Much has been made online and in the popular press about this year’s rare convergence of Thanksgiving Day and the first day of Hanukkah, with some dubbing the joint celebration “Thanksgivukkah.” I am thankful for, among many other things, this holiday week’s large number of high quality gay-themed DVDs.
In light of Hanukkah, it seems most appropriate to start with Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land from Breaking Glass Pictures. This myth-busting travelogue is co-directed by Tel Aviv filmmaker Yariv Mozer with gay-porn entrepreneur (and Russian-born Jew) Michael Lucas. They travel throughout Israel, interviewing numerous gay citizens about their experience living there. Among them is Yossi & Jagger writer-director Eytan Fox. Virtually all relate how positive and accepting an environment it is, especially since homosexuality was decriminalized in 1988. Their stories definitely disprove the overwhelming western notion that all Israelis are conservative, anti-gay terrorists (to paraphrase one commenter’s reference), although being openly gay is more difficult for Muslim men than Jews. At only 46 minutes, the film comes across in the end as more of a tourist recruitment tool than a fully objective documentary but it is worth watching.
The popular web series Old Dogs & New Tricks makes its DVD debut this week courtesy of Wolfe Video. As I am generally averse to watching anything of potential substance online, this was my first opportunity to view the two seasons’ worth of 5-10 minute episodes. I was quite impressed by series creator Leon Acord’s writing and the overall quality of the production, despite some sound issues on some season 2 episodes (which could be due to a potentially faulty DVD transfer). The lead acting quartet of Acord, David Pevsner, Curt Bonnem (the only straight actor out of the lot) and Jeffrey Patrick Olson is strong, and the seasons feature bigger-name actors including Thom Bierdz (The Young and the Restless), Ian Buchanan (General Hospital), Bruce Hart (Homewrecker), Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis and Doug Spearman (Noah’s Arc, Hot Guys with Guns). Whether you see it on DVD or online, you owe it to yourself to check this very funny and heartfelt series out.
Green Briefs is the latest release in Guest House Films’ ongoing series of color-themed short films following last year’s Black Briefs and Blue Briefs. The five exceptional shorts selected this time around deal with gay teens and men sorting through family issues. Veteran actor James Karen (Poltergeist and Return of the Living Dead, among nearly 200 credits) gives a touching, all too realistic performance in Marc Saltarelli’s well-written Pride as the dementia-addled father of a resentful gay son (Perry Ojeda, also giving a strong performance). The Commitment is a heartbreaking examination of an interracial gay couple planning to adopt a child. Shabbat Dinner is a very funny story about a gay teen and an initially-straight teen who connect during the title Jewish family gathering, while Kimchi Fried Dumplings is a more serious look at tensions between two gay Asian-American brothers preparing for Christmas dinner. Finally, Cedric Thomas Smith’s hard-hitting, award-winning The Symphony of Silence explores the tragic repercussions of bullying among high school students.
If you prefer gay stories with fairly unexpected twists, check out the new releases Triple Crossed and Solo from TLA. The first is an ambitious, not always successful but genuinely intriguing tale of an Afghan war veteran suffering from PTSD (a very good performance by easy-on-the-eyes newcomer Jack Brockett) who gets hired to off a wealthy gay business owner. It marks the directorial debut of former porn actor Sean Paul Lockhart, who also plays the intended victim. Argentine filmmaker Marcelo Briem Stamm’s Solo, meanwhile, features a steamy encounter between two hot men that devolves into allegations of extortion, betrayal and, ultimately, murder. It is engaging and enjoyable, so long as one doesn’t expect a happy ending.
Movie Dearest and I wish all our readers a happy Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and holiday season!
Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land: B
Old Dogs & New Tricks: B+
Green Briefs: A-
Triple Crossed: B-
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.