If you are like me and can’t afford an exotic getaway this Labor Day weekend, consider checking out the following new releases on DVD and/or VOD.
Beyond the Walls (Strand Releasing)
A Belgium-set, bittersweet gay romance à la Keep the Lights On and Weekend, and nearly as good as its predecessors. When Ilir (Guillaume Gouix), a hot but closeted bartender, takes the younger and drunk musician Paulo (Matila Malliarakis), home one night, it gradually leads to true love between the two as well as unanticipated complications. Ilir is sentenced to 18 months in prison for drug possession and Paulo, faced with homelessness, is forced to take up with a local S&M daddy. Once reunited, their relationship is decidedly different. “I didn’t grow up,” Paulo tells Ilir, “I made some choices.” The lead actors are both superb but Malliarakis impresses in particular with his “before and after” physicality. Well-written and confidently directed by David Lambert, making his feature film debut.
Reverend’s Rating: B+
After the End: A Journey through Loss to Hope (Cinema Libre Studio)
Since my “day job” comprises bereavement support for families at two local hospices, I brought a considerable amount of personal experience and potential bias while I viewed this documentary about people grieving the loss of a loved one. I was ultimately pleased and frequently moved by it. Director Andrew Morgan was inspired to make the film following his father’s sudden death while the pair was out on a bike ride. The fearless, searching result includes the stories of several men and women, the most heartbreaking of which is a young couple grieving the accidental death of their 2-year old daughter. Most of the losses recounted were unexpected, and I wish Morgan included at least one more story discussing the phenomenon of anticipatory grief when one has a terminally-ill family member whose death is normally less of a surprise. Still, the documentary’s content is illuminating, valuable for the general public and hopeful, true to its subtitle.
Reverend’s Rating: B+
Petunia (Wolfe Video)
The latest from writer-director Ash Christian is a welcome improvement over his last feature, the downright irritating Mangus! A return to the more melancholy but genuinely witty tone of his debut, 2006’s Fat Girls, his new film’s title doubles as the surname of an angst-ridden New York family. The great Christine Lahti and William H. Macy lookalike David Rasche play the brood’s therapist-parents who are naturally in need of therapy themselves. Promising newcomer Tobias Segal portrays their celibate gay son but finds his chastity on the line once he falls for his downstairs neighbor (an excellent, more restrained than usual turn by out actor Michael Urie), who is married to a woman (Brittany Snow from Hairspray and Pitch Perfect). Though the language and humor are often crass, Christian’s screenplay (co-written with Theresa Bennett) has some honest, important things to say about sex in marriage/relationships. Austin F. Schmidt’s nicely-composed camera shots serve as an elegant underscore.
Reverend’s Rating: B
I Do (Breaking Glass Pictures)
I wasn’t as enamored by this pro-marriage equality tale as some when it traveled last year’s LGBT film festival circuit, winning quite a few awards in the process, but it certainly proved to be timely. Directed by Glenn Gaylord from a semi-autobiographical screenplay by David W. Ross, the set up struck me as trite in this otherwise hard-hitting drama about a gay British citizen living in New York City, Jack (played by Ross), who suddenly finds his work visa denied. Since moving back to the U.K. will separate him from his recently widowed sister-in-law and beloved niece, Jack convinces a lesbian friend to marry him so he can stay in the US. Needless to say, things get messy. A good but ultimately over-earnest film. Reverend’s Rating: B
Seattle Superstorm (Arc Entertainment)
SyFy’s knowingly cheesy and subsequently hilarious Sharknado was one of this summer’s unexpected cinematic pleasures, along with Iron Man 3, This Is the End, World War Z and Austenland. This low-budget disaster flick, which was obviously made for TV and will likely be broadcast on SyFy soon if it hasn’t been already, reaches nowhere near such inspired heights but contains a few novel twists that save it from becoming a total waste. For one, what starts out looking like your standard alien invasion that is causing monstrous storms in the Pacific Northwest turns out to be something more creepily home-grown. Meanwhile, the military “strongman” role usually assigned to a male actor is here played by V’s lovely Ona Grauer, whereas veteran actor Esai Morales (so sexily volatile in La Bamba and Rapa Nui) plays the more thoughtful, “softer” scientist trying to figure out what’s really going on. This movie will go down even better with some microwave popcorn and a box of wine.
Reverend’s Rating: C+
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.