(*homocinematically inclined)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Heresy & Orthodoxy

Have you ever been so frustrated by a movie that you've actually yelled at the screen? Perhaps only we critics are prone to such behavior, but Is It Just Me? provoked just such a response out of me. This alleged romantic-comedy, being released on DVD today by TLA Releasing after playing this year's GLBT festival circuit, is so illogically plotted only the most undiscriminating could find it satisfying (it won the Best Picture award at the Detroit Independent Film Festival, which doesn't speak well of the Motor City's artistic taste).

Something of a gay Cyrano de Bergerac for the Internet Age, Is It Just Me? follows the plight of Blaine (Nicholas Downs), a hopeless romantic who longs to meet Mr. Right but has become gun-shy after several bad dating experiences. Even though he's a young, attractive, talented writer, Blaine begins to think something must be wrong with him. After confessing as much to his promiscuous go-go dancer roommate, Cameron (played by Adam Huss of The Bold & the Beautiful, who gives the most engaging performance in the film), Blaine becomes the initially unknowing victim of an online error.

While accidentally signed in on their computer with Cameron's user name, Blaine connects with Xander (the cute David Loren, who sings too). Xander and Blaine spend several long nights talking on the phone and decide to meet face to face. It's then that Blaine realizes Xander thinks he's the hot dancer pictured on the initial profile. Blaine is horrified, but does he tell Xander the truth right away? No! Instead, he talks Cameron into posing as him but tags along on the initial meeting with Xander.

This is when the movie became unforgivably strained to me. Xander arrives and recognizes Cameron from his online picture. When Xander is introduced to Blaine, however, does Xander recognize the distinctive voice of the guy with whom he's had hours-long phone sessions? No! What's more, Cameron's attitude and behavior are radically different from the impression of himself that Blaine has given Xander. Xander remains oblivious.

Blaine allows the ruse to go on and on and on, too afraid of rejection should he tell Xander the truth. Naturally, Xander figures it out (finally!) and is understandably angrier with Blaine than he would have been if Blaine had been honest. But then, there wouldn't be enough plot for writer-director J.C. Calciano to stretch into a movie, would there?

As Is It Just Me? and its characters became increasingly unbelievable, I started yelling at my TV screen. It represents 93 minutes of my life I'll never get back, and not even the eye candy can justify that.

Fortunately, a far superior film was also released on DVD today. Eyes Wide Open (First Run Features) tells the story of two orthodox Jewish men in Jerusalem who have a love affair, despite the fact that one of them is married with children and is a leader in the community. One critic has dubbed the widely acclaimed drama Brokeback Talmud, a somewhat joking but apt description.

Directed by Haim Tabakman from a screenplay by Merav Doster, it is an insightful, authentic glimpse into Orthodox Judaism and enduring cultural-religious taboos. Zohar Strauss and Ran Danker are excellent as Aaron and Ezri, the men struggling with their attraction to one another. As Aaron, the older and more devout of the two, strives to reconcile his feelings with his faith and commitment to his family, viewers are privy to intelligent moral and theological debates.

A bonus interview with Tabakman included on the DVD is also worth checking out. Eyes Wide Open is one of the best films and DVD releases of the year, appropriate for both Hanukkah viewing and Christmas gift giving.

Reverend's Ratings:
Is It Just Me?: D
Eyes Wide Open: A-

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

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