get your catharsis…eventually.

Some have called this film a rip-off of the Tarantino/Rodriguez 2007 feature Grindhouse and while it may steal some of that film’s clever structural elements, it is more a rip-off blending of 70’s blaxploitation and exploitation flix with some Death Wish and I Spit on Your Grave as well as early Eastwood tossed in.

The acting is pretty mediocre with one notable exception: Willam Belli (the lone non-trans) is hilarious as Rachel Slurr. He’s aware of the campstravaganza he’s in and savors every line of lousy dialogue, dishing and bitching and keeping the audience entertained long after we’ve grown weary of the shock moments.

Writer/Director Israel Luna has a bit too much fun depicting the violent beatings, tortures and murders of some of his transgender characters. He could have tempered it a bit, but then the film may not have invited the controversy it’s basking in. I’m not saying it’s a smart ploy but it beats going straight to DVD (intend the pun of you like.)

QFEST 2010 begins July 8th and ends July 19th with all screenings at the Ritz Theaters in Old City Philadelphia. www.qfest.com





Casper Andreas’s
Violet Tendencies
QFEST
July 8th - July 19th, 2010
Ritz Theaters |Old City Philadelphia

Written by Jesse Archer

Starring: Mindy Cohn; Marcus Patrick; Kim Allen; Vincent De Paul; Shari Albert; Casper Andreas; Jesse Archer; Samuel Whitten; Kim Allen; and Adrian Armas.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Casper Andreas is quite a prolific filmmaker. Just last year he gave us the fab Big Gay Musical. The year previous he directed what I consider his best film, Between Love & Goodbye and in 2007 he made A Four Letter Word, which I wasn’t fond of.

This year he’s reunited with the writer/actor of the latter movie and has crafted an enjoyable, sometimes silly, sometimes poignant comedy about the last fag-hag in NYC!

Violet (The Facts of Life’s Mindy Cohn) is a successful businesswoman who is now forty. Thanks to a gorgeous, if nutty co-worker named Salome (Kim Allen) she realizes that all her friends are gay which makes meeting a mate nearly impossible. Violet begins to ignore her true friends in a lunatic quest to find her Mr. Right. We are also privy to subplots involving Violet’s gay gaggle, the most interesting involving the delicious Samuel Whitten and the cute Andreas himself as a couple who disagree about adopting a child.

Andreas is a gifted director but Archer’s script too often settles for the one-liners instead of probing dialogue and he sets up too many vulgar comedic moments that destroy credibility instead of giving us true-to-life situations. Sometimes the real overtakes the camp and that’s when Violet Tendencies soars.

Cohn can be abrasive, affecting, sympathetic and grotesque—the mix is erratic at best.

The best performance in the film is by Megan Fox look-a-like, Kim Allen, who steals every scene she is in as Salome. Allen is someone to watch. She has charisma, charm, comic-flair, stunning looks and is a damn good actress!

Violet Tendencies fits nicely, if too safely, into the Andreas oeuvre. I wish he would truly challenge himself with his next project. We shall see in about a year.

QFEST 2010 begins July 8th and ends July 19th with all screenings at the Ritz Theaters in Old City Philadelphia. www.qfest.com


QFEST
Gwen Wynne’s
Wild About Harry
QFEST
July 8th - July 19th, 2010
Ritz Theaters |Old City Philadelphia


Written by Gwen Wynne & Mary Beth Fielder

Starring: Tate Donovan; Adam Pascal; Danielle Savre; Skye McCole Bartusiak; Josh Peck; Corey Sevier; and Susan Anspach.

(U.S. 95 min)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Damages co-star Tate Donovan stars in the period drama Wild About Harry (aka: American Primitive) a film that was made a few years back and has been traveling the festival circuit.

The time is 1973. Widower Harry (Donovan) has recently moved to Cape Cod with his two girls Madeline (Danielle Savre) and Daisy (Skye McCole Bartusiak). Madeline craves popularity and begins dating the class cutie (Corey Sevier) despite the fact that he has a girlfriend. Daisy is more of an introvert. Harry takes up with Mr. Gibbs (Rent’s Adam Pascal), who has more sideburns than face. Harry and Mr. Gibb’s “secret” is revealed to the island’s social butterflies making them pariahs and allowing Harry’s in-laws to enter the picture and demand custody of the girls.

What distinguishes this gay-male coming out film from the oh-so many (too many) others out there is that it’s directed and written by women (Gwen Wynne and Mary Beth Fielder) and the story is told, for the most part, via the interpretations of it’s two young ladies. The film’s focus is on how they deal with their father’s secret, which is refreshing but also problematic.

We really never learn enough about Harry or his sexuality or his relationship with Mr. Gibbs. It would have added much-needed nuance to learn more about Harry so we, too, could be ‘wild about harry, ’ and understand him more.

The performances, for the most part, are very good and Wynne is a competent director who captures the period very well (the assumption is that it’s autobiographical). But the script is a little too 2010 in execution, especially at the very end when we get a modern day solution that I doubt could have really happened in 1973.

QFEST 2010 begins July 8th and ends July 19th with all screenings at the Ritz Theaters in Old City Philadelphia. www.qfest.com


 


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