It's an honor to create a compilation of original short movie reviews written specifically for Twit Magazine by our beloved Duane Simolke. Besides writing these reviews for This Week in Texas, Duane has written the books The Acorn Stories, Degranon: A Science Fiction Adventure, Holding Me Together, and New Readings of Winesburg, Ohio. He also edited and co-wrote the spin-off The Acorn Gathering, a fund-raiser for cancer research. Visit his website, DuaneSimolke.Com for an excerpt and more information.
Looking for an unusual Christmas story? Writer/director/producer Kieran Turner delivers a sweet romantic comedy with very little budget and no big-name Hollywood actors. Fortunately, he found good actors and tells a good story.
The back-story is much darker and more tragic than what unfolds on screen, but Turner mostly leaves those disturbing emotions to the imagination, while focusing on the present. Though in his early twenties, Jonathan (Kevin Isola) lives with his big sister, Maria (Aida Turturro of The Sopranos).
Jonathan also still asks Santa Claus for presents, but he takes that quirk to a new level by asking Santa for the perfect boyfriend. To everyone's surprise but Jonathan's, that wish looks like it might come true. Humor unfolds in a variety of locations, but mostly Maria's cramped home, at the gay bookstore where Kevin works, and at the apartment of Jonathan's attractive new coworker.
This epic starts during the seventies and follows eleven years in the lives of two gay men who seem totally wrong for each other: an outgoing gay activist (played by Steve Braun) and a repressed, closet-case Republican (played by Larry Sullivan).
Not surprisingly, hilarity ensues, especially with Alexis Arquette and Jill St. John in flamboyant supporting roles. Still, The Trip offers much more than comedy. It also shows how love matters more than any differences, and it offers insight into how the political climate of two decades affected gay communities and gay individuals.
The Trip received numerous awards during its trip through film festivals and eventual wider release. The DVD's many extras make it even more appealing.
With his comedy The Hole, writer/director Wash West spoofed the hit American movie The Ring and its source material, the Japenese Ringu movies. Instead of dying from watching a strange video tape, the characters turn gay. It's a silly, hilarious idea, and West uses it to not only make fun of a horror franchise but also make fun of masculine insecurity and homophobic cliches.
Of course, the movie also earned an X-rating because of its graphic sex scenes. TLA Releasing now offers this re-edited, non-rated version, as part of their "Guilty Pleasures Collection." Unfortunately, parts of the new version reflect the obvious fact that it's an X-rated movie with frames removed; I haven't seen the original version, but those scenes now drag and probably could have used even more trimming.
Still, West delivers a good comedy. The cast, besides providing eye candy, provide frequent laughs with their mixture of squeamishness, cluelessness, and masculine bravado. Tag Eriksson plays the journalist investigating the video tape. He delivers the most absurd lines with total sincerity.
Some people live their lives in search of something to provoke them into saying "I was offended," or "I was appalled." Just breeze through the letters section of The Advocate to see what I mean (but then keep reading, because it's still a great magazine).
Such people will likely collapse in a fit of righteous indignation while viewing Nine Dead Gay Guys. Comedy. Dark comedy. Politically incorrect comedy. Cartoonish, silly, dorky comedy with no sense of subtlety or boundaries. Viewers who can handle all of that might enjoy this offbeat British film from writer/director Lab Ky Mo.
Mo, by the way, isn't a 'mo. He is Chinese, though, and Chinese are among the few groups not spoofed in his movie. The plot involves two opportunistic Irish men who exploit the local gay community but become involved with it in bizarre ways. Mo says his ideas developed partially from gays he knew, but mostly from stories one of his gay friends told him about a supposed gay underground in London.
He also wanted to make an irreverent comedy. He succeeded. Not a great comedy, but a funny one. And, yes, extremely irreverent.
Though best known for their gay titles, TLA Releasing also distributes independent films of general interest. The best of those I've seen is America Brown. Australian actor Ryan Kwanten takes on a West Texas accent and an emotionally tortured role as America "Ricky" Brown, a football player who goes to New York City to meet his town's football hero.
Directed by Paul Black, this film starts out a bit slow and disconnected, but I kept feeling that all of the characters would keep revealing much more about their past, their actions, and their motivations. The movie pays off in all of those respects. The further the story goes along, the more Ricky and the people in his life illuminate their pain, their regrets, and their joy. It keeps getting more emotional, more engrossing.
Kwanten appeared on Australian TV while growing up and recently starred in the short-lived WB series Summerland; I hope to see him in many more roles. The cast of America Brown also includes Elodie Bouchez, Frankie Faison, Hill Harper, Karen Black, Leo Burmester, Michael Rapaport, and Natasha Lyonne.
Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece actually encompasses the separate plays Part I: Millennium Approaches and Part II: Perestroika. After seeing a wonderful performance of Part I at Texas Tech University, I kept wanting to see Part II performed live. Instead, I saw both on HBO, adapted for television.
Mike Nichols, the director of Biloxi Blues, The Graduate, The Birdcage, and many other hit movies, brought his considerable talent to Tony Kushner's screenplay. The resulting mini-series deserves the many Emmy nominations and awards it received.
As with the plays, some of the actors play multiple roles. Jeffrey Wright reprises his stage roles, joined by famous movie actors like Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson, as well as underrated independent movie actors like Justin Kirk and Mary-Louise Parker.
Examining how AIDS affected and changed America, Angels offers dreamlike story-telling and emotional performances. Despite its sometimes surreal vision of life during the 1980s, it encapsulates the human capacities for betrayal, denial, survival, acceptance, and compassion.
Jeffrey Wright used his Emmy win to call attention to how AIDS continues to devastate both Africa and African Americans, as well as to a need for films that deal with those issues. Hopefully, such projects would attract extraordinary talents like viewers will find with Angels in America.
Attack of the Bride Monster
Currently screening at various gay film festivals, the 17-minute comedy Attack of the Bride Monster winks at 1950s-style romance movies and monster movies. It also takes a high camp look at gay marriage controversies and news stories. As with those 1950s monster movies, the paranoid fears affect different people in different ways.
Two lesbians discuss the direction of their 25-year relationship while watching TV coverage of gay marriages taking place around the country. They have been happy and committed, but the Bride Monster takes hold of one of them, demanding a commitment to an institution that the other woman finds questionable. While they hear the Christian right voicing fear of gay marriage, some of the gays in this short film express fears of conformity. Sound familiar?
Austin residents Leslie Belt (writer/producer), Vicky Boone (director/producer), and PJ Raval (cinematographer) created this silly but charming film. It received Best of the Best in the Houston Gay Lesbian Film Festival in September 2005 and the McMullen-Sullivan Founders Award in the Out Takes Dallas Film Festival in November 2005.
Spanish filmmaker Eloy de la Iglesia returns to directing, after addiction and his lover's overdose led to a long absence. I haven't seen any of his earlier movies, but Bulgarian Lovers suggests a deep insight into class struggles, loneliness, and desire.
Daniel, a wealthy accountant, agrees to help a Bulgarian refugee he admires and wants. The Bulgarian, Kyril, obviously will only cause problems for Daniel and use him mercilessly. Still, Daniel accepts those facts, and can't let go, not even when Daniel's fiancé becomes a part of their complicated relationship.
Adapted from a novel by Eduardo Medicutti, Bulgarian Lovers offers a mixture of beautiful men, beautiful locales, and dangerous schemes. Both men long for something more-more money and security in Kyril's case, but more love and companionship in Daniel's case.
Despite some comical scenes and campy friends, Daniel's story draws viewers into the heart of a lonely individual. Odd fade-ins, surreal fantasy sequences, and witty comments add to the comic relief, but never lessen the compassion that many viewers will feel for Daniel.
Duane Simolke is currently writing a sequel to Degranon: A Science Fiction Adventure.
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