Sunday, November 20, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Love Bites

The latest entry in the Twilight vampire saga, Breaking Dawn, Part 1, is currently burning up the box office. But despite the involvement of an openly gay director, Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls), the blockbuster is disappointingly low on gay content. And no, Taylor Lautner's frequent shirtlessness doesn't count.

If it's gay vampires one is after, look no further than Bite Marks. It is newly available on DVDfrom QC Cinema. While I wish I could report Bite Marks was as expertly made and lavishly produced as Breaking Dawn, first-time director Mark Bessenger gets some points for his use of slapstick and adding a new twist or two to a pretty tired genre.

Benjamin Lutz (easy on the eyes if not the best actor) stars as a sexually confused trucker hired to transport a shipment of coffins. Along the way, he picks up a pair of gay hitchhiker-boyfriends played by Windham Beacham and sexy former porn star David Alanson. The three soon discover that the truck's hold is full of bloodsuckers, who break free and go after them.

Gay actor Stephen Geoffreys, who memorably played a newly-turned vampire in the 1985 version of Fright Night, has a fun cameo in Bite Marks but the cast's performances are otherwise pretty weak. Despite a promising, animated opening titles sequence and a very good music score by Rossano Galante, the movie is recommended only for die-hard fans of "creatures of the night."

Love and death often go hand in hand, at least at the movies. The Tree is a beautiful Australian family drama that illustrates this expertly. The film was released on DVDNovember 15 following a theatrical run earlier this year. It could well end up on my top ten list for 2011. Charlotte Gainsbourg (who can currently be seen on the big screen as Kirsten Dunst's sister in Melancholia) stars as a wife grieving the sudden death of her husband. While her performance is excellent, the real focus here is on the young actors playing her four children. Precocious, eight-year old daughter Simone (played by charming newcomer Morgana Davies) becomes convinced her late father is speaking to her via the massive fig tree next to the family's home, and she soon convinces her mother of this as well.

The Tree takes a metaphysical approach to be sure (it is adapted from an amusingly-titled book, Our Father Who Art in the Tree), but it really scores in capturing the various experiences and stages of grief. While observant screenwriter-director Julie Bertuccelli (Since Otar Left) explores how we can ascribe meaning to seemingly random events in the wake of a loved one's death, she doesn't rule out the possibility that our loved ones can indeed communicate with us from the other side. Also to Bertuccelli's credit, there isn't a single sentimental moment in The Tree. This is rarely the case in movies dealing with children and death, likely including the upcoming Hugo and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Meanwhile, if you are looking for the perfect holiday gift for a gay friend or classic-film lover, the new home video release everyone will appreciate finding under their tree this year is the Oscar-winning musical classic West Side Story, on Blu-rayfor the first time. The film was restored earlier this year to commemorate its 50th anniversary, and the results are even more stunning in high definition. Sing along to Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein's memorable score, marvel at Jerome Robbins' choreography, and weep with your main squeeze at the end of this 1950's street-gang adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Nothing says "Happy Holidays" better than that.

Reverend's Ratings:
Bite Marks: C-
The Tree: A
West Side Story: A

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

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