Friday, October 22, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: DVD Tricks & Treats

Halloween is here, and it isn't just the domain of confectionaries and costume designers any more. Rather, GLBT filmmakers and production companies have gotten into the act with movies and home video releases. Some of their current or upcoming DVDs are thematically-appropriate to the season, while others are just trying to beat the end-of-the-year holiday rush. Predictably, not all of them are of equal quality, with a few the cinematic equivalent of finding a razor blade in one's caramel apple.

I had high hopes for Stuck!, out on DVD November 9 from Ariztical Entertainment. With a cast that includes Karen Black, Mink Stole and The Go-Gos' Jane Wiedlin, this send up of 1950's women-in-prison movies just screams potential camp classic, at least on paper. In execution, it is a rarely humorous affair. Young, naïve Daisy (Starina Johnson) is wrongfully accused of murdering her mother thanks to her histrionic, nearly blind neighbor (Black, the best and funniest thing in the film). Sentenced to hang, Daisy meets a variety of unusual women on death row, some all too eager to make her nubile, virginal acquaintance.

The movie, directed by Steve Balderson, gets a lot of the physical period details right in the costumes, hairstyles and sets. Unfortunately, Stuck! is more serious than funny and goes on too long, by and large wasting the talented cast in the process.

Also out on DVD November 9 and even more worthy of criticism is David's Birthday (Wolfe Video). This Italian melodrama by the director of 2003's superior Adored: Diary of a Porn Star has pretensions of operatic tragedy with its story of a conflicted married man attracted to his best friends' college-age son. The film ends up being conflicted itself and the result is a far-from-gay-affirming tale.

With its opening scenes from a performance of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde that the principal characters are watching, we know that one or more of the love stories in David's Birthday is going to end badly. As one of the operagoers remarks, "It's about a love so absolute, so devastating; who wouldn't want that?" It turns out that Matteo (played by Massimo Poggio) does, and he wants it with David, the gorgeous young man of the film's title (played by the appropriately gorgeous Thyago Alves). Matteo is seemingly happily married to Francesca (the great Maria de Medeiros, who played the bisexual writer Anaïs Nin in 1990's Henry & June). But when Matteo and Francesca visit David's parents at their summer rental on the Italian seashore, the stage is set for romance, infidelity and disaster.

David's Birthday is a beautifully shot and well-acted movie (although Poggio doesn't pull off a drunk scene convincingly), but to call the character of Matteo and the screenplay in general overwrought would be an understatement. By the time Matteo finally acts on his excessively-suppressed infatuation with David, with predictably devastating consequences, you'll likely be ready to throw yourself into the Mediterranean.

But don't despair! Now that I've gone through your trick-or-treat bag and pointed out the bad stuff, there are a few home video goodies left over. The best is Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives from Breaking Glass Pictures, which is playing at Laemmle's Sunset 5 Theatre in Los Angeles starting today prior to its November 9 DVD release.

Although GLAAD denounced the film as "transphobic" and protested its premiere this summer at the Tribeca Film Festival, I can attest that Ticked-Off Trannies is hardly offensive to anyone in the Trans, Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual community who has a sense of humor. GLAAD's reaction to the movie also confirms for me why I've been reluctant to donate lately to this historically commendable but, more recently, somewhat schizophrenic organization. Why is GLAAD attacking a well-intentioned and talented member of our community — in this case, openly gay writer-director Israel Luna — rather than non-GLBT filmmakers who so often make us look bad?

Ticked-Off Trannies is a lovingly crafted homage to/critique of the women's exploitation movies of the 1970's, in which abused women would eventually exact revenge on the men who raped or beat them or killed their female friend(s). Luna wittily revives the grainy film stock, over-exposed shots, jumpy editing and fast zoom shoots of the era, not unlike Quentin Tarantino did a few years back with his tribute, Grindhouse. Here, though, the women are transgender and the film's pop cultural sensibility is decidedly modern. To wit, one character exclaims "Jesus Christ Meryl Streep, girl!" while another tells the film's rapist-murderer (named "Boner"), "If I saw you on Facebook, I'd ignore you and report you!"

The girls are understandably upset when Boner and his henchmen kill one member of their gang and leave another for dead. Suitably, the survivors plot and execute nasty, excessively violent vengeance against the men who did them wrong. A Kung Fu-esque martial arts training sequence (!) in the film's mid-section provides the women with the extra advantage they'll need to take out their misogynist, homophobic adversaries.

With names like Emma Grashun, Rachel Slurr and Tipper Sommore, neither the "trannies" nor the film's plot are to be taken too seriously. It's unfortunate that GLAAD apparently did so. Don't let their misguided condemnation of this movie keep you from having a hilarious, trans-glorifyingly good time.

BearCity, out on DVD November 16 from TLA, isn't quite as good but is still enjoyable, especially if you are a member of the bear/cub/wolf subculture (sub-species?) within the gay community. Not being a part of the scene, this film served as an interesting exploration for me.

Young, thin actor Tyler (Joe Conti) has a secret he hasn't even shared with his twink best friend, Simon (cute Alex DiDio): he's attracted to bigger, hairier men. Tyler rents a room from a bear-cub couple, unaware that they are looking to spice up their relationship with a potential threesome. He also makes the acquaintance of another couple, Michael and Carlos. Michael (played by Gregory Gunter) is a larger, older man who wants to undergo the "lap band" procedure to lose weight. His younger, in-shape partner, Carlos (James Martinez), likes him just the way he is (Carlos lovingly refers to Michael as "Gordito") and is horrified by Michael's decision.

Michael and Carlos's situation adds a deeper, unexpectedly touching dimension to the mostly comedic or sexual shenanigans in BearCity. The script, by Doug Langway and Lawrence Ferber, features nice, authentic repartee among the guys but can't quite decide whether to show the bear lifestyle as wholesome or debauched. That discrepancy and some truly awful original songs keep me from rating BearCity too highly, but one can do a lot worse at Halloween or any other time of year.

While I wasn't as high on it as many GLBT viewers have been since its theatrical release in July, The Kids Are All Right will make its Blu-Ray and DVD debut on November 16, just in time for Thanksgiving. The film, which boasts excellent performances by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a lesbian couple raising two teenagers, may serve as ideal, post-meal viewing for you and yours.

Reverend's Ratings:
Stuck!: C-
David's Birthday: D
Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives: B+
BearCity: C+
The Kids Are All Right: B-

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

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