Pau Masó’s
Aleksandr’s Price
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Pau Masó.

Starring: Pau Masó, Anatoli Grek, Keith Dougherty, Josh Berresford, Samantha Glovin, Terrence Hewitt.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Paul Masó wrote, directed, edited and starred in Aleksandr’s Price and that was definitely not a good idea.

Masó is a Spanish-born model and actor and his film is certainly ambitious enough, but it’s also the most disappointing film at Qfest that I’ve seen so far (and I am in double digits).

The basic, meandering and repetitive narrative focuses on Maso (of course) playing Aleksander, a Russian emigree who loses his mother to suicide and is ‘forced’ into a hellish world of male prostitution because he’s an illegal and, I guess, has no other talents. Of course he starts out as a “dancer” buis tricks.

Every one of his johns turns out to be a dick—he is forced to wear drag, is repeatedly drugged, raped—even gangbanged, right up until the last degrading hook-up—that was as preposterous as it was predictable at that point in the film. But does he stop? No. And did I care? No. This guy suffers re indignities than Linda Lovelace did!

Okay, firstly the treatment of male prostitution in this film feels like those old TV movies from the seventies with so many “bad” characters taking advantage of the “good” but misguided protagonist.

Alexandr blames everyone else for all his misfortunes. He is surely one of the least likeable characters I’ve seen onscreen in a long time—which is fine—but there is nothing about him that made me want to continue watching his journey after the one-hour mark. But I did. And I want my 47 minutes back! Even as train wrecks go…well, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Perhaps if Maso’ had only worn one hat (the writer, maybe although the script is trite and cliché) he could have focused on truly bringing us into the heart and mind of a young man who is both repelled and seduced by the world of escorting—someone who has issues with self-loathing but is truly trying to find love in a world where none seems to exist. At least, that’s where I thought he wanted to go. But this misguided and, ultimately laughable vanity project merely shows Maso’s shortcomings as an actor, writer and director.

 


 


David Lambert’s
Beyond the Walls
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by David Lambert.

Starring: Matila Malliarakis, Guillaume Gouix, David Salles, Melissa Desormeaux Poulin.

In French, with English subtitles.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avell

Beyond the Walls contains one of the most beguiling performances of the year so far (not just of the queerfilm year), that of Matila Malliarakis. Described in the Qfest notes as a “gangly, long-haired man-boy,” Malliarakis is absolutely mesmerizing to watch. Depending on the lighting and the way he’s shot he could pass for 16 or 30—his real age never spoken. He’s sometimes like a playful puppy you want to squeeze, other times like a hot boy sex slave you want to spank and other times like a nurturing parent. It’s a daring turn that should gain the actor international recognition.

Belgian writer/director David Lambert has made a moving, bittersweet film about an ill-fated but intense romance between two startlingly different guys.

The film’s opening plunges us into the first moments when our two lovers meet in a loud bar and go home together—although no sex is involved since scruffy Albanian musician Ilir (Guillaume Gouix) opts not to take advantage of adorable, drunk Paolo (Malliarakis). The two begin an affair and when Paolo’s girlfriend (yes, girlfriend) finds out she tosses him out and he moves in with initially reluctant Ilir.

The complicated, fierce depiction of their odd yet potent budding love story follows. “Take care of me,” Paolo precociously begs Ilir as he rubs up against him. How could anyone say no? Soon Ilir is mad for Paolo (and vice versa) and his obsession with the boy/man manifests itself with his buying a sex toy and using it for his own power purposes.

Ilir goes away for what is supposed to be two days and, after three weeks of waiting and worrying, Paolo learns he has been imprisoned for hash possession and assaulting the arresting officer and must serve out an eighteen-month sentence. After a few visits, Ilir decides Paolo’s presence weaken him and demands he stop going.

The achingly melancholy and heartbreaking reunion between the two characters reeks of missed opportunities, emotions that went unexpressed and “what if” scenarios.

Gouix and Malliarakis have incredible chemistry and help to create an amazing bond that is so believable, it makes the finale all the more haunting and upsetting.

Lambert does a fine job directing his own script and allowing the characters room to grow. I would love to see what would have happened to these two had the plot not demanded that one go off to prison.

Photographed by Matthieu Poirot-Delpech, the film looks terrific with riveting shots and splendid uses of the frame.

And, in the end, Malliarakis’s original and fearless performance makes Beyond the Walls a must-see film.

 




Ilo Orleans’s
Capital Games
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by G.A. Hauser, Wendell Lu.

Starring: Eric Presnall, Gregor Cosgrove, Shane Keough.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Steve (Eric Presnall) is a always-perfectly dressed, fit, slick advertising executive who has just broken up with his girlfriend. Mark (Gregor Cosgrove) is an ambitious, British up-and-comer who has just joined Steve’s agency and is already poised to steal a campaign from him. While on a company retreat in the desert, the two become lost and animosity turns carnal as the two kiss passionately and have a hot sexual encounter. Both claim they’ve never had an experience with a guy before.

The next day, Steven discovers that Mark is engaged to be married. Steve begins a tenacious journey to woo Mark, no matter the cost.

Director Ilo Orleans has cast his two romantic leads well and that drives the film and keeps us involved. Both Presnall and Cosgrove are sexy beasts and the tension between the two is palpable. But there is also a tenderness that is rarely seen in gay romances that is intense and lovely. And the conflicting feelings and angst displayed is wholly believable. I don’t know (nor do I want to know) the sexuality of the two leads. What I do know is that I believed in their journey and I rooted for them the same way I would root for Julia Roberts and whomever in a Hollywood rom-com.

Capital Games has its flaws, including a supporting cast of mediocre (at best) actors and some technical issues including bad sound quality in many scenes and standard camera shots that are simple and dull. But Presnall and Cosgrove make none of the flaws matter and keep us emotionally engaged right up until the gratifying and satisfying ending.




Jay Durrwachter’s
The Deception
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Jay Durrwachter.

Starring: David Busse, Jerry G. Angelo, Garrett Wade, Garner Jarrett.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

The Deception is a tale about how denial can create monsters.

Writer/director Jay Durrwachter, who sadly died after the film was completed, fashioned an intereresting narrative about two boys who fall in love and then grow up into very different men.

The two intertwining stories involve High School teens Chip (Garrett Wade) and Devon (Garnet Jarrett) who meet at the New Mexico State Fair and fall in love. Chip, though, hopes it’s just a phase he is going through. Twenty years later the guys are reunited. Chip now goes by Christopher (David Busse) and is poised to run for a Maryland state senate seat. He’s also engaged (to a woman) and about to marry into quite the power family. Devon (Jerry G. Angelo) has chosen a different path; he’s a gambler who is indebted to a crime family.

The two reunite and rekindle their love while flashbacks of their teen romance are cut into the now-narrative.

Durrwachter tells a very astute story of young love vs. adult compromise and how the wrong type of guidance can truly mess people up. Most of the parents in the film are awful people.

The youth portion of the story is the most effective as Durrwachter allows his camera to simply capture the boys falling in love.

In the present, things get a bit less…believable. Christopher is still gay but choses to live in the closet, deceiving his fiancé (although from her look after an odd sexual moment, she might know about him). I never quite bought Christopher as a politician. A more charismatic actor was needed. The main problem with the film is the cast. Stronger actors would have helped across the boards. And older Devon needed to be more appealing for me to care about his fate. In addition, the film is shot very flatly.

Durrwachter does capture some lovely moments, specifically the juxtaposition of the boy’s first sexual act with the men’s reunion sex--two very different life moments.




Alan Brown’s
Five Dances
Qfest 2013 Centerpiece Screening
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Alan Brown.

Starring: Ryan Steele, Reed Luplau, Catherine Miller, Luke Murphy, Kimye Corwin.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Yay! Yippie! Woohoo!

A welcome tonic to the angst-ridden, anxiety-ridden, self-hating, murderous, cheating, lying, prostituting, suicidal, fill-in-the-heinous-blank-ing gay boys and men that can be found in this year’s mostly-excellent lineup of Queer cinema, Chip (Newsies stage star Ryan Steele) and Theo (Reed Luplau) are two sweet young boys slowly discovering their love for one another. And it’s a refreshing delight!

Alan Brown’s Five Dances is an exquisite film that gave me a warm gooey feeling. Seriously, I was smiling like an idiot for the last half hour. Don’t get me wrong, I love my nihilism—and the festival has provided a lot of that, but I needed a break. Five Dances provided it. The film tells a mesmerizing story by using dance as a way to forward the inner-world of its characters and even moves the narrative along.

Chip is a painfully shy eighteen-year-old who comes from a broken home and grew up in the Midwest. Via drunken phone calls from his overbearing mother, we realize he’s escaped some form of hell.

Currently living on the street, Chip will do what it takes to live his dream as he was selected to be one of five dancers performing in an important NYC ballet festival.

Another young male dancer, Theo, notices him instantly and vice-versa—although it takes a while for shy Chip to actually speak to him. The two do dance magnificently together.

Another member of the troupe, Katie (a splendid Catherine Miller) discovers Chip has nowhere to stay and offers her couch. Chip begins to open up to her—including allowing her to hear the man in his mouth (see the film for details) and then, slowly gets to know Theo—as we do, usually by what he doesn’t say.

Ryan Steele has an instantly likeable quality (and a gay porn name). The actor admirably embodies Chip and allows the nuances to truly emerge when he’s dancing. It’s a terrific performance, one that should get him many more roles.

Luplau does a wonderful job with Theo, a very tenacious and resilient boy who doesn’t mind taking a few knocks because he knows Chip will eventually come around. Both Steele and Luplau have a very erotically charged sex scene right in the rehearsal room that well-captures the release of repression and the expression of a passion they find easier to convey when they’re dancing.

Five Dances blends the rehearsal process with the five key dances (the fifth is extraordinary) and as the film’s narrative expands to makes room for all five major characters; it also zeroes in on the budding romance between Chip and Theo with Chip the central protagonist throughout.

And the claustrophobic feel (most of the sequences take place in the rehearsal space) adds to the freedom the dancers convey when they’re creating art.

Jonah Bokaer is the choreographer responsible for the spellbinding dances.




Joshua Sanchez’s
Four
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Joshua Sanchez. Based on the play by Christopher Shinn.

Starring: Emory Cohen, Wendell Pierce, Aja Naomi King, E.J. Bonilla.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Rarely does a film come along that truly tries to examine this inability we humans sometimes have to connect with others—whether we are unwilling or truly unable to. When a movie smashes past that invisible but powerful area of loneliness most people live in, seldom does it keep things sketchy and messy—the way life usually is.

Joshua Sanchez has managed all that in his provocative new film, Four. Most of the controversy that will more than likely engulf the film will come from the statutory rape portion of the plot and Sanchez refusing to judge his characters—but that is part of the truth inherent in this wonderful work.

Four is based on a celebrated stage play by Christopher Shinn and probes one night in the life of four characters. That night happens to fall on the 4th of July. The metaphors about emancipation can begin.

June (Emory Cohen), is a fifteen-year-old boy who hooks up with Joe (Wendell Pierce), a middle-aged black man he met online.

Meanwhile, Joe’s teen daughter Abigayle (Aja Naomi King) is home caring for her sick mother and thinking dad is on a business trip. Needing to get out for a bit she calls biracial Dexter (E.J. Bonilla) a boy who has been trying to get with her. He happily comes to pick her up.

More plot should not be revealed since in watching the scenes naturally unfold, so many joys can be found.

There’s a desperation to these damaged characters that is both alienating and absorbing and Sanchez reveals just enough to keep us emotionally involved but never feels the necessity to overdue or overextend.

And there are nuances galore, from Joe’s leaving his clothes on during sex to June’s precociousness, behaving as if he’s an expert at seduction. But we are never given reasons for these things—thank God!

In addition, mom’s illness is never fully explained. All we know is that both Joe and Abigayle have been pretty messed up by it.

Wendell Pierce manages a carefully modulated performance—one that received an Indie Spirit nomination. Joe is never seen as a predator (even though he should know better) but, instead, he is really trying to make some kind of contact with the boy—beyond the sex act—as well as trying to force him to feel and not be ashamed of who he is (one gets the feeling, the way he was growing up.)

Emory Cohen perfectly embodies the painfully confused, petulant teen. Sex is easy; everything else, not so much. It’s the opposite of the obvious and fake portrayals of teens we get in films like The Twilight Saga (and Kristin Stewart in particular.)

Aja Naomi King gives us a girl who is so much older than she should be. Her walls are already built so high that reaching her seems impossible.

And E.J. Bonilla plays a sweet talker who is so much more. He’s so hopeful and craves love with such desire that his last scene devastates.

Sanchez has a way of mosaically weaving these worlds together in a manner that feels invasive and, yet, poetic.

Will these encounters in any way make an impression on any of the characters? We are left wondering. And, it’s that sense of wonder that keeps most moviegoers in a state of bliss.



Stephan Lacant’s
Free Fall
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Stephan Lacant & Karsten Dahlem.

Starring: Hanno Koffler, Max Riemelt, Katharina Schuttler.

In German, with English subtitles.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

We’ve seen the basic plot of Stephan Lacant’s Free Fall before. Like queer coming out and first love stories, plots involving a closeted gay man coming to terms with his sexuality (or not) have become staples of gay cinema. This year Tribeca offered Tomasz Wasilewski’s Floating Skyscrapers, one of the best, albeit most depressing takes.

Lacant gives it his angst-ridden, moody spin and when the narrative focuses on the two men, the film is quite compelling. The problems have everything to do with the fairly unlikeable supporting characters.

Marc (gruff, sensual Hanno Koffler) is about to become a police officer and a father. He lives with his girlfriend (Katharina Schuttler) who spends most of the film asking Marc if anything is wrong. They’ve also moved closer to his parents. All seems well until Marc meets fellow police academy student Kay Engel (sexy Max Riemelt) and the two share a hot kiss and Engel gives Marc a hand job while jogging in the woods.

Engel is a rule breaker, enjoying smoking joints out in the open. Marc is more conservative. The two begin a passionate affair with Marc sneaking off to have sex with Engel (who enjoys Marc’s take charge top manner) and then back home to his increasingly annoyed and suspicious wife. (In one sequence Marc literally goes from penetrating Engel to birthing class).

Before you can say melodrama, the secret is out and Marc’s homophobic parents get involved. The look on his mother’s face when she catches him kissing Engel is one of complete devastation.

Once the baby is born, Marc ignores Engel. But his girl finds out about the affair and the shit hits the proverbial fan.

No one in Marc’s life even tries to understand his situation, which feels contrived—especially since if they were all truly so evil, why would Marc keep going back.

On the romance front, Marc’s obsession seems to be more sexual while Engel is the one falling in love with Marc. Perhaps we are supposed to feel that it’s mutual but Marc’s violent manner with Engel and his never taking his feelings into account tell us otherwise.

Lacant’s film deals with impossible situations and decisions, with boys who refuse to grow up and become men—with upbringings that never allow even the inkling that there might be something else to life for a male than a wife and children (themes also explored in the Festival film The Last Match.)

The two leads are reason enough to experience Free Fall (I wish the title were more apropos). Both Koffler and Riemelt are fantastic and bring nuance to their characters.

The film is beautifully shot by Sten Mende. And while the ending is expected, it’s largely unsatisfying. Marc deserves more of a complex journey.




Gary Entin’s
Geography Club
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Edmund Entin, based on the Brent Hartinger novel.

Starring: Cameron Stewart, Justin Deeley, Andrew Caldwell, Nikki Blonsky, Ally Maki, Scott Bakula, Ana Gasteyer, Grant Harvey.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Geography Club is a film that could and should be shown in high schools across the USA.

Directed by Gary Entin, based on the book by Brent Hartinger and adapted by Edmund Entin (Gary’s twin), the film shows us just how far we’ve come with gay acceptance in this country, yet how far we still have to go when it comes to the way school systems still force antiquated notions of normalcy and where ‘fitting in’ is something every young person must cope with. And that no matter how ‘accepting’ people are, one must learn to accept himself/herself first—and that is never easy.

Good looking sixteen-year old geek Russell (Cameron Deane Stewart) is struggling with his sexuality and with the fact that he’s fallen for gorgeous, football jock Kevin (model Justin Deeley). Kevin has gotten Russell a spot on the team so he can hang out with him without raising any eyebrows. An Asian student, Min (Ally Maki) catches the two making out and sends notes to each inviting them to the Geography Club—which is a ruse for a room where gay and lesbian students can secretly meet.

Russell soon finds himself bullying fellow teammates in order to gain the acceptance of the jocks, but after a few humiliating incidents, he decides he’s ready to come out. It’s a bold move for a teen. But will Kevin follow suit? And will his fellow misfits support him?

Geography Club is The Breakfast Club meets Get Real (a Brit gem from 1998), a timely, trenchant comedy that has quite a bit to say about what it’s like to come out in 2013 but doesn’t feel the necessity to be didactic or melodramatic.

Stewart’s winsome and charming performance anchors the film. And Deeley is more than just eye-candy; his tormented jock turn—despite the fact that his family is so accepting—encapsulates the insecurities every teen feels at one time or another.

I could have lived without the obnoxious, overweight best friend who just- wants-to-get-laid that seems to be a prerequisite for every high school comedy but in the end, it makes the film more relatable—I guess…

And sometimes the film felt a bit too safe, but if that means it reaches a larger, younger audience, then so be it.

Slickly made and cast very well, Geography Club sends a clear and pertinent message out to young America about the actual joys of being different and how empowering that can be. It takes balls to stand up and acknowledge who and what you are—especially when you’re at an age where you’re still trying to figure it all out.

Kudos to the brothers Entin!




Darren Stein’s
G.B.F.
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by George Northy.

Starring: Michael J. Willett, Paul Iacono, Sasha Pieterse, Xosha Roquemore, Andrea Bowen, Megan Mullally, Jonathan Silverman, Rebecca Gayheart, Molly Tarlov, Taylor Frey and Natasha Lyonne.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Yeah…do not get why this film is playing so many festivals! Okay, I do—because names are involved. But there are so many better films that actually have something to say! And, Qfest, Opening Night??? Really?

G.B.F. tries too hard to be cool and achieves a reductive effect.

Sure the film has pretty colors like Another Gay Movie and bitchy teens like Mean Girls, Clueless and Heathers--and cute closeted gay boys like…well name any coming out movie from Edge of Seventeen onward…what it doesn’t have is an original script.

I really wanted to love this film but the formula, barely-amusing screenplay made it very difficult. So did the deliberately (I hope) over-the-top, cartoonish performances.

The basic plot has best gay (but not out) friends subdued Tanner (Michael J. Willett) and campy Brent (Paul Iacono) debating coming out when the three most popular bitches in school decide they need a GBF (Gay Best Friend) to make them even more popular. Tanner is outed instead of Brent (kinda ridiculous to think anyone with the ability to see would think Brent is straight, btw…) and must cope with his newfound fabulousness. Oy.

Splashily directed by Jawbreaker’s Darren Stein, there are other good things to recommend beginning with a truly terrific performance by Sasha Pieterse who scratches beneath the surface of the one-dimensionally written Fawcett. Most of the scenes involving Willet and Pieterse are wonderful and have a sweet and loving feel to them—something the rest of the film mostly lacks. It’s a shame the film wasn’t about these two exclusively.

In addition, Megan Mullally is beyond splendid as Brent’s mom. And the scene where they watch Brokeback Mountain together proves just how good she can be. It also proves how weak the script is since the scene should have and could have been so much funnier.

Jonathan Silverman and Rebecca Gayheart shine in too-brief cameos, as does Natasha Lyonne.

Willett, so good on United States of Tara, is overly lackluster here. I get that he’s supposed to be the “normal” gay but he simply comes off as uninteresting—again, I blame the script.

Molly Tarlov and Derek Mio play two totally dull and inconsequential friends and give dull and inconsequential performances.

And on a superficial note, Taylor Frey, is just stunning to look at. Can he act? Not sure. Possibly. Hopefully.

I appreciate what the filmmakers were trying to say about how gays should simply be accepted for who they are. I also like the idea that the film promotes diversity since blond, white America has had enough power. I just wish the film matched its challenging ideas and didn’t wallow in the trivial


 



Cory Krueckeberg’s
The Go Doc Project
Qfest 2013 Centerpiece Screening
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Cory Krueckeberg.

Starring: Tanner Cohen, Matthew Camp.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

A genre-blend of documentary, gay fiction and Warholian homage, Cory Krueckeberg’s The Go Doc Project is a seriously good film that is provocative, entertaining and quite thought provoking.

Just how much is fact and how much fiction? The press notes call it a “nearly no-budget, post-indie, hybrid of documentary, narrative & art film forms.”

Krueckeberg co-wrote and produced the fabulous Were the World Mine a few years back and decided, after frustration over waiting for money for projects, to shoot a film that would cost nearly nothing. The Go Doc Project is “in many ways a reaction to all of that industry nonsense.”

After obsessing over a hot young go-go dancer, Krueckeberg decided to fashion a film on that obsession. He cast Were the World Mine star Tanner Cohen as Doc, his alter-ego, a shy, awkward but sexually-curious college boy who so desperately wants to meet his crush (a go-go boy) that he makes up a story about being a documentary filmmaker wanting him as his subject.

Since real life go-go boy Matthew Camp was the helmer’s inspiration, he became the actual central focus in the film (and the faux filmmaker).

So begins Doc’s odyssey of obsession, interviewing Camp in his apartment, the gym, grocery shopping, at the market—even in the shower.

And, for inspiration—and since Camp mentions him, Doc watches a few classic Andy Warhol portraiture films, Eat, Sleep and Kiss. These groundbreaking works will factor into the project and add to the artistic statement Krueckeberg is making.

Soon the virgin Doc and the sexual dynamo Camp have become a couple of sorts and we get to see some very hot scenes that show off just how sexy these two are and just how seriously perfect Camp’s ass is. Ah, but all is not superficial…

You wouldn’t expect a film ostensibly about a student’s crush on a go-go dancer to be so intelligent and bring up a controversial issue that is vitally important to the LGBT community—that of assimilation. But that’s exactly what Krueckeberg does.

Doc is an admitted social misfit who wants to be like everyone else. Camp challenges that notion in a few terrific debate scenes. We can see the “new” gay who has been born into acceptance vs. the old gay (not that Camp is old, just older) who knew what is was like to be treated like a pariah. The new embraces normalcy while the old cherishes his individuality.

Quite subversive and similar to what James Franco and Travis Matthews are doing with Interior. Leather Bar., Krueckeberg challenges his audience by featuring incisive dialogue about how gays are losing their identities as they pursue all things straight—in particular, our sexual identities.

In addition, the film masterfully challenges notions of how we’ve become desexualized creatures who would rather sit in front of a computer and get off than actually physically be with someone. Camp is a stripper and that used to be seen as a way of detaching oneself from sex…and consequently from true intimacy, but social media and the Internet have made that look like the ultimate in intimate.

We are voyeurs watching these two horny guys get it on, but Krueckeberg also makes us feel like we have a stake in what happens—probably because we can all relate to the excitement, desire and fear involved in embarking on any type of romantic/sexual relationship.

The juxtaposition of all the various types of images the director uses, combined with his smart, perspicacious words as well as his genius casting of Cohen and equally genius use of Camp (and Camp’s appeal and intelligence as well) make The Go Doc Project one of the most bewitching and potent films of the year and one of only three films so far in 2013 that I immediately wanted to watch again--the other two being Before Midnight and Blue Jasmine--fine company indeed!

 




Chris Michael Birkmeier’s
In Bloom
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Chris Michael Birkmeier.

Starring: Kyle Wigent, Tanner Rittenhouse, Adam Fane, Jake Andrews, Steve Casilas.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

A thoughtful, smart and truthful depiction of first love, In Bloom immediately rises above the term “gay film” (not that there’s anything wrong with that term) finding universality by depicting something painfully real.

Chris Michael Birkmeier has made a startling and penetrating feature film debut as both writer and director of this poignant and affecting indie.

In the opening moments we meet our two lovers, seven months after they’ve broken up. It’s an awkward scene filled with tension—something that anyone who’s met a sig other after a breakup can relate to. The film then flashes back to the point where the relationship is just beginning to hit the skids. Birkmeier doesn’t feel the need to go all the way back to the beginning—he has cast his two leads so well that they convey all the necessary feelings that were there and are still there.

Kurt (Kyle Wigent) is an attractive, brooding pot-dealer with no real ambition outside of his small, insular world. Paul (Tanner Rittenhouse) is his adorable, devoted, anxiety-ridden boyfriend who works as a grocery clerk and dreams of going to Paris. All seems well and the two appear to be the perfect couple but when Kurt meets cute, pushy Kevin (Adam Fane), he begins to question what he has with Paul—this unease begins to manifest itself slowly but soon temptation leads to uncomfortable revelation.

Wigent is a subtle powerhouse as Kurt, conveying just the right amounts of longing and guilt. In a terrific scene where Kurt wishes he could go back to a time when things where “new and exciting,” when texts gave him “butterflies” and “a hard-on,” Wigent expresses such truth that there is no way we can hate his character—though we might want to.

Rittenhouse is his equal and when he asks the proverbial, “What did I do (wrong)” question, it’s just heartbreaking.

These are two very different people who fell in lust, and then love, alas, life happened. Birkmeier is a master at showing us just enough and ends the film beautifully.

I appreciated that these were two guys who happen to be gay but that no real big deal was made about their sexuality. I also appreciated the chemistry between the two, the sexiness, without needing nudity (not that there’s anything wrong with that, either).

Birkmeier’s only misstep is an unnecessary serial killer subplot but the doom forecasted is just a blip on the radar—thankfully—so it doesn’t take away from his extraordinarily keen and sincere story of an ill-fated couple that, at least, had their moment together.




Travis Matthews & James Franco’s
Interior. Leather Bar.
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Travis Matthews.

Starring: Val Lauren, James Franco, Travis Matthews, Christian Patrick, Collin Chavez, Brenden Gregory, Brad Roberge.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

In 1980, Exorcist helmer William Friedkin made the controversial film, Cruising, starring Al Pacino, which was seen by many as homophobic and sparked outrage and mass protests. The film tanked at the box office and has gained even more notoriety through the years. Friedkin alleged that the MPAA would not give the film the necessary R-rating until he cut 40-minutes of footage from the film. Later he would say that the cuts were graphic leather bar sex scenes and did not take away from the plot, but would have added mysterious twists and turns. When prepping the DVD, Friedkin looked for the missing footage but discovered that United Artists had destroyed it.

Actor/writer/director/provocateur James Franco, along with maverick gay director Travis Matthews have used the forever-to-remain-mysterious 40-minutes as a springboard for a fascinating docu-film thesis about artistic creation and sexuality.

Franco and Matthews never really attempt to recreate those lost forty minutes. They have something more subversive in mind.

The film does contain some tame sex scenes between men (especially considering Matthews’ previous effort I Want Your Love) but it’s the interviews with the creators as well as cast members that take up the majority of the running time—in particular, the lead/Pacino stand-in, Val Lauren, who is straight and very uncomfortable with the idea of even kissing a man, let alone watching homosexual acts go on around him.

Lauren agreed to be a part of the project because Franco called him and he’s one of his best friends. “I don’t personally like this project,” Lauren exclaims, but he’s responding to “James’s mission.” They made a yet-to-be-released film about closeted-gay movie actor Sal Mineo together with Franco directing and have known each other for years. Lauren’s friends lovingly refer to Interior. Leather Bar. as the “Franco Faggot Project.”

And no one, including Franco, seems to know what the project is really going to be—which adds to the excitement (and frustration for Val and the other “straight” actors.) Franco does want it to “come from an artistic place” where he feels “nothing should be taboo.” “I’m fucking sick of that shit,” Franco explains, “Sex should be a storytelling tool.” Lauren disagrees and takes a more traditional approach where less can convey more.

There’s honest dialogue about how gay marriage and the pursuit of all things straight seems to be erasing all the queerness from gays—any radicalness that was left.

There is a definite audacity in the way Franco insists on trying to see the world, not as he was raised to see it, but as a place where all types of sexual expression are allowed and celebrated. He’s appalled that he lives in a country that sees gay sex and gays as inferior—taboo.

In Cruising, the Pacino character infiltrates this lurid world where obscene and unspeakable behavior goes on behind closed doors. Franco and Matthews are trying to say that there’s nothing wrong with the world of the leather bar and perhaps it’s attitudes like that of Val Lauren that need to change. Perhaps his frightened, borderline-homophobic notions are the ones that are obscene.

The final shots may be manipulated for effect but there’s a stunning transformation witnessed that can be seen as either hopeful…or inevitable.

In Interior. Leather Bar. Part Two. I would love to see Lauren dive into some gay sexual act with abandon and not worry so much about his image and his alleged straightness.




Antonio Hens’s
La Partida (The Last Match)
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Antonio Hens & Abel Gonzalez Melo.

Starring: Milton Garcia, Renier Diaz, Toni Canto’.

In Spanish, with English subtitles.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

In impoverished Havana, Cuba, cute young Renier (Renier Diaz) has a wife, baby and values-challenged grandmother-in-law to support so he sells himself to older men at night. During the day, he plays soccer (very well) and hangs out with his friend Yosvani (Milton Garcia) who is also saddled with a girlfriend as well as a very powerful mob-like father-in-law, whom he works for.

One really hot day on Yosvani’s roof the two boys cannot contain their desire for one another any longer and they sexually attack one another. They fall pretty hard, but they’re familial situations keep getting in the way of their love/lust for each other.

Complicating things is the fact that Renier has met an older Spanish gentleman who richly rewards him for his services. His grandmom-in-law (who any viewer would initially think was his mother) feels school is a waste of time and that Renier should go off and marry the older gent so he can send money back to take care of his “family.” Talk about screwed up! As a matter of fact, and a theme in many Qfest films this year, all the adults in this film are horrific role models.

Both boys want to escape from their stifling world. Renier is sought by a soccer scout to try out for the majors. Meanwhile, Yosvani hatches a plan that involves stealing money from his homophobic dad-in-law. Suffice to say the film’s denouement is not cheery.

Diaz and Garcia have an electric intensity onscreen and Diaz, in particular, is just beautiful to watch.

Once again, here is a film that depicts what repression and an ignorant upbringing can lead to. You watch, dreading the outcome and understanding that there’s still much ground that needs to be broken before many places in the world accept same-sex love as normal and healthy.



Stefan Westerwelle & Patrick Schuckmann’s
Lose Your Head
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Patrick Schuckmann.

Starring: Fernando Tielve, Marko Mandic, Sesede Terziyan, Stavros Yagulis.

In German and English with English Subtitles

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Talk about your mind-altering movies!

“Your gonna lose your head,” the adorable protagonist is told early on in one of the club scenes. This warning should be announced to the audience before the film begins since they’re about to embark on a trippy thriller that will truly mess with their minds.

Luis (the infinitely appealing Fernando Tielve), a sexy, naïve boy from Madrid, leaves his boyfriend and travels to Berlin where he immediately plunges himself into the drug-ridden club world. There he meets a slew of oddball characters including a girl who truly resembles a drag queen. He does a lot of coke (or is it coke?) and begins a sexual affair with an older, shady seventies remnant, Viktor (an appropriately frightening Marko Mandic) who may or may not be an evil murderer who enjoys decapitating his victims. Of course that doesn’t stop Luis from going back for more…

Lose Your Head is a manic, lunatic adventure and just when you think the film gets way too ridiculous and ludicrous, directors Stefan Westerwelle & Patrick Schuckmann pull the rug out of that certainty and give you a good reason why things might seem crazy. And then they add more David Lynchian twists.

Have a shot or five before you see Lose Your Head, and then let the paranoid looniness wash over you.



Jane Clark’s
Meth Head
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Jane Clark, John W. McLaughlin.

Starring: Lukas Haas, Blake Berris, Necar Zadegan, Wilson Cruz, Candis Cayne, Scott Patterson, John W. McLaughlin, Theo Rossi, Tom Sizemore.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Lukas Haas has come a long way since his first role, at age seven, in the disturbing nuclear-holocaust film, 1983's Testament—but he continues to take on challenging and demanding roles.

In a stirring and all-encompassing performance, Haas plays the role of an affluent gay guy addicted to crystal meth in the aptly titled, Meth Head.

An insecure, aspiring designer, Kyle (Haas) on the surface has it all: a great boyfriend (Wilson Cruz, underused but good), a decent job and a loving sister. Deep down he’s an emotional basket case scarred by his homophobic father’s treatment and seduced by meth’s allure.

After he tries “Tina” at a gathering, via a photographer named Dusty (sexy Blake Berris), Kyle is hooked. Soon his life begins that proverbial downward spiral and, after his beau kicks him out, he moves in with Dusty and his gal, Maia (Necar Zadegan) who takes care of her grandmother (who isn’t really her grandmother). When the trio run out of money Kyle and Dusty are forced into selling themselves for money, first carefully, but as they become more and more desperate—they’re more willing to do what it takes—which takes it toll--physically and psychologically.

What I really liked and appreciated most about Meth Head, which sometimes does spill over into PSA territory, is how it did not judge it’s trio of addicts too harshly and how director/co-screenwriter Jane Clark and co-screenwriter (and the film’s inspiration) John W. McLaughlin take great care to show us that these are real and good people—not villains—who became addicted to one of the most addicting drugs around. They were all decent people with great potential who had the misfortune of trying meth. The stats in the film challenge notions of the normal ‘addict’ approach to things. Sure, it’s an addiction but meth is unique in that you can become addicted instantly.

In addition, the film goes far beyond the politically correct landscape to suggest that sometimes it is indeed the people in our lives—and their lack of support and caring that drive people to nihilistic behavior--that whole EASY idea that it’s never anyone’s fault but the addict can be seen as bullshit blather from the mouths of bumpersticker-spewing drones.

Besides Haas, each actor brings something to the table. Berris is touching and affecting as Dusty and we can easily understand Kyle’s crush on him. Scott Patterson (so good on Gilmore Girls) brings a poignancy to the despicable role of the disappointed father. And Candice Cayne (Dirty Sexy Money) is the film’s Lady Chablis, a dignified lady who refuses to judge—and provides the film with its only humorous moments (which it so desperately needs).

There’s an amazing moment mid-movie where Maia visits her little girl, who she lost custody of. The child takes one look at her mother and, with a look of disappointment and resignation says, “You’re high.” Then she embraces her. It’s a heartbreaking few seconds. Yet so piercing.

Meth Head is a tough sit, but it’s worth it.




Lee Galea’s
Monster Pies
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Lee Galea.

Starring: Tristan Barr, Lucas Linehan.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

One would not expect a movie titled Monster Pies to be a raw, absorbing and emotionally devastating experience.

Sure it’s a movie about two boys experiencing love for the first time—which has been and will continue to be done to death--but it’s about so much more. It’s about connecting with others—or, rather, being unable to no matter how much you want to. And it’s about how parents can sometimes be the real monsters in our lives and how some kids can survive them but some cannot. And how the surface-strong are actually not strong at all.

Writer/Director Lee Galea takes the high school coming out story and steers it to an extreme—and it pays off.

The film takes place in Melbourne, Australia at an unspecified time when there are no cell phones or DVDs yet. People have to use landlines to communicate and VHS is all the rage. Social media is on the horizon. So is more of an acceptance of gays and lesbians. But in the mid-90s—not so much.

Odd, awkward, babbly movie-buff Mike (Tristan Barr) is called a ‘faggot’ at school but never fights back. One day a handsome, quiet boy named Will (Lucas Linehan) arrives and the two hit it off. And while Mike comes from a broken home with secrets, it doesn’t compare to the nightmare Will lives with—including a borderline catatonic mother and a physically abusive father. The boys find solace in each other’s arms.

In English class they must complete an assignment based on Romeo and Juliet. The boys choose to film a Frankenstein/Wolf Man love story—which, of course, acts as a metaphor for themselves.

I won’t reveal the last third of the film except to say that I was gobsmacked—and not in the happy way.

Casting is key to any love story and so is chemistry. Both Barr and Linehan handle the material really well and have a great rapport with one another. They’re very different characters (a gay coming out story staple where one is usually more masculine than the other) yet they complement one another. Linehan is especially good at showing us Will’s deeply damaged inner life—sometimes via a reaction shot. And Barr, in the final moments, goes pretty deep.

Most of the appropriately angst-ridden songs in the film are credited to Pina Tuteri.

Monster Pies deserves a better title. It’s a gem and deserves to be mentioned with the best coming-out films, that include: Beautiful Thing; Edge of Seventeen and Get Real.




Michael Mayer’s
Out in the Dark
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Michael Mayer & Yael Shafrir.

Starring: Nicholas Jacob, Michael Aloni, Jameel Khouri.

In Hebrew & with English subtitles.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Michael Mayer’s feature debut, Out in the Dark, examines a slew of Jewish/Muslim grey areas with a gripping gay love story at its core.

Super hottie Israeli lawyer Roy Schaefer (super hottie Michael Aloni) hits on timid Palestinian student Nimr (loveable Nicolas Jacob) in a Tel-Aviv gay bar. The two begin a tumultuous affair and fall deeply in love.

But the relationship is threatened when Nimr’s visa is revoked by a bully security chief (Alon Pudt) who blackmails homosexual Palestinians into giving him damning information in exchange for not informing families about their sexuality. Nimr’s brother has been stockpiling weapons and may be planning a terrorist act--so there is much to lose. In addition, and most importantly, any idea that Nimr is gay would bring shame on his family and seal his fate—as it did with his drag queen friend, Mustafa (Loai Noufi).

Roy has his own family issues with a mother who is anything but happy about her son’s sexuality and a father who appears indifferent.

When Nimr’s secret is revealed, his once loving mother throws him out, virtually sentencing him to death.

Out in the Dark is another in a series of Qfest films this year where parental figures prove to be monsters. Here, of course, it’s tied to extremist fundamental religious beliefs.

Nimr becomes a fugitive who is despised in his own hometown and not wanted in Tel-Aviv. He turns to Roy for help and Roy must make some challenging decisions.

There are no easy answers, explanations or motivations in this film and Mayer never forces melodrama on his audience, making the film all the more powerful and the narrative all the more exciting.

Besides the thriller aspect of the film, the love story keeps us involved and invested. The prevalent and pervasive homophobia in the Middle East is presented in a very honest and heartbreaking manner.

Aloni and Jacob are wonderful—we instantly feel the passion between these two and, even when they spar, we know they believe in each other.

And I applaud Mayer for not going to either extreme with his ending, although I wanted a happy one…I craved a happy one…after all the unsettling endings so far among the Qfest batch…



Ash Christian’s
Petunia
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Ash Christian, Theresa Bennett.

Starring: Tobias Segal, Thora Birch, Christine Lahti, David Rasche, Michael Urie, Brittany Snow, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jimmy Heck.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Ash Christian (Fat Girls, Mangus!) has grown significantly as a director (and co-writer) with his new effort, Petunia, an eccentric, quirky, nasty and enveloping black comedy that has Wes Anderson undertones.

Petunia is the last name of the nutty, disturbed but, ultimately, loveable family the movie gives us a glimpse inside.

Charlie (Tobias Segal) is the neurotic, gay and celibate younger brother who is embarrassed by his family but loves them nonetheless. His older brother Michael (Eddie Kaye Thomas) has just married steely, hard-ass Vivian (Thora Birch), who happens to be sleeping with the hot, gruff sex-addict middle brother Adrian (Jimmy Heck, dead on good). Vivian discovers she is pregnant but isn’t certain who the father is, nor is she sure she wants to keep it.

That’s disheartening news to the Petunia parents (Christine Lahti & David Rasche), two sado-masochistic psychotherapists who are in desperate need of psychotherapy.

Charlie (who soon looks like the normal one of the brood) meets Vivian’s gay cousin George (Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie) and they embark on an affair (sexless at first), but Charlie soon finds out that George is married to Robin (Brittany Snow, irresistible), an anorexic hot mess.

Well before you can say dysfunction, demons are exorcised, babies are born, chastity bracelets are snapped and plates are broken.

Christian keeps the action moving swiftly and hilariously along, never condescending to his characters (the way Todd Solondz often does) but simply allowing them to jump off their respective cliffs knowing there’s a net there to catch them. That net is the familial bond—very strongly established early on.

Newcomer Tobias Segal anchors the film with a winning, delightfully amusing performance as Charlie—channeling Bud Cort in Harold and Maude and Timothy Bottoms in Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing. (Okay, maybe not that last one since no one has seen it but it did remind me of him!)

Lahti, always good, is splendidly disturbed here. It’s a pleasure to see the feelings of fiftysomethings depicted honestly in a film—that fear they’re becoming old and irrelevant. Lahti is especially funny and poignant in a scene involving her post-plastic surgery.

Christian’s misfits are simply trying to survive. They make tons of mistakes as they go along but, at least, they have each other.

Petunia deserves a theatrical release so audiences can discover and enjoy this quirky comedy.



Marcelo Briem Stamm’s
Solo
Qfest 2013
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Marcelo Briem Stamm.

Starring: Patricio Ramos, Mario Veron.

In Spanish with English subtitles.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Marcelo Briem Stamm’s Solo reminded me of a Neil LaBute work with the story predominantly focused on two characters in a claustrophobic setting and a power-shifting narrative that twists and turns and keeps the audience guessing until the big reveal.

Ostensibly about two men who are trying to connect with one another, the film is actually an extremely uncomfortable but engrossing morality tale about trust, deception, desire and, to paraphrase one of the character’s, the dangers of bringing a stranger into your home. The film is Argentinian but this story could happen anywhere—especially in the U.S.

Manuel (adorable Patricio Ramos) is a sweet, cute, slightly neurotic furniture designer who has just ended a relationship with a cad who was more interested in threesomes and gangbangs then in Manuel—or so we are led to believe.

Julio (smoldering Mario Veron) is a rough-trade type who lives on the poorer side of town, gives off a dangerous vibe and has a nasty temper. He is being phone-stalked by someone he met online—or so he says.

After some chat room flirtation the two twentysomething boys meet and there’s an instant sexual attraction. Both have major baggage, which includes trust issues galore. Both say they won’t have sex unless they’re in a relationship but as the night goes on, neither keeps that promise—which allows writer/director Stamm to steam up the screen with some hot scenes.

When they’re not passionately doing it, they’re playing a treacherous game of cat and mouse—with one behaving creepily like a psycho and the other nervously trying to calm him/figure him out. Both lay claim to being honest but there are ways of telling versions of the truth. Somewhere in those versions, a jaw-dropping secret is revealed, but not before the two make plans to run away together.

Solo is an astute piece of cine-theatre with two dynamite leads that keep us riveted until the bitter end.

The film flashes back to scenes of Manuel’s relationship with his ex, but the story is firmly set in the here and now and spans just a few hours time.

My only real complaint was that too much was revealed at the end. A little more mystery and a little less madness might have gone a long way. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and it should play well with its target audience.

Oh, and if Solo doesn’t act as a deterrent for gay men against the dangers of meeting strangers then nothing will.


 



Todd Verow’s
Tumbledown
Qfest 2013 Centerpiece Screening
qfest.com
July 11th-22nd
Philadelphia

Written by Brad Hallowell & Todd Verow.

Starring: Brad Hallowell, Brett Faulkner, Todd Verow.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Todd Verow does not slow down. Always ready to disturb, titillate and provoke, he succeeds on all three levels with Tumbledown, the latest addition to his Verouevre.

Last year, Verow made his most mainstream--most satisfying film to date, Bad Boy Street.

This year he’s taken on a story inspired by true events, examining a sexual assault from three different perspectives, trying to get to some truth.

Hottie Brad Hallowell (co-screenwriter) plays Rick, a sexually voracious bartender who is hit on by a blond guy (Brett Faulkner) and his older boyfriend Jay (Verow). There’s a flirtation and a while later Mike invites Rick up to Jay’s cabin on Tumbledown Mountain. Rick is asked to bring drugs along and Mike flirts shamelessly with Rick, leaving Jay to feel left out, alone and angry. He comes up with a plan to get back at them (well, at Rick mostly) and the execution of this heinous plan is then seen from the points of view of all three characters—although no matter how you slice it—it’s horrific.

Casting himself as the villain, Verow almost makes us feel sorry for Jay—that is until an eleven o’clock reveal that changes everything.

Hallowell is a good actor and is ridiculously nice to look at naked (with one of the nicest asses I’ve seen in any film this year). And there are plenty of scenes and angles to choose from—and Verow takes advantage of all of them.

Verow is interested in telling compelling stories but he is also an excellent filmmaker who seems to enjoy working in the medium—structuring shots with great care and capturing an alluring sexiness mixed with an eerie sense that at any given time anything can…and will happen.

In the Hallowell/Verow world of pushing sexual boundaries, you never know what dark side will be exposed. And to what extremes characters are willing to go. As creepy/sexy gay thrillers go, Tumbledown is a must-see.

 


 


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