Monday, May 15, 2017

Reverend's Reviews: Sex Gods


 

It's the lusty month of May, as Guinevere declares via song in Camelot.  Judging by the graphic sexual content in a new crop of streaming and home video offerings, she wasn't kidding. That at least one of them deals rather profoundly with the current state of religion in America piqued Reverend's interest all the more.


American Gods, the current Starz series adapted from Neil Gaiman's fantastical novel, features more theology, mythology, violence and diverse sexual proclivities than any one show should be able to handle. While the first four episodes I watched were uneven in tone and quality, their high points exceed anything I've seen on TV recently with the exception of The Man in the High Castle.  These include a gay sex scene — between a mortal and a jinn or genie, no less — so lengthy and apparently revolutionary that GLAAD held a special advance screening of the episode (#3) in Los Angeles last week. Other divine characters featured include Bilquis, a poly-amorous goddess of love who uniquely ingests her partners via her vagina, as well as Media, a new deity played by Gillian Anderson who offers numerous enticements including sex while taking on the appearance of Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo, Judy Garland and other classic screen divas.

"You ain't never had a friend like me"
Omid Abtahi, Mousa Kraish in American Gods

The show's central character is Shadow Moon (the very hot, smoldering Ricky Whittle).  No sooner is Shadow released from prison for his role in a casino robbery gone wrong than he is recruited by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday (the great British actor Ian McShane).  The ex-con is primarily employed as Wednesday's driver and bodyguard but finds himself drawn into a war between old and new gods. We learn that Mr. Wednesday is also known as Wotang or Odin, the Norse god most recently played in the Thor movies by Anthony Hopkins.  By the end of episode 4 this divine conflict hadn't yet kicked into full gear but the series is well worth watching, despite sex (complete with male erections) and violence that may startle other religious viewers, if for no other other reason than seeing old pro Cloris Leachman and musical powerhouse Kristen Chenoweth play other classic deities.  I'm completely devoted to Gods.


There is more far from mindless sex on display in two new gay-themed releases.  Utopians (Breaking Glass Pictures) is probably the most sexually explicit movie made in China to date.  That it primarily deals with homosexual relations is even more astounding.  Writer-director/provocateur Scud weaves a philosophy-infused story in which a young Hong Kong student struggling with his budding homosexuality is gradually seduced by his openly gay professor.  Some aspects of their relationship may seem dated and/or unethical by western standards, but we must be mindful that openly gay relationships remain frowned upon in China.


Paris 05:59 Theo & Hugo, now available from Wolfe Video, is an explicit yet very romantic love story told in real time between the two title characters. They make an instant connection in a Paris sex club but their fledgling relationship is quickly tested by the specter of HIV.  Co-directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau won multiple awards for their significant achievement.  The actors in both Utopians and Theo & Hugo also deserve kudos for their fearlessness.


Then there is Fifty Shades Darker (Universal).  This sequel to 2015's hit, hetero S&M fantasy Fifty Shades of Grey is even glossier and disappointingly more tame.  A change of directors is primarily to blame, with veteran James Foley (At Close Range, Fear) taking over from the more adventurous (and notably female) Sam Taylor-Johnson.  Not that the original was a very good movie but it proves to be better than the latest.  Controlling billionaire Christian Grey (returning Jamie Dornan, yum) returns after having been spurned by his latest disciple, Anastasia Steele (still Dakota Johnson, ugh), at the conclusion of episode 1.  He is humbled and contrite as the new film opens.  She agrees to take him back on her terms which quickly become more like his terms, Ben Wa balls and all.  In a nod to the 1980's kink semi-classic 9 1/2 Weeks, Foley casts Kim Basinger in a sadly minimal role as Christian's original master.  Before it all ends, there is a masquerade ball, a new boss for Anastasia who turns out to be a vengeful rapist, a helicopter crash (?) and a wedding engagement for Anastasia and Christian complete with fireworks.  There are sex scenes, especially in the unrated extended edition available, but they are fairly succint and Dornan, oddly, keeps his pants on for most of them.  Alas, there is one more sequel coming (no pun intended), next year's Fifty Shades Freed.  Then hopefully we will be freed from such exploitative, bondage-light silliness.


While not as sexually graphic as these predecessors, three other gay-interest home video releases this month aren't completely without worthwhile elements.  Taekwondo from TLA Releasing is the latest exercise in teasing homoeroticism by expert Marco Berger (Hawaii, Plan B), this time with co-director Martin Farina.  Unlike Berger's previous works, however, there is actual full-frontal nudity and a gay character in this one.  The plot is minimal — a bunch of gorgeous Argentinian friends gather for a boys-only vacation — but host Fernando clearly has the hots for gay newcomer German.  Berger draws out the tease a bit too long but the payoff is worth the wait.


A Little Lust, also available from TLA, is one of the few gay-themed films from Italy to date.  As such, its a bit dated and retro, especially since it was reportedly made in 2009 under the title Neither Juliet Nor Romeo.  Still, better late than never.


And the semi-autobiographical domestic drama Counting for Thunder (Wolfe Video) suffers from over-involvement by its writer/producer/director/leading man Phillip Irwin Cooper.  It is well-written but the film could have benefited from more objectivity.  It has a great supporting cast though including Mariette Hartley, John Heard (so sexy in 1982's Cat People) and Alison Elliott.

Reverend's Ratings:
American Gods (Episodes 1-4): B+
Utopians: B
Paris 05:59 Theo & Hugo: A-
Fifty Shades Darker: C-
Taekwondo: C+
A Little Lust: B-
Counting for Thunder: C

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

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