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Complex emotional "vortex" of a film is a worthy effort, but ...
"Eighteen" (2004) tells the story of Pip Anders, a depressed and extremely cynical young man who is estranged from his dysfunctional upper/middle class family and living on the streets of Vancouver. On his 18th birthday, he receives a cassette tape and player from his recently-deceased grandfather, relating his memoirs of his own 18th birthday, spent serving with the British army in France, trying to help a mortally-wounded comrade avoid capture by the occupying Germans. As Pip listens to the tape (Ian McKellen provided the voice of his grandfather), we see the scenes he is describing as flashbacks, alternating with daily scenes of Pip's life, as well as more recent flashbacks filling in the dark secret why Pip left home and finds it impossible to trust anyone who is nice to him.
An ambitious second film from writer/director Richard Bell ("Two Brothers"), with a polished look, excellent photography, well-developed non-stereotypical characters (with gay and straight treated equally), and commendable efforts in emotionally and physically-demanding roles from some talented new actors (especially Paul Anthony as Pip and Brendan Fletcher as his grandfather at 18). There is also a noteworthy turn by Alan Cummings as a priest who tried to help Pip, and a small supporting role played by Thea Gill ("Queer As Folk"). The complex story - in the director's own words in his DVD commentary - is meant to drive a "vortex of emotion" pushing Pip to his breaking point, and it certainly accomplishes that. My only criticisms are that the overall effect is too "schmaltzy" or artificial for an audience to truly identify with, much of the supporting dialog (and the ending) too contrived and predictable, and the direction needed to be sharper to curtail sloppy overacting in some scenes. I do recommend it, 7 stars out of 10, including extra points for a noteworthy effort.
Surf School (2006)
Don't waste your time on this poorly-written crap
With early comparisons to "American Pie" and "Road Trip," I wasn't expecting much when I saw SURF SCHOOL this past week. Actually, I like mindless, escapist fluff comedies, and was prepared for one of those here. What I found was one of the most gawd-awful 90 minutes I ever spent in a theater.
The plot was simplistic but had potential: typical "fish out of water" scenario, with East Coast transfer student Jordan (Corey Sevier) feeling out of place in a Laguna Beach high school run by a group of championship surfers, led by Tyler (Ryan Carnes). He bands together with other misfits at the school, including a geeky punk, silent goth girl and a perpetual virgin nerd, and enrolls in a surf school prior to the high school surfing championship in Costa Rica. Got the ending figured out yet? No surprises, believe me.
Most of the comic relief is provided by the alcoholic former "surf dude" who runs the school (overplayed beyond endurance by Harland Williams), and a couple of oversexed 60's era hippies who run the place where they are staying. Whatever funny moments there are (including a running gag by Williams inviting people for "mahi-mahi" and a chimp "flirting" with the virgin nerd) are overdone until they lose their appeal. And the film is filled with patronizing stereotypes, from three gorgeous Sweedish tourists to the illogical choice of a flaming campy gay MC at the surf championship. The dialog meanders in illogical circles, leaving the audience scratching their heads in confusion and wondering if this was mostly ad-libbed. The outtakes over the closing credits are better than some of the scenes left in the film. The writer/director should consider some other line of work.
Almost Normal (2005)
A bit overly complex, but a thought-provoking brilliant satire
The indie film, written, directed and produced by a couple of college film professors, is kind of a cross between "Back To The Future" and "It's A Wonderful Life" with a queer twist that can be appreciated by gay as well as non-gay audiences. The cast includes mostly first-time actors and lots of extras from the film school and a local high school, but the film comes off surprisingly polished despite the low budget.
A 40 year old college professor laments entering middle age as a single gay man, and is further depressed by a blind-date-from-hell and an incident where he thinks one of his young students is coming on to him, only to find out he wants to fix him up with his gay father. Unloading his misery on his "fag hag" best friend, he wishes he could start over and just be "normal", and seems to get his wish when a car crash transports him back to his high school days, but into a parallel universe where being gay is the norm, and straights are considered perverts who must seek out each other in incognito "straight bars" downtown. He starts dating the high school jock of his dreams, but a complication develops when he finds he is also attracted sexually to his former fag hag, now a feisty transfer student, making him again not as "normal" as he thought he'd be in that world.
The film has the expected role-reversal puns, including quasi-religious justifications for considering heterosexuals sinners ("If God had intended for men and women to be together, He would have made women to like football!"), but isn't really a comedy or a drama, but an intellectual satire on just how "normal" anyone's sexual orientation is to someone else. In a sense, it becomes a moral lesson about acceptance of anyone who is different than the seeming "norm", whether that be based on sexual orientation, race, religion, attitudes or physical limitations. Despite the gay theme, it would likely earn a PG-13 rating, and is appropriate for mature viewers of that age or higher, and would be a perfect segue for a classroom discussion of diversity.
The one drawback of the film is the complexity which somewhat enables it to chart new grounds for gay cinema, and it must be judged in its entirety rather than take any scene out of context, as less patient viewers would be inclined to do. There seem to be a lot of extraneous details at times, and these are eventually resolved by the film's end, though an average viewer may not catch it all. Personally, I thought it was an ambitious, unique gem of a film, and recommend it highly.
Coming Out Party (2003)
Gay comics talk about "coming out" experiences
Seven well-known "out" gay comics got together on June 18, 2003, to tell their "coming out" stories in a special concert in Santa Monica CA. Included were Rene Hicks, Dan ("Real World - Miami") Renzi, Bob Smith, Terry Sweeney, John Riggi, Sabrina Matthews and Jackie Beat (who performed out of drag, which is unusual). They tell about coming out to themselves and family, and the very real problems of working as an openly gay comedian in small town clubs.
I have seen most of those comedians in other shows, and felt that the restrictive focus on "coming out" issues made them less funny than they usually were. I suppose that "Coming Out Party" fills a need of sorts, for those who are dealing with their own coming out, and it is commendable on that level. But for the best in gay comedy, I instead recommend the "Out There" (1-3) series, which is still available on VHS from many sources.