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Reviews: 2008
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Year End Round-Up
by Michael D. Klemm
Reprinted from Outcome, December, 2008



Another year winds down and I have to say that 2008 wasn't a bad year as far as queer new releases went. I was losing hope in 2007. My illustrious editor, Outcome's Tim Moran, asked me to do a "Best Of" to wrap up the year but I've never felt right putting together "10 Best" Lists. Even though I've reviewed a lot of screeners this year, both in Outcome and abOUT - and on this site, I haven't seen everything. Not that that ever stopped some of the people who vote on the Oscars. And so, gentle reader, this is a brief summary of some of the better new releases that I've seen this year, along with a survey of films that weren't bad but weren't exactly masterpieces either. All of these films are screeners that I received this past year for review. One was rented. For full reviews click on the links. Oh, and these are DVD releases so Milk will not be discussed here.




BOYSTOWN. This one celebrates the grand tradition of early Pedro Almodovar movies and justifies my belief that gay comedies can tackle subjects besides fabulous makeovers and dancing club kids. This new Spanish film, from director Juan Flahn, is a farcical black comedy that serves up a tasty and wicked stew of hunky bears, doomed old ladies and a murderous real estate agent. This is one of the best comedies, gay or straight, that I have seen in a long time.

THE BUBBLE. The setting is Tel Aviv in the latest film from Isreali filmmaker Eytan Fox. The Bubble is a powerful film that combines comedy, romance and political drama, featuring two star-crossed lovers who are gay men; one Jewish, the other a Palestinian. This is a forbidden romance in the grand tradition of stories like Romeo and Juliet and a window into a world that we as Americans know nothing about. Violence is a stone's throw away and the conclusion is one of the most devastating that I have seen in years.

A FOUR LETTER WORD is a charming confection by director Casper Andreas that is also a sequel (of sorts) to his previous film, Slutty Summer. Jesse Archer reprises his role as Luke, an amorous barfly. Luke falls for Stephen (Dante's Cove's Charlie David) and then discovers that he earns a living as a highly paid hustler. What I initially thought was just going to be an R rated Will & Grace episode turned into a nicely acted film of unexpected depth. Under its comedic veneer are many profound thoughts on love, sex and relationships. It's a great date movie.

THE WITNESSES, from noted French director, Andre Techine (Wild Reeds), is an amazing ensemble film, juggling multiple characters and storylines while dramatizing the confusion and terror manifest during the early days of the AIDS pandemic. Techine eschews operatic excess in favor of quiet character-driven drama. Probably the best new queer film I've seen this year.




3-DAY WEEKEND the new film by Rob Williams (Back Soon) features two couples who spend long weekends together at a spectacular cottage in the woods. It is always the "same place, same conversations, blah blah blah." This time they have decided to "shake things up" and each is inviting a friend. There's musical beds and enough drama to fuel a Greek tragedy. It's not McNally, but it's close.

BEFORE I FORGET, from French writter/director Jacques Nolot. is more akin to a poem than a movie. Nolot stars as Pierre, an aging gigolo and the viewer is treated to the often banal details of his day-to-day life. Pierre hires hustlers for anonymous sex, sees his analyst, and discusses the indignities of growing old with his friends while comparing the rates charged by their various rent boys. Very little happens but it is one of the most devastating films about the sadness of aging that this reviewer has seen.

BULLDOG IN THE WHITEHOUSE by director Todd Verow is a no-holds-barred and rude political satire that also falls into a sub-genre of queer film that I like to affectionately refer to as "porn with a plot." The Jeff Gannon/Washington press corps scandal is retold as Dangerous Liaisons. Brilliant idea but not very well executed. It's amateur agitprop, part South Park, and part Chi-Chi laRue. My guilty pleasure of the year.

DOG TAGS, from director Damion Dietz (Love Life), features two very different young men who become unlikely friends, and then lovers. Nate, a Marine on leave from boot camp, and Andy, a free-spirited Goth who was once in love with another soldier, "meet cute" when they both unexpectedly find themselves in a porn shoot. Andy gives Nate a ride after the Marine fixes his car. Some plot developments are a bit obvious but the story is told with skill and the actors inhabit their parts beautifully. A bit of a demented road trip but most of the ride is satisfying.

FINN'S GIRL, a Canadian film co-directed by Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert, is the familiar story of a single, widowed parent struggling to raise a child all alone with a new spin; the stressed-out parent is a lesbian and she runs an abortion clinic. Despite leaving too many loose ends, Finn's Girl offers a controversial background story and a touching look at a mother-daughter relationship that survives being pushed to its limits. You'll be glad to know that the kid is nothing like Macaulay Culkin.

SHELTER ME from Mario Mazzarotto is the story of an Italian couple who have just returned from a holiday in Tunis. A surprise awaits them when they open the hatchback of their auto and find a Moroccan lad who has just has smuggled himself into Italy. Weak ending, but a realistic story about two women in love who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances.

SOCKET. Fans of David Cronenberg's films will find much to admire in this bizarre, yet interesting, science fiction/horror thriller - with a queer twist - from first time director Sean Abley. A surgeon and his new lover (and others), have all miraculously survived being struck by lightning and get off on electric shocks. Not as silly as it sounds, Socket is actually a pretty harrowing film about addiction. Picture Trainspotting re-imagined as a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode. And Derek Long and Matthew Montgomery are hot. My other great guilty pleasure of the year.

WHIRLWIND, from director Richard LeMay (200 American), nicely records the synergy between a group of gay friends whose bonds get shaken to the core by a seductive sociopath who suddenly becomes their new best friend. Drake is an impossibly- handsome and charismatic stud who takes great pleasure in destroying relationships. Drake is sometimes a little too much like Joan Collins on Dynasty but, aside from that, Whirlwind is a very well crafted and enjoyable film with convincing characters facing real issues and challenges.




BETWEEN SOMETHING & NOTHING, also from Todd Verow, is an interesting story about an art student and a hustler. SURVEILLANCE 24/7 is a British thriller told entirely through surveillance and cellphone cameras. Interesting, but the camerawork gets irritating after awhile. WRANGLER: ANATOMY OF AN ICON is a good documentary about 70s porn star Jack Wrangler. This one is from 2005 but I recommend GO WEST, the first gay film to be made in Bosnia. THE BOYS IN THE BAND and KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN made their DVD debuts this year, and a few from the vaults appeared this year too; like JOHAN: MON ETE 75 and the uncut SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE BATHS (both from 1975).




I DREAMT UNDER THE WATER looks like it was filmed underwater but, though uneven, it's still a highly provocative study of a self-destructive young man who turns to hustling to dull his pain. BANKOK LOVE STORY gets points for being the Brokeback Mountain of Thailand. SHELTER is a cute tale of two surfers in love marred by too many music interludes. Most of the songs in NAKED BOYS SINGING are intolerable but anyone who wants to see it will do so anyway no matter what I say about it. BACK SOON is a sweet story about two straight men who are drawn to each other; lovers of films like Ghost will like the last act better than I did. YOU BELONG TO ME is a flat thriller - but it tries - and 2 MINUTES LATER is a tongue-in-cheek private eye caper that is so dorky that it's lovable. I haven't gotten a screener yet of ANOTHER GAY SEQUEL: GAYS GONE WILD. Perhaps they know I probably won't be kind. [Update: I wasn't.]