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Ryan's Life (2004)
Superb comedic short about the struggle to find one's self
The key to "Ryan's Life" is newcomer Alex Pakzad. His comedic timing is impeccable, his vocal skills are superb, his acting is Disney Channel perfect and he's cute to boot.
This short film, which is being developed into a series for the gay cable channel here! TV, follows Ryan as he makes a video diary about his struggle to learn whether or not he's gay. It's a trite little device, but it's sincerely done and used fairly rarely throughout the film.
Ryan's life is filled with easy-going characters: His cool best (heterosexual) friend whom he lusts after, his cool older jock brother, his cool older sister who manages bands full of hot guys, his cool interior-decorator mom and cool psychologist father. And he has the cool requisite hip grandmother (who seems to know more about Ryan's sexuality than she should). There's even the super-hunky boy Ryan likes (who is also gay).
Ryan's life is free of any real homophobia. He lives in Los Angeles on the border of West Hollywood, a pretty accepting place for a teenager who's not sure if he's gay or not.
In some regards, "Ryan's Life" is more like a Nickelodeon version of "Queer As Folk." It has the same vibes as "Saved By the Bell," "Drake & Josh," "Ned's Declassified Guide..." and others. There's just a touch of adult (but non-sexual) humor, the kind that will make knowing gay adults roar with laughter.
The film has numerous nice touches. For example, Ryan's "gaydar screen" (which looks like a rocket targeting system) is sure to get laughs.
But the key to the film is the luminous and talented Alex Pakzad. He's the heart of the film, on screen for nearly every single minute. He has comic timing and grace while never quite spilling over into that too-knowing cynicism and worldliness that can taint a short like this and turn it into a sordid attempt to sexualize children.
"Ryan's Life" is simply superb.
War of the Worlds (2005)
Superb special effects lead the way in this film! The eerie, terrifying early sequence in which the lightning storm occurs will scare the pants off you! The scene where panic-stricken New Yorkers nearly car-jack Cruise's family is superb in how it depicts the utter collapse of human society in mere moments.
Best of all are the Martians, and the Heat Ray in particular. Although the way the Ray vaporizes people while leaving their clothes intact is a cool effect, it makes little sense (it seems to cut through metal and wood easily, but not fabric?).
You could drop any actors in this film, and it would be just as good. "War of the Worlds" is not about Ray Ferrier and his family, nor is it about any character in the film. It's a tale of invasion and extermination, told through the story of one family's flight (not even struggle for survival; this is mere flight).
The finale is weak. The scene with the fleeing Lexingtonians seems tacked-on and ill-though out. The military's attack on the ill Martian seems to contradict the film's theme that mankind is utterly helpless in the face of such superior forces. But unlike others, I felt the film's final moments were an apt depiction of the complete and utter weakness of humankind. This is not a movie where human being beat the aliens (a la "Independece Day" or the "Terminator" films). This is a movie about panic, despair, extermination and futility. And the film manages to get that across in the last few moments.
Bet stunda nák (2003)
Excellent skewering of ethnocentrism and American Christianity
A hysterical documentary about two American evangelists working in Latvia.
Erik is a super-pious moralist. But Daniel is a super-consumerist who preaches the gospel of wealth. Their arguments and battles are laugh-out-loud funny as they attempt to convert the heathen (who smile and look on in pure amusement). Daniel insists that they both wear Pierre Cardin suits, because "the Lord wants us to look good while we are among the people." Daniel also plays the slots in Riga's notorious riverboat casinos, praying for God to help him win money so he and Erik can continue their missionary work.
The title of the film is taken from a superbly (and unintentionally) funny rap song that Daniel and Erik compose to sing to the unwashed of Latvia. They enter a local song competition and sing it on the stage, thinking they can fool the locals into listening to God's Word as they "compete" for the prize. Only, the song is so silly and stupid, they win the contest.
Just an amazing documentary about the insane stupidity of missionaries, ethnocentrism (Latvia is nearly 100 percent Orthodox Christian), moral superiority and materialism.
House of the Tiger King (2004)
It seems like a fake, but it's real
A documentary? Or fiction? You choose. Ostensibly, it is a documentary about explorer Tahir Shah. The young explorer (who looks like Dave Attell from Comedy Central's "Insomniac") has discovered a number of abandoned cities, ancient temples and lost tombs around the world. Now he heads for Peru to find "The House of the Tiger King," a lost Incan city of gold. Along the way, he hires a lying guide named Pancho, lazy porters, a bunch of argumentative white explorers to help him out, and more.
You being to suspect this is all fake; no one would be so inept! Except that this is real. They really do go into the bush, climb mountains, lose their food, get off track, and get bitten by snakes and piranhas and alligators. Monkeys do "do their business" on their heads.
Part black comedy, part documentary, part history film. Shah is such a verbose, prolix-prose type that you can't help but think he's a idiot. When will we find out it's all a joke? Only, it's not. And then they begin to find a stone road...
In truth, this is how expeditions really turn out. Inter-cultural miscommunication is common. Problems with porters do happen, often. Local myth and superstition do play big roles in communication, location and exploration. It's not "Indiana Jones," this is real life. The film is rather trying at times, because the explorers seem to be so obnoxious. But the camera work and editing are terrific, and the film manages to bring out some intriguing and subtle truths about the way the world works.
Cheap jokes, off-the-mark satire and a confused plot
This film tries to skewer the studio era in Hollywood and the morals of the 1950s. Guy Stone is intended to be a Rock Hudson type, but both the script and actor Matt Letscher end up channeling a smarmy, cruel, baritone-voiced version of George Hamilton instead, which makes for an unpleasant character.
Guy Stone is such a reprehensible human being that the audience has trouble liking this waste of human skin. Unlike Hudson, who was sweetly promiscuous, Stone is a hateful person who knowingly uses and then throws away the sweet, handsome young men who share his bed every few hours.
Veronica Cartwright is Jerry, Stone's celibate lesbian manager. Cartwright is very good, but the director doesn't quite know what to do with her. The fault lies in the dialogue, which is a bit clumsy, and the film suffers for it.
Carrie Preston's Sally owes more to Ellen Greene in "The Little Shop of Horrors". As written, Preston's Sally is good for a laugh but little else. Newcomer Adam Greer is lost in this movie. He cannot act, and seems to have been cast for his hot body and good looks.
Like many recent films, "Straight-Jacket" is a "dramedy" -- a comedy film which switches messily to a drama about two-thirds of the way through the film. And, like almost all dramedies, "Straight-Jacket" fails miserably.
Despite the expensive services of Skywalker Sound, the sound quality of the film leaves a lot of be desired. The over-use of the musical soundtrack creates a distracting amount of cues as well.
The film really doesn't managed to satirize anything about the 1950s. Unlike "Singin' in the Rain," which perfectly captures Hollywood's ambivalence about the advent of sound as well as the studio mentality about formula films, "Straight-Jacket" doesn't manage to depict Hollywood in the 1950s at all well. The dialogue, sets and behavior of the key characters are nondescript rather than dead-on stereotypes of the 1950s Hollywood. The same can be said for the lampooning of the general mores, social trends and fads of the 1950s as a whole. Compare the transformation of Guy's home to the dead-on satire of the 1950s home in "Little Shop of Horrors". There is no comparison; "Little Shop" hits the nail on the head, while "Straight-Jacket" doesn't even know there is a nail.
Motivations, too, seem haphazard. Rick Foster is supposed to be a principled liberal, yet he falls almost immediately for a materialistic schmuck like Guy Stone. Rick is fine with Guy's closeted status for many months. But when it comes time to go to Italy, he becomes conflicted for reasons that are completely unclear. And even though Sally appears to fall in love with Freddie during the party, this plot point simply disappears a few minutes later without comment. Rick comes off like a gay man from the 1990s, not a gay author of the 1950s. Indeed, modern morality suffuses this film -- which it shouldn't, if it were really a satirical look at homophobia in 1950s Hollywood.
Plot holes in this ragtag film also abound. Saul repeatedly says that he's going to turn Freddie Stevens over to the feds, but never does so -- allowing Freddie to out Guy. Jerry and Saul's plot to "in" Guy never makes any sense, nor does Sally's sudden decision to take the blame. And although Guy has admitted he is a homosexual, apparently it doesn't matter and he ends up a famous star and playwright anyway.
Unfortunately, none of the production values manage to save this film. The cinematography by Michael Pinkey is pedestrian. At times, the film almost looks like a filmed play rather than a motion picture (especially the scenes in Saul's office). Everything is restricted to medium shots, and the film has an incredibly static. The editing by Chris Conlee doesn't do the film any help, either. Long scenes which would benefit from the insertion of close-ups or shifts in point of view remain uncut. Whether this is due to lack of coverage or bad editing is not clear, but the overall effect is to create a sense of lethargy.
The film relies heavily on CGI effects of Guy's home, created by visual effect designer Thomas Dickens. But the CGI looks clumsy and hokey, and it is very noticeably amateurish.
My overall impression of this film is that the jokes are cheap and easy, the plot muddled, the characterizations wildly inconsistent and way off the mark, the satire nonexistent, the performances overbroad and off the mark, and the comic timing off. It's almost an amateurish film. It is as if someone took a high school production and threw $10 million at it.
Two Minutes After Midnight (2003)
Great sight-gags and editing make for fun but predictable film
Directed by a Briton and filmed in Australia under the auspices of the UCLA Film, Theater and Television School, this film is a predictable if funny fairy-tale about an average young man who can't get the handsome muscle-boy of his dreams to do anything but spit invective at him. He flees to the bathroom, where he meets a guardian angel who gives him a magic ring. Twist it three times, and you'll turn into the guy your dreamboat wants most.
One, two, three -- and Our Hero has turned into a golden-haired god. But the muscleboy turns out to be a shallow narcissist. Our Hero spits invective at him. But, upon seeing yet another hot guy, Our Hero returns to the bathroom. One, two three -- and Our Hero turns into a woman! "Just like me to pick the only straight guy in the joint."
The film is pretty predictable from here on out. Our Hero turns into Mom, an old sugar-daddy, a leatherman, a rubber fetishist and even Adolf Hitler. Hours pass. With the final twist, Our Hero leaves the bathroom -- but looking just like himself. Oh no: It's two minutes past midnight! The ring has stopped working! Dejected, our hero leaves the club. As he walks past a handsome young man, the man turns to his friend and says, "He's perfect...but he never showed any interest in me."
The few verbal jokes are funny, and the editing works extremely well to present a fast and furious series of sight-gags at the crucial moment.
But the film's moralizing rankles. Is the film saying that handsome men are never nice? Or that fetishes are not attractive? Or that average guys must "stay in your league"? The film is trying to say "be true to yourself." But there are mixed messages here which I find unpalatable, and that diminishes the film after the series of effective sight-gags.
Also of note: Excellent cinematography and a terrific soundtrack.
What Grown-Ups Know (2004)
Deeply troubled characters and a terrific script
Based on a short story written by the director's best friend, the film follows Roy (21-year-old, talented actor Stephen James King, who looks all of 15) and his slut of a mother, Elizabeth, on a cross-country flight from Roy's father.
Elizabeth (beautiful veteran actress Susie Lindeman, amazingly transformed into a consumptive, turkey-necked hag) is part hooker, part insecure psychotic, part drunk and very, very ill. Her teenage son, Roy, is a cute boy who has an Oedipal attachment to his mother. Just why they are on the road won't be explained until the film's final moments.
We first see the two as they flee a motel without paying the bill. They later take a break at a rest stop, where Roy's homosexual desires come flooding to the surface at the sight of sex-hungry, lonely, predatorial men cruising for fresh meat. Roy attempts to solicit sex from a man in a restroom stall, but his mother's calls force him to forego gratification. Roy and Elizabeth soon arrive at an almost-abandoned trailer park, where the park owner is the same man Roy almost had sex with earlier.
Elizabeth and Roy convince the man, Maurice (played with broken-down despair by the terrific Aussie TV and film actor Daniel Roberts), to let them stay so long as Roy remains at the trailer park during the day. It's Christmas, which Down Under means steaming hot weather. Elizabeth gets a job as a department store Santa, while Roy attempts to seduce Maurice. But Maurice is having none of it. Elizabeth's worsening illness threatens to cost her her job, and the money she needs to pay Maurice the rent on their broken-down trailer. So Elizabeth gives Maurice her wedding ring.
Losing the symbol of his parents' marriage is too much for Roy, who desperately wants the world to be perfect and secure. He finally seduces Maurice. Roy learns that Maurice, too, once had a family. But when his wife learned of his homosexuality, she accused him of molesting their young boy and divorced him. When Elizabeth, too, attempts to seduce Maurice, Roy cannot believe his eyes. But Maurice rejects her.
Elizabeth attempts to flee the trailer park in pride, and Roy tells her that he's seduced Maurice and finally found someone to love. Elizabeth spits back that no man will ever love Roy, just as Roy's father never loved her.
And then the awful truth comes out: Roy's father rejected Elizabeth when she became ill (with cancer? with HIV?). She took the pills, she did the treatments...and then her hair fell out and he kicked her out. Roy refuses to believe his mother. He flees to Maurice, who tells Roy that he cannot love him and that Roy should return to his mother. She's dying, and needs him. Devastated, Roy does the only thing he can: He returns to his mother and admits that he, too, has been rejected by a man. Comrades in arms once more, Elizabeth takes her son back.
This short film may, at first, seem luridly melodramatic: The rejected and ill mother, the teenaged son looking for a man's love to provide security in the world, the wrongly accused homosexual father who sees in a teenager a chance to regain the son he lost, the trailer parks, the illness, the two whores (mother and son). But it's not. The characterization is deft and detailed.
Elizabeth seems a caricature of a human being, but it is an act -- one she drops when she finally has to stop pretending and confront Roy with the truth about his father and her oncoming death. It is wrenching, watching a human being adopt the most deranged and fantastic behavior in order to cling to hope.
Stephen James King's performance as Roy, however, is the real centerpiece of the film. On screen in almost every scene, he portrays Roy as human but troubled. The depth of Roy's insecurity -- of his deep-rooted, almost insane, need for love -- only slowly becomes apparent in King's performance. As Roy reacts to Maurice's presence, his painful, aching need rises to the surface.
The film's climax is superbly well-written, and works beautifully to bring the pieces together sensibly and meaningfully. Elements of the film which seem incurably silly or unreal (particularly Elizabeth's baby-talk, nick-names for Roy, and obsessively slutty behavior) are transformed into powerfully moving characterizations. In some ways, I was reminded of the absurd characters in Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh" -- cardboard caricatures at first, but later seen as deeply troubled, despairing human beings coping as best they can with a world which has torn them apart and left them hopeless.
This is really a terrific film.
Judas Kiss (2003)
Superb, pure cinema with a delicious soundtrack
Filmed simultaneously with "Two Minutes After Midnight," "The Judas Kiss" picks up a background element of that film -- a lover's quarrel that we saw in the background of that comic short.
A handsome raven-haired stud kisses his boyfriend and goes off for beers. On his way back, he spots his blond, cute lover kissing a barechested, muscular black stud. What follows is a 10-minute sonic and visual meditation on betrayal.
As the "Scherza Infida" aria from Handel's opera, "Ariodante," plays (sung by countertenor David Daniels), the film attempts to portray the betrayal this kiss entails. Tongues are shown slipping in and out of mouths. The lovers' previous life together had its danger-signs (one was an intellectual and reader; the other a materialistic narcissist). The betrayed lover's eyes brim with tears. The betrayed lover reminisces about his beloved father, and how his father's death made him feel.
Over and over, melancholy images are shown -- rain, grey-granite buildings, meditative or longing looks. In slow motion, the lover confronts his cuckold. They break up in the club. The film ends in silence as the betrayed lover smokes a cigarette in bed, only the glowing ember on the tip remaining visible as the film fades to black.
It is a real tour-de-force of film-making. So often, sound film attempts to use musical cues to tell the audience how to feel. Over-cuing a film can be just as bad as having bad or no sound. "Forcing" the audience to feel through manipulative music can also destroy a film's impact.
But "The Judas Kiss" is different. It is a purely cinematic film, in that its use of music is upfront and intentional. Music is no background here; it is not intended to augment the visual. Rather, there are only two elements here -- the aural and the visual. And the aural is an integral part of the storytelling. Indeed, the film goes so far as to provide a subtitle translation of the Italian opera. In many ways, this film is almost an advertisement for opera, and the way that opera and operatic stories contain powerful emotions truths that are reflected even in non-operatic incidents, such as the break-up of two lovers in an Australian discotheque.
The visual elements in the film are also excellent. While eyes brimming with tears and longing looks out over rain-swept vistas are typical heartbreak images, there are other strong, inventive visuals here that provide new insight into the urban heart. I was particularly impressed with the use of cityscapes (notably, the courthouse building) to provide emotional cues about hardness of heart, justice, cold-heartedness and desolation that I've never seen before. The comparison of the lover's break-up to that of death is not new, but comparing it to the father-figure is. I'm not quite sure what to make of that, but it elicited a host of unique emotions from the audience (since it aroused different feelings in different viewers).
While not narratively effective, "The Judas Kiss" is a superb bit of film-making that deserves watching.
Short, White, Pleated (2003)
Interesting, with excellent acting from Sam Talbot
Sam (very handsome and very talented newcomer Sam Talbot) is a lackluster squash player. His coach, Mark, only has eyes for Tamsin, a buxom, beautiful female student. It's your typical gay triangle as Sam is clumsy at sports and Tamsin looks down her nose at him while enjoying muscular, handsome Mark's attentions.
Then, one day, the women are forced to use the men's locker room. Tamsin leaves behind her short, white pleated skirt. Sam is enthralled, and puts it on. Mark catches him wearing it. But instead of ridiculing him, Mark is attracted to the man in the skirt.
Although Tamsin comes back for her skirt, Sam manages to obtain possession of it again by spilling soda on it. Pledging to get it dry-cleaned, Sam wears it for Mark. They make love in the showers while Sam wears it. Sam's fascination with the skirt is almost fetishistic, while Mark's lust for Sam in a skirt is powerful and overwhelming.
Tamsin's jealousy roars to the surface.
When Sam no longer has any excuse for obtaining the skirt, Mark unceremoniously dumps him. The bereft Sam is left alone in the showers.
At first, the film plays Sam's fascination with the skirt for laughs. Mark's sudden lust for a transvestite (Sam in the skirt) reverses this dynamic, and turns the film into a lusty sexual adventure instead. The change in tone is a bit abrupt, but it works nonetheless.
The best thing about the film, however, is Mark's sudden rejection of Sam once Sam is a "mere homosexual" again. It's so rare for a film to deal with the aftereffects of fetishism on relationships. Healthy fetishism doesn't objectify human beings. But when a straight man loves the fetish and not the person in it, there can be terrible emotional ramifications. It's the lot of many young gay men, who suddenly find that the other boy didn't like him for him, he liked him for the easy sex or the "humiliating" things he would do in bed or the other things (transvestitism, leather fetish, etc.) that the gay man brought to the relationship. It's a painful lesson, and a side of gay relationships rarely seen on film. It's far more common for films to simply depict shallow men having sex with sensitive lovers who end up with broken hearts. Yes, that happens. But the relationship between fetishists is much more complex, which is why this film is welcome. That it is so effective in depicting this relationship is even better.
Watch too for the simply terrific acting that Sam Talbot brings to the closeted gay character of Sam. His facial expressions are acting gold! His body language, especially in the final shower scene is heart-wrenching. Talbot is superb in this film. You want to watch it over and over, just to see more of his supremely detailed, subtle performance.
Cowboys & Angels (2003)
Funny and well-plotted, but full of holes and poor characterization SPOILERS
It's almost unheard of to find a gay-themed movie out of Ireland. But here it is. Wunderkind David Gleeson wrote and directed this, his first feature-film (shot entirely in his native Limerick). 26-year-old Michael Legge (Older Frank in "Angela's Ashes", and having kept off the 30 pounds he lost for that film) plays Shane, a sweet and artistic but fearful young man who is a bit of a mama's boy and geek. Having lost his father in a DUI motor vehicle accident, 18-year-old Shane abandoned college for a secure civil service job. Now, a year later, Shane seeks to move out of his mother's house and into an apartment in the city. But apartments are expensive and not easy to come by.
Soon Shane hooks up with an old schoolmate, Vincent (adorable 23-year-old newcomer Allen Leech). Vincent graduated three years before Shane, and has been attending a local art college. The two move in together.
Vincent is the stereotypical homosexual -- flamboyant, well-dressed, stylish, a good dancer, popular, materialistic. Shane is almost the direct opposite, which tells you right away where this film is headed.
It's not long before Shane is homesick. Limerick is a violent, impersonal place. Shane knows no one. Vincent, however, is picking up tricks right and left (including a handsome older man). Shane's homesickness is worsened by the confessions of Jerry (played with quiet and gentle desperation by the terrific veteran actor Frank Kelly), a civil servant who shares Shane's cubicle. Jerry is on the verge of retirement. But Jerry never married, never had children, and never followed his life's dreams. Now, his life spent, Jerry is overwhelmed by regrets -- regrets which prey on Shane's loneliness.
Shane soon stumbles on a cache of drugs in his apartment building (the incident is not as cheesy or trite as it sounds). When some other tenants almost discover him with the drugs, Shane takes them so he won't be caught. But when Keith, the drug dealer, finds his stash missing, he knows it had to be someone in the building who took them. Keith finds Shane attempting to return the drugs, and decides to co-opt the insecure young man (an ugly and yet realistic twist in the plot).
Shane and Vincent eventually bond, with Shane admitting that he admires the way Vincent easily fits in. (It's a moment of dialogue that had a largely gay audience laughing out loud.) Vincent encourages Shane to try harder, and that means following your dreams and being yourself.
Following Vincent's advice, Shane decides to apply for art school. But the fees and cost of books are horrendously high. Shane makes a fateful decision, and agrees to be a "mule" for one of Keith's drug shipments in return for a large cash payment.
Shane travels to Dublin, where he meets two of Keith's drug buddies. They give him a shipment of drugs to take back to Limerick. But as the three joyride in a stolen car, they smash into another vehicle. Horrified (as his father died in a similar accident), Shane freezes. The two dealers, however, are not and they brutally beat one of the crash victims when he attempts to call for an ambulance for his injured female companion.
Back in Limerick, Shane makes his drop and is rewarded with 800 punts for his trouble. Shane swallows his fears and horror at what he's done, and asks Vincent to turn him into a stylish social butterfly. Vincent gleefully agrees.
Shane is transformed, and soon draws the attention of Vincent's beautiful blond female friend, Gemma. But needing more cash to fund his social experiment, Shane swallows his misgivings and starts helping Keith push drugs. Shane himself begins a downward spiral into drug use. When Vincent confronts him and Shane admits that he's been using drugs, Vincent storms out.
Vincent, however, remains unaware of Shane's larger troubles. He's struggling to complete his senior project -- a fashion show for which he has yet to complete any designs. Although Shane is aware of Vincent's need for assistance, he neglects his new friend as he continues to snort, smoke and drink his way through life.
Things come to a head one night in a club. Shane a pill which makes him loose control. Shane spies Vincent and Gemma dancing, and his drug-induced paranoia causes him to attack Vincent. Gemma punches him out, and Shane is thrown out of the club. That night, Keith takes Shane back to the apartment -- unaware that Gemma and Vincent are sleeping in Vincent's bedroom. Gemma tries to seduce Vincent, and Keith tries to seduce Shane. But both men reject these advances. It's a moment of truth for each, being true to themselves for once. The next day, Shane reconciles with Vincent and helps him with his senior project.
But events begin spiralling out of control. Shane attempts to destroy the drugs in his possession, but completes only half the task when the police burst into the apartment. Finding heroin, pot and crack cocaine, they arrest Shane and Vincent.
Certain they will be indicted for drug dealing and possession, the two are hauled before a local Detective Inspector -- who, it turns out, is the same man Vincent had sex with a few weeks before. The closeted detective lets them go (a ludicrous turn of events).
Off they rush to Vincent's fashion show. It's a wild success -- and stars Shane as the super-model surrounded by hot women in tight clothes.
All's well that ends well: Shane surprises Vincent by using his remaining drug money to buy Vincent an open-ended ticket to New York City, the place Vincent has dreamt of going to pursue being a fashion designer. Shane decides to abandon his cushy civil service job in favor of art school, and the beautiful Gemma falls in love with him.
Shane's learned his lesson: Money and drugs don't make you fit in. Only being true to yourself will get you happiness and what you wish for.
The problems are pretty obvious in the film. Once more, a film tries to be a "dramedy" -- mixing comic laughs with serious drama in a mish-mash that's neither. The worst example of this is during the drug bust in the boys' apartment. It's supposed to be a serious moment, the devastation of all their dreams. Shane, in particular, is in deep trouble. He's been in a hit-and-run, obstructed justice by not reporting the crime, obstructed justice by not reporting the beating, engaged in drug possession and drug use and drug transportation and the sale of drugs, been guilty of assault and battery himself and he's guilty of destruction of evidence. Yet, the film tries to lighten the mood by cracking jokes. The audience really can't take any of the important things in the movie seriously (including the film's anti-drug and be-true-to-yourself messages) when it treats them so cavalierly.
But a deeper problem is the uneven characterization in the film. Shane is played by the extremely likable, decidedly cute -- and terribly talented -- Michael Legge. But there don't seem to be good reasons for what Shane does. Shane tells Vincent that the death of his father had a deep impact on him. Arguably, Shane should now be an anti-drunk driving advocate. (He appears to be: He refuses to go to pubs, despite Vincent's encouragement, and is upset by public drunkeness.) Yet, Shane almost casually tosses away his aversion toward inebriation in order to earn the money to go to art school. Shane's actions wouldn't seem so out of character had Shane's desperation, loneliness and despair seemed deeper and more soul-wrenching. Instead, Shane is depicted as merely being homesick. And why is Shane so deeply influenced by Vincent? After all, Shane barely knows him. Shane's despair is not so apparently awful that Shane should latch onto just any popular person he encountered...and yet, he does so. This would have made more sense had the film spent more time making Vincent into an impossibly powerful, respected, popular person. But, in fact, Vincent is depicted as a bit insecure, and not as personally influential or charismatic as he should be in order for Shane to respond to him as he does.
That exposes another problem in the film, which is the short shrift given the character of Vincent. Vincent is almost a stereoptyical homosexual, a caricature which does little to advance the plausibility of the main story. Indeed, while the heterosexual characters (primarily Shane) seem real and fleshed-out, Vincent remains a goody-two-shoes stereotype. He has no internal life to speak of, and his friendship with Shane remains inexplicable. Indeed, the film's big emotional moment comes when Shane attempts to reconcile with Vincent. Vincent just takes him back -- which implies that Vincent is either some sort of cardboard character who does what the author wants him to, or Vincent is a doormat of a human being who loves forgiving the abusive friends he has. Whichever, it doesn't make Vincent a very appealing or interesting character.
It's these sort of problems that the film stumbles over repeatedly. And although "Cowboys and Angels" is pleasant enough (and, thank god!, Irish), well-acted, funny and interesting, the film really doesn't hold together. By the time Shane and Vincent are released from jail (the coincidence of the inspector being Vincent's trick is just too implausible, and their release is farcical), the audience has largely given up on trying to make sense of things or caring about the characters. There's plenty of heart here, but the script needed re-thinking.
I look forward to David Gleeson's next film, however, and to more from Michael Legge and Allen Leech.