Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reverend’s Reviews: Stuff Your Stocking with Gay DVDs

Each holiday season brings a host of theatrical and DVD releases intended to contribute to movie fans’ yuletide cheer and/or inspire gift giving. Few of them, however, include GLBT characters or speak directly to GLBT viewers.

There are exceptions though, chief among them The Family Stone,which focuses on a Christmas gathering that includes an openly gay son, his loving and accepting parents, and the son’s partner. The 2005 film was written and directed by out filmmaker Thomas Bezucha and was a hit at the box office. Bezucha’s earlier gay-themed movie Big Edenalso makes a great holiday gift.

This year, several new DVDs by gay filmmakers are vying for space beneath our trees and menorahs or in our well-hung stockings. The specifically Christmas-themed Make the Yuletide Gay(TLA Releasing) was released today on DVD after playing to sold-out audiences on the film festival circuit. It is a sometimes strained but thoroughly enjoyable comedy by Rob Williams, director of gay faves Back Soon and 3-Day Weekend.

In it, the fetching Keith Jordan plays Olaf “Gunn” Gunnunderson, who is out and proud while at college but crawls back into the closet as he returns to his parents’ Wisconsin home for the holidays. Gunn is therefore more than surprised when his boyfriend, Nathan (the cute Adamo Ruggiero), shows up unannounced at their doorstep intending to spend Christmas with his sweetie.

Make the Yuletide Gay has fun overturning some coming-out story conventions and benefits from hilarious performances by Kelly Keaton as Mama Gunnunderson, Alison Arngrim (wicked Nellie Olson from Little House on the Prairie) and Hallee Hirsh as Gunn’s wannabe girlfriend turned fag hag.

Another big hit at this year’s GLBT film fests making its DVD debut December 8 is Hollywood, je T’aime(Wolfe Video). The movie follows the misadventures of Jerome (played by the very attractive and frequently naked Eric Debets), a gay man from Paris who on a whim visits Hollywood over his Christmas vacation.

Jerome falls in with a variety of colorful characters, including a drag queen, a transsexual who develops a crush on him, and an HIV+ pot dealer played by out actor Chad Allen. Complications arise as he realizes he’s still in love with his ex back in France. The film, written and directed by Jason Bushman, alternates nicely between whimsy and hard-hitting reality.

Also being released on DVD December 8 is Redwoods,from TLA Releasing. Sexy and touching, it stars popular gay actor Matthew Montgomery and gorgeous up-and-comer Brendan Bradley as two men who meet unexpectedly in a small northern California town and quickly fall in love. The scenario may sound great, but the younger character played by Bradley is already in a partnership — albeit a troubled one — and even has a child.

Writer-director David Lewis, who made a fine film called Rock Haven a couple years back, seems to excel at stories about gay men overcoming what initially seems to be an insurmountable obstacle. Borrowing a bit from the classic An Affair to Remember, Redwoods becomes predictable and a little trite at the end but its climax is undeniably moving.

It is a Christmas tradition for naughty children to receive not goodies but coal in their stockings. To that end, the new DVD Shank(also from TLA) will be more than appropriate. I don’t recommend this London-set tale of teenage sexually conflicted sociopaths primarily due to its inclusion of more than one graphic gay bashing, drug use and sometimes violent sex, both heterosexual and homosexual. Same-sex rape doesn’t quite say “Happy Holidays” to me.

Shank follows the exploits of Cal, played by the attractive Wayne Virgo, an 18-year old gang member wrestling with his attraction to men. The initial, unrequited object of Cal’s desire is his hunky fellow gang member, Jonno (the physically stunning Tom Bott, who gives a great performance in his film debut). Cal soon falls for one of the gang’s gay-bash victims, to the fierce disapproval of his mates. That’s when things really start to get nasty for all concerned.

One lump of coal out of a stocking full of gems isn’t bad. Even if these new DVD releases aren’t all worthwhile, it is good to know that we GLBT movie watchers have options once we’ve grown weary of the umpteenth rerun of A Christmas Carol or The Polar Express.

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

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