Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Mary in Black

The penitential season of Lent begins this week, and Scott Grenke has a lot for which to atone. Grenke is the director, writer, producer and editor of Sister Mary, now available on DVDfrom Ariztical Entertainment. A twisted tale of murder, sexual confusion and religion, the movie isn't so much anti-Catholic as it is criminally unfunny. This is especially unfortunate since Grenke's cast includes comedy heavyweights ANT, Judy Tenuta and Bruce Vilanch.

When a killer wearing a nun's habit begins offing members of the Ex-Choir Boys -- an unapologetically gay Chicago-based music group -- and their "admirers," the city's soap opera-obsessed police chief inexplicably partners flamingly gay Detective Chris Riant (Shaun Quinlan) with the straight, homophobic Detective Mark Rima (James Vallo) and assigns them to the case. The two soon find themselves in over their heads, so FBI Special Agent Peccant (ANT) arrives on the scene to try and set things "straight." They have to contend with Rima's troubling memories of an uber-strict Catholic nun, porn star Brent Corrigan in a confessional booth (and a "Get Some Everyday" t-shirt), and the seediest group of priests seen in a motion picture since 1986's The Name of the Rose.

Sister Mary had great potential but, sadly, Grenke is neither experienced enough nor funded enough to pull it off. The performances in the film are dreadful beyond the name cast members with the exception of Quinlan, who delivers his lines with great comic timing and has great chemistry with ANT. Poor, wasted Tenuta doesn't even get to try to be funny. With only a few, fleeting moments of amusement, sitting through Sister Mary is penance indeed.

Meanwhile, the DVD anthologyBlack Briefs (out this week courtesy of Guest House Films) offers six mostly-worthwhile short films that traffic in darker gay themes. Several of the shorts included made the film festival rounds last year and two of them are award winners.

Remission won the prize for Best Horror Film at the Rhode Island International Film Fest, and it is creepy indeed. Director Greg Ivan Smith orchestrates with aplomb this increasingly frightening ordeal of a cancer-stricken gay man who is separated from his lover at an isolated cabin. As the man and the audience begin to suspect he isn't alone, both are disarmed by his heightened vulnerability. Be warned: The film's finale is plenty disturbing.

QBliss Outstanding Short Film award-winner Communication is adapted from a play about an Orthodox Jew who unexpectedly finds himself the benefactor of his beloved college professor's estate, much to the chagrin of the late academic's longtime lover. Sensitive and moving if perhaps a bit too vague, it alone is well worth the price of the DVD. I also liked Hong Khaou's Spring, which captures an S&M-tinged encounter between a young gay novice and an experienced master. It served as an Official Selection at Outfest, Frameline and NewFest.

The remaining three shorts included in Black Briefs are a mixed bag. Winner Takes All is only fitfully entertaining despite the presence of Alec Mapa and a hunky Latino guy forced to fight another man for the affections of the vain, wealthy hottie they've both been dating. The controversial but potent Promise features a gay couple forced to confront their insecurities and baser instincts the night before their wedding. And Video Night, which co-stars and is co-directed by out actor Jack Plotnick (Down with Love, Straight-Jacket), is a strictly routine captured-on-video thriller a la Paranormal Activity.

Of note, Guest House Films is currently accepting submissions of gay-themed short films, documentaries and feature films for distribution consideration. Queries or links to view submissions online may be sent to Black Briefs may be the company's first such compilation but it obviously won't be the last: Blue Briefs, which will spotlight films dealing with the pain that often comes with love, is already slated for release later this year.

Reverend's Ratings:
Sister Mary: C-
Black Briefs: B

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

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