Category Archives: GLBT Film

“SOMETHING LIKE SUMMER”— A Romantic Gay Musical

“SOMETHING LIKE SUMMER”

A Romantic Gay Musical

Amos Lassen

“Something Like Summer” directed by David Berry looks at youthful identity, feeling comfortable in one’s own skin, and early adulthood. We see that love discovered often has hardships and heartache and the young gay men go through many challenges.

Benjamin Bentley (Grant Davis) is a seventeen-year-old openly gay high school student who has a crush on Tim (Davi Santos), the handsome school sports jock and has begun stalking him. Tim is a self-professed heterosexual yet he is very impressed with Ben’s singing voice among other qualities. They become secret boyfriends. Tim is worried that his classmates and very religious Catholic parents might find out about their relationship. Of course, we know that this relationship is doomed before it really gets started. When this happens Ben reluctantly moves on with his life and he leaves his Texas town and goes college in Chicago.  Two years later he is on a plane flying home when Jace (Ben Baur), the flight attendant offers him free drinks and the possibility of a date.  He accepts both and we wonder if, Ben has found true love with someone who really wants to make their relationship work but then Tim turns up, making things complicated. Nasty comments fly between Tim and Ben but the love they for each other is still there. After they make up, we can’t help but wonder, again, whether they will live “happily ever after”. The cast is excellent all around and the film is a charmer. It was a very clever choice to make this as a musical and we see both joy and heartache.

“BAYARD AND ME” — An Intimate Love Story

“Bayard & Me”

An Intimate Love Story

Amos Lassen

Bayard Rustin was the organizer of the March on Washington and one of the leaders of the civil rights movement. In the 1980s Bayard decided to adopt his younger boyfriend Walter Naegle in order to obtain the legal protections of marriage. Walter remembers Bayard and a time when gay marriage was inconceivable in this intimate love story. He speaks about the little known phenomena of intergenerational gay adoption and its connection to the civil rights movement.

“Bayard & Me” is a touching and very personal tribute to Bayard Rustin, Bayard Rustin is credited for bringing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the forefront of the American civil rights movement and advancing policies of non-violence.  While Bayard was bold and militant, we get a bit of a different look at him now. He certainly deserves more recognition for the life he had to endure.  Aside from the civil unrest of the 1960’s, Rustin, who is black, was in a relationship with a white man who was many years his junior.  Here we see the unsung American hero and reveal the great lengths at which love will go.

“MEDUSA”— The Spirit in the Mirror

“MEDUSA”

The Spirit in the Mirror

Amos Lassen

What I love about Jorge Ameer’s films is that I am always left with something to think about. I have been hearing about “Medusa” for sometime now but had not been able to learn much about it. Therefore I was super pleased when I had the chance to have a private look and I am even more pleased to tell you that is will soon be available on DVD from Ariztical.

“Medusa” is a throwback to the campy exploitation horror films of the 1970’s. Mythology professor Dr. Jack Peruci (Jeff Allen) goes on a journey to find an antique artifact called “the mirror” that is said to possess the spirit of the Medusa, the gorgon. Upon his return to academia with his latest finding, he now must convince a group of skeptical board members spearheaded by Dr. Gleason (William McNamara) as to the validity of his research while at the same time fighting supernatural forces surrounding him in an effort to prevent his soul to be used as a vessel of resurrection for Medusa.

Peruci managed to get his hands on the antique mirror from a very shady witch doctor, Kao (director Jorge Ameer). What Peruci did not know was that the mirror is haunted and he learns this by examining it closely when he gets it home. As he studies the mirror, he has several supernatural experiences and the more time that he spends with the mirror, the more involved he becomes with the strange forces behind it. Because of his field of study, he think he understands what is going on until it turns evil and he realizes that he might be in danger.

The gorgon Medusa tries to take his soul and she does whatever possible to reach that end. The viewer must suspend disbelief and let him/herself go and just become part of the film in order to fully appreciate and understand it. Since we live in a modern world, we sometimes have trouble believing in the supernatural but I can tell you this film is so convincing that I do not see how it is possible not to believe. It is Ameer’s skill as a director that he is able to pull us into the action and this happens without our even realizing it.

Medusa really wants to gain Jack’s soul and she uses her supernatural powers to do so. She goes as far as to manipulate Jack’s surroundings and cause chaos in his life and she hopes that through this she will be able to enter his world. Jack is to be, for her, a vessel of resurrection. She manages to affect Jack’s dreams and turn them into nightmares and as they become stronger, Jack seeks help. He turns to his friend, Stephen Craig (Tom Stuckhoff), a psychologist whose field is hypnotherapy and he hopes that this that will help him to understand what is going on and to solve the mystery of Medusa. However things do not work out as he had hoped and when Craig examines him, he discovers that it is Peruci’s bloodline that is causing the nightmares and hurts his ability to fight what is happening since it is already a part of him.

This is a contemporary gothic thriller and not only wins our attention but also has us begin to believe what we see on the screen. Crafted with style, there is a darkness that is frightening, riveting and  keeps us on the edge of your seats.

“KEPT BOY”— A Fun but Dated Film

“Kept Boy”

A Fun but Dated Film

Amos Lassen

It is the 30th Birthday of Dennis Racine ( Jon Paul Phillips). His sugar daddy is Farleigh Knock (Thure Riefenstein), an interior decorator and reality show star thinks that Dennis should celebrate his birthday by actually getting a job since money is getting rather tight. Dennis discovers that being a Boy Toy is not the kind of job that employers recognize.

Farleigh’s TV Show is now not pulling in the audiences and money like it used too, but that doesn’t stop him promoting the hunky sultry Pool Boy Jasper (Greg Audino ) into his Design Assistant and publicly pampering him.  When Dennis realizes that he is on his way out of keeping his job, he talks with his two best friends Lonnie (John-Michael Carlton) and Paulette (Toni Romano-Cohen) who have also made careers being ‘paid companions’ to older partners.

 Dennis and Jasper hate each other so much as they vie for Farleigh’s attention and it is already understood as to how this is going to work out. Even though everything here is predictable, we still are able to enjoy the film and the nudity that is quire arousing. Directed by George Bamber, the film is based on the book by Robert Rodi, this is being advertised as a dark comedy that is set some twenty years ago.

“DO YOU TAKE THIS MAN“— Last Minute Jitters

“DO YOU TAKE THIS MAN“

Last Minute Jitters

Amos Lassen

On the eve of their wedding day as plans are underway for a rehearsal dinner for family and a few close friends,  Daniel (Anthony Rapp)  and Christopher (Jonathan Bennett) begin to show their nervousness. Daniel is a real control freak becomes stressed over the smallest details.

The two grooms seem to have totally opposite personalities and when Christopher suddenly brings his old best friend from high school home for the rehearsal, Daniel is very upset that his seating plan will be ruined by this unexpected guest. He is even more annoyed by the fact that Christopher has never even mentioned Emma (Alona Tal) before now. As the evening progresses and the tension between the two men bursts into an argument because they realize that neither of them have been totally honest about their pasts. However what the two confess about is inconsequential.

Daniel is the older of the two partners while Christopher looks like a boy toy. Yet, he proves to be more strong willed than we first think. The action takes place over the course of a single day. Two of Christopher’s friends have planned a surprise as their wedding present, they have located a woman who was Christopher’s closest companion while they were growing up. They have been out of touch for years, and while Christopher is delighted to see her, while Daniel is upset since he had never knew she existed and is agitated that an extra guest will throw his dinner party into a state of disarray. Christopher feels threatened by the presence of Daniel’s closest friend, Jacob (Mackenzie Astin), who might have had a more intimate history with Daniel than anyone is admitting. Then Daniel’s loving but intrusive parents and his emotionally wounded sister arrive and the woman who was supposed to perform their wedding is dumping them to accept a part in a Scorsese movie that requires her to leave town first thing in the morning. On the other hand Christopher’s friends Summer (Hutchi Hancock) and Bradley (Thomas Dekker) have been unconvincingly making a big thing about the age gap between him and Daniel which is in fact a mere 7 years, and anyway by the end of the evening Bradley has hooked up with Daniel’s ex boyfriend Jacob (Mackenzie Astin)  who is much older than him.

The cast is talented and good-looking all around and some of these problems are played for laughs. Joshua Tunick’s script is just too flat and there is potential for this to be quite a good film. The cast certainly helps to make the weak drama watchable. With the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality the story is timely. Writer/ Director Joshua Tunick has crafted a lovely and romantic drama about the challenges surrounding the concept and commitment of marriage and anyone who has ever been in love will identify with the movie.

“DO YOU TAKE THIS MAN” Trailer

“HIDE AND GO SHRIEK”— A Campy Slasher Film

“Hide and Go Shriek” (“Close Your Eyes and Pray”)

A Campy Slasher Film

Amos Lassen

Released in 1988, “Hide and Go Shriek” is a campy slasher movie in which a group of teenagers spends the night in a furniture store for a graduation while a psychotic killer with a taste for cross-dressing starts to hunt them down and kill them off.

This is director Skip Schoolnik’s only film and it is outrageously tacky and ugly. In the prologue, a man wearing makeup attacks a prostitute and we then meet eight teenagers bound for an overnight graduation party at a big furniture store. The father of one of the kids owns the business, which makes it a prime location for some illicit boozing and making out with a little game of hide and seek. They do not know that there is a maniac on the premises who decides to bump them off one by one with the added gimmick of dressing up in each victim’s clothing after each kill. Then is not a lot of gore but there are some really nasty moments.

The opening shots of graffiti-covered back streets in a gloomy American city set a very grim tone for what is to follow. The killer spends most of the time in the shadows and the only real development of his persona is his mad cackling after each murder. He then steals the clothes of each victim after they’re dead (both male and female) and cons his next target in to the false sense of security that he’s actually their friend. He then leads them to secluded corners and brutally murders them using various creative methods. The slaughter scenes are gruesome, if not graphically outstanding and we get a great decapitation. of all time late on in the feature. There are moments at the end where things get quite tense and Schoolnik does keep the pace very high.

When the teenagers realize that they’re trapped inside with a maniac, they run to the storefront to scream for help and are relieved to see a Police car parked directly outside the front door. They bang on the double-glazed glass to try and get the attention of their only chance of safety, but look on in horror as their cries go unheard and the patrolman drives off in to the night. This was a great way to their desperation, isolation and sense of impeding doom and this is what really keeps the momentum running.

The teens have just graduated from high school and talk about what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives. Some talk about career paths, others talk about possibly getting married and some are more concerned with having a little fun before having to face the realities of the real world. We get to see a little bit into the characters and who they are but this is a slasher film and naturally we want to see some slashings.

Since the film takes place in a large furniture store, with multiple floors, there are plenty of places for the killer to hide. The killer also wears the clothes of not only the various mannequins placed throughout the store, but his victims in order to heighten the confusion. The setting also allows the killer to murder characters without other characters knowing and just the idea of the killer hiding in plain sight is an interesting idea as well. However, there is a bit of a problem in that the film doesn’t generate much tension or suspense from any of its good ideas.

Eventually, things fall apart when the characters discover that a killer is in their midst. Not even half of the cast has been disposed of and with a number of the main characters still alive the killer is simply outmatched. What’s left is to watch as a group of characters running around and screaming as they try to figure a way out and this quickly becomes repetitive.  Yet there are two aspects of this film that are unique— the selection of who lives and who doesn’t and the identity of the killer. It’s too bad that more thought was not taken in how to handle this. Unfortunately, the killer’s dialogue and motive come across as unintentionally funny. The film seems to continue working really well up until the climax and then…

We can see what the filmmakers were trying to do, but instead of being scandalous, the conclusion is distasteful, thoughtlessly delivered and very peculiar. Somehow the film is in its ambition somewhat. The cast seems to have been picked as eye candy and we get silly late-eighties carryings-on and campy fun before the terror starts.

A poorly handled conclusion doesn’t subtract too much from the rest of the feature and we are entertained. So why is this listed as an LGBT film? There is a bizarre gay twist— the killer is a gay cross-dresser who is obsessed with his former prison lover. Also, the film pays as much attention to the guys as the girls and there are a few hunky young dudes in their underwear as they are done away with.

The “kills” are cheesy and fun. One of the teens is impaled with a spare set of mannequin arms and another is decapitated by elevator doors.

“THE AXE MURDERS OF VILLISCA”— Three Friends

“The Axe Murders of Villisca”

Three Friends

Amos Lassen

 On a June night in 1912, there was a terrible crime in the peaceful town of Villisca. Eight people — a mother, father, their four children, and two guests were brutally murdered by an axe-wielding killer in a case that remains unsolved to this day. Now, a century later, Caleb (Robert Adamson) and gay best friend and secret admirer Denny (Jarrett Sleeper) share an interest in ghost hunting. They sneak into the house where the crime occurred. When Caleb invites Jess (Alex Frnka) to come along with them, Denny becomes extremely jealous.

First-time feature filmmaker, Tony E. Valenzuela’s “The Axe Murders of Villisca” derives its name from an Iowa town whose macabre claim to fame involves an infamous ax murder. In the century since the crime, the site has been turned into a tourist stop offering overnight stays for ghost hunters and the generally curious. 

Someone who knows the story well is Iowan teen Denny, one-half of the Maryville Paranormal Institute.  The other half is Caleb, and their “institute” is actually just a YouTube video blog dedicated to amateur ghost hunting. Denny harbors a secret crush on Caleb.  Caleb has eyes for new girl Jessica.  Recently transplanted from Chicago, Jess already has quite a reputation at school because of a video taken while she was drunk with resident bad boy Connor.

“Villisca” builds the foundation of its high school drama back-stories with considerate care that makes it all believable as the story unfolds.Denny, Caleb, and Jess use dousing rods to conduct their after hours séance in the Villisca murder house.  Stirring up spirits is only one-half of the trio’s trouble however, as bully Connor and his toadie Rob soon arrive to drum up a little danger of their own.

While the world may never know the truth about what happened that summer night, “The Axe Murders of Villisca” seeks to fill in the blanks and offer up its own supernatural explanation. Unfortunately, the true story from which this film draws its inspiration is much more interesting than this film. “The Axe Murders of Villisca” is a movie with promise and even though it tries hard, it does not deliver.

The story begins with troubled teen Caleb is given a ride to his last day of high school by his best friend Denny. When they get there, they are immediately accosted by high school bullies Conner (Riley Bodenstab) and Rob (Khellan Rhude) but before a confrontation can happen the school’s principal, (Conchata Ferrell), saves the day. It is then that we are introduced to the third member of their prospective ghost hunting trio, Jess who is hiding out in a bathroom stall to escape because of a video that is circulating online of her having sex with Conner. Later, while standing at his locker, Caleb sees the other bully, Rob harassing Jess and as she swiftly walks away Caleb smashes Rob’s face into a locker.

The trio then makes their way to the house and gets a tour by Uncle Rico (Jon Gries). Their tour is cut short when Jess steps over one of the velvet ropes and is accosted by screaming old woman who comes out of nowhere and since they didn’t get the full tour they decide to wait until dark to sneak back in and look around as ghostly events follow.

Of course the bullies find out where the three are and show up to torment them. There are creepy ghost kids offering up cryptic ghostly warnings. No one as we might have thought actually dies on screen to an axe, even in the flashbacks of the axe murders the house is known for. I am not sure how a film with such a plot could turn out to be so plebian. The plot is derivative, the title is misleading, the dialogue is about as banal as you can get and the interplay between the leads is forced and stiff. But the film looks great and there is potential here. I am still baffled by the ending.

Would I recommend this film? Yes, I would because it is fun. I also like that we have a thoughtful gay subplot, something that is rare in horror films. I am not going to say anymore except that I am curious as to how you see this.

“FRANTZ’— A Mysterious Frenchman and the Wounds of War

“Frantz”

A Mysterious Frenchman and the Wounds of War

Amos Lassen

Francois Ozun’s “Frantz” is set predominately in Quedlinburg, Germany in 1919, not long after the end of the First World War, we learn of Frantz who served as a German soldier and lost his life. Anna lives in a perpetual state of mourning with Frantz’s parents, Dr. Hoffmeister (Ernst Stötzner) and his wife, Magda (Marie Gruber), and they routinely visit Frantz’s grave (which we learn contains no actual body, as the particulars of his death are impossible to sort out among a battlefield riddled with destruction and carnage). One day, Anna sees a Frenchman paying his respects to Frantz’s grave. What makes this interesting is the bitterness and hostility that exists between France and Germany after the war. Anna meets this man, who reveals himself to be Adrien (Pierre Niney), a soldier who fought for France and who claims to have inexplicably had bonded with Frantz and a strong friendship ensued.

The film is inspired by Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby” and is a black and white period piece that explores how people wrestle with conflicting feelings including survivor’s guilt, anger, desire, happiness, and the longing for sexual, romantic and familial attachments. While this not a gay themed film, it has a subtitle homoerotic undercurrent that we sense on the relationship between the two soldiers. We face the question of whether lies heal the emotional wounds of war. I cannot divulge the lie that moves the plot forward for to do so would spoil the viewing experience. What I can say is that this lie was invented to comfort those in pain especially when the war seemed to overtake the sanity of the world causing chaos.

What is surprising here is that this is a very low-key anti-war movie and the worst we see are simply quick images of ruined cities and wounded soldiers. There is a distinct mood of bitterness, despair and exhaustion prevails and we even see the cultural similarity of two warring nations who are geographical neighbors and who appreciated the same music and art. Parallel scenes show Germans and Frenchmen singing patriotic anthems even after the Armistice was signed.

Frantz (Anton von Lucke) is only seen in flashback and he is a handsome German in his 20s who died in the trenches and is memorialized throughout the movie. We feel his parents’ anguish as well as that of his fiancée, Anna (Paula Beer), who lives with them. Another mourner, unknown to them, is his French friend Adrien (Pierre Niney). Adrien is a thin and mustached French soldier with a timid manner who traveled from Paris to Germany and is first seen by Anna when he is placing flowers at Frantz’s grave.

As Adrien and Anna speak, he recalls a close friendship that began in Paris before the war, in which the two often visited the Louvre. Both played the violin and there is the possibility of romantic attraction making us wonder if they were lovers.

The film brings to mind the mourning periods that follow great national tragedies as seen through the eyes of the war’s “lost generation.” Anna is so touched by Adrien that she brings him home to meet the Hoffmeisters, but Hans resists accepting him and says that every Frenchman is guilty of murdering his son but he later softens when Adrien tells him about his and Frantz’s long walks and museum visits, their shared pacifism and tastes in music and poetry. Hans relents, and as time passes, Adrien becomes a surrogate son whose recollections bring the couple a sense of consolation.

In its early scenes, we have a mood of a solemn, romantic period piece whose melancholy is accentuated by Philippe Rombi’s Mahler-influenced soundtrack. There are moments when this mostly black-and-white film changes into color. By the time Adrien returns to Paris, he and Anna have developed a deep unvoiced attraction. However, after one of Anna’s letters to Adrien is returned without a forwarding address, she goes by train to Paris, hoping to find him. It is then we are taken into a world of secrets, lies and moral uncertainty that eventually leads her to consult a priest for advice on how to proceed. What we see asks profound questions about honesty and the possibility for redemption if the truth is withheld.

Looking at today’s ambiguous moral climate that is filled with terms like alternative facts and fake news, we come to understand that humans really cannot deal with the truth of reality.

When we first meet Anna, she’s is morose and quiet and mourning the love of her life to war. We see flashbacks of Adrien’s time spent with Frantz in Paris as well as a beautiful scene that of Anna and Adrien growing closer over the course of a long hike in the mountains.

The Hoffmeisters are happy with what was developing between Adrien and Anna but not everyone in the town feels this way. Kreutz (Johann von Bulow), who has been pressing Anna hard to marry him despite her utter lack of interest is upset by this and he is shocked by the prospect of losing her hand to anyone else, let alone a Frenchman. It is only a matter of time before Adrien abruptly returns to France after revealing some shocking news. Anna then finds herself trying to discover whether she sees Adrien as just a substitute for her dead Frantz or as the beginning of a new chapter in her life.

Ozun has attempted to shift the focus of the story from antiwar sentiments in order to emphasize the romantic elements. The emphasis of the story shifts to be centered on Anna and her inner turmoil rather than on the relationship between her and Adrien but for whatever reason it does not work, as it should. For one thing, Adrien demonstrates more genuine on-screen chemistry with Frantz than he does with Anna. This shift also means that Frantz’s parents disappear from the second half of the film and we really feel that. Nonetheless, I feel in love with the film.

“LIKE FOAM”— Searching for Sex/Love

“Like Foam” (“Como la espuma”)

Searching for Sex/Love

Amos Lassen

Gus (Nacho San Jose) is determined to find the right gift for his best friend Milo’s (Carlo D’Ursi) birthday and he thinks that would be someone to have sex with. Milo seems to have everything. He lives in a mansion and is very handsome but he feels sorry for himself in that he is now confined to a wheelchair (the result of a serious accident) and his very angry that the love of his life, Mario (Daniel Muriel) walked out on him. This happened over ten years ago

 Gus gets in touch with Carla (Javier Ballesteros), a trans girlfriend and asks her to help plan a party for Milo. He wants to make sure that it will become an orgy. Carla immediately begins inviting people and they invite their friends. The party begins and soon becomes quite full of naked and semi-naked bodies. As the party continues, stories are told that expose dark and intimate secrets and fears. Mario is not happy at what the party has turned into and feels that people only pretend to be having a good time and that something is missing from the guests’ lives.

 When Milo sees that Mario is one of the partygoers, he doesn’t know to react and is torn between feelings of contempt and feelings of love that he still has for him. The orgy and the naked bodies are discreetly filmed and while not everyone at the party is gay, it is the story of Milo and Mario that keeps us interested. The cast is excellent all around.

Roberto Perez Toledo both wrote and directed this charming comedy that shows us that not everything is what it seems to be. 

“SUMMERTIME”— A Coming-of-Age Road Movie

“Summertime”

A Coming-of-Age Road Film

Amos Lassen

Director Gabriele Muccino brings us a movie about two Italian teenagers who head off to spend their summer in the United States. It is a highly autobiographical portrait of adolescence focusing on a group of high school students in Rome. The story starts in Rome and then moves to the US.

Marco (Brando Pacitto) delayed his plans for the summer after an accident on his scooter, but when the Insurance company paid up it gave him enough money to travel. His friend Vulcano (Guglielmo Poggi) was already in California and he told Marco that he could hook him up with some friends of his who would let him crash in their apartment in San Francisco for a few days.  However what he did not tell Marco was that he had also said the same to Maria (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) and she is one of their very conservative and uptight schoolmates who Marco detested.

When Marco and Maria land in San Francisco, they learn that their hosts are Matt (Taylor Frey) and Paul (Joseph Haro) are a gay couple and Maria cannot suppress her homophobic feelings. By the 2nd day however Maria had a little, probably because she was starting to feel something for Matt especially after she discovered that he was actually bi-sexual. One of the best parts of the film is when Matt shares how he and Paul got together. Marco and Maria had originally planned to spend the next few days in San Francisco bit it actually became weeks as the four of them bonded in friendship. Maria developed a serious crush on Matt and although she had now warmed to Marco and would not allow him to act on his feelings for her.

There is a sense of expectancy of things that will never happen in the film. Muccino gives us several false leads to give the impression of a layer of complexity that is not there and we can tell early on how this is all going to end. The main idea of the film seems to be getting us to remember our pasts and those special summer memories. We feel the energy, curiosity, erotic tension, recklessness of the film.

I really feel like the movie patronizes the gay characters and that is probably due to the very weak script. They seem to be little more than accessories for Maria so that she show how cool she is by having gay friends (yet we already know her feelings about homosexuality). She also thinks it might help her relationship with Marco who is the total antithesis of a cool guy.

While Marco and Maria waste time complaining about the endemic corruption and disenchantment of contemporary Italy, Matt and Paul complain about the culture of America in conversations that are totally shallow but then that is how the characters are presented to us. Director Muccino simply threads together inconsequential vignettes of the quartet’s ” time together with a music video-style videos that replace dialogue because the characters realize that they really have nothing to say. All the while, poor Marco pines for Maria who could care less. The banal unrequited summer love is really what the movie is all about.

The four main actors all are pretty and harmless enough, even if not one of them ever gets to show any genuine feeling. They are fine actors but as people, I do not want to ever see any of them anywhere. There is a wonderful Yiddish word to describe this film— “drek” and there is so much of it no amount of glossy can cover it up.