Saturday, February 28, 2015

Branden Blinn's REMARKABLE SHADES OF GAY opens theatrically at New York's Cinema Village

The second movie attempting to ride the marketing coattails of 50 Shades of Grey (the first was the faith-based film Old Fashioned), REMARKABLE SHADES OF GAY -- a new "omnibus" movie offering nine short tales of gay and bi-sexual life from a filmmaker named Branden Blinn (aka William Branden Blinn), who directs each episode, often writes or co-writes it, and occasionally edits, and usually helps produce, as well -- takes us back to an earlier era of gay movies but does it using all the accouterments of modern filmmaking. These would include actors who can handle dialog well and moment-to-moment truth, the use of decent video equipment coupled to a sensibility that harks back to television sitcoms of an earlier day.

Mr. Blinn, pictured at left, loves happy endings, whatever the particular tale might cover -- from parenting and dying to the closet, threesomes and seducing would-be straight men. (Collectively, these tales would seem to indicate that there is hardly a straight man around who isn't champing at the bit for some good, hot cock. File under: happy endings at any cost.) So, don't come here hankering for real life. But if you're in the mood for feel-good fun featuring a whole lot of hunky guys (everyone in nearly every episode is good looking) involved in inventive but unbelievable situations, here's your movie. Despite its title, expect no bondage in the film, although, unlike 50 Shades...,  this one does features occasional full-frontal, and Mr. Blinn's final episode even takes in a couple of budding erections. So, yes, you'll probably want to stay through the end. Herewith, a short run-down on what to expect in each episode:

Thirteen or So Minutes involves two young men who claim to have been straight and who've suddenly enjoyed male-on-male sex for the first time. One wants to embrace this, the other, not so much. A little tsuris and a lot of talk ensues....

Chased introduces us to two (yes, presumably straight) friends who, as they leave a bar, get into a argument with another group of guys and must hightail it on the run. This evidently sets their testosterone to raging, and later they must come to terms with the consequences of their sudden -- and extremely unbelievable -- amour....

Never or Now offers a kind of gay homage to a certain famous scene from Bob Fosse's All That Jazz, as an old and dying man in a rest home/hospital, as soon as his wife leaves for a few hours, picks up the phone and hires a hustler to visit him. Cue loads of kindness, tinkly sentimental music, and your oh-so-typical hustler who doesn't even demand his money. Sweet -- and, gosh, such uber-realism!

Triple Standard tackles guys and sports, via a gay couple, one of whom refuses to come out of the closet and, further, gets overly macho and nasty when another male dares to joke about his sexual preference. So what's his poor lover to do. You'll find out. Hint: Things just might be OK....

Without a Mom offers up a gay couple who've raised a strapping and straight hunk of a son who is suddenly having girlfriend problems. Gosh, one of the dads wonders, maybe he shoulda had a mom instead? In a movie like this one? Don't bet on it.

Life lesson after life lesson -- gay variety -- is taught us during the course of this film, and many of these lessons seem to have to do with men who profess zero interest is sex with another male -- and then suddenly come around to seeing the light. So it is in Toeing the Line, in which, during the course of coffee in a local hangout, one hot guy comes on to another by letting it drop that, yes, he a has a very big dick. Size matters, and before you can say Show Me, Please, we're off and running. This one's nicely acted but features utterly improbable behavior taking place in a public coffee shop.

A la Carte takes on a threesome -- husband. wife and the twinkie whom hubby has brought home to screw them both. Age and intergenerational sex matter here more than size, but doncha know that everything gets resolved in lightning speed and to everyone's satisfaction.

Size matters again in Truth or Dare, as two boy/girl couples decide to play the titular game one evening. But funny how girl-on-girl action just doesn't seem to raise the collective temperature the way that boy-on-boy stuff suddenly does. This one may make you laugh, at least.

Mr. Blinn saves his hottest visuals for the closing story, in which ageism and infidelity rear their heads -- and have absolutely no negative effect whatsoever. The filmmaker's rose-colored glasses simply refuse to lose their hue, no matter what, and there is nothing life can throw at these participants that can't be managed with a good long kiss and some hot sex. If only. But I have to say that Blinn, shown below with a couple of his actors, makes it all seem like lots of fun. If you're in the right mood, you might be seduced, too.

Remarkable Shades of Gay -- self-distributed and running two hours and six minutes -- began its theatrical premiere yesterday, February 27, in New York City at the Cinema Village. But you can bet it'll be available eventually on DVD and to stream.

Friday, February 27, 2015

EJECTA: yet another entry in the mini-budget WTF's-happening apocalyptic sci-fi thriller genre

Actor Julian Richings has an amazing face. It is just plain memorable. And strange. You can't look away from it. Mr. Richings, shown below, is quite an asset to the new ultra-mini-budget sci-fi/sort-of-thriller, EJECTA, and thank god he's the star of the film because I think it would be something less were it not for the amazing creep factor this actor, shown below, possesses. As written by Tony Burgess and directed by Chad Archibald and Matt Wiele, and as these mini-budgeted would-be sci-fi movies go -- the last such we covered here was the nearly unwatchable Hangar 10 -- this one is at least an improvement over the usual found-footage or just-point-the-video-camera-and-shoot hogwash. Ejecta is not awful. The movie has its moments.

Most of these involve Mr. Richings, above, who plays some kind of seer who has been gifted/contaminated with knowledge/insight that he would dearly love not to possess. In fact, he is possessed, and this appears to be killing him. Mr. Richings is quite convincing as this poor, used-up schmuck, and so are the actors  Lisa Houle (below) and Mark Gibson, who play the very nasty government doctor and agent bent on torturing this poor soul to learn what he knows. These scenes come awfully close to torture porn, as dispensed by a woman.

You can't watch much of this torture without having Guantanamo and AbuGhraib (and maybe, currently, the exploits of ISIS) cross your mind again and again. And since it is our government doing the nasty stuff, you won't much care what happens to these entitled and insufferable assholes. The plot -- of which there ain't much -- involves possible alien arrival (see below) and adbuction, something known as "mass ejections" (whatever that means), and maybe Armageddon, too. The special effects, when they finally arrive, are at least as effective as most of the stuff in the ridiculous Interstellar -- at probably 1/10,000 the budget.

However, when all is said and done (too many times, at that: the movie is far too repetitive), it comes down to the usual fright tactics of dropping a bunch of "hints," amidst the special effects, torture and noise, and hoping we'll be somehow scared out of our wits. Good luck. Overall, I was finally more annoyed than frightened, but I must admit that Ejecta (not a very good title) occasionally got to me, thanks mostly to the performances of  Mr. Richings and Ms Houle.

The movie -- from IFC Midnight and running a little long, even at only 87 minutes -- opens today as the midnight show at Manhattan's IFC Center. Elsewhere? Don't know, but as it opens simultaneously on VOD, aficionados across the country will have the chance to view it, too.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

THE HUNTING GROUND: Kirby Dick & Amy Ziering tackle rape again, this time via higher learning

Just as this twosome did three years back in The Invisible War, their exploration of rape in the U.S. military, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering have now done for rape on the college and university campus, and what they tell us in their new film is -- if this is possible (and, yes, it is) -- even more appalling and disgusting than what we learned in the earlier documentary. It is bad enough that so many men, along with their enabling male pals, find it just-business-as-usual to rape women. But in THE HUNTING GROUND, we learn what our higher education system doesn't do about all this, especially when sports come into the picture. All this proves quite enough to make us wonder if maybe the treatment of women by Muslim fundamentalists and Sharia Law aren't so bad, after all.

The shoddy, sleazy behavior of so many of our educational institutions in blaming the victims and/or sweeping it all under the carpet is simply astounding, and the filmmakers back up the statistics they shows us by citing the various studies from which they came. As with the earlier doc about military rape, Dick and Ziering (above, left and right, respectively) point out that young men are also affected by rape on campus but that the primary victims are women.

The movie begins with those video-ed marketing and home movie moments in which schools promise the world to their new students, and the kids get ready for what they imagine will be their most wonderful experience. Then, as we hear the stories and as the filmmakers speak with one victim after another (most still alive, others not), and learn the reactions -- short- and long-term (note how many of the young women seem to have put on extra weight, post-attack -- the picture of male entitlement, patriarchy, power, and money buying silence comes slowly and horribly to the fore. Women remain, as so often, second-class citizens.

Some of the more moving moments come as the victims explain why their most difficult time entailed telling their parents about what happened. Fraternities of course come under the microscope, with ugly results. "Fraternities are essentially 'unregulated bars'," notes one fellow (shown below), and we hear a favorite frat-boy chant: "No means yes, and yes means anal." Wow. Can't wait till my grand-daughter gets into one of these bastions of higher learning.

Kirby and Ziering talk with a fellow now retired from the Notre Dame Campus Police, and what he has to tell us is pretty awful in terms of how the campus police are hog-tied by the university. Even worse -- but perhaps the crowning achievement of the documentary -- concerns the football star Jameis Winston (below, left), Florida State University, the Tallahassee Police Department and the untold horror and hypocrisy that can happen when your rapist is a guy who can help win football games. If this section of the film doesn't raise your blood pressure to new heights, I'll be surprised.

A lot of schools come in for a licking but the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill probably takes the cake. So much is so wrong with how higher education handles rape that you can't help but understand why the filmmakers maybe spend a bit too much time on their happier, rah-rah finish. Some of their organization, too, seems a little haphazard. But Dick and Ziering turn over so much ground so thoroughly that you'll forgive them the occasional fumble.

The Hunting Ground, from Radius/TWC and running a relatively swift 104 minutes, opens this Friday, February 27, in Los Angeles at The Landmark and in New York City at the Angelika Film Center, with other cities soon to join the ranks. To see all currently scheduled playdates, click here.   

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

FUTURO BEACH: Karim Aïnouz's gay love story and family drama, complete with waves and sand

FUTURO BEACH (Praia do Futuro) is something of a rarity in the gay movie genre: a genuine art film concerned with more than the usual problems of coming out, finding a partner, gay parenting and the like. Instead, it is heavily involved in place, feeling, motion and connection. From Brazil and starring one of the countries most popular actors, Wagner Moura (the Elite Squad films, Elysium), along with German actor Clemens Schick, and, in  the role of the Moura character's brother, Ayrton, newcomer Sávio Ygor Ramos (as the child version) and Jesuíta Barbosa (as the adult). That's it, concerning any important cast members. This is basically a four-hander film -- in fact, more a three-hander, since Ayrton appears first as a child and then as a young man.

The film, co-written (with Felipe Bragança) and directed by Karim Aïnouz (shown at right and best known for Madame Satã), does a lot of things well. The homosexuality here is simply a given: no excuses, no explana-tions. While we get a taste of homophobia (particularly from the brother, but this is more about anger at being left and forgotten), the sex scenes are terrifically handled -- as hot and as believable as you could want. (There is some full-frontal, as well, but nothing approaching hard-core). Visually, the film is often quietly stunning -- with fine widescreen cinema-tography (by Ali Olay Gözkaya) and a lovely sense of space and depth.

What is missing most, however, is enough content to fill the 106-minute running time. Filmmaker Aïnouz is evidently a man of few words, or at least this is what he parcels out to his characters. While this allows for less clunky exposition, it finally makes the movie seem more shallow than I suspect it actually is. The key relationship between Donato (Moura, above, center) and Konrad (Schick, below) comes about due to the sudden drowning of Konrad's best friend and perhaps lover. As grief can sometimes do, it tosses the two men (Donato was the lifeguard who tried to save the drowned friend) into an near-immediate frenzy of sex, and from there into further intimacy.

When Konrad returns to his native Germany, Donato comes to visit, and when Konrad wants something permanent, Donato must face separation from his Brazilian family. All good, so far. But when Donato feigns (or maybe fully feels) his inability to separate, Konrad calls him a coward.

Turns out, the guy is indeed a coward. When the scene shifts, so does the time frame and we're maybe ten years ahead. Aryton (Barbosa, above) is now a young man who has come to Germany to find his brother. Over this huge time period there has been little or no contract by Donato with his family. This is hard enough to believe in itself, given what we've seen previously, and because the filmmaker favors little dialog, we get no specifics about how or why. All of which proves quite a lack.

For all the visual display and occasional poetic verbalizing of feeling (particularly in the film's final moments) we have simply not been given enough detail upon which all this angst can properly hang. (There is a wonderful fight-vs-feeling scene, below, between the brothers when they initially reunite.) Finally, Futuro Beach, as beautiful and "felt" as it is, remains something of skeletal movie, waiting for the filmmaker to fill in a few more of those blank spaces.

From Strand Releasing, the movie opens this Friday, February 27, in New York City at the IFC Center, and in a few more cities over the weeks to come. To see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters listed, click here and then click on SCREENINGS.

Cool--in a gory/crazy/funny/action-heavy way! Ms Hayek stars in Joe Lynch's fabulous EVERLY

Looking for the kind of wild, bloody, all-stops-out, fun-and-fetish-filled action movie they just don't make anymore (maybe they never did)? If so, we've got a tip for you: EVERLY, the new action film from director Joe Lynch and screen-writer Yale Hannon. It's a hoot and a half, and it gives Salma Hayek the kind of super-heroine role that Scarlett Johansson could only manage with those special-effect sci-fi powers in Lucy or the Avengers movies. Of course Everly is not one bit believable. But in this kind of non-stop action film, do you really ask for truth?

Of course not. You just want a bloody good time and maybe some pulchritude tossed in for extra measure. Misters Lynch (at right) and Hannon provide the fun and frolic, while Ms Hayek (above and below), in a role that shows that the lady's still got what it takes, offers up the beauty and charisma. Theres' a lot of the last two on view.

The movie begins in the dark, so to speak, because all we see is a black screen as we hear what sounds like a woman being hurt, maybe tortured. Oh, gosh. Not to worry. Within moments, the screen lights up, we're looking down into a bathroom where a nude woman (our titular Everly), clearly hurt, appears, locks the door behind her, and....  Nope: I'm not telling. We do hear a gun shot, however, and from that point onward, for some 92 minutes, there is simply no let-up to the suspense, action and good, gory fun.

We're in the naughty land of nasty sex traffickers once again, this time with an Asian slant. Everly, it seems, has been commandeered, over some years now, to do the bidding of the head trafficker, but the lady has had, as they say, enough. However, head baddie knows the whereabouts of her mother and daughter, so soon we have three generations of women hiding out together in a very odd hotel.

The film was shot mostly, perhaps entirely, in Belgrade, Serbia -- which should be enough to scare the pants off you already. If not, the odd assortment of villains, all working for Mister Top Guy, certainly will. Our head man, whom, yes, we eventually do get to meet, seems to have a small army of thugs on tap to do his bidding.

So how do Hayek and crew manage to hold out so long? Through all kinds of shenanigans, Salma leads them ever onward, using her amazing knack for firearms and fighting to get through it all. There are some ups and down, and for awhile it seems our heroine is toast. But soon she's back to buttered bread -- bloody and battered as that tasty loaf soon becomes.

The most enticing and original of these villains is a quintet of sadist (the great Togo Igawa, from The Hedgehog), masochist and three large acolytes who go at our gal something fierce. The actress who plays Everly's daughter is one of the most beautiful little girls seen on film in ages (newcomer Aisha Ayama), while mom/grandma is played with comedic smarts by Laura Cepeda.

The sweetest of Ms Hayek's hits is delightfully performed by Akie Kotabe (above), who sticks around long enough to kibbitz and bleed, while Everly's chief nemesis is given quite a impressive performance by Hiroyuki Watanabe, two photos below, who proves as lean, lithe and sexy as he is dangerous.

Mr. Lynch has directed the film to within an inch of its life, and he's managed, though it stays completely within that one hotel setting, to make each minute easy to sit through. Everly, the movie, looks every bit as good as does Everly, the character, with sumptuous production design by Ondrej Nekvasil (Snowpiercer) and crack cinematography from Steve Gainer (Mysterious Skin).

There are also a flock of call girls on tap -- most of whom would be just as happy to see Everly breathe her last, and some of the fun provided is at the girls' expense. (This is not exactly what we would call a feminist tract.) But that's OK, too, because Hayek acts and actions her way through it all with real aplomb. If the film is a success -- and it certainly should be at least a minor one -- I could see a sequel or two soon in the works, perhaps next time with Latins, Blacks, Arabs or, gosh, maybe just a bunch of rich and uber-entitled bankers and Wall Street white guys playing the villains. Many of this set are no doubt already dick-deep in the sideline trade of sex trafficking.

Meanwhile, if you're a fan of this kind of thing, don't miss Everly, from Radius/TWC, which opens Friday, February 27, here and there around the country -- after its iTunes digital debut last month. (Here in NYC, it'll be opening at the Village East Cinema.) If you miss it in theaters, the film should be available on VOD and/or digital again soon, as well as on DVD and (I hope) Blu-ray, for this is one good-looking movie.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Another look at Sleazywood: David Cronenberg and Bruce Wagner's louche MAPS TO THE STARS

Does anyone have a more jaundiced, delightfully despicable view of Hollywood and its dank denizens than writer Bruce Wagner (shown below)? From his comic Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills to the masterful I'm Losing You (novel and film) to this latest lollapalooza -- MAPS TO THE STARS -- Wagner shows us la-la-land with an incredible blend of black humor and rapier wit tempered with just a dash of feeling so that we can't quite dismiss his nasty satire out of hand. To bring to fruition his latest foray into our narcissistic depths, he's landed David Cronenbergshown above (or maybe to the right), to direct, and the combo turns out to be a marriage made in an absolutely heavenly hell.

Maps to the Stars begins rather quietly, if bizarrely, for we haven't yet understood the depths to which the characters we're meeting will soon sink -- how their insatiable need for constant acknowledgment and fame outdoes any human instinct they might have once possessed. Yet so interesting and strange seem all the people we encounter that we're hooked from scene one.

Mr Wagner's dialog definitely helps. Notes one character early on: "I met the Dalai Lama! He's the kind of guy you just want to hang with. But you can't. Because he's, like, you know, the Dalai Lama."

It isn't long, however, before the characters we're laughing at and with turn darker, nastier. Darkest of all and the woman we probably get to know best is the famous actress named Havana Segrand (played by last night's Oscar-winner Julianne Moore, shown above and below, right).

Also proving a strange character we learn to care about (and become a bit frightened of, as well) is Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska, above, left and below). Agatha, who now possess an unsightly scarred body and face, is the daughter of a famous self-help guru, Standford Weiss, who serves the Hollywood set and is played with his usual panache by John Cusack (shown in the penultimate photo), who seems to be taking to darker roles like that proverbial duck to water.

Into Agatha's life also comes a handsome chauffeur-cum-screenwriter, played well by Robert Pattinson, below, who has by now thankfully gotten that stupid-but-successful Twilight series out of his system and can move on to roles that call for some actual acting. He's the character through whom we see much of what is happening (and is said to be based upon Wagner's own early Hollywood history).

The Weiss family also includes a mother, played with rigid intensity by the fine Olivia Williams, and a drug-addled TV-actor son, Benji, whose name and interaction with a dog should bring to mind a certain (in)famous series of animal movies. As played by the terrific and creepy Evan Bird, below, Benji complete this family of would-be Hollywood royalty, a matched set of major nut-jobs.

That Weiss family dances with and around our gal Havana, who pretty much rules the movie in the same manner as she does her retinue. There is a particular scene -- between Ms Moore and another actress playing an actress (Jennifer Gibson) on a Beverly Hills sidewalk outside one or another swank shop -- so perfectly on the mark and full of friendly sweetness masking outright hatred that it becomes an instant classic. The interaction demonstrates to a "t" how Hollywood folk are never scarier than when they're being "nice."

Ms Moore -- always a great actress who rarely makes a misstep or chooses a project that is not worthwhile -- is so very fine in this rich, rabid role that she actually makes what happens to her character somehow enjoyable. And that is indeed what they call "going some."

Well, that's Mr. Wagner for you. He turns us all into the kind of people who can take schadenfreude to unspeakable new heights. Or, rather, depths. "Juicy" does not begin to describe this amazing film.

Maps to the Stars -- from Focus Features and running 111 minutes -- opens theatrically this Friday, February 27, in various locales.

Here in the NYC area, it'll play at Manhattan's IFC Center, the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn and the Kew Gardens Cinema in Queens. In the L.A. area, look for it at the Sundance Sunset Cinema, and at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena and their NoHo 7 in North Hollywood. Elsewhere? Maybe, and if I can find a link to playdates, I'll post it later....