(*homocinematically inclined)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Reverend's Reviews: Thrills & Chills at NewFest & Everywhere


It's Halloween, and this year's just-concluded NewFest in New York City presented appropriately darker hues of the current LGBTQ experience. The festival opened October 24th with the New York premiere of Yen Tan's acclaimed, literally dark (it's filmed in black & white) 1985, previously reviewed here. 1985 was also the year I graduated high school, so it evoked frightfully memories for me in that regard. The best film featured at NewFest and several other LGBT festivals this year, however, is A Moment in the Reeds. This poignant love story between a Finnish man and the Syrian asylum-seeker his father hires to work on their house proves to be the most sensual, soulful gay movie I've seen in years (sorry, Call Me By Your Name) but nonetheless ends on a bittersweet note.

The hands down spookiest film to screen at NewFest was Devil's Path. Out actor Matthew Montgomery makes an impressive directorial debut with this tale of a gay man, Noah, searching for his missing gay brother in a woodsy cruising area. As one fellow tricker warns him: "Love doesn't exist on Devil's Path, sunshine." Montgomery and co-screenwriter Stephen Twardokus (who also plays Noah) throw in several twists toward the end of this suspense thriller. It is beautifully shot by Stephen Tringali in the northern California wine country and features an effective music score by Ceiri Torjussen. Montgomery makes a Hitchcockian cameo as does his husband, actor Steve Callahan (the two previously co-starred in Role/Play).

Featured in one of the short film programs at NewFest was No More We, by talented Swedish writer-director David Fardmar. It depicts the intense breakup of the marriage between husbands Adrian and Hampus in non-linear fashion, kind of like a gay non-musical version of The Last Five Years. It's every gay married couple's worst nightmare. Bjorn Elgerd and Jonathan Andersson are simultaneously adorable and heartbreaking (heartbreakingly adorable?) as the former lovers.

Mario, which also made its NYC debut during the festival, is an exploration of a still-scary environment for gay men: professional sports. In this Swiss production, the title character is a young football (i.e. soccer) player long groomed for the big leagues by his ex-pro father. On the verge of success, Mario falls in love with new team transfer Leon, who is both gorgeous and more openly gay. They soon embark on a passionate but conflicted affair. Mario is forced to make a choice once scandal erupts, and let's just say the pair don't end up happily ever after. It is a sexy if by now familiar story, featuring de riguer underwear shots with an occasional naked ass.

Beyond NewFest, the most terrifying movie for many gay men that is newly available on VOD this Halloween is the documentary American Circumcision. Writer-director Brendon Marotta turns an unflinching lens on the history and controversy behind "the most common surgery in America." Most interesting is the perspective of the so-called "intactivists" or "anti-circs" who oppose circumcision and/or call for foreskin restoration surgery for men who were circumcised as infants against their presumed will. American Circumcision isn't uninteresting but it is overlong and clearly on the side of the intactivists. It ultimately struck me, as one who was allegedly "maimed" as a child, as much ado about very little (no pun intended).

For more traditionally scary Halloween film fare, one can currently choose between the aptly-titled, big-screen sequel Halloween or the new Netflix miniseries inspired by Shirley Jackson's classic novel The Haunting of Hill House. Sorry to say, I was mightily disappointed by the latest entry in the 40-year series initiated by John Carpenter's 1978 horror classic Halloween. It is much of the same, with Jamie Lee Curtis giving a charismatic but one-note performance as Laurie Strode, her traumatized character from the original film. Psychotic "boogeyman" Michael Myers escapes from his mental institute and starts killing innocent people, who most disturbingly and unapologetically include a dance-loving, presumably gay teenager. The movie stuck me as unimaginative at best and, at worst, offensive.

Meanwhile, The Haunting of Hill House bares little resemblance to Jackson's original work or the prior films adapted from it but emerges as its own memorable, frequently creepy story. Writer-director Mike Flanagan has re-imagined it as a decades-spanning family saga starring the likes of Carla Gugino, Oscar-winner Timothy Hutton, and Henry Thomas, the all-grown-up Elliot from Steven Spielberg's 1982 blockbuster E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Gugino's and Thomas's married couple moved into the cursed title domicile in the 1990's with their five children, intending to fix it up and "flip" it. It isn't long before supernatural forces conspire against them. The grown-up children have to confront both literal and figurative ghosts from their past, including the very scary "Bent-Neck Lady" and the unnaturally tall, bowler hat-wearing master of the house. Definitely a worthy chiller for this All Hallow's Eve.

Reverend's Ratings:
A Moment in the Reeds: A-
Devil's Path: B-
No More We: B+
Mario: B
American Circumcision: B-
Halloween (2018): D
The Haunting of Hill House: B+

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

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