(*homocinematically inclined)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reverend’s Reviews: New Gay DVDs for a New Year

“Butch” and “straight-acting” have long been used by gay and bisexual men to judge the perceived masculinity — or lack thereof — of other men as well as their own masculinity. Such terms have provoked debate within the GLBT community, however, and they certainly aren’t used by everyone … at least not to mean the same things.

The Butch Factor, being released on DVD January 19 by Wolfe Video, delves into this ongoing struggle to identify what makes one more or less of “a man” than another in the eyes of some. Filmmaker Christopher Hines scoured the US for examples of men who represent the more masculine end of the gay spectrum. He found, among others, police officers, rodeo cowboys, actors and athletes who define themselves as more straight-acting and –appearing and less effeminate than other gay men. They aren’t all anti-femme, and their masculinity seems natural rather than an act for most of them.

Hines also interviews a handful of less-masculine gay men for perspective and balance. For them, too, their effeminate characteristics are innate and not something they consciously adopted. As one of them notes, no man would want more feminine traits if we truly had a choice in the matter.

The Butch Factor ultimately reveals, unsurprisingly, that long-standing social mores and gender stereotypes are more to blame for the prevailing desire for more masculine traits in a partner, even among gay men. While the movie doesn’t settle many arguments, it is an interesting exploration of this enduring debate.

Pennsylvania-based Breaking Glass Pictures recently debuted two films on DVD through their new QC (Queer Culture) Cinema subsidiary. The first, Lucky Bastard, is the latest movie by out writer-director Everett Lewis of The Natural History of Parking Lots and FAQs fame.

It tells the story of a successful LA-based house restorer, Rusty (the very appealing Patrick Tatten), who inexplicably falls in love with a gorgeous but dysfunctional hustler, Denny (the gorgeous and frequently nude Dale Dymkoski, of TV’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), over the course of a few hours of sex. Rusty has a devoted, equally successful boyfriend but apparently can’t resist shirtless meth addicts who hang out in liquor stores.

The usually reliable Lewis falters here as the result of under-developed characters, so-so acting and too much sympathy for his screwed-up protagonists. Sure, many of us have been attracted to someone we’d hoped and tried to “fix” at one time or another, only to learn how impossible it is. Once you’ve been there, done that, it’s hard to feel anything but disdain for the likes of Rusty and Denny.

QC Cinema’s second new DVD release, End of Love, isn’t exactly a feel-good movie either, but it is more artistically accomplished than Lucky Bastard. The film was an official selection in last summer’s Outfest in Los Angeles and was well received at several other international film festivals.

Chinese filmmaker Simon Chung (Innocent) follows the exploits of Ming (well played by Lee-Chi Kin), a 22-year old Hong Kong man who falls fairly eagerly into drugs and prostitution. Once arrested, Ming is sentenced to the New Life Center, a Christian reform camp whose less-than-subtle director tells Ming upon his arrival, “Everyone who passes through that door is a new being in Christ.”

It doesn’t take long for Ming to hear the siren’s lure of temptation, both toward forbidden cigarettes and forbidden love with his sponsor, Keung (Guthrie Yip, who also gives a fine performance). The seemingly straight Keung later invites Ming to live with him and his girlfriend following Ming’s release from the camp. Needless to say, trouble ensues.

Like Lucky Bastard, End of Love focuses on characters with addiction and codependency issues. Chung, however, resists rewarding his unhealthy subjects with awesome sex and immediate, soulful connections. Ming, Keung and their ilk in End of Love are more recognizable precisely because they aren’t model-gorgeous and are, therefore, more believable.

In summary, I recommend The Butch Factor and End of Love among these early 2010 DVD releases but encourage would-be viewers to pass that Lucky Bastard by.

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

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