Film
What's Up For Today?

New York Cool - Ask Miss Wendy

 

 

 





Patrik-Ian Polk’s
Blackbird
Newfest 2014-- July 24-29
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater

Written by: Patrik-Ian Polk & Rikki Beadle-Blair. Based on the novel by Larry Duplechan.

Starring: Mo’Nique, Isaiah Washington, Julian Walker, Keven Allesee, Gary LeRoi Gray, Torrey Laamar, Nikki Jane, Wanita Woodgett.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Patrik-Ian Polk’s Blackbird reminded me a lot of Del Shores’ Southern Baptist Sissies. Polk plays with the same tonal shifts as Shores, blending comedy with a theatrical melodrama, fearlessly telling his story the way he feels it should be told and smartly establishing characters we care about, early on, so we go along for the journey.

Blackbird has a fantastic fantasy-sequence opening (which I refuse to give away) that immediately warns the audience that they’re in for a provocative ride.
Lovable newcomer Julian Walker plays Randy, a 17-year-old black boy living in a small town in Mississippi and, along with his gaggle of misfit friends, struggling to figure out who they are and what they want, in a town where God is feared and people must behave the way they’re expected to and live a good Christian life—whatever the hell that is.

Randy fights his attraction to hot straight jock, Todd (Torrey Laamar), hangs out with his almost-out gay friend, Efrem (Gary LeRoi Gray) and does his best to lead a good, pure heterosexual life, despite his true feelings. At home, his mom (Mo’Nique) remains obsessed with finding the daughter that disappeared six years ago. She is estranged from Randy’s dad (Isaiah Washington), who is trying to build a relationship with his son.

From what I was able to gather online, the original novel, by Larry Duplechan, is a coming of age story about a black, closeted-gay high schooler, but that’s where most of the similarities to the adaptation end and Polk adds his own autobiographical elements (with help from his co-screenwriter, Rikki Beadle-Blair). For me, it works more than not.

Julian Walker is a sublime and subtle force onscreen. He does shy confusion very well, but that dash of the devil is there, too. And he has a gorgeous, rapturous singing voice (even when crooning the lyrics: “You suck, in the most distracting way.”)

Monique (who is a producer on the film) shines in her first major role since winning the Oscar for Precious. At first, I was put off by an almost caricature of a religious mother (Piper Laurie in Carrie came to mind when she says things like, “fornicate fruitlessly like a craven beast”), but sure enough as the film progressed, layers began to strip away as we learned more about this devastated, desperate woman clinging to hope.

Gary LeRoi Gray is awesome as Efrem stealing his scenes and never “playing” his character as gay. Oh and he has the best last name ever—for those who are TV/movie addicts.

Kevin Allesee’s Marshall is charming and seductive with an alluring swagger, but the actor also hints at the demons lurking beneath the surface. Allesee reminded of a smoldering young Richard Gere.

And Isaiah Washington wholly redeems himself from any of his alleged homophobic sins of the past by taking on this role and having a lot of fun with it. In particular, his reaction to his son’s use of profanity and a speech later in the film about his own deviant teen behavior is proof that he’s a good actor and his heart is in the right place.

Like life, the film is sometimes messy and all over the place, with some wince-inducing dialogue/scenes, but it’s also a powerful commentary on how we have a long way to go in areas of this country when it comes to acceptance and understanding.

And the penultimate scene killed and had me in tears.

NEWFEST: Screenings will take place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam) and the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, New York, NY 10023.

Visit: newfest.org/2014-film-guide/ for complete information.





Mischa Kamp’s
Boys (Jongens)
Newfest 2014-- July 24-29
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater

Written by Jaap-Peter Enderle, Chris Westendorp

Cast: Gijs Blom, Ko Zandvliet, Jonas Smulders, Ton Kas, Stijn Taverne, Myron Wouts, Ferdi Stofmeel, Rifka Lodeizen.

In Dutch with English subtitles

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Coming out films appear to be getting more fluid and less accepting of anything but, well, acceptance, which doesn’t mean the anguish and apprehension aren’t still very much at play, but with each new generation comes a fiercer defiance.

Director Mischa Kamp gives us a warm and playful look at two teen boys realizing their feelings for one another in the refreshingly unapologetic Dutch film, Boys (Jongens).

Adorable, slightly shy 15-year-old, Sieger (Gijs Blom) is training for a track meet with three other boys including the goofy, gregarious older Marc (Ko Zandvliet) who catches his eye. The four go swimming and Sieger and Marc frolic a bit longer together and end up kissing. As he departs, Sieger announces, “I’m not a homo.”

Alas, Sieger is soon discovering the opposite may be true as he attempts to smooch up a gal with little interest. Instead he finds himself seeking out Marc more and more.

Sieger has a slightly tempestuous home life since his mother was killed and he and his dad must deal with his his rebel brother (Jonas Smulders) constantly causing trouble (although he turns out to be pretty harmless).

The teen is surprised by his feelings and, initially denies them, but soon realizes it’s who he is and Marc is who he wants to be with.

Mercifully avoiding melodrama and seamlessly blending the training scenes with key moments of the boys’ intense longing and Sieger’s realizations, Kamp and co-screenwriters Jaap-Peter Enderle and Chris Westendorp do a wonderful job of capturing the bourgeoning desires every teen feels—only sometimes it’s same-sex involved.

And the female director takes a less-explicit more innocent approach with the boys—which is refreshing.

Kamp has some fascinating framing ideas, including a terrific shot from the point-of-view of a trampoline as well as a gorgeous from-above moment when the two boys kiss for the first time (kudos: cameraman Melle van Essen).

The cast is excellent--particularly Blom, who says more with his expressive face than any spoken word. Zandvliet captures that rare thing, a young boy confident in his sexuality and wanting the same from the boy he likes.

Two complaints. The film ends a bit too abruptly (a few more scenes would have rocked) and I could have lived without the slo-mo running scenes. Why must every movie that involves running do its own riff on Chariots of Fire?

But these are minor moans. The film is lovely and affecting.

NEWFEST: Screenings will take place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam) and the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, New York, NY 10023.

Visit: newfest.org/2014-film-guide/ for complete information.




Stefan Haupt’s
The Circle (Der Kreis)
Newfest 2014-- July 24-29
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater

Written by Stefan Haupt, Christian Felix, Ivan Madeo & Urs Frey.

Starring: Matthias Hungerbuehler, Sven Schelker, Ernst Ostertag, Robi Rapp, Anatole Taubman, Marianne Sagebrecht, Stephan Witschi, Antoine Monot Jr, Matthias Meier, Peter Jecklin, Babett Arens, Markus Merz, Martin Hug, Marie Leuenberger.

In German with English subtitles

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

German helmer Stefan Laupt has borrowed a filmic construct from Warren Beatty’s 1981 masterpiece, Reds, and crafted an engaging period piece that tells an important story that is little known to most audiences. The film proves timely (especially with Putin’s edict in Russia and the gay marriage battle here) but a bit frustrating.

Set in post-WW2 Europe, The Circle (Der Kreis) tells the real-life tale of a few brave souls who managed to make a difference in the gay rights movement at a time when it was dangerous, even deadly, to speak out in any way.

It’s Zurich in 1956 and a group of homosexuals start a gay magazine (The Circle) as well as throw an occasional ball where gays can go and enjoy one another’s company. Since homosexuality was still a crime in Germany (and other countries) gays would cross the border into Switzerland for these lavish events. That is until several gay men are brutally murdered by rent boys, leading the police to investigate and begin harassing the Circle, demanding to have access to their subscription list and raiding their balls (please, no pun intended).

The heart of the film is the love story between Ernst Ostertag (Matthias Hungerbuehler), a French lit teacher at an all-girls academy who begins writing for the circle and Roebi Rapp (Sven Schelker), a drag performer at the costume galas. The two meet and fall in love, despite the fact that Rapp was only 18 and the age of consent at the time was 20.

The real Ernst and Roebi are interviewed in non-fiction segments peppered throughout the film (and include others from the time giving their take on certain key events that happened). These moments are certainly interesting (and it’s great to know from the get-go that the relationship has lasted into their twilight years) but the musings sometimes deflect from the compelling narrative.

I found the political aspects of the film most potent. The idea that being found out could ruin a career—even a life--might be foreign to today’s gay youth but it’s a reminder of how fast things have changed. I do wish important notions about the gay movement, including how the subculture of promiscuity became a defining factor, were probed more deeply, but that feels like nitpicking.

The actors are all very good and it’s a delight to see the real Roebi still doing his drag number. Amazingly, it took Ernst a while to officially come out. He was 70. He and Roebi became the first same-sex couple to register as partners in Switzerland in 2000.

The Circle is a significant film that tells a story of a time in our recent history, when gays were treated as criminals. And about the handful of heroes that fought as much as they could, so that laws and attitudes would eventually change.

NEWFEST: Screenings will take place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam) and the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, New York, NY 10023.

Visit: newfest.org/2014-film-guide/ for complete information.



Eytan Fox’s
Cupcakes
Newfest 2014-- July 24-
29
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater

Written by Eli Bijaoui & Eytan Fox.

Starring: Efrat Dor, Anat Waxman, Dana Ivgy, Keren Berger, Yael Bar-Zohar, Ofer Schecter, Avon Levi, Ruth Arseni.

In Hebrew with English subtitles

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

For those fans of Eytan Fox who are expecting his new feature to have the daring and dramatic edge that past films, Yossi and Jagger and, especially, The Bubble exhibited, I warn you (if you haven’t already figure it out by the title) his new feature, Cupcakes is a definite deviation from his gritty norm. It’s also an adorable, infectious confection that harkens back to the old Hollywood musicals of yore—albeit with his traditional (and most welcome) gay-friendly twist!

Cupcakes themes are about accepting people for who they are and lashing out against conformity and capitulation. Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world where people could truly be themselves and be lauded for it? It’s a delightful fairy tale about six (really seven) misfits who bond together and undergo individual and group catharses that change them. It’s silly, goofy and most entertaining stuff that owes a lot to MGM, Almodovar and Sirk.

Six friends who live in the same apartment complex in Tel Aviv get together to watch UniSong, a fictional version of the type of TV competitions that have been popular in Europe long before the Brit shows begot American Idol, America’s Got Talent, etc.… (Eurovision is the main one) and have been almost as popular as soccer (moreso probably to women and gay men).

The five gals and one gay incredulously (suspension of disbelief here) make up a song on the spot in order to cheer up the eldest friend whose husband has run off to Thailand. A phone-vid of the song is submitted to UniSong reps by one of our gang and they are chosen as the Israeli reps for the next UniSong competition.

And here’s where the trouble (and fun) really starts as each have a reason to not want to be a part of this lunatic endeavor, but as you can guess, they all eventually come together and the execs who run the show decide they need a ton of bells and whistles to dazzle the home viewers. Soon their lovely song of friendship becomes a ridiculous camp version and the sextet is unrecognizably altered with dopey costumes and Brady-Bunch choreography. Can they battle the powers-that-be and remain true to themselves? Take a guess.

The ensemble rocks with special mention going to Ofer Schecter as the ostentatious male member of the group who is having a secret affair with the son of the sponsors (super hottie Avon Levi).

Eytan Fox is to be commended for his eclectic output of films that remain gay-centric. Here the bright colors, larger-than-life characters and life-affirming message charm the viewer but also leave them with important food for thought—and a definite literal craving for cupcakes.

NEWFEST: Screenings will take place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam) and the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, New York, NY 10023.

Visit: newfest.org/2014-film-guide/ for complete information.




Karim Ainouz’s
Futuro Beach (Praia do Futuro)
Opening Night Feature
Newfest 2014-- July 24-29
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater

Written by Felipe Braganca & Karim Ainouz.

Starring: Wagner Moura, Clemens Schick, Jesuita Barbosa, Savio Ygor Ramos.

In Portuguese & German with English subtitles

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Karin Ainouz’s stunningly shot, but ultimately distancing film Futuro Beach (Praia do Futuro) is divided into three acts. The first two transfix while the last portion is an abstract, almost-Lynchian attempt at messing with narrative cohesion but does the film a tremendous disservice.

The movie opens, promisingly enough, with a rather harrowing drowning on Futuro Beach in Brazil, a mesmerizing if treacherous swimming locale. Donato (Wagner Moura), a devoted lifeguard, tries to save a drowning German biker, Heiko, caught in the severe ocean waves, but he cannot. Disturbed by the incident, Donato personally informs the victim’s travel buddy, Konrad (Clemens Schick).

It turns out Konrad and Heiko were war vets who fought in Afghanistan together, which might explain their need to thrill-seek despite the fact that Heiko had a family at home—unless the two were also lovers, something Konrad doesn’t admit to, but given the impressionistic plot that follows, something that is more than possible.

Donato and Konrad proceed to have intense sex on the beach and form an unlikely but believable attachment. We are also privy to Donato’s playful relationship with his 10-year-old brother, Ayrton (Savio Ygor Ramos). The body of Heiko is never discovered and Konrad must return home to Germany.

Section two finds the couple in Berlin and the stark, bleak winter feel of the photography is a jarring contrast to the beauty of the Brazilian beach. The two have developed an intense relationship. Donato appears conflicted about his new surroundings but, in an odd scene on a bus as he’s about to depart for home, decides to stay.

Act three picks up many years later as Ayrton (now played by charismatic Jesuita Barbosa) arrives on Donato’s doorstep, angry and resentful about his brother leaving him. Although they’re no longer together, Donato immediately calls Konrad, who tries to understand the boy in a way it seems Donato is refusing to do.

--------

Spoiler issues:

Why would Donato call Konrad if they were no longer together, unless he has no other friends? Ainouz should have filled in this gigantic blank otherwise it simply feels like a plot contrivance.

Ayrton informs his brother that their mother has been dead for over a year. How is it (and why would) Donato break all ties with his family when he loved them so? This is never addressed and the film clearly takes place today since the war in Afghanistan is brought up in the early sequences so computers and cell phones exist.

-----------------

So much is unexplained that the viewer is left with a tremendous sense of frustration and this is the fault of Ainouz and his co-screenwriter, Felipe Braganca.

The director does excel at creating a sensual, evocative atmosphere, in large part thanks to cinematographer Ali Olcay Gozcaya and the two leads are superb (and sexy as hell!). In addition, I applaud the filmmakers for probing the alienation and fear immigrants must feel trying to assimilate into a new country and culture. I wish the film had focused more on that and had answered some of the glaring questions.

It’s still a worthwhile sit and certainly a visual feast.

Music is a key element in Futuro Beach and, as disappointing as the third act is, once David Bowie’s killer rendition of “Heroes,” sung in English and German, blares over the end credits, we are reminded of the most exciting elements of the film.

NEWFEST: Screenings will take place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam) and the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, New York, NY 10023.

Visit: newfest.org/2014-film-guide/ for complete information.

 




Bruce LaBruce’s
Gerontophilia

Newfest 2014-- July 24-29
Closing Night
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater

Written by Bruce LaBruce & Daniel Allen Cox.

Starring: Pier-Gabriel Lajoie, Walter Borden, Katie Boland, Marie-Helene Thibault.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Bruce LaBruce takes a decidedly provocative premise and lovingly examines an atypical type of relationship between two males in Gerontophilia, and in doing so dares to challenge accepted social norms, especially when it comes to the sexual desires of old folks.

Lake (sexy Pier-Gabriel Lajoie) is an 18-year-old twink, with a girlfriend, who happens to be sexually attracted to…elderly men.

Now, Lake’s relationship with his gal Desiree (Katie Boland) is odd at best. They make out as she spews the names of female revolutionaries she admires. And she has way too much interest in the female lead singer of a grunge band.

Lake, thanks to his mess of a mother (Marie-Helene Thibault), gets a dream job at a nursing home and falls for an 80-year-old, Melvyn Peabody (Walter Borden). When the staff discovers they're fooling around, the two embark on a road trip where they get to know one another better. It turns out Lake is a very jealous boyfriend and with good reason; Melvyn is quite the flirt when he’s out and about.

LaBruce flirts with the fetishistic nature of Lake’s desires just enough to allow the audience to feel comfortably uncomfortable and, then, he grounds the film in a loving realism that forces us to take a long hard look at whether any of us have the right to judge what goes on in the bedrooms--and more importantly--hearts of others.

We also get some commentary about the horrible treatment of old people in assisted living facilities. The film takes place in Canada but is universal in that respect.

I am fairly unfamiliar with the work of Bruce LaBruce but apparently his movies are filled with sex and nudity. Not so much the case here. It’s quite tame.

I was surprised this was Newfest’s Closing Night selection. While Gerontophilia’s premise is certainly bold, the film becomes a sweet, Harold and Maude-y plea for acceptance. But the filmmaking is pretty standard—almost banal. There are some awkward sequences, one involving jealousy and a cake, that should have been reshot. Often the dialogue feels stilted and forced. In addition, the acting is all over the place with newcomer Lajoie faring best, although he isn’t speaking in his native tongue (the boy is French Canadian).

I do applaud LaBruce for showing us how a teen can find beauty in a man who has lived as long as Melvyn and for giving the relationship serious development.

NEWFEST: Screenings will take place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam) and the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, New York, NY 10023.

Visit: newfest.org/2014-film-guide/ for complete information.



Julián Hernández’s
I am Happiness on Earth (Yo soy la felicidad de este mundo)
Newfest 2014-- July 24-29
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater

Written by Julián Hernández, Ullses Perez Mancilla

Starring: Hugo Catalán, Alan Ramírez, Andrea Portal, and Gabino Rodríguez, Emilio von Sternerfels, Gerardo Del Razo.

In Spanish with English subtitles

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

One of the most confounding yet bewitching queer films this year is most definitely Mexican helmer Julián Hernández’s I am Happiness on Earth (Yo soy la felicidad de este mundo).

Happiness blends the personal odyssey of Fellini with the strangeness of David Lynch and adds the director's own frank and explicit exploration of sex. In addition, I was reminded of Pasolini--the way he had a knack for capturing the essence of boy beauty AND Fassbinder—his knack for making the most ordinary men look sexy. There is even a poster of Fassbinder’s Veronika Voss hanging in Octavio’s room and Hernandez borrows his (ironic) title from Fassbinder’s last project, which he never lived to make. Incidentally, Fassbinder got the idea from German New Wave singer Joachim Witt’s song “Kosmetik.”

The plot concerns an avant-garde, boy-chasing, film director Emiliano (gorgeous Hugo Catalán) who is shooting a doc about ballet. The filmmaker encounters uber-cutie Octavio (Alan Ramírez), after some brooding, cruisy looks and the two dive into each other. The next thing you know the enigmatic and tortured Emiliano is ignoring calls from Octavio, who rebounds by having sex with two women.

The film then takes a sharp left turn and we are introduced to two more good looking guys (one rugged, one exquisite) who appear to have the hots for each other but mess around with a pretty female instead. There are a lot of lingering looks and painstaking shots of all three actors. Eventually, the trio go at it, rather explicitly. The feeling here is that it’s okay for them to do each other as long as a woman is present. It’s also safe to assume that this lengthy sequence is actually the part of a film Emiliano is making, has made or wants to make. Who can be certain?

And before you can say “narrative cohesion,” the picture paints with linear strokes, once again, as we find Emiliano with a new boytoy, a hustler named Jazen (Emilio von Sternerfels), yet another hottie smitten with our aloof helmer. Alas, Emiliano is never satisfied and misses Octavio, who has moved on. Or has he?

I am Happiness on Earth teases, perplexes and stimulates the senses with its sexy images and sexy actors. Hernández loves the medium since his film is gorgeously shot (by Alejandro Cant). There is a lovely tracking shot of a tracking shot of a ballet rehearsal as well as many penetrating close ups of attractive guys.

Exactly what Hernández is trying to say about creativity, betrayal, intimacy, sexual desire, love and cinema is left for the viewer to piece together. More like a work of modern art than a typical motion picture, Happiness left me curious, aroused (in every sense) and wanting to see it again.

NEWFEST: Screenings will take place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam) and the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, New York, NY 10023.

Visit: newfest.org/2014-film-guide/ for complete information.




Jim Tushinski’s
I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole
Newfest 2014-- July 24-29
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater

Documentary.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

One of the pioneers of gay porn, Wakefield Poole, is the subject of an involving new documentary, I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole.

Many viewers will be surprised to learn that Poole began his life as a film-loving boy radio singer in Jacksonville turned ballet dancer turned Broadway choreographer turned multimedia theatre designer before lending his creative efforts to making provocative films that became iconic early gay pornography.

Director Jim Tushinski has the added boon of having the man himself speak to each aspect of his life and when the focus is on Poole and his career (s) –specifically the theatre and filmmaking areas—the doc is riveting stuff. But Tushinski feels the need to add peripheral people (Harvey Milk, Michael Bennett) and events (Anita Bryant’s anti-gay rant) and simply gloss over them making the viewer wonder why they were included in the first place. It’s an almost forced “historical” perspective that is unnecessary.

Still the film is filled with fascinating tidbits like Poole’s tumultuous involvement in the messy Broadway musical, Do I Hear a Waltz?, which brought together the talents of Richard Rodgers, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and John Dexter—all of whom resented each other during production—and how Poole ended up being stigmatized because of a lawsuit he had very little control over.

Poole’s obsession with films and filmmaking led to his making Boys in the Sand, in 1971, the landmark gay adult movie that became a phenomenon and, as one interviewee put it, “took the shame out of gay porn--” although it did label Poole a pornographer from that point onward.

The doc doesn’t really discuss the dangers of being involved in hardcore pornography at the time and the legal risks involved.

Poole then made Bijou, an even artier, darker film and followed that success up with his soft-core version of the Bible, which flopped.

From there, Poole moves to San Francisco, becomes a coke addict and, eventually, returns to filmmaking for a spell anyway. At 50, he is without work and goes to cooking school. From there, the too-linear film jumps ahead to a 2010 revival screening of Boys in the Sand. We are given very little about the third act of Poole’s life—which is a shame.

What the film does do is spike an interest in Poole’s work. I immediately wanted to see his first three classic films and will do so soon.

Among the glossed over details that I would have liked to know more about: his being influenced by the great auteur Robert Altman, his bisexuality and his post-Broadway relationship with theatre giants like Sondheim. Perhaps the DVD will feature extras.

Poole said: “Indulging in pornography is a mind cleansing act.” That provocative statement helps us understand the experimental filmmaker that helped break ground by bridging a gap between hardcore porn and art films.

On a strange/personal note, the musical theatre actress, Jill O’Hara is very briefly interviewed for this doc. She starred in the original OB production of Hair, and the Broadway show, Promises, Promises, received a Tony nomination and then seemed to disappear from the theatre scene almost completely. I would kill to learn more about this woman.

NEWFEST: Screenings will take place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam) and the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, New York, NY 10023.

Visit: newfest.org/2014-film-guide/ for complete information.

 




Carter Smith’s
Jamie Marks is Dead
Newfest 2014-- July 24-29
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater
Opens Theatrically August 29, 2014

Written by Carter Smith. Based on the novel, One for Sorrow, by Christopher Barzak.

Starring: Cameron Monaghan, Noah Silver, Morgan Saylor, Judy Greer, Liv Tyler, Ryan Munzert.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

From the haunting opening that reminded me of the depressed palates seen in the TV series The Killing, right until the final moment, Jamie Marks is Dead sustains an atmosphere of unease and otherworldliness that beguiles the viewer. That doesn’t mean the film is completely satisfying, but I don’t think it’s meant to be.

Writer/director Carter Smith does a non-linear cutting trick right from the beginning of his feature. Goth teen, Gracie (Morgan Saylor) discovers the body of teen Jamie Marks (Noah Silver) while looking for rocks to add to her collection and two scenes later Jamie is being bullied in a boy’s locker room and urinated on. The next moment the students are discussing the circumstances surrounding his death. Savvy Smith sets us up to accept the non-traditional so when Jamie’s ghost manifests himself to Gracie and track star Adam (Cameron Monaghan) we buy into it immediately—well, almost immediately as I was still, initially, skeptical.

A triangle of sorts develops between Adam, Gracie and the dead boy, one that never (thank the indie film gods) becomes melodramatic or sexually questioning.

Why is Jamie back from the dead? Is it to avenge his murder or is it for a more lofty reason? Or maybe he wants to get closer to his high school crush, Adam?

Naked (except for white briefs) and beaten up, Jamie is clothed and given refuge by Adam—in his closet—and the two begin to form a strangely poignant and believable connection with one another.

And when Adam cannot put up with his abusive brother (mean hottie Ryan Munzert) or his recently paralyzed single mother (Liv Tyler) and her oddball bond with the woman who hit her (Judy Greer), he and Jamie run off to stay with another dead soul, Frances (Madison Beaty, downright chilling), who is in the worst state of unrest as she must relive the gruesome murder of her parents and her own suicide each day.

Adam manages to piss Frances off and, in a genuinely frightening sequence, she follows him back home and tries to kill him. Will Jamie save him in time?

The film is rich with a sense of gloomy doom and teen angst—much like Let the Right One In was (only without vampires) and Smith leaves a lot of questions unanswered—maybe too many.

I wondered about the relationship between Jamie and Adam. Was the crush one-sided or not? As portrayed by Shameless star, Cameron Monoghan, Adam appears sexually indifferent towards both Gracie and Jamie—although he does fool around with Gracie. But the emotional bond he shares with Jamie is pretty potent. Noah Silver’s lovely, elegiac performance goes a long way towards inviting us into the dead boy’s yearnings, desires and frustrations. I was rooting for the dead/living couple to find some kind of happy. Smith’s keeping Adam a bit distanced may not be what we want, but it speaks volumes to more complex human behavior.

The movie explores the notion of how sometimes people we hardly notice are very invested in us—that we can mean a great deal to someone who barely registers on our radar. The film is also a meditation on how we allow our peers to factor into our self-esteem—it’s especially tough when you’re a high schooler who doesn’t fit in.

Some gripes: The Liv Tyler/Judy Greer relationship is never fully explored enough. Why have they become such fast friends? Is there a sexual connection? The brother is too much of a one-dimensional jackass. And Gracie could have been less annoying.

Is Jamie Marks is Dead creepy enough to satisfy indie horror fans and intriguing enough to charm the LGBT crowd? Probably.

Jamie Marks is Dead will be released commercially on August 29, 2014.

NEWFEST: Screenings will take place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam) and the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, New York, NY 10023.

Visit: newfest.org/2014-film-guide/ for complete information.




Stewart Thorndike’s
Lyle
Newfest 2014-- July 24-29
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater

Written by Stewart Thorndike.

Starring: Gaby Hoffmann, Ingrid Jungermann, Rebecca Street, Kim Allen.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

It would be easy to call Stewart Thorndike’s Lyle, Rosemary’s Baby with lesbians. No, really. Easy. Because it basically is just that, with a dash of the ill-fated TV series 666 Park Avenue tossed in to modernize the creepiness.

What makes the film so compelling, besides the jarring camerawork, is the central performance by Gaby Hoffmann in the Mia Farrow role. She’s completely captivating as Leah, a pregnant woman who moves into a spooky Manhattan building with her sig other, June (Ingrid Jungermann) and their daughter, Lyle.

Leah is put off by her new surroundings immediately—especially their strange landlady (Rebecca Street, have lots of fun) who pretends to be pregnant despite the fact that she’s pushing sixty. She’s also distressed by the fact that June doesn’t seem very happy that their new baby is a girl.

In a scene-homage to Paranormal Activity, something unexplained occurs (during a Skype-type chat with a friend) and the film leaps forward seven months. Lyle is gone. Dead, it is assumed, but we aren’t given details. Leah is now very pregnant. June has hit it big. And odd things begin to occur. Leah, with the help of Google, begins to believe that there’s a conspiracy to take her baby. Is she just being paranoid? Fans of horror know the answer.

Writer/director Stewart Thorndike doesn’t hit us in the face with too many explanations, ending the film on a fascinating note. Still, at a running time of just over an hour, a little more would have been quite welcome.

As it stands, Hoffmann keeps us enraptured whether she’s freaking out at a party or running down a NYC street panicked she’s beguiling and grounds the film in a vital realism making it quite bone-chilling.

NEWFEST: Screenings will take place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam) and the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, New York, NY 10023.

Visit: newfest.org/2014-film-guide/ for complete information.



Hong Khaou’s
Lilting
Newfest 2014-- July 24-29
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater
Opens Theatrically Sept 26, 2014

Written by Hong Khaou

Starring: Ben Whishaw, Cheng Pei-pei, Andrew Leung, Morven Christie, Naomi Christie, Peter Bowles.

In English and Mandarin with English subtitles

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Hong Khaou’s serene, exquisite film is reminiscent of Terrence McNally’s recent Broadway play, Mothers and Sons, only more subtle. Lilting tells the story of a young Brit, Richard (Ben Whishaw), trying to cope with the death of his boyfriend, Kai (Andrew Leung) by reaching out to his Chinese Cambodian mother, Junn (Pei-pei Cheng), even though Junn dislikes him and blames him for Kai’s accidental death.

The movie opens with an ethereal scene between headstrong Junn and Kai in conversation. Kai has placed his mother in a retirement home, much to her frustration and consternation, and she is expressing her upset about not being his priority anymore (he now lives with Richard). We soon realize Junn is reliving a moment from the past. Richard also experiences such moments, a device that allows the viewer to get to know Kai and how deeply he was loved by both his mother and partner.

Junn has refused to assimilate into the English culture and has recently begun “dating” an Englishman (Peter Bowles) who lives in her home. Richard hires an interpreter, Vann (Naomi Christie) to bridge the language gap between the two, but also speak with Junn himself about Kai.

The film’s non-linear structure and confined spaces works well in forcing the audience to reflect on Khaou’s themes which include the difficulties in communicating between two different languages and cultures and how things are often misinterpreted—even with an interpreter.

The movie also shows how dating, at any age, presents itself with it’s own host of troubles. Junn and Alan are over sixty and movies usually shy away from such romances or present them in a comedic manner. Khaou is interested in actually exploring the confusions, complications and apprehensions that come with meeting someone late in life.

We are never told whether Junn had known all along about her son’s sexuality, but the notion that ‘a mother always knows,’ is quite strong in the subtext of the narrative. And that resentment many mother’s feel that someone is taking away their child is quite apparent here and it’s more than hinted that the reason Junn dislikes Richard is because he took Kai away from her—the fact that they’re lovers feels secondary.

Ben Whishaw is an extraordinary actor who excels at exploring the nuances and subtleties of the characters he portrays. Here he presents a raw, emotionally devastating portrait of a grieving lover trying to hold on to his grip and help this woman who hates him. Whishaw’s Richard sometimes shows signs of wanted to scream the gay revelation in Junn’s face, but he restrains himself.

Cheng, a huge action star in Hong Kong, is very strong as well giving us just enough angst and resentment, but not overdoing it so we can’t relate. She’s lost her heart (as has Richard) and deliberately deludes herself about her son. It’s cultural and generational.

And in very few scenes, Leung gives us a tortured soul; never comfortable with his sexuality and always afraid his mother would not understand. Leung is so conflicted that, until we are told otherwise later in the feature, I thought he might have killed himself.

Lilting is a lovely and touching meditation on fear, loneliness and sorrow.

NEWFEST: Screenings will take place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam) and the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, New York, NY 10023.

Visit: newfest.org/2014-film-guide/ for complete information.

 




Rodrigo Guerrero’s
The Third One (El Tercero)
Newfest 2014-- July 24-29
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater

Written by Rodrigo Guerrero.

Starring: Emiliano Dionisi, Nicolas Armengol, Carlos Echevarria

In Spanish with English subtitles

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Young hottie Fede (Emiliano Dionisi) flirtchats online with older Franco (Nicolas Armengol) and agrees to meet him and his partner of eight years, Hernan (Carlos Echevarria) for dinner and, then, sex.

That’s the basic plot of The Third One (El Tercero), Argentinian writer/director Rodrigo Guerrero’s new film that seeks to explore love, lust and intimacy, via frustratingly stationary camera placements and angles—achieving a distractingly distancing effect in the process.

The first third of the film is fairly mundane chat room gobbledygook—the same basic sex-speak that has become redundant in gay films and gay life.

We then move onto the dinner portion, the most interesting part of the film. Here some character insight is introduced, especially when the trio discusses which parent they most look like. Guerrero films the extended scene via two camera placements. The first half shows the couple with the obtrusive back of Fede’s head. The second part features Fede and the food.

The final third of the movie boasts an extended sex scene, which isn’t as titillating or sensual as it should be—again because of way it’s shot. And honestly, the scene feels like the same old/same old we’ve seen in films like this before—usually, at least, we get more character nuance before the sex.

Guerrero is trying to say that a couple’s sex and love life can be enhanced by a third member. This is certainly an intriguing notion and while I appreciate non-traditional ways of looking at relationships, Guerrero’s levels of exploration leave a lot to be desired. Perhaps had he decided to extend the running time and add a second tri-aison, there would be room for more development.

There also seems to be some attempt at making a psychological connection between Fede’s decision to take part in the threesome and his shedding his fears and inhibitions. Again, we would need to really see Fede before and after…and preferably, after again.

As it stands now there isn’t much to recommend beyond the obvious arousal factor in watching a pretty boy get it on with two good looking men.

NEWFEST: Screenings will take place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam) and the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, New York, NY 10023.

Visit: newfest.org/2014-film-guide/ for complete information.

 




Wade Gasque’s
Tiger Orange
Newfest 2014-- July 24-29
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater

Written by Wade Gasque & Mark Strano.

Starring: Mark Strano, Frankie Valenti, Gregory Marcel

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

The lion’s share of blogging being done about Wade Gasque’s Tiger Orange is about the fact that it co-stars porn actor Frankie Valenti (adult film name: Johnny Hazzard). Can he act? Everyone wants to know. Okay, a few people want to know.

He can. Pretty well. He sometimes struggles with the dramatic scenes, but he’s actually very adept with comedy and has a true connection with his onscreen brother, played by Mark Strano (who co-wrote the script).

The story is about sibling rivalry. Two brothers, both gay, grow up in the same household in a small town in central California. Todd (Frankie Valenti) is unapologetically queer and a bit of a loose cannon. Chet (Mark Strano) is closeted and behaves the way he is expected to. Both brothers were raised by a seemingly homophobic father. Todd takes off for Los Angeles some time after high school leaving Chet to care for dad and the hardware store. Now, dad is dead and Todd has come home, since he, admittedly, has nowhere left to go.

The film occasionally bounces back in time showing the boys at a younger, more impressionable age. Ty Parker and Adrian Delcan do good work as the early teen Chet and Todd, respectively, and should have been featured more.

So there’s nothing groundbreaking about the story (the script is too obvious and facile) but there are some genuinely moving scenes involving the two brothers.

I appreciated Valenti’s fearlessness with Todd, especially since Strano plays Chet so carefully straight-laced, that the character comes off as colorless and dull—to the point where when a longtime crush (played nicely by Gregory Marcel) chooses him over his brother, you wonder why!

The film is so low budget that the sound is off in certain scenes and the camerawork is pretty standard stuff.

It’s a pity that the screenwriters didn’t add some layers to the characterizations. Valenti’s Todd has a precociousness about him that should have been further explored. Even in the way he shamelessly takes off his clothes in front of his brother. Strano’s Chet protests a bit too much and in those moments you wish Strano had thought to, at least, steal a glance. It would have given his character more dimension.

NEWFEST: Screenings will take place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam) and the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, New York, NY 10023.

Visit: newfest.org/2014-film-guide/ for complete information.

 




Daniel Ribeiro’s
The Way He Looks (Hoje eu quero voltar sozinho)
Newfest 2014-- July 24-29
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater

Written by Daniel Ribeiro

Starring: Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi, Tess Amorim, Lucia Romano, Eucir de Souza, Selma Egrei.

In Portuguese with English subtitles

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Teen Boy A realizes he has feelings for Teen Boy B in Daniel Ribeiro’s “coming out” feature (as well as his debut), The Way He Looks (Hoje eu quero voltar sozinho).

Teen Boy A happens to be blind.

And The Way He Looks happens to be my favorite Newfest offering this year and it ranks as one of the best LGBT films of 2014.

What makes The Way He Looks so special is the simple yet organic way the story unfolds and the fact that the characters are allowed room to breathe and grow without the usual extreme plot contrivances that have become ‘coming out’ film staples.

Oh, and the remarkable performances, especially extraordinary newcomer Ghilherme Lobo as Leonardo.

Sure the film is a high-optimism fairy tale of sorts, but thanks to the changing times, it’s closer to being more of a possibility. Plus the movie is great entertainment, socially conscious and smartly written—and when does that tri-convergence ever occur?

High school cutie Leonardo has always been blind. He lollygags about with his bestie, Giovana (Tess Amorim), who has an obvious crush on the boy. Into their lives comes a curly-topped hottie Gabriel (Fabio Audi) who takes an instant liking to both of them.

Both Leonardo and Giovana have yet to be kissed and, at 16, that’s very hard to believe—but we accept this since the world being presented here is more fable than factual. Leonardo does get bullied at school for being blind, but even the bullying is moderate at best since the bullys are coming from a place of fear of what they don’t understand.

Giovanna becomes increasingly agitated by the fact that Leonardo and Gabriel are spending time together working on a school project. Meanwhile, Leonardo rebels against what he sees as a smothering home life and seeks out a possible escape.

Gabriel and Leonardo grow closer as Giovana pulls away and, at a party, Gabriel kisses Leonardo. Later, a class flirt (Isabela Guasco) muddies the waters by making a move on Gabriel. Leonardo sees this as proof that Gabriel is straight. Both teens seem afraid to truly confront the other about their feelings.

Writer/director Daniel Ribeiro does a masterful job building a bond between the boys and having them slowly but assuredly realize their attraction to one another. The script is crisp, sharp and finds the right blend of modern meets old-fashioned.

Amorim is heartbreaking as Giovana. She shows us the depth to her feelings for Leonardo so we never want to simply write her off.

Audi has great charm and charisma but is also capable of making Gabriel’s angst and longing palpable.

And Lobo is simply a revelation. The actor isn’t blind yet he uses his body, head movements and facial expressions to achieve a range of emotions most teens aren’t even capable of showing. And in a scene where he cozies up to Gabriel’s hoodie, Lobo allows us to experience Leonardo’s desire, confusion, joy and acceptance of who he’s discovered he is and who he knows he loves.

Ribeiro uses music to great effect in the film, specifically the peppiness of Belle and Sebastian.

There is a wonderful moment where Leonardo’s father (played with such grace by Eucir de Souza) helps his boy shave. The love he feels for his son beams bright on his face—as does Leonardo’s for his dad. There’s no shame in that. And clearly, in this fantastic film, there’s no shame in two teen boys falling in love either.

NEWFEST: Screenings will take place at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. 165 W.65th St, New York, NY 10023 (between Broadway and Amsterdam) and the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, New York, NY 10023.

Visit: newfest.org/2014-film-guide/ for complete information.





 

 


 

 


© New York Cool 2004-2014