GAY FILM REVIEWS BY MICHAEL D. KLEMM

Available Men

Wolfe Video,
2007

Available Men
Straight Boys
Hello, Thanks
Tumbleweed Town
The Underminer
Irene Williams: Queen of Lincoln Road
Sissy Frenchfry

Unrated, 105 min.

S is For Sexy

Wolfe Video,
2008

Serene Hunter
Solace
Scarred
Signage
Mr_Right_22
41 Seconds
Shahram & Abbas

Unrated, 100 minutes

Boy Crush

Wolde Video
2007

Summer
Night Swimming
Running Without Sound
Out Now
The Bridge
Hitchcocked
Oedipus N + 1

Unrated, 104 minutes

Short Film Festival
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, April, 2009



For a change of pace, I decided to write about a stack of short film DVDs that have been piled up next to my desk for quite some time. Each of these collections is a mixed bag but the nice thing about shorts is that they are, well... short. Each of the filmmakers involved seems to fully understand that these little vignettes are not meaty enough to sustain a feature film and they are all to be commended for not trying to do so. Shorts are the perfect venue to explore non-epic ideas and, oftentimes, a nice way to just have fun.

AVAILABLE MEN

Available Men, 2006
Director/Screenplay:
David Dean Bottrell
Starring: Brian Gattas, Jack Plotnick, Richard Ruccolo, Kostas Sommer
USA, 15 min.

Leading off the first DVD is Available Men, the best of the seven included shorts. Available Men features a case of mistaken identity as two sets of strangers, meeting for the first time, criss cross at the same hotel cocktail lounge. All Over The Guy's Richard Ruccolo is Rob, a sleazy agent who is on his way to a power meeting with Stephen, a cab driver who has written a hot script, called Ultimate Bloodbath, that has seized the attention of every agent in LA. Robert, an insecure artist, is meeting Steve, a sensitive CPA who is looking for the love of his life. Things go hilariously astray as the milquetoasts rendezvous with the sharks.

Available Men is very funny. The first minute is especially clever as each man is introduced while brief, and editorially pointed, explanatory title cards slide into the frame that describe each one's quirks and shortcomings. For example, a title next to the agent reads: "Last year, six of his clients left him. So did his wife." The cast is perfect and the film is beautifully acted with great comic timing by its four leads. The winner of Best Short Film at Outfest 2006.

Straight Boys, 2006
Director/Screenplay:
Dave O'Brien
Starring: Damian Pelliccione, Nick Bartzen, Vanessa Born, Jenna Allen, Ethan Mechare
USA, 14 min.

Straight Boys is a story that has been done more times than there are books in The Old Testament but, let's face it, this is a staple of queer teen romances. Ben is in love with his straight college roommate, Morgan. The opening scene is terrific as Ben fantasizes about his straight pal. Some innocent horseplay between the lads almost turns into Ben's wet dream but a phone call from Morgan's girlfriend quickly slams on the brakes. There's a nicely done scene in the middle where they come home drunk and Morgan passes out across Ben's lap. Familiar territory, yes, but the interplay between the characters was convincing and this short university film moves at a good clip. This one has a nice twist at the end that I didn't expect.

Hello, Thanks, 2006
Director/Screenplay:
Andrew Blubaugh
Starring: Andrew Blubaugh, John Wilmot
USA, 8 min.

Hello, Thanks briefly explores the fine art of writing personal ads. A plain looking young man bombs miserably on each of his blind dates and continually revises his personal ad. His attempts at self promotion, and his descriptions of the soulmate he is seeking, get stranger and stranger on each repetition. Clocking in at eight minutes, it is amusing and doesn't overstay its welcome. Hello, Thanks was an official selection at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.

Tumbleweed Town, 1999
Director: Samara Halperin
USA, 8 min.

Tumbleweed Town is a romantic tryst between two cowboys. A hitchhiking rancher is picked up by another cowboy in a pick-up truck. They dance in a honky tonk gay bar and sit around the campfire. This wordless short features jerky stop-motion animation with what appears to be Tonka toys. The faces of the cowboy dolls seem to be made from wax. It's cute, and has a naive charm, but is ultimately too crude to make a real lasting impression. Even so, it won First Prize from the PlanetOut Short Film Awards.

The Underminer, 2005
Director: Todd Downing
Screenplay: Mike Albo
Starring: Mike Albo
USA, 6 min.

The Underminer stars NYC performance artist, Mike Albo, in a dual role. One of the two men is a queen bitch from hell who destroys his friend's self-esteem with every word that he says, while also managing to always steer the conversation back to himself. It is nicely acted by Albo as both men, and the split screen photography is flawless. It's amusing but, to be honest, it doesn't go anywhere.

Irene Williams: Queen of Lincoln Road, 2005
Director: Eric Smith
Starring: Irene Williams, Eric Smith
USA, 23 min.

Irene Williams: Queen of Lincoln Road is a low-budget documentary, shot on video, that chronicles filmmaker Eric Smith's decade-long friendship with an old and very eccentric Miami woman. Irene Williams likes to make her own clothes, especially hats, and her color coordinated fashion statements are the talk of the neighborhood. Smith's film is a celebration of Irene's outrageous wardrobe and her fierce independence. Frankly, I tired of the subject after a few minutes but I am sure that there are drag queens and fashionistas everywhere who will be entranced. The irony in the final title card is both warmly funny and poignant. This won Best Documentary from the PlanetOut Short Film Awards.

Sissy Frenchfry, 2005
Director: J.C. Oliva
Screenplay: Joe Brouillette
Starring: Steven Mayhew, Ross Thomas, Justin Dabuet, Laurie Meghan Phelps, Leslie Jordan, Kate Lang Johnson
USA, 30 minutes

The final, and longest segment, is Sissy Frenchfry. This one is a campy tale of a someone who should be the high school misfit but, instead, he's the most popular kid in the hall. Sissy Frenchfry (Steven Mayhew) is the Class President, heads the school newspaper and the yearbook, and is a member of almost every club and organization. He is also flamboyantly gay and his fabulous boyfriend wears drag to school. Two of the star jocks on the football team are openly romantic with each other, and the head cheerleader is a lesbian. Sissy's high school has no problem with any of this... until an evil new student named Bodey McDodey shows up and stirs up the status quo.

This is classic Revenge Of The Nerds and, for the most part, Sissy Frenchfry manages to be both funny and touching. The ending is a little preachy, and a bit too much like an Afterschool Special, but it gets its point across without overdoing it as McDodey gets his comeuppance. This one was the Grand Prize winner of the PlanetOut Short Film Awards.

 


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S IS FOR SEXY

Serene Hunter, 2007
Director/Screenplay: Jason Bushman
Starring: Eric Debets, Jonathan Stringat, Jason Bushman, Flannan Obe
France, 13 minutes

S Is For Sexy also features seven short films. As Serene Hunter begins, Luc (Eric Debets) strolls the Parisian streets and cruises every man that he passes. Luc enjoys the thrill of the hunt; he is a kindred soul to Queer As Folk's Brian Kinney and shags every man whom he meets. He is not made out for monogamy but a sweet spirited young trick talks Luc into giving it a whirl with him. Deep down, Luc wants to settle down with Jon, an American boyfriend who makes periodic visits to France and, just as things seem to be going well between Luc and his new beau, Jon flies in for a visit.

Serene Hunter is short, sexy, and pretty explicit too. The French setting adds a lot of charm and the Maurice Chevalier-like music, in between scenes, evokes an early Truffaut feel as if this was a gay version of Jules and Jim. This Slamdance Film Fest selection is one of the better offerings on the disc. Bon Appetit.

Solace, 2007
Director: Michaline Babich
Screenplay: Michaline Babich, Richard Courtney
Starring: Joey Tuccio, Richard Courtney
USA, 14 minutes

The next film, Solace, manages to be creepy and erotic at the same time. Hugo (Joey Tuccio) is a hot young twentysomething who hooks up with an older man on the internet. While Hugo gets dressed to go out, and then takes a taxi to his rendezvous, the older man is seen crushing an assortment of pills with a mortar and pestle and mixing it into a bowl of ice cream. This is pure Hitchcockian suspense; the audience knows something of which the hero is blissfully unaware, and an ominous air hovers over the pair's lovemaking as we wait for something unknown to happen. To say any more would spoil the ending but, fear not. While this doesn't turn into Saw XVIII, the ending is unexpected and it stayed with me when I went to bed that night. This one was a PlanetOut Short Movie Award winner.

Scarred, 2006
Director/Screenplay:
Damien Rea
Starring: Chris Anderson, Lara Cazalet, David Durham
Great Britain, 10 minutes

In Scarred, a young gay man is forced to face a violent episode from his past. Chris Anderson plays Rafi, a young man whose face was scarred in a gang-style gay bashing. A handsome architect begins to shower him with attention and Rafi is confused because his new, and attentive, paramour has not even mentioned the scar across the side of his face. This one has a scary twist but then the short film comes to an abrupt end and all I could do was stare at the screen and say "And?" Scarred was a PlanetOut Short Movie Award winner.

Signage, 2007
Director/Screenplay:
Rick Hammerly
Starring: Rick Hammerly, Jason Wittig, Jeffery Johnson
USA, 12 minutes

Signage is a little slice of life about two forty-ish gay friends who dish about getting old before going out for a night at the clubs. Our hero has just given himself a makeover and, at the bar, he connects with a young deaf man. Much of the short film is told in sign language, with subtitles, and this adds a nice spin to the oh-so-familiar courting rituals. While nothing especially fabulous, it is funny, nicely written and acted but then, like the previous short, it just ends. Signage won Best Short at the Washington DC Independent Film Fest.

Mr_Right_22, 2007
Director/Screenplay:
Reza Ramern
Starring: Michael Baral, Philipp Denzel, Luc Feit, Friedemann Thiele, Johannes Richard Voelkel
Germany, 12 minutes

In Mr_Right_22, Adam (Philipp Denzel) is sitting in a gay nightclub and awaiting his first internet date. While impatiently fidgeting, he imagines several dates from hell sitting down at his table. Meanwhile, a sassy waiter stops by the table now and then to dispense advice. This charming German short, unlike the previous two films, actually has an ending.

41 Seconds, 2006
Directors: Tobias Martin & Rodney Sewell
Starring: Alexander Kaffl, Amir Arul
Germany, 4 minutes

41 Seconds gets my vote for being the most pointless offering on the DVD. On either side of a split screen, two seemingly straight men argue about a woman they both dated and which one of them she said was the better kisser. At 4 minutes, I've seen commercials with more plot development. And can anyone tell me why this needed two directors? Blink and you'll miss this one.

Shahram & Abbas, 2006
Director: Remy van Heugten
Screenplay: Luuk van Bemmelen
Starring: Hossein Mardani, Nader Farman, Cecile Heuer, Dirk Marks
The Netherlands, 35 minutes

The DVD concludes with Shahram & Abbas, an amusing story about two Iranian men seeking political asylum in the Netherlands. Abbas is a journalist who will surely be killed if he returns to Iran. We don't know much about Shahram, except that he has an interesting proposition for the terrified Abbas. He suggests that they pretend to be a lovers because, he thinks, that the authorities always grant asylum to gay people from the Middle East.

Neither of the men are gay but Abbas agrees to go along with the charade, provided that he is the husband. As they wait for their immigration hearing, they encounter another Iranian who actually is gay and his presence sobers the otherwise comedic tone. Shahram & Abbas is smart and intelligent, and light years ahead of that Adam Sandler abomination, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. The concluding punchline is pleasing, and rounds off S Is For Sexy on a satisfying note.

 


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BOY CRUSH

Summer, 2006
Director/Screenplay: Hong Khaou
Starring: Jay Brown, Peter Peralta
Great Britain, 9 minutes

Boy Crush (awful title) begins with two variations on the usual theme common to so many of these anthologies - a gay boy's lust for his straight best friend. The first, Summer, is a very low budget short, shot on videotape, featuring two teenagers talking about sex during a walk through the woods. Some horesplay emboldens the gay kid and he kisses his friend with predictable results. While not very memorable, their reconciliation is touching.

Night Swimming 2005
Director/Screenplay: Daniel Falcone
Starring: Bobby Steggert, Damon Cardasis, Rachel Frances Shaw
USA, 17 minutes

As Night Swimming begins, Otter gazes with sadness while his best friend, Darby, makes out with his girl friend. Otter and Darby drive to a rock concert together and their car breaks down on a secluded, rural road. They get drunk and go night swimming in a nearby lake, and Otter cannot take his eyes off of his best friend. It's a predictable story, with the exception of one unexpected twist, but it's also very well filmed and acted. A nice slice of life. Any gay man who once barked up the wrong tree will identify. Night Swimming is funny, sexy, heartfelt and sad.

Running Without Sound, 2004
Director/Screenplay: Judd King
Starring: Trace Barnes, Bryan Bukoliski, Scott Clark, Jake Klein, Shad Sager
USA, 13 minutes

In Running Without Sound, Sean is a deaf teenager who has a crush on a fellow teammate from his running team. A prolonged moment in which they gaze at each other is the highlight of a story in which virtually nothing happens.

Out Now, 2005
Director: Sven J. Matten
Screenplay: Tina Schulte, Renatus Tpke
Starring: Dennis Prinz, Hanno Dobiat, David Langer, James Matthews, Veit Messerschmidt, Dunja Bengsch
Germany, 20 minutes

Out Now takes place in Germany by The Alps. Tom is a high school student who is harassed daily by a clique of annoying jocks. Some of it is pretty brutal, especially a gymnasium shower scene in which he is repeated smacked with wet towels. He angers his obligatory fag hag friend by kissing her hard in front of the jocks so that they will stop calling him queer. Tom surfs chat rooms on the internet when he should he studying and he has a crush on a Nordic blonde dude at a candy kiosk. Out Now ends with an unexpected twist at a "hip hop" club.

Out Now isn't bad - or perhaps it's just the novelty of it being in German. One of the two longest of the films on the DVD, this one actually has a beginning, middle and end. Its subtitles leave a lot to be desired.

The Bridge, 2005
Director: George Barbakadze
Screenwriter: George Barbakadze, Fleurtasha Cooper
Starring: Glen Upton, Andy Cinningham
Australia, 8 minutes

Sometimes, as a writer, it can be fun to try to strip a story down to its bare essentials until there is almost nothing left. A writer would have to choose his words carefully, a filmmaker his visuals. The shorthand in The Bridge is, however, too extreme. Then again, the tale appears to be the memories of an older man and this could explain the brevity of its flashbacks. A bi-national gay couple is applying for residence in Australia. One is accepted, the other isn't. The end. The imagery is well chosen, but much of it is too darkly photographed - a double pity because the men are attractive.

Hitchcocked, 2006
Director/Screenplay: David M. Young
Starring: David Grant Beck, Yuval David
USA, 8 minutes

Hitchcocked is a rather playful homage to the shower scene from Hitchcock's Psycho. Two young men meet on what appears to be an internet date. The setting is a bathroom, and there are straight razors all over the place. The two men are hot for each other and take a shower together. Despite the tight and claustrophic photography in the shower, not to mention the phallic side-shots of the shower head and other assorted nods to Hitchcock, it is very sexy but with a hint of danger. While lighthearted at first, it becomes suddenly suspenseful. I won't reveal the ending that comes out of nowhere; you will either love it or hate it. Aside from that, the guys are cute, the Hitchocckian parodies are rather clever and it's expertly filmed. A pre-credit shaving sequence might remind you of Dexter's opening titles.

Oedipus N+1, 2003
Director/Screenplay: Eric Rognard
Starring: Jalil Lespert, Nicole Jamet, Catherine Buquen, Dimitri Storoge, Arnaud Maillard, Yann Collette
France, 26 minutes

The best one is saved for last. Oedipus N+1 is an intriguing science fiction story about a young gay man who was killed. His memories are implanted in a newly-awakened clone. In the name of "love," his controlling mother has altered some of these memories as part of her crusade to turn her son straight. But, to quote Brokeback Mountain's famous tagline: "Love is a force of nature," Thomas Steiner (Jalil Lespert) remembers a man from his past life named Kazo and he has no memory of the woman whom his mother claims is his fiance.

For a short film, Oedipus N+1 is surprisingly rich thematically. The concepts of traditional and virtual reality are constantly blurred. At stake is a young man's identity and the implications explored here are terrifying. The special effects, while not Industrial Light & Magic, are pretty damned good too. Think Blade Runner crossed with Gattica. The ending is very creepy and should send a chill down the viewer's spine.

 


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