4 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Third Man Out (2005 TV Movie)
Hail Queer-Noir
26 September 2006
The gay private eye thriller Third Man Out is, hopefully, the first of a new film genre that I'll dub "Queer-Noir". Third Man's plot may be a bit serpentine and it's dialogue stretched at the corners to cover maximum political ground, but Chad Allen's nuanced and sexily hard-boiled performance easily compensates for these shortcomings. As Private Eye Donald Strachey, Allen comes off as Spenser crossed with Columbo with a dash of Brian Kinney tossed into this enticing mix.

Though Ron Oliver's direction isn't flashy, it's very appropriate for a noir flick set in Albany. Like Richard Stevenson's books--on the pages of which Donald Strachey was conceived--this film is about character and concept and the tension between these two dramatic elements. Stevenson was one of the first writers to infuse the pragmatic, ultra-masculine private eye genre with an unabashedly gay aesthetic. A perfect synthesis of these two influences, Third Man Out gives us a detective who shares waltzes and moonlight martinis with his hubby, drives a banged up Toyota Tercel and can lay bad guys flat with an unsparing right hook.

Third Man's production values are outstanding for a cable film. Keeping Richard Stevenson's Albany setting was a smart move by Here! network, as so many well intentioned films go astray when they aim for glitzy settings and end up with cheap Canadian photocopies.

The only flaws worth citing were: a couple of actor Sebastian Spence's scenes (during which he portrays Donald Strachey's husband as a cross between C3PO and Uncle Arthur from Bewitched) and a heavy-handed score (with good feature songs that are sandbagged by some very obtrusive "tension and suspense" instrumentals).

What most delighted me about Third Man was the thrill of watching a genuine and polished noir flick which was, in every respect, thoroughly but naturally queer. While Third Man isn't Brokeback Mountain, it is a milestone in its own right. It's a well executed, enjoyable film about a hard-boiled detective who wears bad ties and breaks out in a blushing grin when his boyfriend kisses him on the cheek.
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Southside (2003)
Great Premise with Flawed Execution
29 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
OK, first let me say that the only character in this "queer" film who actually admits to being queer is promptly stomped into paralysis by one lead character while the other lead—Travis the brave boxer—looks on from within a spasm of closet queen cowardice.

OK, next let me admit that the premise of this film is truly intriguing and that the illustrated degrees of brutality, homophobia and self hate certainly do exist (within places and people that I strive hard to stay far the hell away from). Even so, I would have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know a thug-sexy boxer whose homo feelings only surface when he clenches with another fighter. To experience this, I would have withstood a moderate amount of epithet slinging, misogyny, gay bashing and melodrama. Unfortunately this noxious muddle of hate and overwrought character acting is given more weight than the main character's emotional awakening (such as it is).

Also, some of the plot points are implausible. It seems curious that, while gay bashings are the norm in Travis's clique, he is spared the dark alley ambush in favor of graffiti epithets and a ringside psych out. Though some of the thugs have a stake in Travis's career, it seems unlikely that all of these hard-drinking, impulse control impaired lads would have restrained themselves.

I hesitate to venture that a promising premise was sacrificed to give Brian Austin Green a showcase for the sinister heat(?) that transformed his 90210 character from geeky sidekick to laughable b-boy wannabe. Also, I won't dwell on the home life scenes that are so clichéd that you'd think you were watching 90-666.

Films of this type seem to want to have it both ways. They glorify violence to make the "point" that violence has negative effects on all concerned. Thus they sell to the bashers as well as the (gullible) bashed.

Lastly, I'll leave it to you to decide if you want to suffer all this to reach a climax in which the hero finally admits that he hates being aroused by men…but that he loves channeling that arousal and self hate into annihilating rage.

Hmmm…wow…how original.
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Stay (I) (2005)
"Stay" until "November"
8 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"November" is "Stay" w/ Less Bank & More Brain (spoilers!) Sorry to do a bit of double spoiling, but if you like these kinds of films then you'll enjoy the journey as much as the destination and if you don't like them the destination will be a disappointment.

First, let me say that "Stay" isn't a bad film, if you like films with philosophical plots. If not then you'll probably end up feeling as if you've wasted a couple of hours.

On the other hand, if you like philosophical films then watch "Stay" as a warm up to the far superior, lower budget "November". "Stay" and "November" are close to identical in premise / plot as well as the visual style used to reinforce their shared theme. However, of the two, I found "November" to be much more tightly focused and constructed and much more successful as a "mystery" with an existential villain (death).

"November" holds up much better on second and subsequent viewings because all of the pieces are coherent once the context is known. Both films offer compelling visual effects. Of the two, "Stay" has the more technically accomplished visuals—no doubt due to its larger budget. But November's superlative construction makes it worth a rewind, where "Stay" proves a bit visually cloying and philosophically preachy. Also, some of Stay's puzzle pieces don't quite fit unless we use theme and parable as a shoehorn, leading me to believe that the big budget led to some fat that the director just couldn't bring himself to trim. (Both films do a good job using medium and character to argue for and against the premise that the eyes are windows to / for the soul. Although blind Bob Hoskins is a bit much!)

Considering their subject matter, you might think that it's silly to rate the believability of these two films, but I think that "November" wins hands down as far as contextural plausibility. As did its thematic predecessor "Jacob's Ladder," "November" constructs its forward dream from shards that are readily accessible in the consciousness and memory of its POV character. Thus the action of "November" is really just a complex, fully imagined version of life (including hopes / dreads for the future) flashing before your eyes at the moment of death. This fuels an eerily poignant sense of loss and regret in both the viewer and the character. (Life is like the film: once you figure it out it's already over.) "Stay" takes the splashier, shallower, consciousness swapping, prescient sci-fi route.

I don't think that either film did that well at the box office. I credit this to two factors: 1) the average mainstream film-goer doesn't get revved up by intriguing visual effects when these effects don't serve a readily accessible plot; 2) the ultimate outcomes of both films are existential; and existential plots leave your average mainstream film-goer feeling that he has been had.

Luckily, both of these box office hobbles are boons to a cult film in the making. "November" deserves a long life on pay-per-view, DVD and cable. And "Stay" might just be granted a reprieve as fodder for comparison and contrast.
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Mall Rats Meet Mamet
3 January 2006
Bodies, Rest and Motion is an entertaining, well shot, well acted and well written film. Yes, as the title suggests, it is "philosophical", but it is certainly not dry or pretentious. The twists and turns used to sneak the "philosophy" into the mouths of the characters are fantastically clever. (Reminds me of Mamet.) However, this dialog is so well written that it fits perfectly into the mouths of these characters. This film can be watched two ways: as a slacker diary similar to Dazed and Confused, Clerks or Mall Rats or as a language-driven meditation on love, fidelity and ambition (lack thereof).

I've read reviews that call this film pretentious. I suspect that those reviewers don't appreciate that film can be linguistically creative and intellectually stimulating while still being fun. However, I feel that one of the reasons that this film was overlooked was that it was classified as a romantic comedy. Do not go into this film looking for "You've Got Mail" or "Down with Love". Also, don't go into this film looking for a hero to cheer for (though you might just find one).

Judge for yourself: Would Eric Stolz, Phoebe Cates, Tim Roth and Bridgett Fonda lend their colossal talents to pretentious garbage? If you're a writer, screenwriter or poet, then snag a copy of the script. Like Mamet's work, this script is well worth the read just to savor the writer's talent for making seemingly mundane dialog speak volumes.

This is a very under-rated and under-appreciated film!
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