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|22 reviews in total|
I really wanted to like this movie. I generally like coming-of-age movies, and surf movies, and growing-up-gay movies. But I found the characters in this movie (with a couple of exceptions) a bunch of unlikable louts who spend much of the movie in testosterone-driven chest-butting, and I just couldn't care about them. The loutishness leads to a certain predictable amount of melodrama, and some psychologically simplistic soul-searching on the way to tying up ends. The only likable characters were the protagonist's younger brother (the gay one, who takes a lot of psychological abuse for his gayness), and the sympathetic grandfather (the only guy in the family who seems to show any affection for the younger brother). These are secondary characters. The young brother's coming to terms with his sexuality and tentative romantic exploration with one of the surfers is a minor subplot of the film. On the up side, the young guys (and gals) in the film look great, and the surfing footage is really nice, especially some of the underwater footage. But by the end of the movie, I was not sorry to leave the company of a group of characters that I mostly found unpleasant and unsympathetic.
"The Fifth of July" may be among the most satisfying stage scripts of the last three decades. For those of us who were young when the play's characters were young (in the Vietnam war era), it movingly touches on the idealism and disappointment of that time. It has a vein of sentimentality, but does that have to be a bad thing? Perhaps not. Even with its sentimental moments, the script is full of sharp, funny dialogue that is "theatrical" in the best sense. How well does that theatricality translate to film? With mixed success. This adaptation uses most of the original Broadway cast of the play. I saw the same cast on stage, and I remember really liking this TV film when it first came out. Now, seeing it again a couple of decades later, it strikes me as regrettably stagy. Swoozie Kurtz's flamboyant performance nabbed her a Tony on stage, but seems strident and one-dimensional on film. Likewise, Richard Thomas comes across as surprisingly mannered and overwrought for an actor who built most of his career in TV. He works too hard and ends up unconvincing. In contrast, Jeff Daniels (as Thomas's devoted but under-appreciated boyfriend) steals the movie with a subtle, natural performance. In general, the supporting players come off better than the leads, and it's fun to see a very young Cynthia Nixon. This is a competent introduction to a beautiful script, but it's still pretty much a film of a stage production. Like so many adaptations of this sort, it fails to convey the power of the live theatrical experience, and at the same time, it isn't a very good film as film. I couldn't help wondering how this would work if someone turned it into a "real" movie that emphasized cinematic values over stage values. I'd like to see someone try some day.
This film is an ultra-low budget production, shot on video. The production values are minimal, and it's not particularly good looking. The bright-light scenes are flat, and the low-light scenes are grainy. You have to make an effort to look beyond the production values to see what's good in this movie. If you can do that, and focus on the script, you'll find a provocative, intelligent drama here, that gets more and more interesting as it goes along. It doesn't take long to figure out that the writer-director, Yair Hochner, is frankly queer. Not "gay" in some inoffensive, assimilated, "Will & Grace" way, but in-your-face Queer with a capital Q. This drama of hustlers leading complicated (and often dangerous) lives, hearkens back to the aggressive low-budget queer cinema of the late eighties; that is, to movies like Van Sant's "Mala Noche" or Araki's "Living End." Hochner didn't make this movie for straight people (be warned, straight folks!). Among the best things about the film is that the director captures the way gay guys really talk to each other. He also shows the fluid boundaries in gay relationships: two guys might be lovers one day, pals another day, or sex buddies when the need and the attraction arise. They make families among themselves to replace their biological families. Sex might be a job, a romantic expression, or a bit of mindless fun... And just because a guy is gay doesn't mean he can't be a father (and a good, responsible father at that). But this is no sentimental view of golden-hearted whores. It's bleak, and often brutal. Two hustlers work together for a client one night and sense an emotional bond; circumstances, however, lead to a string of missed connections, and the hope for love unravels in a way that reminded me of one of Thomas Hardy's bleak anti-romances. Still, the end isn't entirely hopeless (and yes, the movie does come to a pretty clear end, even if it's not the conventional tying up that some viewers seem to want). One character appears destroyed by his bad luck and brutal circumstances; the other forges a new bond that just might help him prevail over his hard life. It's not a romantic ending, and there's no happily-ever-after; but it's an ending that makes sense.
John Milius's militant conservatism is somewhat subdued in this movie, though the movie was clearly made with a sense of nostalgia for a time when women and African-Americans knew their subjugated place and stayed there, and when going off to die pointlessly in an immoral war was seen as heroic and poignant. It's a film in which people who behave cruelly and stupidly are supposed to be viewed as charming. The script for the film is crude, predictable, and often unintentionally funny, especially in the portentous voice-over sections. The martial soundtrack, which tries to give the movie weight it otherwise lacks, is also unintentionally funny (I dare you not to laugh at the end when our three buddy-boy surfers march into the waves as to war, drums and trumpets blaring all up and down the beach). The performances are one-dimensional, though that's probably more the fault of the script than the actors. On the up side, the bodies are beautiful. Jan-Michael Vincent takes his shirt off as often as possible (as he tended to do in his younger days), and William Katt's youthful sculpted chest was a match for Vincent's. There's some great footage of water, and some fine surfing, though not enough for my taste. The climactic, final surf-scene is worth watching, despite the angsty bromance you have to endure to get there. It might be better with the sound off.
This movie hearkens back to the great working class British film dramas of the 1960s. Inspired, I believe, by an actual crime of about a decade ago, in which one child killed another child, the movie provocatively imagines the life of the killer many years afterward. At one point the protagonist is called a monster by a character who has never met him. I was reminded of the cover of a major news magazine at the time of the Columbine massacre, which featured a picture of the adolescent killers with the caption "monsters." I thought to myself that, however disturbed, these are still human beings more like than unlike the rest of us, and what does it say about the rest of us if we deny their humanity and refuse to look at the source of their disturbance? This is the very starting point of "Boy A" and the conclusions it reaches about "the rest of us" are bleak. This is a deeply, disturbingly sad movie. I found it intensely involving, and intensely moving. However, if you watch it, be prepared for a vision of humanity so dark that the most humane character in the story is a murderer.
If you wonder how one might find a fresh perspective on the old issues of coming-of-age and coming out, then check out this smart quirky movie, set in a small-town surfing community. The main characters are a self-questioning protagonist, and two brothers who are his surfing buddies. The older brother is a confident but alienated gay man who returns to his family after being driven away some years before following an affair with his high school teacher. The movie takes a number of surprising turns, and the relationships are complex and ambiguous (especially the relationship between the brothers, and the relationship between the older brother and his teacher). One Net-blurb inaccurately describes this movie as a "charming romp." Parts of it are quite funny, but it's a serious look at the stresses of a gay adolescence. The geeky-charming young protagonist, Midget, learns how to be callous, and to face disappointment, even as he learns about love and sex. Don't expect a romantic fade-out. The next-to-last scene has a brief, silent shot that provides a thought-provoking plot twist. The young cast were largely non-professional actors and they are fresh, fun, believable, sexy, and blessedly un-Hollywood in appearance. If you see this movie and like it, do not miss the terrific director commentary. The director is articulate, very smart about both movies and life, and funny. It's one of the best commentaries I've heard in some time.
The critical drubbing this movie received on its release is justified only in part. True, this is a blatant soap opera; and in places the dialogue goes from hokey to ham-fisted. But this movie also does many things better than some more prestigious projects. For one thing, instead of just declaring its characters "in love" it shows them finding love in a shared focus: sharing books, making music together. Because they enjoy so much in common, it's easy to see how the confused doctor and his wife could have a successful marriage of several years. The gay guys don't just have sex; they play together. They race each other in the swimming pool, they play arcade games. The movie addresses a number of issues related to being gay in the 70s which are still issues today, and addresses them in ways that are smarter than the movie generally gets credit for. These include the doctor's conflict between his sexual attraction to men, and his genuine love for his wife, in a world without models for navigating these conflicts. This is the rare movie that acknowledges the existence of gay men married (often successfully) to women. It shows the struggle of a respected professional man discovering and admitting his homosexuality in a time when the costs of doing so were very high. Michael Ontkean and Harry Hamlin deserve credit for "playing gay" when that was riskier for an actor than now (especially as Hamlin was being marketed as a piece of macho beefcake). Their suggestions of intimacy are more convincing than the pictures of gay intimacy in other Hollywood products (e.g., the stilted interactions of "Phildelphia"). And the gay guys get to live on about as happily as their straight counterparts; they don't die, they're not punished, they're not revealed as psychopaths. Ontkean is charming, but Hamlin and Kate Jackson turn in subtle, affecting performances. There's a remarkable cameo by a fellow named Asher Brauner, who plays one of the doctor's one-night-stands. Finally, the script isn't entirely as bad as some have made out. Hamlin has a beautiful monologue about the ways in which his childhood experience of being rejected as a little league player made him understand the loneliness he would face as a gay man. There's much in this movie that a gay man of a certain age can relate to, and much to enjoy despite the script's soap opera shortcomings.
Here's one more beauty in the string of beautiful films directed by Eytan Fox. The movie presents the story of star-crossed lovers (one Israeli, one Palestinian)in modern Tel Aviv. The film's effectiveness comes not only from its depiction of cross-ethnic conflict, but of conflicts personal and political within ethnic groups as well. For example, there's a telling moment when one of the secondary characters, openly gay, is visited in the hospital by his boyfriend who brings him flowers and tries to kiss him in front of his visiting family, and suddenly we see a wave of awkward discomfort wash through the room. Clearly the young man is not as open as he seems, and the family not as accepting as he might want them to be, while the boyfriend is confused and rejected. A good deal of complexity is packed into a fleeting moment. As we know from Yossi & Jagger, Fox is a master at efficiently packing emotional and psychological complexity into brief sequences. The film is also effective for the even-handed way it presents the mutual brutalities that Israelies and Palestinians inflict on each other. If you're not heartless, you'll cry through the last third of the movie. Though the plot is melodramatic, it's so intelligently written and acted that it reminds us of how satisfying good melodrama can be.
This short, fast, funny, punchy documentary about the subculture of New York City bike messengers appears to reflect the rhythm of the messenger lifestyle, as it should, since two of the film-makers are former messengers. This could be the right movie for you if you are a sociologist, if you are a cyclist, if you believe muscle power is more beautiful than petro-power, if you believe that those who live through muscle power are more interesting than those who live through petro-power, if you like a rough Noo Yawk accent, if you love the colorful heart of NYC that beats beneath the tourist attractions. The movie is not only thought-provoking in its depiction of the messengers, but in its depiction of people's responses to the messengers, which are sometimes distressingly ignorant and racist.
A remarkable movie. This very New York "scenes from a marriage" traces the trajectory of a relationship from horny, starry-eyed romance to abandonment and desolation. It's funny, clever, romantic, sexually frank, emotionally raw, and painfully believable in ways that we forget movies can be (because we so seldom see movies that are). The dialogue is fast, slick, surprising, literate, and delivered with awesome skill by all the actors. Scripts like this must be what actors live for. Every performance is a gem, and the secondary characters are delineated as memorably as the leads (special kudos to Jamie Harold as the charismatic nut-case brother, and Chelsea Altman as the heroine's poisonous best friend). Scene after scene left me grinning with admiration for the writer and the performers, but if I had to pick one highlight it just might be the sparring match between the young husband Stuart (Justin Kirk), and his mother-in-law Elizabeth (Rebecca Schull) in the hospital cafeteria, about three quarters into the movie. Watch for it. If you let these characters under your skin, the movie will leave you aching in the end. The last few shots are more wrenching than any I've seen in a long while. Not to be missed, especially if you love sharp writing and great ensemble acting. I hadn't even heard of this movie until recently, and few recent movies to spin through my disk player have surprised, delighted, and moved me like this one. The movie is an extra special treat if you know NY City.
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