Outfest 2008's first weekend is ending with several films drawing attention not only for their storylines but also for their visual style. Clearly, although a GLBT film may have a minimal budget, that doesn't mean it has to be ugly to look at.
Last month, I criticized applying the term "gay surfer movie" to the DVD release Shelter, implying that it risked being identified as the only gay surfer movie out there. Little did I expect another to emerge so quickly! Newcastle is a gorgeous movie, full of gorgeous guys, gorgeous gals, gorgeous Australian beaches, and gorgeous photography. It focuses on three brothers longing for success as competitive surfers, although one of them is secretly, primarily longing for his first gay romance.
During a weekend-long surf trip, secrets are revealed and tragedy strikes. In the wake of these developments, the characters come to better terms with themselves and with one another. Great performances from its teenaged cast, thoughtful writing and direction by first-timer Dan Castle, and Richard Michalak's exceptional cinematography are all commendable. Newcastle is scheduled for theatrical release this October. (Watch the trailer here.)
The Way I See Things is of a decidedly less linear, more metaphysical bent, but is also very good and stylistically noteworthy. The film's quintuple-threat star, Brian Pera (he also wrote, directed, produced and co-edited it), plays Otto, who is still grieving the unexpected death of his partner one year earlier. His friend, Rob (the talented Jonathan Ashford, who also performs multiple roles) kidnaps him and takes him on a road trip in an effort to help Otto get over the loss.
Suffice to say, Rob's plan doesn't work very well. Otto ends up escaping from him and falls in with a quasi-cult. The commune members, intent on their leader's goal to help them "separate the 'I' from the 'me'," take Otto in but also grow increasingly suspicious as to whether he's fully investing himself in the process. But it is also at the commune that Otto falls in love with a member who looks identical to his former partner. Has he been reincarnated? Did he even really die? Has Otto somehow resurrected his partner in order to properly say good-bye? Has Otto lost his mind completely?
To accentuate Otto's journey to potential recovery through the metaphysical, Pera and the film's director of photography, Ryan Parker, utilize both black and white and color photography. Exactly how it applies to each scene and what happens at the end of The Way I See Things are open to debate, but they certainly got the Outfest crowd talking. Pera, who is also a novelist, is a talent to watch. (Clips for the movie can be seen on the movie's MySpace page.)
Finally, The Lost Coast has gained positive notices for its dark, sometimes spooky visual style. It's appropriate, since the story takes place on a Halloween night in San Francisco. I didn't find the film's script as compelling as some, since it depicts the meanderings of some generally directionless twenty-somethings.
Jasper, Mark and Lily have been friends since their days together in high school. Mark still harbors a crush on Jasper, with whom he used to fool around. However, Jasper has since declared his heterosexuality and is about to get married. Before the night is over, Mark seems intent on making Jasper change his mind.
In the meantime, the trio (with another friend they bump into in the Castro) tries to score drugs, goes to the dullest gay party ever, finds a dead body, and confronts various unresolved issues among them. While the performances are good and writer-director Gabriel Fleming also displays talent, The Lost Coast feels a lot longer than its 74-minute running time. (Watch the trailer here.)
UPDATE: The Lost Coastand Newcastleare now available on DVD from Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.