Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Keep the Liars at the End of the Street

     In today's pile o' DVD's we have a last(?) word on a member of THE classic sketch comedy troupe, a disappointing horror flick, and this year's token gay male love story.  Time to dive in...

  Keep the Lights On - I regret to admit that I am unfamiliar with the previous work of either director/writer Ira Sachs or his writing partner on this venture Mauricio Zacharias.  In this film they tell the story of a gay couple and their on-again-off-again relationship over the years as one deals with drug addiction and the other never gives up on him.  It is a touching story that aptly demonstrates how strong the love between two people can be even when much of the world refuses to recognize what is between them as an expression of true love.  It is also a horrifying story of drug addiction and how easy it is to fall into such marginal sub-cultures when one has felt marginalized from society their whole life.  Unfortunately, to the gay male viewer, it is also rife with commonly addressed stereotypes.  Of course, many of these may appear less stereotypical to straight observers.  I'm sure that many Asian-American viewers may have found aspects of The Joy Luck club to be a little "pat", that were totally new concepts to the movie viewing public at large.
      Central to the success of the film is the performance of Thure Lindhardt (Into the Wild) as Erik Rothman, the more stable member of the couple.  His performance is simple and low-key through most of the movie, but explodes with emotion in all the right places.  In Erik, Lindhardt sculpts a character that is quietly strong, something we see too little of in films in general, and gay characters in particular.  I particularly love the way that his voice gets huskier and his verbiage less polished  when he gets on the phone with a potential hook-up.
      Zachary Booth (Nick and Norah's Infinate Playlist) plays Paul Lucy, who is in many ways the weaker character in the couple. His inability to accept his own homosexuality leads to his inability to deal with his substance abuse and his inability to get hold of his life throughout most of the film.  His performance is excellent in the thankless task of playing a role that is often unsympathetic.  I became so frustrated with his CHARACTER that it took me a little time after the film was finished to appreciate how boldly Booth has embraced even the more off-putting elements of the part.
     I certainly recommend checking out Keep the Lights On.  I should also add before we move on that it is refreshing to see that cinema (at least in other countries) continues to move beyond the notion that men merely kissing is radically risque.  The couple actually has sex scenes akin to what you would see a heterosexual couple having in a rated R movie, and they have real chemistry.  I guess my lack of enthusiasm is unfairly dropped in this picture's lap because I was hoping for the sort of "modern gay relationship manifesto" that we saw in last year's brilliant feature Weekend, one of my top ten films of 2011.  While "Lights" will NOT be cracking my top ten for the year, it has a strong shot at my top 50, in a HIGHLY competitive 2012...4 out of 5 stars.

  A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Grahame Chapman - or...The Film With the Most Unnecessarily and Pretentiously Long Title of the Year Deserving of a Subtitle of Comparable Character and Duration...or...Grahame Chapman was a Size Queen.  I apologize.  I certainly am unaware of any other tone that would be appropriate when discussing an animated autobiography of the late Grahame Chapman: open homosexual, wry wit, and founding member of Monty Python's Flying Circus.
     The film is composed largely of new animation harnessed with vintage audio, strung together in such a way that Mr. Chapman narrates the story of his own life from beyond the grave.  Ingenious, irreverent, witty, and still a little inflammatory, even today.  It (frighteningly) may not be the most inaccurate biopic that you ever see, but it is probably the only one that admits it in the title.  I particularly love the depiction Chapman and his co-creators as feces tossing monkeys in his recollection of how they settled upon the name "Monty Python's Flying Circus".  It features the voice talents of all the regular players as well as Cameron Diaz (who plays Dr. Sigmund Freud).
     If you were a fan of the original BBC series, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect only with bolder homo-erotic references (and bolder sexual content in general).  If you are very young (or were home schooled right through your graduate studies), and are unfamiliar with the comedic stylings of this innovative pre-SNL sketch comedy troupe whose influence upon future generations of comedians and writers has been inestimable, then you should definitely educate yourself.  In a particularly strong year for animated films, this one stands out as one of the most unique, although be warned that it is not made for children...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  The House at the End of the Street - Rarely is a sophomore directing effort as sophomoric as this one by Mark Tonderai.  It starts out okay and goes downhill from there. I don't know why I would have expected better from screenwriter David Loucka after last year's plot hole ridden Dream House, but he was partnered with Jonathen Mostow, who penned the expectation smashing U-571 many years back.  This film was full of predictability, and every mystery ended in the least interesting of all possible answers.
     I have been following recent Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence's career very closely since her first Oscar nomination for Hunger's Bone. Her starring role was my main attraction to watching this film and probably was the source for much of the picture's box office return.  For what's it is worth, the film WAS elevated a little by her inclusion.  She was great as always.  Let's hope that with her recent Oscar win and the financial success of The Hunger Games franchise, she will no longer feel the need to settle for insipid projects like this one...1 1/2 out of 5 stars.

  Related Articles:  Belle Had a Killer Weekend (Weekend review), Best of 2011 - Best Picture ConcludedKilling the Dream Contagion (Dream House review)

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