Monday, November 14, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: A Harvest of New Releases

Beginners, last summer's hit starring Christopher Plummer as an older gay man who comes out to his unsuspecting son (Ewan McGregor), may be this month's highest-profile GLBT release on home video (November 15) but at least two other new DVDs command attention as well.

Out Late (now availablefrom First Run Features) serves as a fascinating documentary companion piece to Beginners. Declared "brilliant" by Phil Donahue, it profiles five men and women who came out as either gay, lesbian or transgender between the ages of 57-79. Their stories vividly illustrate how much cultural attitudes around GLBT issues have progressed since the 1950's. In the case of one participant, however, Out Late shows how far we still have to go regarding marriage equality. Cathy and her partner live in Kansas next door to a straight couple with whom they have been best friends for over 20 years. Sadly, Cathy's neighbors don't support a right for civil marriage for GLBT couples. That the couples remain friends, though, is inspiring, as are all the journeys recounted here. Out Late, co-directed by Beatrice Alda and Jennifer Brooke, is not to be missed.


At the opposite end of the age spectrum, Harvest (being released on DVDNovember 15 by TLA Releasing) beautifully details the coming of age of two young German men. Benjamin Cantu's gay drama won the Audience Award at this year's Berlin Film Festival. Blonde, insecure Marko (Lukas Steltner) meets the darker, more comfortable-in-his-shoes Jakob (Kai-Michael Muller) at the cattle farm where they are both working summer internships. They gradually realize there is more to learn about than birthing cows and harvesting carrots; namely, their growing attraction to one another.

Cantu and director of photography Alexander Gheorghiu take a naturalistic, almost lyrical approach to their story. While the lead actors are undeniably attractive, I appreciated the fact that there is no nudity or graphic sex shown. Rather, the focus is more often than not on the silences and unnoticed glances between the two. Harvest's nice, subdued but romantic ending works perfectly in light of the film's overall tone.


Meanwhile, another gay-interest November release, Phantom Images (also out on on DVDthe 15th courtesy of Ariztical Entertainment), is a woefully self-important tale about a terminally-ill theatre director coming to terms with his past. High on pain medication, alcohol and regret, Darwin King (played flatly by Rob Moretti) reminisces about his past using the actors of his latest project as stand-ins. Matthew Doyle's screenplay features occasional flashes of insight, such as when King exclaims "the highjacking of the gay movement came when we chose emulation (of straight people) instead of assimilation," but they are rare indeed.

One should probably beware in general of a movie that opens with a quote by Albert Camus and ends with another by Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism can too easily become pretentious in the wrong hands. Phantom Images can't help but evoke Lars von Trier's provocative 2003 film Dogville, as both are played out on black box stages with minimal scenery. While Dogville often threatened to cross the line into pretentiousness, it never did thanks to the quality of the writing and acting by such pros as Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall and James Caan. Doyle's cast is not untalented, and the several African-American actors involved make a particularly strong impression, but the material ultimately fails them as well as the audience.

Reverend's Ratings:
Out Late: A
Harvest: B+
Phantom Images: D

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

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