(*homocinematically inclined)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Short Stack

The short films shown at various film festivals sometimes end up outshining the feature offerings. Recognizing this, The Film Collaborative and First Run Features have teamed up to gather some of the best shorts from the 2010 GLBT circuit and release them on DVD. Volumes 1 of Fest Selects: Best Gay Shorts and Fest Selects: Best Lesbian Shorts are both out today.

While they vary wildly in tone and style, the eight films included on the Best Gay Shorts edition are generally excellent. A couple of them — My Name is Love and Steam — may strike some as uncomfortably dark, and the partly animated Mouse's Birthday is just plain bizarre, but the high quality of these assorted filmmakers' techniques can't be denied.

After, a stylish tribute to the stories of Dennis Cooper, kicks off the collection. Written and directed by Mark Pariselli, it is awash in Cooper's trademark mix of kink and tragedy. Three gay college students sit silently on the stoop of their house, watching a group of seemingly straight boys play football at a park across the street. When an athlete being observed unexpectedly shows a tender interest in one of them, each of the students fantasizes about a sexual encounter with him. Faithful as it is to Cooper, don't expect a happy ending.

Two of the films featured were shown at last year's Long Beach Q Film Festival, for which I served as a programmer. I'm very happy to see them included here., by the clever Guy Shalem, is a hilarious expose of modern gay life utilizing the ultimate online dating site. The short's stellar cast includes Coco Peru, Jack Plotnick, Jai Rodriguez and Drew Droege. Pierre Stefanos' sweet Bedfellows spins a decades-spanning love story. While the two lead actors don't age convincingly during the 30+ years depicted, it otherwise all but proves that true love can be found when least expected.

Gayby is a very funny short about a straight woman desperate to bear a child before her biological clock runs out. With what could be termed mixed motives, she turns to her now gay college-era boyfriend to help her conceive "the old fashioned way." Writer-director Jonathan Lisecki has a great ear for contemporary dialogue and is a sharp observer of relationships between women and the gay men they love.

Matthew Wilkas, the attractive actor who plays Gayby's male lead, also headlines another film included in Best Gay Shorts entitled Curious Thing. Billing itself as "based on true stories" of straight-bi-gay confusion, it focuses on the complex attraction between two seemingly straight guys. It will likely remind viewers, as it did me, of one's first crush on our typically straight best friend in high school or college. The actors' performances here are particular good.

The aforementioned My Name is Love, Mouse's Birthday and Steam round out the collection. The first is Swedish filmmaker David Fardmar's painfully autobiographical story of a young man's first gay encounter going horribly awry. Mouse's Birthday, by Barry Morse, relates in avant-garde (and then some) fashion an encounter between a rodent, a cockroach and a thong-clad, mohawk-sporting muscle boy. It serves as both cautionary tale and pride statement, with fun choreography by fellow indie filmmaker PJ Raval.

Finally, the Twilight Zone-esque Steam focuses on two hot men (literally and figuratively) who find themselves mysteriously trapped in a doorless gym's sauna following a sexual encounter between them. The denouement struck me as somewhat muddled theologically and morally, but the short gets considerable points for its provocative originality. And did I mention the guys are hot?

In short (pun intended), these new gay and lesbian releases are well worth one's investment.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

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