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No Man's Land (2001)
Excellent flick about the futility of hating the other, except...
I watched this movie spellbound. Especially now, with the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine, this movie really resonated with me. I thought that most everything about this movie - from the acting, to the cinematography, to the direction, etc. - was uniformly excellent. The international kudos it has received are well-earned.
Now for the major flaw in this film, which makes it, in my mind, absolutely hypocritical. I can't believe I haven't heard this most-deserved criticism yet levelled against this film - IT IS HOMOPHOBIC. The film takes great pains to show both sides of the story and treat most of the characters fairly, based on race or ethnic origin or gender, etc. - but the whole plot starts due to the sadistic and evil action of the gay Serbian general, who SPOILERS places the body of the Bosnian soldier overtop the land mine so that it will explode. There are a few anti-Serbian slurs levelled by the Bosnian soldier for this action - but the only other Serbian character, the soldier stuck in the trench with him, is mostly a positive character and depicted as presumably heterosexual (in movies like this, if the character is not specifically denoted as gay, let's face it, he's straight.) I'm not saying that gay men, particularly those in the army, can't be capable of some terrible things - the problem here lies in the fact that this is a movie - and when you depict the only representative from a minority as despicably evil and sadistic, you are making a statement about the entire minority. A second gay character not depicted as such would negate the hatred of the first portrayal. But no such luck in this film - we are left to believe that hating others because they are different is bad, except if they're a trouble-making gay man who, thank God, already got what he deserved.
I've been thinking a lot about why the filmmakers decided to make this dead Serbian general gay - what point were they trying to make? Were they worried that some Serbians might object to a heterosexual Serbian general doing something as terrible as placing a body over a land mine to do nothing except kill some more? Did they think by making this general gay they would therefore eliminate any guilt felt by other Serbs, who would assume, "well, he was a faggot so that's why he did this despicable thing, not because he's Serbian." You can bet a million dollars that's why the writers WENT OUT OF THEIR WAY to make sure we knew the general was gay. This is offensive and this film deserves to be attacked for its hypocrisy. This one major homophobic attack in this film completely ruined what should have been a fulfilling experience for me.
Heterosexual male filmmakers have been doing this for years - whether in prison movies, or Nazi movies, or anywhere - eliminate heterosexual male guilt by making the chief antagonist gay - don't bother making the character a fully-rounded individual - just make him gay and this will be enough proof of why he's so despicable. This tendency of using the gay villain has, thankfully, abated in North American cinema. Unfortunately not in Bosnia.
Skin and Bone (1996)
Very raunchy and honest look at the scene
Very much enjoyed this nasty, little portrait of the L.A. hustling scene where aspiring actors find themselves at the bottom of the barrel while they wait, usually in vain, for their big break. The acting was surprisingly good for this low budget production. Clearly, the director didn't worry about shying away or sanitizing his subject matter. Sure, there's not much here we haven't already seen, but never this graphic. Which makes it all the more honest. And the avalanche of male nudity gave this an edgy sexiness that's missing from other similar pictures like My Own Private Idaho or Johns. How can you have a movie about male exploitation and prostitution and not show nudity as they did in those two films? In this culture, I still find naked men on film to be novel and highly erotic. Alan Boyce as the hapless and sexy hustler Dean is particularly appealing, and he handles his descent into sex object status with disarming charm and innocence. Hope to see more of him soon.
Interesting accomplishment with glaring plot holes
I sincerely agree with many of the good reviews this film has received, both on this site and in the media. While the acting is excellent and Soderbergh does a good job putting it all together, there are some very glaring plot holes in the script which really reduced the film for me.
I'm very surprised that no major media reviewers have mentioned them before now. I will start by saying that the Mexican plotline with Benicio was excellent and interesting - two cartels playing off each other for dominance. Michael Douglas' plot involving his daughter was also interesting, although I agree that much of it was very predictable and unoriginal. My major complaint has to do with the Catherine Zeta-Jones/Steven Bauer/Don Cheadle plotline. WARNING - SOME SPOILERS HERE, BUT I WILL KEEP THINGS SUFFICIENTLY VAGUE SO AS NOT TO RUIN IT. Zeta-Jones is the innocent and naive wife of a major Californian drug distributor, played by Steven Bauer, arrested at the beginning of the film. Her portrait of a woman at her wit's end was very sincere - however, we are suddenly asked to believe that the onus for finding an assasin to eliminate the one major witness against her husband would fall on her shoulders. Her drug lord husband is portrayed as this withering innocent in jail unable to help himself. Does he not have any other contacts who could have taken on that responsibility? It seems they've all run for the hills. I didn't buy it. Unless of course, she's not as innocent and naive as we were very clearly meant to believe. Nevertheless, her conversion from naive housewife to conniving conspirator was jarring. And when this "assasin" storyline starts to play out, it is shockingly stupid. The cops, played by Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman and others, charged with protecting the star witness are simply idiots, or the victims of a desperate writer who didn't work nearly hard enough to come up with some dramatic scenes that weren't completely illogical. The last time I checked, vital witnesses who are under threat of death are not transported to court in a car and walked inside in broad daylight - can you say paddy wagon which drops off well inside protective custody of a court garage? This is the war on drugs, people!
It's unfortunate these and other flaws occurred in this storyline at such significant plot points that I simply cannot ignore them or brush them aside. They almost ruined the entire film for me. My recommendation is definitely done with some reservations.
The Brotherhood (2001)
Take it for what it was meant to be
I loved it - for a David DeCoteau film, the technical quality and direction was better than usual, he usually works with so little money. I agree with some of the earlier comments that this isn't much of a vampire flick (no real gore), but it is unique in that special RapidHeart way - tonnes of mild homoeroticism and lots of hot boys. The lead is absolutely gorgeous. And the head vampire is completely hot and blond, with an absolutely perfect body. Very much enjoyed the threesome scene with him and the lead character, plus some chick. Ooh, baby. I'm also a fan of Josh Hammond, who's so cute in a disarming and unthreatening way. Yes, the script sucked, and the acting was pretty bad (except for Hammond), but this was supposed to be nothing more than a cheesy boy-exploitation-vampire flick - and it succeeded on that front. I will say that DeCoteau should get some script-editing skills - it would have been much better with a surprise, fooled you ending - with the blond head vampire coming back for one last scare. It kind of ends too quickly. Otherwise, I got what I wanted from it. For all those straight guys who felt compelled to blast this, I highly doubt that they'd be complaining had this film had a stock of hot women playing the roles.
Very beautiful film
I loved this movie - saw it at the Toronto Film Festival - very sweet story about two teenage boys who frequently engage in "Krampack" which is apparently Spanish slang for masturbation. Everything is tastefully done, and the direction, acting and script are first-rate - I really appreciated this film's frankness in depicting its subject matter and not shying away from teenage sex, or use of drugs, drinking, etc. This is how teenagers behave - not some sanitized and artificial version as typically portrayed in most mainstream American c**p. God forbid, some teenage boys actually engage in homosexual experimentation. The main character Dani, very cute by the way, develops a much deeper affection for his friend, Nico, on a summer visit when the parents are away - every night they engage in masturbating each other, growing in intimacy every night. But Nico's affections are directed toward a girl living nearby, and Dani becomes understandably jealous and much conflict and tension ensue. I can't say enough about the quality of the young performances and the writing. Hats off to Cesc Gay, the director, for sticking to his guns and producing this wonderful film about the real sexual tensions that can frequently occur between teenage boys (and girls) when they're being honest with each other. Loved it!
The Last Man on Planet Earth (1999)
Very interesting tale - a la male version of the Handmaid's Tale - it seems that biological warfare has inadvertently wiped out 97% of the world's male population - and the remaining women have decided to enact laws to ban the reproduction of any further men because men are hopelessly violent, and their eradication proves it. The new women-only society has decided that only females are allowed to be born through modern science. Funny and interesting premise - although of course this American movie fails to explain what kinds of similar laws are implemented in the rest of the world. Did Russia also embrace a women-only policy? Iran? We only get the American version. If other countries didn't agree with the American pro-woman policy, than men would quickly repopulate elsewhere and perhaps try to immigrate to the U.S. I guess the U.S. could have a no-male immigration policy to ensure female purity. Putting this major plot flaw aside, this movie was very entertaining. The plot follows a renegade female scientist who genetically creates a male without a predisposition for violence - the assumption that male violence is genetically intrinsic in males is unquestioned. The male creation, named Adam (how Biblical!), is born and grows up rapidly within three weeks until growth is curiously finished around 25 years or so, when the normal rate of aging resumes. Of course, the male creation grows up to be a strappling, muscular hunk played by Paul Francis (conspicuously absent from this website's cast list?). Highly recommended for the interesting premise - some men might find it hard to take - it makes no bones about suggesting that all men are genetically violent, and combined with the sexism against Adam (nudity, temporarily turned into a male prostitute, generally passive and undeveloped character, etc.) might prove a little offensive. Men haters will love it.
Virtual Sexuality (1999)
The perfect teen sex comedy for heterosexual girls (and gay men)
The criticisms thrown at this British film have all missed the point - the filmmakers were trying to create a campy teen sex comedy in the banal and exploitative tradition of American 1980s cinema, but reverse the gender roles so that the girls are the protagonists and the boys do all of the nudity. It's no surprise that it took U.K. filmmakers to achieve this role reversal, largely because U.K. and other Euro films have never shied away from full male nudity, much unlike American filmmakers.
On this angle, the filmmakers have been absolutely successful. I attended a viewing of this last week in Toronto, and noted the hetero couple sitting in front of me - at the end of the film, the girl seemed slightly amused and aroused, while the boy seemed put out a bit - his facial expression seemed to resemble that of your average straight teenage girl after viewing Porky's or something like that. He seemed annoyed, and frustrated that all the nudity (and there was a lot of it for mainstream film standards) in the film was male.
Pathetic plot points aside, or bad acting, etc. this film achieves what it wanted to achieve - exploit the male gender in the context of a banal teen sex comedy featuring female protagonists. They weren't going for a logical plot or characters who would intrigue the audience. Who ever cared about the plots of the 1980s American teen sex comedies, anyway?
The filmmakers achieved their primary purpose with the teenage boy locker room scene, featuring several furtive shots of full frontal nudity. Not to mention, the numerous butt shots of star Rupert Penry-Jones, the dream boat created by the film's virtual reality machine, throughout the entire film.