Friday, August 30, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: Murder on Fire Island, Kissing Cousins and VelociPastor!


Summer may be coming to an end, but gay-interest releases in theaters and on home video are just heating up! Here's a rundown of new movies for which to keep an eye out...

In the sexy suspense-thriller Last Ferry (opening today at the Laemmle Music Hall cinema in Los Angeles and screening during Palm Springs' Cinema Diverse in September) a young gay lawyer, Joseph (played by the very cute Ramon Torres), arrives on Fire Island to explore his sexuality. Unfortunately for him, he ends up drugged and mugged, then becomes witness to a murder. A handsome stranger, Cameron (Sheldon Best), helps Joseph to safety and introduces him to his eclectic group of friends. Just when things are heating up between him and Cameron, Joseph discovers his savior may be friends with the killer. Their relationship becomes complicated, to say the least.

Written by Torres and directed by Jaki Bradley, Last Ferry explores a darker side of the east coast gay mecca than we usually see. But the movie isn’t without humor plus its chock full of hot guys of diverse ages, body types, ethnicities and even hair colors. It also offers some thoughtful reflections on the progress that’s been made by the LGBTQ community, as well as the tendency to be our own worst enemy at times.

I didn’t find this film’s ending to be completely satisfying but it is engrossing throughout. Alexa Wolf’s beautiful, off-season cinematography of Fire Island as well as a hip score by dance-jazz duo Wonderly (Jim Brunberg and Benjamin Landsverk) also make Last Ferry worth seeing and listening to.

Blending big-screen sexiness with a healthy dose of religion is the Brazilian drama Cousins. It is currently making the LGBTQ film festival rounds, including September's Cinema Diverse, and will open in Los Angeles for a weeklong run at the Laemmie Music Hall on November 1st. Young Lucas (Paulo Sousa) lives with his devout Catholic aunt, Lourdes, in a small country town. Up to now, life has been pretty simple and quiet. Things change, however, when his charitable aunt announces the arrival of another nephew, Mario (Thiago Cazado). Just out of jail, Mario's life has been anything but quiet. When their aunt goes out of town for a weekend, the boys are left to their own devices and things between them can't help but get interesting.

Sousa and Cazado are adorable (and frequently naked) as the love-struck relations. Of note, Cazado wrote Cousins and co-directed the film with Mauro Carvalho. I don't know anything about Cazado's personal life, but he fully and sensitively invests himself in his role as Mario. The movie's finale sends a refreshing message of acceptance, much to the hilarious consternation of the young woman who wants Lucas for herself. A definite gay crowd pleaser.

Rafael Gomes' 45 Days Away from You , new on DVD courtesy of Dekkoo Films and TLA Releasing, is as good as Cousins and similarly from Brazil. The lead character, a gay writer named Rafael in what is seemingly an autobiographical story, is grieving the unexpected breakup of a recent relationship and considers himself "the most inadequate person alive." He decides to pursue some distance and perspective by visiting an actress friend in London.

Over the 45 days of the film's title, Rafael (played by Rafael De Bona) ends up traveling to France, Portugal, Denmark and Argentina as well, gaining advice from various longtime friends in each locale. These include his straight but bromantic buddy Fabio as well as the gay, sexy Icaro. As Fabio thoughtfully ruminates, "Our biggest legacy may be the collection of our love stories."

Gomes' screenplay is well-written and philosophical throughout, with such additional bon mots as "a broken heart is a moving forest" and "I love you like no one is looking." The acting is great all-around, plus Dhyana Ma's location photography is gorgeous. 45 Days Away from You is a reflective winner.

Speaking of Argentina, that country's writer-director Marco Berger is back with The Blonde One, his latest romance between initially straight guys. This has become his patented bread and butter, as seen in such previous films as Plan B, Taekwondo and Hawaii. Unlike most of those, The Blonde One will be released theatrically in the US starting in LA on September 6th.

In the suburbs of Buenos Aires, Gabriel (the fair-haired boy of the title) has just moved in with his colleague, Juan. Shy and reserved, Gabo is reluctant to follow Juan's wandering hands and meaningful looks. Gabo also has a young daughter from a previous hetero dalliance. Besides, with a revolving door of female beauties streaming out of his bedroom Juan's machismo seems firmly in place. However, the attraction between the two men is undeniable. What starts out as a sexual relationship based on convenience of location, soon develops into the engrossing evolution of a tender and intimate relationship.

Berger's movies are defined by slow-building chemistry between his male leads. Unfortunately, this is even more protracted than usual in The Blonde One and the film's first half is dull as a result. It's a thoroughly predictable story but there's no denying the main actors' sexiness.

Not very gay but intentionally campy as all get out is The VelociPastor, now available for streaming and scheduled for DVD release on September 17th. Fr. Doug Jones (cute, often scantily-clad Gregory James Cohan) is a devoted young priest until he witnesses the murder of his parents. After receiving some questionable theological counsel, Fr. Doug travels to China. There, he is unexpectedly endowed with the power of "the dragon warrior" and becomes capable of turning into a justice-seeking dinosaur!

After returning to his Pennsylvania parish, the priest crosses paths with Carol (the very funny Alyssa Kempinski), a kind-hearted prostitute who remarks of her thwarted higher ambitions "there's a surprisingly low demand for hooker-doctor-lawyers." They gradually fall in love and team up to take down local criminals as well as battle a gang of Catholic ninjas (?) led by Doug's neglected brother. As the vengeful priest states, "I think God wants a lot of people dead."

Written, directed and edited by Brendan Steere with tongue firmly in cheek, The VelociPastor is a hoot. Complete with 1970's visual/filmmaking throwbacks, cheesy make-up and visual effects, a fun punk rock song score by various bands, and a perfectly laughable dinosaur costume, it is a low-brow must see for those into such things!

Reverend's Ratings:
Last Ferry: B
Cousins: B+
45 Days Away from You: B+
The Blonde One: C
The VelociPastor: B

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

Friday, August 2, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: Gay Days of Summer


The typically over-heated month of August has long been referred to as the "dog days" of summer. I have no idea why. This year, however, we can think of August as the gay days of summer based on all the LGBTQ-themed movies now in theaters, on home video, or fresh from their Outfest Los Angeles premieres.

New in select US theaters this weekend is Consequences (from Uncork'd Entertainment), which happens to be the first gay-themed narrative film from the historically conservative country of Slovenia. The attractive Matej Zemljic (who resembles CW's The Flash star Grant Gustin) plays Andrej, a troubled young man who finds himself remanded to a residential program for youths with behavioral issues.

Since the facility's counselors are largely ineffectual, Andrej finds himself drawn to his manipulative peer Zele. Zele seduces Andrej not only sexually but into his bullying lifestyle. "We're the mafia, aren't we?," Zele asks Andrej with a smile. Andrej comes to his senses and does the right thing in the end but, unfortunately, pays a price for it even as the experience leads him to embrace his sexual orientation.

Talented writer-director Darko Stante handles this subject matter sensitively but doesn't shy from the story's more brutal situations. Consequences illustrates the darker side of "What I Did for Love" as well as underscores the enduring vulnerability of gay or bisexual men in Eastern Europe. The film strikes a more universal chord in showing that a perceived attitude of entitlement among today's youth is hardly unique to North America. Despite some necessary roughness, it is definitely worth a look.

Newly available on home video courtesy of TLA Releasing is Always Say Yes (Siempre Si), a remarkable, at times experimental movie from Mexico. Gay viewers will be enticed by the DVD cover's promise that it "contains real sex, a lot of it" but there is much more going on than just that. Subtitled "a Mexican picaresque," Alberto Fuguet's semi-autobiographical film provides an intimate exploration of Mexico's culture, literature, music and politics. It is dedicated, tellingly, to the country's celebrated gay novelist, Luis Zapata, as well as to Joe Dallesandro, the underground American actor/sex symbol.

Gerardo Torres Rodriguez headlines the sexy, virtually all-male cast as Hector Vasquez, a young gay man lured to Mexico City for the first time from his home in more rural Hermosillo. He lives a closeted existence there but is excited about posing nude for an established gay photographer. Things don't go as planned but Hector ends up going home far from disappointed thanks to steamy, unplanned encounters at his hotel, a bathhouse, and other locales. Plus, he meets another gay photographer with whom he forges a more long-term relationship.

One may well consider booking a trip to Mexico City after watching Always Say Yes. It is inspiring in this sense as well as revealing new subjects and techniques for the Mexican film industry. Most interestingly, Fuguet employed multiple cinematographers to shoot in a variety of styles including black and white, digital, celluloid, and color. The result is a sometimes dreamy, sometimes (porno)graphic "picaresque" that thoroughly enraptured me.

This was the first year I covered Outfest, the annual Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival, from afar since I moved to New England last summer. I'm grateful to the many filmmakers and publicists who kept me "in the loop" and enabled me to sample their wares (so to speak) from afar. I noted several Outfest premieres in my July preview article but here are my capsule reviews of a few others that will likely continue on the festival, theatrical, and/or streaming circuit:

Holy Trinity is a thoroughly and unabashedly queer celebration set in Chicago. Written and directed by Molly Hewitt and executive produced by "mumblecore" auteur Joe Swanberg, its chock full of colorful, kinky characters including a dominatrix through whom dead people start speaking, a balloon-bedecked "Imp Queen," and a Catholic priest who drinks holy water and loves Madonna (the pop singer as opposed to the Virgin Mary). There's a little too much huffing and smoking among them for my taste, but the movie boasts a fabulous musical interlude that gives new meaning to "going to church."

Label Me, the potent, sexy story of a Syrian immigrant, Waseem (well played by Renato Schuch), who studied music in his home country but is forced to hustling once he arrives in Europe. He gains a regular client, Lars (Nikolaus Benda), who begins to pay Waseem for more than just sex. A deeper but tenuous relationship grows between them. Kai Kreuser's film is hard-hitting at times but ultimately hopeful.

From Zero To I Love You is the latest from actor-writer-director Doug Spearman of Noah's Arc and Hot Guys With Guns fame. Here, he crafts a sometimes far-fetched yet well-intentioned tale of romance between a straight, married father and a single gay man historically drawn to married men. The fact that one of them is white and the other black is initially, refreshingly not an issue. Things eventually take a strained turn in this regard but the movie, set in Philadelphia, has enough high-quality production values plus a strong cast (Noah's Arc's Darryl Stephens, The Bay's Scott Bailey, Ann Walker in a funny cameo, and Jai Rodriguez) to keep it afloat.

Tu Me Manques, a cinematic expansion of writer Rodrigo Bellott's 2015 play. Young Bolivians Sebastian and Gabriel fall in love at first sight in New York City but, unfortunately, Gabriel's conservative Christian parents refuse to accept his homosexuality. Their relationship ends tragically but Sebastian sees an opportunity to help others through a theatrical production inspired by their story. The film jumps around in time, which can be confusing at times, but it builds to a strong, memorable conclusion. Bellott was awarded a special Jury Prize at Outfest for his screenplay.

The Garden Left Behind is a similarly strong yet sad story about a young trans woman, Tina (played by Carlie Guevara), taking the final steps toward her surgical transition. She has saved money by working as an Uber driver and bartender, has the support of her seemingly accepting boyfriend, and lives with her understanding grandmother. Everything goes well until it doesn't, and then they go from bad to worse in Flavio Alves' sympathetic but arguably too pessimistic film. Name actors Michael Madsen and 89-year old Ed Asner appear in supportive supporting roles.

Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story details the horrific treatment the comedian and LGBTQ ally has endured since posting a satiric photo of herself holding a replica of President Donald Trump's severed head two years ago. She was investigated unconstitutionally by the FBI, put on no-fly and Interpol lists, and remains blacklisted by the US entertainment industry. Her new, self-made documentary/stand up movie screened at Outfest prior to a July 31st Fathom Events showing in 700 movie theaters. It serves as both Griffin's latest, hilarious critique of the powers that be as well as a call to arms to LGBTQ and straight Americans alike. Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services ought to be ashamed if they don't buy and stream this immediately.

And if all these aren't enough for one month, Rocketman – hands down the gayest movie of the year to date – will be out on home video August 27th!

Reverend's Ratings:
Consequences: B
Always Say Yes: A-
Holy Trinity: B-
Label Me: B+
From Zero to I Love You: B
Tu Me Manques: B
The Garden Left Behind: C+
Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story: A-

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