(*homocinematically inclined)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Men & the Men Who Love Them

Things aren’t always black and white when it comes to men loving other men. As a result, there is a growing subgenre of short and feature films that may be marketed primarily to gay viewers but hold appeal for bisexual, bi-curious and predominantly heterosexual guys as well. Here are my takes on a few new home video releases in this vein.

The aptly titled Straight Men & the Men Who Love Them 3 will be out February 25th on DVD courtesy of Ariztical Entertainment. Somehow, the first two volumes in this compilation series passed me by but may be familiar to some readers. Five short films are featured in this new edition, several of them hits from the 2013 gay film festival circuit. Quarters, directed by Jorge Ameer (who also compiled and "presents" the DVD), is a heartfelt story in which a groom's best man confesses his longtime love for his buddy the night before the wedding. Meanwhile, Henry Alberto's Rubber Duckie is a strange episode set in a seemingly post-apocalyptic world. Two male survivors spend aimless days clad in their underwear, with the more straight-seeming and dominant of the two playing increasingly sexual games of one-upmanship with the other. Its finale struck me as distasteful, but desperate times may indeed lead to such extreme measures.

Boy Game, from Sweden, depicts two teens struggling with the perennial question of how best to have sex with a girl. In their search for answers, they decide to practice on each other. Its a little rough around the edges in terms of filmmaking technique but this also helps to heighten the tale's authenticity. The most controversial short in the lot is Early One Summer, by British director Gary Thomas. A high school tennis coach, married to a woman, grows close to one of his male students. They go on a camping trip together during which their feelings for one another become romantic and sexual. At only 10 minutes, Thomas really doesn't have enough time to develop his story fully and the ending is too abrupt. However, it could be developed into a longer, more nuanced short or feature.

The best inclusion in Straight Men & the Men Who Love Them 3 is Hong Kong's From Here to There. Director Yee Lam Wong apparently made this short as his thesis at, surprisingly, a Baptist university! It is a nicely shot, well-acted look at the years-later reunion of two men who were lovers while in high school together. The film will resonate with any of us who had feelings for our straight, adolescent best friend. All in all (with the possible exception of Rubber Duckie) this collection demands checking out.

The Passenger, now available from TLA Releasing, is the latest feature by German filmmaker Tor Iben. It follows Iben's 2011 The Visitor (a.k.a. Cibrail), in which a man unexpectedly falls for his girlfriend's gay cousin. With The Passenger, Iben takes a decidedly dark turn as he focuses on an attractive sociopath, Nick (played by Ryan Gosling doppelganger Niklas Peters, who also sports a nice tanline). Nick enjoys sexually manipulating women and men until he kills them. His latest, unfortunate quarry are an aspiring actress, Lilli (Lynne Femme), and her photographer roommate Philipp (Urs Stampfli). Philipp claims to be straight although he exclusively shoots male subjects, and he and Nick quickly establish a bromance. Whether one enjoys this film will largely depend on one's enjoyment of Nick's teasing, cat and mouse game with his new friends, but it takes nice advantage of its Berlin setting and is unquestionably well-acted and well-made.

For my money, the current expert at making initially bromantic movies that develop into something more is Argentinian writer-director Marco Berger. His previous, very good features Absent and Plan B as well as the short story compilation Sexual Tension: Volatile serve as strong evidence of this. Berger's latest, Hawaii, will be released on DVD February 18th by newbie distributor Canteen Outlaws. Plan B alum Manuel Vignau stars as Eugenio, a lonely writer housesitting for his aunt and uncle. A childhood friend, Martin (Mateo Chiarino, blessed with expressive eyes and nice hindquarters), re-enters Eugenio's life one day looking for work. It isn't long before the sexual tension starts bubbling between them and Eugenio takes in his homeless friend.

Hawaii is chock full of Berger's signature smoldering looks, crotch shots (mostly clothed) and seemingly non-sexual physical intimacy. Unfortunately, its all dragged out a little too long here at 105 minutes. The final 10 or so minutes, when the film's enigmatic title finally makes sense, are great though and the long-awaited romantic payoff is nice. Pedro Irusta's classical-infused music score is also worth listening to.

I do wish mainstream movies would take more risks in this men-loving-men regard, especially since it seems increasingly common in our society at large. Maybe Michael Keaton's character could at least have the semi-hots for Joel Kinnaman's cyborg hero in the new RoboCop!

Reverend’s Ratings:
Straight Men & the Men Who Love Them 3: B
The Passenger: B-
Hawaii: B

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

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