(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Gay in the Desert

Now that our annual nominating and voting process for the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (or GALECA, of which I am Vice President and co-ballot tabulator) is over and the cinematic year that was 2013 is closed out, I can finally review a handful of gay-themed movies that screened during the Palm Springs International Film Festival two weeks ago. Better late than never, especially when two of the films are very good and another good. The less said about the fourth movie I review below, probably the better.

Cupcakes is a suitably tasty confection from gay Israeli director Eytan Fox (Yossi & Jagger, Yossi), easily his lightest and most purely enjoyable film to date. Super cute Ofer Schechter plays a gay schoolteacher who, when not entertaining his class by lip-synching in drag, yearns to represent Israel on the world’s #1 televised singing competition, UniverSong. Each nation annually chooses a singer or group to compete, so Ofer (actor and character share the same name) enters himself and his five girlfriends in the Israeli selection process. Two complications arise once they are chosen: (1) the ladies didn’t know Ofer had entered them as a singing group and (2) Ofer’s closeted boyfriend is a member of the wealthy hummus-producing family that sponsors Israel’s team. Will their conflicts be worked out in time for UniverSong’s climactic Paris showdown? Is the pope Catholic?

Colorful art direction and costumes as well as a score chock-full of hits by Scissor Sisters, The Captain & Tennille (who sadly announced their divorce today after 39 years of “muskrat” marriage), Debbie Boone (!) and more serve as the sweet icing on this delectable treat. Sure, its lightweight but its also good to see Fox taking a break from heavier fare.

Another contemporary gay filmmaker, Bruce LaBruce, takes on a decidedly riskier tale in Gerontophilia but with impressive results. After a several years run of sexually explicit, frequently gory horror satires including L.A. Zombie and Otto; or, Up With Dead People, LaBruce (working with co-writer Daniel Allen Cox) gets downright cuddly with this still outré romance between a young man named Lake and a man, Melvyn Peabody, approximately 60 years his elder. They meet at a nursing home managed by Lake’s mother, where he works as an orderly and Mr. Peabody is a resident. While Lake has a genuine concern for the elderly and begins to question what he sees as their over-medication and abusive treatment, he also develops an increasingly erotic fascination with the older male bodies he is charged with washing and dressing. Melvyn, who is gay, begins to return Lake’s attentions once his sleep-inducing prescriptions are cut back. The pair begins playing strip poker (while shaking martinis no less) behind Melvyn’s closed door and things quickly escalate from there. It isn’t long before Lake “kidnaps” Melvyn for a romantic getaway, during which jealousies unexpectedly flare and other surprises await.

Pier-Gabriel Lajoie, who plays Lake, is photogenic but amateurish, at least initially. He grew on me, though, and his heartfelt reactions during the film’s second half are touching. Meanwhile, veteran black actor Walter Borden gives an excellent, graceful performance as Melvyn, who is alternately confused and delighted by Lake’s uncompromising interest in him at his advanced age. Gerontophilia is also beautifully shot, especially during its final scenes in a snowfall, by Nicolas Canniccioni. “You’re such a saint,” Lake’s feminist girlfriend, Desiree (a great Katie Boland), tells him at one point. Well, Bruce LaBruce is no saint but he gets credit here as always for his boldness and bravery. I’m very interested to see what reactions his latest film receives once it gets broader play.

In the new documentary Ignasi M., Spanish filmmaker Ventura Pons (probably best known in the US for 2002’s well-received, gay-themed Food of Love) turns his camera on fellow countryman Ignasi Nunez. Nunez has been acclaimed internationally as a museologist and art restorer. He is also flamboyantly gay, HIV+ and the proud parent of two young adult sons he fathered naturally with a disabled woman.

Nunez has a sharp intellect and quick wit, so Pons wisely sits back and lets his subject do most of the talking on a variety of topics including sexuality, religion, nature, the value of art and museums, parenthood, economics and class, and death. His fellow conversationalists include Nunez’s elderly parents (his father has attempted suicide as did his grandfather, the latter successfully), his sons, the mother of his sons and fellow museologists. As a viewer, it took me a little time to get into the film’s rhythm and approach, which struck me more often than not as free association. Some additional editing and tightening up wouldn’t hurt, but Nunez emerges as an impressive if eccentric figure.

Less than impressed, meanwhile, discreetly describes my reaction to the wanna-be gay satire Hidden Hills. Written by and starring the self-proclaimed “comedy duo” of Tim O’Leary and Ted Trent, its one of those movies that is trying so hard to be funny it turns out not to be funny at all. The plot has something to do with a 1960’s gay couple (O’Leary and Trent) who decide to get married, but my partner and I could not get through it. While some of the period fixtures and costumes are spot-on, once it is determined which period we’re supposed to be in, the film is woefully amateurish in writing, acting and its irritating music score. I’m trying to figure out how Hidden Hills made it into the Palm Springs fest. Clearly, the festival’s programmers, despite doing an otherwise terrific job this year in the GLBT department, are not infallible.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Cupcakes: B+
Gerontophilia: B+
Ignasi M.: B-
Hidden Hills: D

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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