Category Archives: GLBT Film

“Vanilla” by Billy Merrell— Vanilla and Hunter

Merrell, Billy. “Vanilla”, Push, 2017.

Vanilla and Hunter

Amos Lassen

Vanilla and Hunter have been dating since seventh grade. They came out together and became a real couple in high school. They are very much in love and as their relationship deepens, we see a few problems. Hunter want to have sex but Vanilla doesn’t know how he feels about that. Hunter has some loud friends that Vanilla sees as obnoxious and does not want to hang out with them.

It is never easy to be a couple in love while still in school and we see that here as Vanilla and Hunter are growing apart and each is discovering new things about himself. Yet their relationship is the one constant thing for both of them.

Vanilla wants to spend more time just being in love with each other before they commit to having sex and he, so he tries to make Hunter understand and while Hunter does understand, he doesn’t know how much longer he can go without sex. He reacts by pushing Vanilla away and finding new friends, talking to other guys online, and trying to figure out what he really wants in life. Vanilla at the same time tries to figure out why he doesn’t want sex or if he is just not ready.

Eventually, as things start to go downhill with Vanilla and Hunter, Clown/Angel is the one that is constantly there for Vanilla, telling him that maybe his lack of interest in sex might not be something that is a bad thing, or maybe that he is actually asexual.

“Vanilla” is the first young adult novel from poet Billy Merrell. It is written in verse and shows a clear understanding of today’s gay youth. Merrell beautifully captures the emotions of adolescent relationships and young love.

The story alternates between three narrators; Vanilla, Hunter, and their mutual friend Clown. Each of the narrators’ sections are distinguished from each other by three different fonts. However, I needed a bit more information about the characters and I would have liked a bit more differentiation between Hunter, Vanilla and Clown. The novel is propelled by the drama and the emotions of the characters and I would have loved to now them a bit more. We see that some freedoms often give way to more problems. Vanilla, Hunter, and their friends struggle to understand their place in the “gay community” and they struggle with the pressures of being gay in high school. They want intimacy, but they don’t know what form that intimacy should take.

“ENGLAND IS MINE”— Morrissey in Manchester

“England Is Mine”

Morrissey in Manchester

Amos Lassen

  Mark Gill’s “England Is Mine” focuses on Steven Patrick Morrissey (Jack Lowden) during the late 1970s, leading up to his first meeting with future Smiths band mate Johnny Marr (Laurie Kynaston). We begin with Morrissey as a timid, pessimistic megalomaniac reading Oscar Wilde and waiting for the world to give him the fame and prestige that he thought the world owed him. We see him stuck in his own self-pity and arrogance. Aside from penning songs, poems, and bitchy letters, Steven spends his time scoping out, with the help of his encouraging artist friend, Linder Sterling (Jessica Brown Findlay), prospective bands that are looking for a singer but he refuses to even show up for any of the auditions.

During the first half of the film he obsesses over his somewhat paralyzing shyness but instead of doing something about it, he just sits. We already see the seeds of the kind of man he is to become. When he takes a desk job for Inland Revenue (Britain’s equivalent to the IRS), politics enter the picture and we see his condescension toward his conformist coworkers. Morrissey’s superiority complex and the contempt with which he seems to hold for everyone aside from his mother and friends is evident and so are his base self-flagellating impulses, never delving into the political or sexual contradictions.

But this is just a look at the surface of his abrasive personality. We simply get a glance at his early years and the familiar places and things but he remains moody throughout. He was not yet Morrissey—he was still, at that time, Steven.

In Manchester in 1970, the music scene was changing as it was in the rest of the United Kingdom. Many new artists were slowly finding their voice and one of them was Steven Patrick Morrissey. He struggles to get his big break and after meeting a young artist, he soon finds the inspiration to pursue his dream and the enigmatic Morrissey is born.

Every Morrissey fan has a version of the man in their heads and they expect the actor playing the man should be jut like that. He must possess a mix of wit, sarcasm, and pithiness and Lowden is a poised, measured presence that can do that and does.

Director Gill does well with the material and he hits all of the marks and moments in this type of biopic that are necessary to advance the plot. Focusing on the early years of Morrissey and his personal struggles rather than the music shows us the man without the songs and we cannot help but feel that something is missing. Even though this is an excellent film, it feels like something is missing and that we do not get the full story. But the film is advertised that it is about the early years so we should not be surprised.

“THE MORNING AFTER”— Decision Time

“The Morning After”

Decision Time

Amos Lassen

Harry (Joshua Burg) wakes up one morning to find himself in bed with a naked man. He has no memory of how this came to be but he does remembering being very drunk the night before. Thom (Luke Striffler), his bedmate, tells him that in addition to talking about his girlfriend for half the night, he wondered what it would be like to have sex with a man.

Naturally Harry is both confused and worried that they did more than only sleeping and when he lives Thom’s apartment, he goes to see Lucy (Juliet Lundholm,  his ex-girlfriend for  a quickie and to check his heterosexuality but he remains confused when things did not happen the way he hoped. Now Harry has to work out what happens next.

Bruno Collins directed this short film about a guy who has to deal with his repressed homosexuality and to decide whether to stay with the same plan and continue dating Jess (Jane Alice), his girlfriend or find out how to understand his own desires.

“SEBASTIAN”— In The City

 

“SEBASTIAN”

In The City

Amos Lassen

Sebastian (Alex House) comes to Toronto for a week’s visit and he meets his cousin’s boyfriend, Alex (writer-director James Fanizza). There is an instant attraction between the two that takes them to explore a forbidden passion. They connect on an emotional level but the problem they have is that Sebastian has to return to Argentina and both men wonder if their love for each other will continue.

The film is a triple-header for James Fanizza who writes, directs and stars in his film. As Alex, he meets Sebastian and actually initiates what is to happen between them. Alex’s boyfriend is Sebastian’s cousin and both Alex and Sebastian feel bad about what they’re doing, but that does not hinder them. They both know that the relationship will end when Sebastian goes home yet they cannot help how they feel. Their short but passionate changes them, unlocks deep feelings inside of each.

The short length of time in the film makes us wonder how these two could even realize what is happening to them and yet we see them quickly act on their feelings. The audience anticipates what will happen but they certainly are blind to it at first. (For the young, falling in love happens quickly. But love is complicated, and Alex and Sebastian face that as well. Alex knows that Sebastian is the of his life and he’s leaving to go back home to Argentina forever. He also knows that a relationship is impossible but in his last 10 minutes with Sebastian he knows that he must let him go. We all know that sometimes the opportunity of love comes to us at inopportune times and we are faced with the challenge of making very quick but life-changing decisions with no guarantee. If we do not do so, we live with feelings of regret of what might have been and sometimes by taking the risk we find true happiness. We really only know later what will happen if we decide to wait.

Both the screenplay and the actors are superlative and Fanizza does a wonderful job of presenting the situation. We see the emotions of the characters clearly and we get a really fine first film from this director.

“COFFEE HOUSE CHRONICLES”— Connecting

“Coffee House Chronicles”

Connecting

Amos Lassen

Not so long ago I had an email from director Steward Wade telling about the new web series, “Coffee House Chronicles” that he was working on and it is no finished and you can own the entire series on DVD from TLA Releasing.

“Coffee House Chronicles” is an anthology film that looks at different LGBT people who make contact with each other in a variety of ways (the Internet, social media the bar scene (remember it?), and face to face in coffee houses, and we see how their relationships grow and evolve and/or over time. There are ten episodes and each episode is a different story with a diverse set of characters and with a strong emphasis on the social issues that face our community on a daily basis. The episodes are romantic and funny but they also have something to say.

There is a large ensemble cast with some gay movie regulars such as Mark Cirillo (a sweetie), Chris Salvatore, Drew Droege, Amy Hill, Darryl Stephens, Nicholas Downs (another sweetie) and more. Actually they are all sweeties—I just concentrated on two of my personal favorites. There are some serious hotties on display here. Wade kept true to being diverse with a variety of generations and backgrounds.

The first episode, “Secret Asian Man”, is sexy and funny but also explores racism in the LGBT community. It stars Mykee Steen and Cesar Cipriano. Other episodes include:

“The Exception”: Jeff is haunted by his perfect ex. Can his quirky and less-than-perfect BFF, Anthony (Drew Droege), get him to leave behind the idealized past in exchange for a messy, imperfect future together?

“Perfect Present”: A happily married man wants to get his husband the perfect gift for their 25th anniversary. But is one of the world’s sexiest gay porn stars really the best gift to celebrate their love?

“Sunday Secrets”: Two female yoga buddies drag their husbands along for a Sunday brunch. Turns out the men aren’t exactly strangers…

These and the other episodes are good stories, with laughter and real people.

“ZOOLOGY”— A Tale of a Tail

 

“Zoology” (“Zoologiya”)

A Tale of a Tail

Amos Lassen

Natasha (Natalya Pavlenkova) is a middle-aged zoo worker who still lives with her mother in a small coastal town. She is a rut and it seems that life has no surprises for her until one day – she grows a tail and turns her life around. This is the premise of “Zoology”, a rare film that operates well on different levels. The film has a kind of quiet confidence that is frequently missed. Natasha somehow grows a tail, whilst also being tender coming of age story and if you know anything about post-communist Russia, you will see the allegory here with a great upheaval that gives new leases on life to a generation that has been repressed. But you do not have to know that to enjoy this film.

Natasha is an office assistant who orders food supplies for a zoo. The rest of her life seems to be hiding that she smokes from her mother. Her colleagues at work talk behind her back, tease her, and generally act as if she has no place their mundane lives.

As her tail continues to grow, she seeks out medical help, but her strange tail is no great surprise to the doctors she sees she sees and they simply send her through charades of getting successive and clearer X-rays. When the kindly specialist Peter (Dmitri Groshev) allows her an after hours appointment, she buys him a gift of wine, and a sweet romance almost like a teenage date follows. They share their first drink together, as well as a kiss, a dance and a few intimate secrets about the zoo at night, and Peter’s favorite spot for washbasin sledding. It’s strange to watch these adults act like teenagers, but as Natasha changes her image to one that is less dowdy, director Ivan I. Tverdovsky frames her in ways that make her look small and unassuming and she begins to transform into an adolescent.

Of course, the story has a dark side and we see this when stories about a shapeshifting devil that appears as a woman with a tail begins to circulate. and an unfortunate incident rocks Natasha’s confidence. Of course we want to know what all of this means and wonder if this is simply the study of the chemistry between a middle-aged woman and a tail., Tverdovsky doesn’t explain where his heroine’s sudden growth comes from or why she uses it as an impetus to finally strive to lead the life she deserves. Perhaps this is just a movie about how social misfits need to embrace their uniqueness and strive to find their sense of belonging.

The tail gets the neighborhood gossip mongers on high alert, including Natasha’s mother. Natasha’s meetings with Peter (Dmitri Groshev) bring an unexpected romance and Natasha loves it. Soon, however, she wonders why Peter is actually attracted to her. She longs for a sense of normalcy, even though it might mean retreating into the unremarkable person she once was.

As it turns out for Natasha, her tail is the best thing that has ever happened to her. Peter is attracted to her mutation, which is evident from the beginning of their more intimate correspondences. Her reaction to his fervor during a sexual interaction shows that she obviously loves his attention and affection but is alarmed at his infatuation with her tail which is the reason they know each other and the only thing saving her from returning to her previous boring life.

What Natasha feels is certainly not far from what many in the LGBT community feel. They are often singled out for their differences but this is nothing like suddenly growing a tail.

 The film has a mise-en-scene of misery and without color. In glum circumstances, who can Natasha turn to when she grows a tail? She has to step out of herself. She is on her own and she decides to embrace her uniqueness. When she does, she becomes a moving and sexy celebration of the outsider. Natasha gets herself a makeover, has an affair with a young doctor, and, in relation to her peers, she becomes something more than what passes for human in this small-minded society. Even the horrified screams that come from fellow dancers when Natasha’s tail accidentally slips from her skirt at the disco gives her extra energy.

“Zoology” suggests the unwanted, uncontrollable permutations of our physicality will eventually endure when time catches up with us. However, because of Natasha’s resolve, her mutation becomes something empowering and even inspirational. Beneath her transformation Natasha is, just like all of us, all too human.

Special Features include:

– High Definition 1080p Presentation

– Optional English Subtitles

– 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround sound

– Trailer

and yet more to be announced soon.

For the first pressing only there is an illustrated collectors booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic and author Michael Brooke.

“PLEASE LIKE ME”— Exploring Sexuality

“Please Like Me”

Exploring Sexuality

Amos Lassen

Josh (Josh Thompson)realizes that he is homosexual after breaking up with his girlfriend. With her support and that of his best friend and house mate Tom, Josh must also help his mother with her battle with depression while at the same time getting his family to accept his new lifestyle.. Things become a bit more b complicated when he explores his sexuality with a young and handsome Geoffrey.

Josh Thomas developed this web-series from his stand-up routine of the same name in 2007 when he was just 20-yeas-old. He is the writer/producer/star of a fictionalized version of himself, who during the very first episode is dumped by his girlfriend, hit on by a hot guy in his office Geoffrey (Wade Briggs) and his newly separated mother Rose (Debra Lawrence) is rushed to hospital after a suicide attempt.

Unfortunately, Thomas’s self-deprecating humor and his whole look at life make him an unlikely leading man but we nevertheless root for him. The scenarios he writes are fresh and very funny.

He is surrounded by a cast of those who are well meaning but fail to do the right thing even though their intentions are good. When his mother is released from hospital, the Doctor tells Josh that he has to move back in with her. His father (David Roberts) is actually keener to move back into the marital home, but there is s problem in his young Thai girlfriend (Renee Lim ). The show was a smash hit in Australia and came the U.S. in 2013 on the short lived Pivot TV channel and now Hulu hopes it will repeat its success.

“FALSETTOS”— Live from Lincoln Center

“Falsettos”

Live From Lincoln Center

Amos Lassen

William Finn’s “Falsettos” is the story of Marvin who leaves his wife and young son to be with another man named Whizzer. Marvin fantasized that they can all be one happy family but his dream is shattered when he is diagnosed with AIDS. Set in 1992, an AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence and it was a time when violence against gay men and lesbian women was rabid in certain precincts. This is a story that touches every one deeply and although it starts out on a happy note, it ends on a very sad one.

The musical was originally produced in separate installments which would eventually make up the first and second acts of the combined show: “March of the Falsettos” at the very beginning of the AIDS crisis when Marvin has left his wife, Trina, for a man, Whizzer. This left Jason, his son, confused and moody. The second act, “Falsettoland”, was originally produced in 1990, and the pall that AIDS had cast over the intervening decade in the background. The characters and their sense of family now face devastating reality.

We sense the weight of the history of the gay community, of New York City, of the American sense of family and individuality as the musical moves forward. The tragedies of the second act hit us hard since we had already fallen in love with the characters in Act 1. When we consider how selfish and neurotic and self-obsessed the characters are, we wonder where this love comes from. Yet there’s a charm to everyone from Trina holding onto her sanity to Marvin and Whizzer’s combative yet deeply sexy chemistry.

The original production won Finn two Tony Awards, for Best Original Score, and Best Book of a Musical. This production has a wonderful cast that includes two-time Tony winner Christian Borle as Marvin; Stephanie J. Block as Trina; Andrew Rannells as Whizzer; Brandon Uranowitz as Mendel, the shrink who Trina later marries. All four received Tony nominations. Yes, there are many clichés here but we still laugh and cry all the way through.

“ALPHA DELTA ZATAN”— A Fraternity House Slasher Film

“ALPHA DELTA ZATAN”

A Fraternity House Slasher Film

Amos Lassen

We do not get many gay slasher films and when we do, I tend to be somewhat critical. I have had to put my criticism aside for this film because it has been obscured by a good-looking cast with fantastic bodies.

Directors Armand Petri and Art Arutyunyan begin his film which is closed in beautiful neon light with a good looking and beautifully frat boy as he enters the shower and who is taken down by a slasher in spandex and a mask. From that point on the film is filled with homoerotic horror.

The set for the entire film is a fraternity house where members lounge in minimal dress and look good as they flirt with one another. However these flirtations never bear fruit and while this looks like a very gay adventure, we never real hear or see any gay action. We do, however, see many nude asses as each guy drops his towel before showering. However, the gore takes place off-screen (but it gets repetitious) and I found the only scene that really shook me up was the first one.

This is a very serious attempt to add to the genre of gay horror film but it is a bit too serious in that there is virtually no humor in it at all. I see a lot of potential here and hope that there will be more in films to come from these directors. I did enjoy my time with the good-looking men as I wondered why none of my fraternity brothers looked anything like what we see here.

“LIFE AFTER EX”— A Gay Romantic “Comedy”

“Life After Ex”

A Gay Romantic Comedy

Amos Lassen

Writer/Director Jim Fields introduces us to Dylan who is newly single after the breakup of his marriage. He has already dealt with the repercussions and is now determined to find his perfect partner. We are with him on his search. Now I am well aware that the title of this review is “a gay romantic comedy” but I must qualify that by saying this is really not a comedy but rather a dramatic look at life after a relationship falls apart and the search is on for a new one. If there is comedy here, it is from the way we perceive what is happening. We know how this will all end for Dylan as he travels on the road to love with all of its stops and errors before he finds what he is looking for. This is not a new story—we have seen it and heard it before; we might have even experienced it ourselves. There are comedic elements to Dylan being the one suffering but I see him more as an everyman since most of us have been, at least once, where he. It’s also interesting that since we know the story, we do not really expect the kind of enjoyment that we get from the film. However, we do love it when the sad hero comes out on top. And as for this being a gay movie, it is such because the characters are gay but the plot is universal to all people—- the quest for love is an experience that has no gender or sexual boundaries.

 

Dylan Holm (Nicklaus Knipe) is a young web designer whose marriage Steve (Spencer Wolfe) has fallen apart and we understand that this has to do with Steve’s having a drug problem as well as other issues. Legal divorce was not yet possible because the film was made before gay marriage was legal everywhere in this country. Therefore Dylan has to move to another place in order to be legally divorce and he must reside there for a year. Dylan begins searching for a for a new boyfriend as soon as he is settled in. We see that Dylan is lonely and we cheer him on (back to my idea of the gay everyman). He is the kind of person that not only wants love but needs love and, because of this, we root for him.

We are with him as he meets new friends and lovers, finds a new husband and becomes a new man. There are no surprises, everything happens as we thought it would. I suppose the message here is that there is someone for everyone to love, we just have to find who that it is. Even with its minor faults this is a movie about love that the audience will love.

This is not a perfect film, it is a low-budget look at love with its many clichés. By and large, the acting is uniformly good and Dylan is the kind of guy you want to hug. I really enjoyed the way the relationship between Dylan and John (Justin Parker) was presented in that it seemed totally natural. I also enjoyed the way the actors worked together and we can see this film as a labor of love. There have been a lot of new films lately but I have to say that this is a special one and I am not yet sure why but I bet it has something to do with the way we live and love.