Friday, October 16, 2015

Reverend's Reviews: Barney Frank and Other Tricks & Treats


With Halloween approaching, a number of home viewing treats are being dropped into our plastic pumpkins. They range from an intimate look at a gay congressman, to the misadventures of a trio of self-proclaimed geeks in South Central LA and the release of a modern gay-themed classic on Blu-ray for the first time.

An exceptional documentary, Compared to What? The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank, will be premiering October 23rd on Showtime. Its subject had an extraordinary run of 32 years as a member of the US House of Representatives before his retirement in 2013. Frank was firmly in the closet when first elected by the people of Massachusetts but came out in 1987 and immediately became our nation's most prominent gay politician.

Directed by Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler, the film employs archival footage, interviews of Frank past and present, and video of his 2012 wedding to longtime partner Jim Ready to paint a largely favorable portrait of the man. Even conservative Republicans go on record extolling Frank's virtues. The filmmakers don't shy, however (and rightfully so), from the mid-1980's scandal that followed revelations of Frank's illicit relationship with a male prostitute. Despite censure from his fellow representatives, Frank was easily re-elected.

There are many more openly-LGBT politicians today than there were before Frank, and many of them credit him with the greater spirit of openness in Congress. Firmly and consistently devoted to the greater good, Frank's story is well worth viewing and emulating.

Dope, the 2015 Sundance sensation newly available on Blu-ray and DVD, is set a long way from the corridors of power in Washington, DC. It took a trio of black industry insiders, though — namely Forest Whitaker, Pharrell Williams and Sean Combs — to bring Rick Famuyiwa's entertainingly unapologetic coming-of-age tale to the big screen despite its writer-director's prior success helming such urban hits as The Wood, Our Family Wedding and Brown Sugar.

Malcolm (Shameik Moore), Jib (The Grand Budapest Hotel's Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) are devoted to 1990's hip hop music and fashion, which makes them outsiders to their peers in modern-day Inglewood. The fact that Diggy is a lesbian sets the friends that much farther apart from others in their school and neighborhood. Malcolm is intent on getting accepted to Harvard, and his plans seem to be going well until he and his homies innocently run afoul of local drug dealers.

I enjoyed the retro-anarchic spirit of Dope very much. If anything, I wish there was more of it. Famuyiwa wavers uneasily at times between observant, cross-generational satire and uncomfortably contemporary shoot-em-up. Still, the resulting Boyz n the Hood meets Risky Business vibe with a significant dash of Sapphic content ends up feeling fresh in general.

Gay filmgoers of a certain age (late 40's) may be surprised to realize that Thomas Bezucha's Big Eden is already 15 years old. A hit on the 2000 film festival circuit, the movie has just been released for the first time on Blu-ray by Wolfe Video in a digital transfer that makes its mountainous Montana setting all the more spectacular.

Arye Gross stars as Henry, a talented artist living in Manhattan who is summoned back to his rural hometown of the film's title when the grandfather who raised him has a stroke. Once there, Henry finds himself unexpectedly torn between Dean, the hunky high school best friend for whom Henry has long carried a torch (and vice versa) and the unassuming Pike, an awkward yet imposing Native American gentleman who runs the local general store.

All three men have to work out their personal and collective issues, but Bezucha optimistically surrounds them with a compassionate cast of supporting characters played by the likes of Academy Award-winner Louise Fletcher, Broadway star Veanne Cox, the late great Nan Martin and the more recently-deceased George Coe. Whether or not you've seen it before, Big Eden demands a fresh, hi-def look.

Also newly-available from TLA Releasing are the hi-def, Blu-ray release of 2013's popular if somewhat belabored gay romantic-comedy Love or Whatever; the DVD Dishonored Bodies, a collection of nine stylishly sexy short films by queer Spanish director Juanma Carrillo; and Argentinian filmmaker Santiago Giralt's Jess & James, which depicts a revelatory road trip undertaken by its super-hot title characters. Trust me, these films are tastier than a fistful of candy corn.

Reverend's Ratings:
Compared to What? The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank: A-
Dope: B
Big Eden: B+
Love or Whatever: B-
Dishonored Bodies: B+
Jess & James: B

Dope, Big Eden, Love or Whatever, Dishonored Bodies and Jess & James are now available on DVD and/or Blu-ray:

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

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