Friday, April 16, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Dances with Denial & Destiny

Straight-acting, small town electrician "Handsome" Harry Sweeney (played by Jamey Sheridan, who is probably best known for his 1990's TV appearances on such series as Shannon's Deal, Chicago Hope and Stephen King's The Stand) is surprised to receive a call out of the blue one day from his former Navy shipmate, Tom Kelly (Steve Buscemi). After thirty years of non-communication, Kelly is calling Harry from his deathbed. It seems that both men were involved in a violent attack against a fellow sailor during their time together in the military, something that Kelly is afraid he will be condemned to Hell for if amends aren't made.

Handsome Harry — which is being released this Friday in Los Angeles, NYC and a city or two in Florida — is a unique story of love and regret that illuminates the lengths some will go to in order to deny or cover up the sins of their past, especially if those "sins" are of a homosexual nature. You see, the shipmate that Harry, Kelly and several other sailors beat up, David Kagan (Campbell Scott, no stranger to gay roles after Longtime Companion and The Dying Gaul), was gay ... and it turns out that Harry had more than just a passing friendship with him.


The film, directed by Bette Gordon from a sensitive script by Nicholas T. Proferes, is exquisitely acted by an exceptional cast that also includes Aidan Quinn (most recently seen in The Eclipse), John Savage (The Deer Hunter, Hair), Karen Young (who played Laurel in the 1988 film of Torch Song Trilogy) and Mariann Mayberry. Sheridan's performance, though, provides the movie's strongly-beating heart.

Interestingly, it is revealed that Harry had a goal while in the Navy to become a Catholic priest once his tour was ended. This provides the film with another avenue through which to explore regret and denial, and it turns out to be a timely one with everything that's been going on recently in the Roman Catholic Church related to sex and abuse.

As Tom Kelly says to Harry of their past prior to his death, "We became men together." Handsome Harry serves as a pertinent and powerful indictment of machismo, homophobia and repression.


Also opening this Friday in LA and expanding to other major US cities over the next month is the noteworthy documentary Dancing Across Borders, from First Run Features. It follows the decade-long, international journey of dancer Sokvannara (or Sy, pronounced "See", for short) Sar, who is today a member of Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle.

Sy was discovered in 2000 by an American tourist, Anne Bass, whose film directorial debut this is. Bass noticed Sy, who was then 16-years old, performing traditional Cambodian dances in a temple in his native city of Angkor Wat. After Bass returned to the US, she remained haunted by Sy's apparent talent. A longtime patron of dance, Bass gradually became motivated to contact Sy's parents and offer to bring their son to New York to study ballet. Fortunately, they agreed.

Dancing Across Borders is compiled from Bass's video footage of Sy's lessons, rehearsals and performances between 2000-2009. It's a rare film that gives viewers the opportunity to watch an artist-in-training pretty much from square one, and Dancing Across Borders does just that. It is amazing to watch Sy's development into the acclaimed dancer he is today.


Bass also includes interviews with Sy's parents, teachers and friends in Cambodia, as well as with his American teachers who include the legendary Olga Kostritzky, Peter Boal and Jock Soto (Soto is the openly gay, Native American subject of last year's similarly fine dance documentary, Water Flowing Together). Philip Glass also appears, performing live as Sy dances to one of his compositions. Of Sy's success, his proud mother notes that "It is his destiny."

In Los Angeles, Dancing Across Borders is being shown as part of the Spring build-up to the 9th annual Dance Camera West film festival in June. The fest will feature other GLBT-interest films, including the LA premiere of Dzi Croquettes.


UPDATE: Handsome Harry is now available on DVD from Amazon.com and Dancing Across Borders is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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