Searching for a Dad
The story of Nick, a disillusioned teenager, is the subject of “Pretty Boy”, a Danish film, originally made in 1993 and now available on DVD. Nick has missed opportunities for a happy life and falls in with a group of thieves and hustlers while looking for a father figure. “Pretty Boy” takes a look at the sordid world of male prostitution and anonymous gay sex as well as the theme of betrayal of trust. Nick suffers from those he turns to for love and help. This is not a pretty movie as it deals with some very ugly aspects of society.
Nick, at thirteen years old, has no father and he has grown tired of living with his mother who is more interested in casual sex than her son. He wants to belong but feels he has no place in his mother’s life. He leaves for Copenhagen where he sees an attack on a man in a public bathroom and somehow manages to find the man’s wallet and returns it to him. Ralph, the victim, a professor of astronomy and Nick discover common interests and Nick moves in with him until Ralph decides he prefers a heterosexual lifestyle. Nick thought he had found the father he was looking for but finds himself alone once again.
Nick then takes up with the same gang that abused Ralph and meets the gang’s broker, an older man named Max. Again he finds a father figure but when the gang double-crosses Max and he is arrested Nick is again alone and forced to live with the group. Nick, however, has not lost his affection for Ralph and this brings about a tragic end. Nick fell for Rene, a female, who dresses as a male, and their romance becomes troubled because of Nick’s old feelings for Ralph.
The film shows us the dark world of hustling and thievery but it never really satisfies because the director loses grip of what he is trying to say. It certainly makes us aware of the closed little world of casual violence and prostitution but is repels a little too much. We do not get to Nick as we should but, on the other hand, the film does deal with a subject that many filmmakers would not touch. The lack of perspective by director Carsten Sonder hurts the film and it becomes heavy. Nevertheless this is an interesting look at a world which we do not often see depicted cinematically.
“Poor Boy’s Game”
Looking at Tribalism
Donnie Rose (Rossif Sutherland) was sent to prison because a beat a young African-American guy up and left him disabled for the rest of his life. After spending nine years behind bars, he has been released and he is a different man but he has no place to go except for the neighborhood where he was raised. On the other side of town the African-American community wants revenge and have called for a fight between Ossie Paris (Flex Alexander) and Donnie, Donnie’s family and friends insist that he participate. Donnie’s victim’s father, George Carvery (Danny Glover), has waited for nine years to get revenge. However when the two meet, they both realize that they want to forget the past. The rest of the community feels very differently and racism against Donnie begins to hit the boiling point. George and Donnie come together and force an alliance that causes them to be cast out by both sides as the others are bent on revenge. Donnie and George realize that their future will only be decided by what happens in the boxing ring.
This movie is an expose of the nature of tribalism and how people are unable to forget the past and get on with their lives. However, the premise of the film loses itself in a plot that has too many sub issues. The acting is excellent throughout but when there is so much going on that it is hard to follow, the film suffers. Looking at confusion and lack of borders on moral and psychological grounds, the movie succeeds. One issue that is handled tenderly is showing that the homosexual behavior in jail is contrasted with the straight behavior outside. Also, the relationship between black and white communities is handled well.
Some of the scenes will grip you and hold you. The way the black and white communities are shown, for example, lets us know that racism is far from dead. It is also touching to watch how Donnie was reformed and how he did not look back to the past. Rather, he rose above his past to attain redemption.
Pierre is a young man born into the privileged class. His book, which he publisned anonymously, is a literary sensation and he is about to marry his cousin, Lucie (such it is with the French upper classes). Suddenly a dark haired vagrant girl tells him a secret story one night in the woods. She claims to be Isabelle, his sister, who was abandoned by his father. Pierre (a very handsome Guillaume Depardieu) breaks off his engagement with Lucie and leaves his doting mother (the always beautiful and exotic Catherine Deneuve) and heads for Paris with Isabelle (Yekaterina Golubeva) determined to explore the dark side of human nature. He begins writing a new novel and sends chapters under a nom de plume to his publisher and his relationship with Isabelle grows more intense. In the winter Lucie comes to live with them. As tensions begin to mount between the three, it appears that Pierre has not discovered truth at all, but despair.
Everything sounds like a wonderful film plot but the director, Leos Carax, evidently did not explain to his actors exactly what the true nature of this film was to be. He wanted to make an oblique and bizarre film but is lacking here is grace and style. What we get is a big complicated mess that should draw the viewer in but does the opposite. The film is not only erratic but it is choppy as well. Characters that have nothing to do with anything pop in and out, performances are milked for non-existent emotion and the lighting is so poor that sometimes I wondered if there was anything on the screen at all.
However, not all is bad. The musical score is beautiful and the photography of the French countryside is visually stunning. Catherine Deneuve rises above everything and she is still the wonderful actress that she has always been and her beauty is still radiant. I give the director for experimenting and I am sorry that his exercise does not work.
“Pleasure Factory (Kuaile Gongchang)”
Sex in the City
Singapore’s Red Light District, Geylang, was once an area where coconuts were processed in the many factories that were there. Now it is an area of brothels where pimps attempt to see the goods. Not a lot of talking is exchanged in Geylang (and in this movie) and we see a lot of extremely beautiful imagery in a very seedy part of town.
“Pleasure Factory” is made up of three stories. The first is the tale of a young man in the army who wants to lose his virginity and decides that the best way to do so with an experienced “lady of the night”. Jonathan (Loo Zihan who also co-directed the film), an army boy seems not quite ready for sex but his friend, Kiat (Katashi Chen) eggs him on and he decides to use the services and charms of a buxom Chinese girl, This is perhaps the most successful of the three stories. We clearly see and understand the emotions involved and the humor is quite good. We learn about desire, love and how one deals with virginity.
The second story is about a prostitute in her 40’s and her daughter and a male client and the focus of this story is the mother-daughter relationship. Finally in the third story we meet a hooker from mainland China who pays for a street singer to come to her house so she can hear a special song.
Shot either is very dim light or with too much neon, the movie is not easy on the eyes and this made the film hard to follow. It has somewhat of a documentary feel to it but was lacking in both metaphor and emotion. I found it also to be a bit shallow and all in all a bit weak.
“Playing by Heart”
A Feel Good Movie
I don’t understand how I missed “Playing by Heart” until recently. It is positively delightful and charming with a wonderful cast. We watch eleven articulate people work through affairs of the heart in Los Angeles. Mark (Jay Mohr) is dying of AIDS and his mother (Ellen Burstyn) comes to his bedside and they need to talk openly and honestly. Other characters include Sean Connery (Paul) and Gena Rowlands (Hannah)
as an older couple. Rowlands discovers that Connery considered having an affair during their forty year marriage and she has to deal with it. Keenan (Ryan Phillippe) and Joan (Angelina Jolie who gives a wonderful performance) are two club kids looking for companionship in a cold world. Jolie shows great emotion in her role and together the two are a very “hot” couple. Gillian Anderson plays a lonely theater director and John Stewart is a lonely architect. The two play their roles with a chemistry that makes them totally convincing. Then there is the most ridiculous of the couples, Madeline Stowe and Anthony Edwards. They play a married couple who cheat on each other but we never know much about them, Last is Dennis Quaid, a loner who spends his time in bars telling stories to anyone who will listen to him
In the end all of the stories come together in a very clever way. The story has its weaknesses but the characters carry the film and the acting is excellent throughout. “Playing by Heart” took me quite by surprise as there is not a single dull moment on the screen. We do often see films about how to maintain relationships and it deals with the meaning of love and how far someone will go for love.
“Party Monster: The Shockumentary”
The Real Story
Most of us have heard of Michael Alig, a guy from Middle America who had the aspiration of becoming the next Andy Warhol. He became very quickly the biggest party promoter in New York and the reigning ruler of the Club Kids. As could be expected, he spiraled downward into various addictions until he ultimately murdered his roommate, Angel Melendez.
The Club Kids ran the night life in the 80’s in New York City. They were young party “monsters” that were paid by various club owners to appear at their venues. They were not performers, they just appeared. They were bizarre and odd and wore outrageous costumes.
When Alig moved to New York from the Midwest in the 1980’s, he met James St, James, a flamboyant guy who dressed in outrageous costumes and he introduces Alig to the club culture. While shy at first, Alig gets a job promoting parties at a club named The Limelight. After a short time there, he became a celebrity. Eventually his life went out of control as he became more and more self-absorbed which culminated in the murder of Melendez and after letting the body lay in his apartment for several days, he dismembered it and threw it into the river.
We get a complete picture of the club scene put together in a black comedy. The DVD has an hour of extras including a documentary about the East Village club scene, an audio commentary, a commercial for Club USA and a short about the mascot of the club kids, “Clara the Carefree Chicken”. This is the real story, not to be confused with the film starring McCauley Culkin.
From the blurb on the jewel case cover of the DVD of “Partners”, one might think that this is a movie that makes fun of gay men but I was pleasantly surprised as I watched the movie that this was not the case at all.
The storyline is quite simple. An enterprising lawyer, acting on a report that a female colleague is about to be promoted to partner status, plays up the established rumor that he is gay in order to better his chances at beating the competition. What I really found interesting in the film is that it shows how far we have come. A couple of years ago I do not think that a major studio like Lion’s Gate” would have considered releasing a film about a straight man who pretends to be gay to get a promotion.
Dave is straight and has a gay roommate who is also his best friend. When Dave decides to “come out”, he is completely accepted by his co-workers and his family. He does not feel the need to “act gay” and he has no trouble telling people that he is “gay”. Because the tables are turned at his prestigious law firm where a case of sexual discrimination is to be assigned, Dave (Jay Harrington) and Katherine (Julie Bowen) who were once lovers, go against each other to get the case. The assignment will almost surely guarantee a partnership in the law firm. There is a young pretty girl, however, who is part of the case, Lucy. Lucy has eyes for Dave but thinks he is gay and she feels that this will help her father’s company if there is a gay lawyer on the case. Dave decides to play gay and wins the assignment and this angers Katherine who knows he is straight.
What ensues is a cat and mouse game between Dave and Katherine and the fact that Dave and Lucy share a common interest in each other makes for a funny story.
“Partners” is a standard romantic comedy with good acting and nice eye candy and some very funny moments. It is upbeat and polished but there is no bite and this is where it suffers. Everything is a bit too sweet. It is all fairly predictable but that does not stop it from being light fun. “La Cage Aux Folles” it is not but it is not bad either.
Not many gay films have black actors in leading roles and to finally have a good film that does is almost reason to rejoice. “Parallel Sons; is the story of Seth, a youth with artistic leanings and a fascination with Black pop culture, living in a village in the Adirondack Mountains. He has a friend, Kristin with whom he alternates sensitivity and brutality. One night late as he is closing the café where he works, a young Black tries to rob him at gun point but faints from some kind of illness. Seth takes the man whose name is Knowledge and is a prison escapee, to a family cabin where he takes care of him. An intensive friendship develops between the two. When the sheriff discovers that Seth is harboring a criminal there is a confrontation.
The plot is like an old-fashioned fairy tale but unlike a fairy tale, there is an authenticity to the characters and to the town. There is an overriding feeling of depression, despair and alienation. It is an old-fashioned story with a modern sensibility and the gay biracial twist to the story plays only a secondary role to the feelings and emotions portrayed.
The parallels in the two men’s lives are based on several fundamental issues—growing up gay in a hostile society, racism, firearms, adolescent independence. When the appearance of a Black criminal shatters the town’s calm appearance, things begin to happen. The criminal had escaped from the state mental hospital and he gives Seth an outlet for his deepest yearnings. Knowledge’s escape brings the two together in both a cultural and sexual bonding.
When the movie ended I heard nothing but silence because the movie struck so hard. The movie is a year ahead of its time as it deals with important issues in a very natural way. The film is full of ideas for thought. Gabriel Mann as Seth gives an amazing performance and Laurence Mason as Knowledge is powerful. It is the acting that allows the film to be so understated. The supporting cast is also excellent as the film moves toward an ending that devastates.
The themes of the film are handled with great subtlety. The primary message seems to be that the consequences of homophobia are tremendous harm and the meaning in the film is not lost on the viewer.
A Comedy of the Absurd
“Panik” is an absurd comedy with many over emotional, oversensitive and highly anxious characters. It is satire, it is weird, and it is very funny. The conflicts are plentiful and they are both tragic and common.
Zsuzsi has a perfect life. At thirty she has a great job, two college degrees, a great car and her own place. Everything is fine until she awakens one day and her heart is racing and she can’t breathe. She had been dropped by her lover and she admits herself to the Panic Clinic. Her physician is a therapist who has high ambitions and who uses strange treatments on her and the other patients. She soon realizes that she must get out of the clinic and again become a member of society.
Everything outside the clinic seems normal. Zsuzsi’s mother and Ilona, her friend go on a shopping spree and hunt for adventure. Ilona has a daughter with a new baby and she is worried abut being a mother, Zsuzsi’s brother wants to free his mother from an alien body snatcher and wants to use a gun to do it. Two super cops argue over what seem to be homosexual tendencies they both experience and they end up fighting. Confusing?—Yes it is. Ultimately Zsuzsi must decide if she is ready to reenter a society like this.
Everything goes on simultaneously but the stories are all connected by the various relationships between the characters or by coincidence or by anxiety. All of them have neuroses of some kind. Everything seems to point to panic disorder and it seems to be the common thread in many modern diseases—depression, ADHD, mania and so on and this film tells the story of that disorder.
As hard as it may seem to follow the film, everything begins to make sense after a few minutes of disorientation. It is just a matter of letting go and enjoying.
A Few Laughs
Wolfe Video put out “Outlaugh!” with some of the funniest gay and lesbian comics ever—Lea DeLaria, Bob Smith, Jason Stuart, Karen Ripley, Sabrina Matthews, Bill Cruz and many others. What should be a laugh fest only evokes a few mild giggles. With the very best of gay humor on one DVD I should have been rolling on the floor in laughter.
“Outlaugh” was filmed in July, 2005 at Santa Monica, California at the first ever all queer comedy festival. The DVD takes you not only onstage but backstage as well and features the best moments of the festival. It did not hit me.
A lot of the humor was just bad and not funny in the least and that is a disappointment, However, there are a few really funny comedians with some very good jokes and that saves this 69 (what a convenient number) minute DVD form falling on its face. Notably missing was Ant who could have put this whole show in his back pocket and walked off. I do imagine, though, that if you have a few drinks and have some good friends around while you watch it, you will probably enjoy it. As usual, Lea DeLaria steals the show.