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.

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