Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Great Gay Film Festival of 2011

     There were also several films with gay themes of note that I failed to catch back in 2011, so I put three of them together to make this post.  Why the hell not?
     Today's "colors in the homo rainbow" include a teen transsexual, a man so far in the closet he's in Narnia, and a sci-fi thriller about sexual coming of age.  I am happy to report that this batch of movies was MUCH better than the 2012 version of the festival.  Less snark, more recommended viewing!

    Gun Hill Road - Believe it or not, this one was already on my viewing list and it JUST released on DVD earlier this month.  I believe it first came within range of my radar due to young star Harmony Santana's Gotham Award nomination for the Breakthrough Award which the young transsexual actress deserved in spades.  As Michael/Vanessa she gives a performance that is nuanced and pained, yet demonstrates a confidence and understanding of exactly who the character is.  No doubt many points in the film mirror experiences and feelings in her own life, but she creates a character that is far more than a stock personality.
     I also have to take a moment to compliment actress Judy Reyes, who plays Michael/Vanessa's mother.  Rarely has a performance captured such unconditional love of a parent for a child, or such yearning for a closeness to one's husband that seems just beyond the character's grasp.  The actress certainly proves that she has dramatic chops that go far beyond the comedic stylings of SCRUBS.
     Unfortunately, actor Esai Morales's performance seems slightly forced by comparison as the conflicted father.  We definitely get his frustration and confusion, and they ring true for the most part.  However, some of his scenes seem to degenerate into a stereotypical, macho "But he's my boy" litany that could have been played with a little more variety.
     This is the first feature for writer/director Rashaad Ernesto Green, and I hope that the limited commercial success of Gun Hill Road does not hinder his ability to make another.  The script is written with intelligence and sensitivity to ALL of the parties involved and his direction indicates an ability to draw truth from the performances of his actors.  I definitely recommend this film, especially for the parents and families of children whose sexual identity may fall outside of the norm...4 of 5 stars.

  Beauty - Winner of the 2011 Queer Palme at Cannes, Beauty is a South African film that tells the story of Francois van Heerden, a man in his mid-40's who enjoys sex with men (unknown to his wife and family), but hates "faggots" (which should be clear to anyone around him).  Francois is played brilliantly by actor Deon Lotz, who manages to make the character both horrifying and oddly sympathetic.  Excellent supporting turns are provided by actors Charlie Keegan (as the young man he develops feelings for) and Michelle Scott (as the unsuspecting wife), but make no mistake, this is largely a one-man show.
     Writers Oliver Hermanus and Didier Costet were previously unknown to me, but they have crafted a tale that lends real irony to the film's title.  Francois's inability to accept his own attraction to "beauty" leads him to live a life full of bitterness and ugliness.  It is a marvelous example of how living in the closet (or in any other form of denial) can turn a man into a monster.  Hermanus also directs, and he pulls together a tightly knit and expertly handled production.  Beauty is not an easy film to watch, but it is well worth the effort and discomfort...4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Kaboom - In my experience, the work of writer/director Gregg Araki (The Doom Generation) is always trippy and surreal, but I don't think I've ever seen him have so much fun with a film.  Kaboom is one part sexual awakening tale, one part sci-fi thriller, and one part farce.  Somehow all of these disparate parts stew together into a wholly unique movie that is improbably cohesive in tone.
     The ensemble cast as a whole is great, but the film belongs (acting wise) to Thomas Dekker, who plays Smith.  It took me most of the film to remember where I had seen the young actor before I remembered that he played John Conner in TV's Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles.  This is a very different role, one that enables Mr. Dekker to show an acting range that lies well outside the previous one.  He does so marvelously, aided by one of the most hypnotic [pairs of eyes ever put on the big screen.
     Mr. Araki wisely understands the confusion and alienation experienced by college age kids who are just beginning to understand themselves and their bodies.  Smith's feeling that he is "alien" in some way and caught up in forces beyond his control is something of a metaphor for how everyone feels as a young adult.  This is the "serious" thematic core of the piece.  The fact that, in his case, there are external forces to justify said feelings only adds to the general hilarity and mystery. The ending is a LITTLE disappointing, but I can largely forgive the film maker because I had so much fun getting there...4 of 5 stars.

     Related Articles: The Great Gay Film Festival of 2012

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