Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Tales from Texas to Lebanon

This week’s home video release of Dallas Buyers Club seems a bit premature given that it is still playing in US theaters and is up for six yet-to-be-awarded Oscars. Then again, it may prove to be a canny bit of striking while the iron’s hot for this excellent but underseen reality-based AIDS drama. The film, released in early November, has only taken in $22 million at the box office to date. Sadly, even many gay men have been hesitant to check the film out, citing its heterosexual yet HIV-infected protagonist (an award-winning Matthew McConaughey) and/or their perception that it is a dreary, depressing movie (it isn’t, and is downright inspiring in the end). Those of us who survived the plague years of the 1980s-90s owe it to ourselves as well as to those who didn’t make it to watch Dallas Buyers Club.


Several other above average gay-themed dramas by talented up and coming filmmakers are also now available on DVD and, in some cases, download. The acclaimed Pit Stop (Wolfe Video) is another tale set in Texas (Austin in this case) courtesy of Yen Tan, the Malaysian writer-director who previously helmed Happy Birthday and Ciao. His latest is a deliberately paced, naturalistic examination of two closeted gay men whose lives gradually converge. Some viewers may find the 80-minute running time a little too slow-moving but I encourage them to hang in there. It is ultimately a hopeful piece buoyed by the fine, sexy lead performances of Bill Heck (from ABC’s late, lamented Pan Am) and Marcus DeAnda (seen in last year’s underrated K-11).


Moving northeast from the panhandle to the Catskills, we happen upon Patrick McGuinn’s unique gay romance Leather (QC Cinema). Hunky Andrew Glaszek stars as Andrew, the estranged son of his recently deceased father. Returning to his family’s cabin in rural upstate New York for the first time since he was a teen, Andrew is surprised to find a childhood friend, Birch (Chris Graham), serving as caretaker of the property. He also learns that Birch served as caregiver to Andrew’s father during his last days. Old resentments naturally find expression, but so does a long unspoken attraction between Birch and Andrew. Unfortunately for them, at least initially, Andrew’s shallow partner Kyle (Jeremy Neal) has tagged along.

Greg Chandler’s sensitive screenplay takes some new approaches to this fairly routine set up. The most interesting is making Birch a true salt-of-the-earth mountain man who shuns modern technology and dresses like a wayward Amish. He also refreshingly refuses to label himself sexually, even as he is falling for the out and proud Andrew. “I’m gay for you,” Birch tells his longtime friend in all sincerity even as he admits his continuing interest in women. Additionally, Chandler throws into the mix an intoxicated, in-your-face art therapist who gleefully illustrates Andrew’s painful upbringing using hand puppets.


Though Neal's Kyle is frequently grating and McGuinn employs an excessive repertoire of original songs, the actors are attractively diverse and their woodland goings on are nicely photographed by Nick Morr. Leather is a pleasant surprise.

Moving much further east to Lebanon, Samer Daboul’s Out Loud is a find. Now available from Ariztical Entertainment, it is billed as the predominantly conservative Muslim country’s first gay-themed commercial feature. Five men and one woman (whom one of them meets on the Internet) embark on a daring, potentially life-threatening journey to define themselves as a family. “Why are traditional families the only legitimate ones?” wisely asks Ziad, one half of a gay couple within the group.


The film boasts excellent cinematography and editing, with numerous stylistically-grabbing moments including a dance sequence and an elaborate double wedding. Daboul and his cast infuse Out Loud with a joyous spirit, even with danger lurking about in the form of Ziad’s anti-gay cousins. A few moments feel forced, as does at times the central performance of Rudy Moarbes, but this remains a noteworthy, even historic movie.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Dallas Buyers Club: A-
Pit Stop: B+
Leather: B+
Out Loud: B+

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

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