★★ / ★★★★
It’s been said that our dreams often consisted of people we know or have encountered at some point in our lives. But not Smith (Thomas Dekker). He had a recurring dream of a brunette and a red-headed girl (Nicole LaLiberte) pointing at a door with a red dumpster on the other side. But before Smith could look inside, he woke up. With the help of Smith’s partner in crime, Stella (Haley Bennett), Smith managed to find some answers to his burning questions. Written and directed by Gregg Araki, “Kaboom” was weird and proud. It was, one could argue, mainly a satire of college students who lacked direction. Everyone had sexual intercourse with one another without regard for disease or pregnancy. When someone managed to ask another how many partners he had been with, it was too late. Penetration had already occurred. It reminded me of a dorm I once knew. Smith considered his sexual orientation to be undeclared but he had a massive crush on his blonde-haired surfer/meathead roommate named Thor (Chriz Zylka). Much of the humor of the film was Smith looking for ways to convince himself that Thor was gay. I especially loved the shot of Thor’s flip-flops neatly organized, by color, in his closet. As a person who loves to be organized, I thought it was a beautiful sight. I also chuckled once or twice when Thor’s best friend, Rex (Andy Fischer-Price), came for a visit and the two wrestled in their underwear. The loser was supposed to be “the gay one.” Whenever the satire and irony were at the forefront, I overlooked the lack of dimension in the script. The film also worked as a B-grade supernatural thriller but to an extent. Stella became sexually involved with Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida), the brunette in Smith’s dreams, who happened to be a witch. She wasn’t all talk; she had real powers and wasn’t afraid to use them. But when the lesbian couple broke up, the storyline involving Smith’s dream and its connection to a possible underground cult was thrown in the back seat. The scenes involving voodoo and possession became more engrossing than the masked strangers who kidnapped and killed students on campus. While the dialogue consisted of funny one-liners uttered by sarcastic characters, as it went on, I began to feel like Araki had injected too much in his ambitious project. A nuclear war came into play but it failed to make much sense. The many revelations toward the end felt forced and laughable in a negative way. I felt a sinking sensation that the picture was digging its own grave. I admired that “Kaboom” wasn’t afraid to be different. But being different was not enough. The screenplay wasn’t ready.
Little Ashes (2008)
★ / ★★★★
“Little Ashes,” written by Philippa Goslett and directed by Paul Morrison, stars Robert Pattinson as Salvador Dalí, a tortured artist who is not afraid to express his political beliefs yet he tries so hard to resist the sexual attraction between him and a poet named Federico García Lorca (Javier Beltrán). From the synopses I read, I got the impression that this film was primarily about Dalí and his work as an artist and the romance was seconday. I was taken aback because it was really more about the romance between a poet and an artist and barely any of Dalí’s work was shown on screen. What’s even stranger is the fact that Beltrán is in front of the camera more than Pattinson. I do have to say, however, was I bought Beltrán’s performance more than Pattinson because the former had strength in his eyes even though he looked sad, confused, shocked or insecure. With the latter, it was the same note despite the emotion and the drastic physical changes. (Still stuck in “Twilight” phase, perhaps?) His look was intense but with such a complicated and volatile character he tried to tackle, he should have delivered more color and vigor. Another problem for me was their lack of chemistry. Maybe it was the writing or direction but I didn’t understand how someone like Lorca could fall for someone like Dalí. Yes, they both had talent but the way they interacted seemed forced and sometimes quite awkward. There were times when I just felt uncomfortable. Story-wise, it took me a while to get into it but I eventually did. However, it wasn’t particularly strong; in fact, it felt quite empty considering the fact that the two lead characters were so rich in personality and the political backdrop was fascinating. Maybe it tried too hard to appeal to younger audiences, especially younger girls, so that’s why it wasn’t deep or insightful enough. I could only withstand so many hidden kisses and flirtations. “Little Ashes” desperately needed a force to push it forward so that the audiences could feel something. Unfortunately, it was lazy and I felt like my two hours was wasted. With a stronger, more focused writing and a more versatile leading actor, maybe this movie would have worked. I say don’t waste your two hours unless you’re a die-hard Robert Pattinson fan.
Broken Sky (2006)
★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Julián Hernández, “El cielo dividido” or “Broken Sky” bides its time (two hours and twenty minutes to be exact) to tell the story of a couple (Miguel Ángel Hoppe and Fernando Arroyo) who started off as loving and eventually ended up cold and distant. One of the main reasons for such a schism was Arroyo fell in love with another man. Although this led Hoppe to seek attention from Alejandro Rojo, does his new partner have the same qualities as his former lover? This movie was painful for me to watch because of the fact that there were extended scenes of lack of dialogue for no reason whatsoever. It would have been fine if the narration was consistent because then the audiences would know what was going on in the characters heads. When we are left to watch the grieving characters doing whatever they choose to do, it’s not a good thing especially when the characters themselves do not know what they should do next. The whole movie was supposed to be poetic because of the music, the passionate sex and the absence of dialogue. But the way I saw it was the director got a bit too lazy. Instead of painting us a picture of the emotional turmoil that the characters were going through, he decided to sit back and “let it all unfold” when, really, there’s absolutely nothing to drive the story forward. Instead, we get redundant scenes of guys being in bed, going to clubs and stalking each other. It wasn’t an insightful or relatable experience when it should have been because most of us are familiar with heartbreak and rejection. This monolith of a movie could have easy been just above an hour long. Now, I can handle movies that are different and have an art-house kind of feel to them. But for me to ultimately enjoy movies that are “different” (or any movie in general), I look for an emotional core–whether such a core is droll, depressing, childlike, suspenseful or simply a slice-of-life–but “Broken Sky” didn’t have that basic quality. We see characters who are sad and angry but if they (and the filmmakers) don’t let us make a connection with them, why should we care what would happen to them? I’ve seen other self-obsessed characters portrayed on screen having an easier time to let me in. If you have insomnia, this soporific picture is your cure.
★★★★ / ★★★★
It’s very uncommon for me to be interested in musicals so it took a little bit of effort for me to finally decide to watch “Cabaret.” I wish I could have seen it sooner because it was fantastic. I loved Liza Minnelli as an entertainer in a cabaret who had a dream of becoming a famous actress before the Nazis took hold of Germany. She was spunky, edgy, funny, self-deprecating, and a little bit vain; but despite her bold personality, she was a damaged character who yearned to be genuinely loved–not merely for her stage persona–but her real self, something that she was still striving to get from her father. I also found Michael York as a British writer who taught English on the side to be fascinating. At first glance I thought he was the typical leading man who was supposed to come in and sweep the leading lady off her feet, but he, too, had his own problems such as his anxiety of getting into a relationship with women. Was he a heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, or simply a man who had taken a vow of celibacy? I desperately wanted to know. Minnelli and York’s character quickly got along and the film started off pretty light. However, as the film went on and a rich man (Helmut Griem) entered their lives, the dynamics between the two changed and the film became a little darker with each passing scene. I thought the film’s ability to balance between character development and commentaries about the relationship between the decadence inside the club and the reality outside was special because most musicals that I’ve seen do not even come close to reaching such a dramatic weight. The songs, in a way, were sort of the background but they were far from secondary because the musical numbers often connected the horrific events that were unfolding and the personal battles that each character had to face. Watching “Cabaret,” directed by Bob Fosse, was really quite compelling and I couldn’t take my eyes (and my ears) off the screen. I think it deserved winning the eight Oscars it received because it was as complex or perhaps more so than, say, a typical “dramatic” Oscar-bait movie. Watching the film made me want to visit a Kit Kat Klub–cross-dressers, cigars, androgyny, debauchery and all. I’ll be on the lookout for more dark musicals like “Cabaret.”
Boy Crush (2007)
★★ / ★★★★
“Boy Crush” consists seven short films about homosexuality: “Summer” (Hong Khaou), “Night Swimming” (Daniel Falcone), “Running Without Sound” (Judd King), “Out Now” (Sven J. Matten), “The Bridge” (George Barbakadze), “Hitchcocked” (David M. Young), and “Oedipe” (Eric Rognard). I’m not going to review every one of them, but I will instead mention the highlights. Out of the seven stories, about two or three worked for me (“Summer,” “Night Swimming,” “Running Without Sound”) because they had some sort of an emotional resonance after I’ve seen them. Without a doubt, the short film from King was the best because it was able say so much without using so many words. The extended scene toward the end when the two teenagers lingered in front of each other, doubtful of whether or not to make a move to finally kiss, said a lot about their insecurities and how much it pained them that they could not express how they truly felt about themselves and each other. The situation didn’t help with the fact that one of them was deaf but the other was not. I almost wished that the six others were not in the movie and that King’s feature was a full length film. Unlike the remaining four, the first three are not about sex or lusting over someone physically. It’s about making that genuine human connection, homosexual or not, to reach some sort of acceptance or understanding. For me, “Running Without Sound” embodied all sorts of insights I needed in a movie to be truly be considered profound–short film or otherwise. I’m giving this collection of short flicks a mediocre rating because there was a lack of a recurring theme. The last one was actually science fiction and I was totally confused. If “Boy Crush” had gathered short movies about human connection instead of poking fun of things like rape in prison and AIDS (such as in “Hitchcocked”), this would have been a stronger package (pardon the pun). In the meantime, if you want to be efficient or are concerned with limited time, do yourself a favor and watch the first three and ignore the others.
The Curiosity of Chance (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
Tad Hilgenbrink stars as Chance Marquis, an openly gay high school student in an international school somewhere in Europe with an interesting fashion sense. Since he sticks out in a negative way, he was ostacized by his peers and some of the soccer jocks (led by Maxim Maes) actively bullied him every day. At first I had a difficult time accepting that Hilgenbrink would be at the bottom of the high school food chain simply for being gay and dressing funny because of his model-like good looks which really reminded me of a fusion between James Marsden (Hilgenbrink played Cyclops in “Epic Movie”) and Seann William Scott (Hilgenbrink also played Stiffler in “American Pie Presents Band Camp”). But then I really got into his character because not only did he try so hard to be different by talking like he has a thesaurus next to him (which reminded me of how I talked sometimes in high school), he really did have problems that are painful with regards to his identity. This was highlighted during his scenes with his father (Chris Mulkey) who is in the military; even though they get along somewhat swimmingly, there was that wall between father and son that I desperately hoped would break by the time the film ended. Instead of the obligatory silly scenes such as sneaking into the principal’s office, I wish the Hilgenbrink and Mulkey had more scenes together even though the whole strained father-son relationship had been explored too many times in LGBT movies. I also liked the (non-romantic) relationship between the lead character and one of the nicer soccer jocks (Brett Chuckerman). He was a foil for Chance’ character because he was socially accepted but he was also struggling to find his own identity regarding sports versus music. There were also some genuinely funny scenes with Hilgenbrink’s friends played by the sarcastic/scathing Aldevina Da Silva and the naive/nerdy Pieter Van Nieuwenhuyze. They needed more character development instead of merely being stereotypes but considering what they were given to play, I think they did a good job. “The Curiosity of Chance,” written and directed by Russell P. Marleau, reminded me of a weaker version of “Get Real” (the whole bit about the homosexual and the friendly jock minus the romance) and it had enough wit and daring scenes (involving drag queens) to get me to recommend it. It’s not perfect by any means because I thought it needed to spend more time in the editing room, but I definitely laughed with it. I loved Chance’ fantasy scenes; I can’t help but smile just thinking about them.
Relax… It’s Just Sex (1998)
★★★ / ★★★★
This movie, written and directed by P.J. Castellaneta, about people with all sorts of sexual orientations is far from perfect but I couldn’t help but enjoy it. I thought it was nice to see people just being people without having to be afraid of offending its audiences. The cast is led by Jennifer Tilly whose friends mostly consists of gays and lesbians. Tilly juggles three fronts: her need to constantly have sex because she wants to have a baby before her eggs “expire” (done in hilarious ways, I might add), trying to be supportive of lesbian friend (Cynda Williams) who recently broke up with her almost decade long lover (Serena Scott Thomas) because she fell for another man, and consoling her gay friend (Mitchell Anderson) because he’s depressed that he’s not (or been in) any stable relationship. Although there were very funny moments, especially in the first half, my favorite scene has got to be the dinner conversation on whether HIV really causes AIDS. That scene constantly evolved not just topic-wise but because it showed us the many personalities of each of the characters and how they dealt with the situation whenever they were confronted by others. It felt so real; I have many memories with friends who have varying opinions when we talk about certain issues and some of those times do get to the point where somebody has to yell, “Shut up!” before the discussion got out of hand. That scene made me feel like I was sitting at that dinner table so I thought it was very powerful. I think the title of this picture is very misleading because sex is not the central issue. It’s really more about relationships and how such relationships are defined by people who are directly involved with a particular issue and those who are in the periphery. The only thing I didn’t like about this movie was it’s all too gloomy second half. I was very impressed that it was a comedy and offered a plethora of insights but it became more typical with the serious dramatics in the second half. This is a small movie but the writing is very funny because it features a lot of colorful straight/gay/lesbian/bisexual people. For me, it wasn’t at all difficult to connect with it.