Loose Cannons (2010)

Family – can’t live with them, can’t kill them. Unless your unexpected emergence from the closet has prompted your father to suffer a near-fatal heart attack. Such is the plight of forty-something Antonio (Alessandro Preziosi), whose revelation sends an emotional riptide coursing through his close-knit Italian brood. But it’s visiting younger brother Tommaso (Riccardo Scamarcio) who has the bigger problem – he was planning on announcing his own man-love at the very same dinner that Antonio’s confession disrupted. Now, with Antonio banished, Tommaso’s left to shoulder the floundering family business (pasta manufacturing, naturally) as the company’s sole male successor.

Which just barely scrapes the surface of director Ferzan Özpetek’s vibrant filmic cocktail, the energetic plot also tracking the exploits of a saucy older aunt, a tempestuous female friend, and all manner of domestic disquiet. Özpetek, though, is no stranger to such outlandish premises, his previous dramas having sticky-fingered numerous awards and kudos (notably, Ignorant Fairies won big at the 2001 New York Lesbian and Gay Film Festival). With Cannons, he deftly twists humour and dramatic gay themes into a sumptuously-shot melange of witty banter and touching sentiment.

Italian cinema has long flirted with dicey dissections of the family unit (see also the operatic beauty of Tilda Swinton’s recent I Am Love), but here Özpetek nudges the formula into sunnier surrounds. Though the resultant near-farce at times wobbles through campy terrain (witness the arrival of Tommaso’s flamboyant friends, who struggle to put a lid on their sexuality), the film is anchored by its stellar cast – not least Ilaria Occhini as the family matriarch, whose own tragic past poetically collides with the present, most arrestingly in the film’s elegiac closing moments.

A chic, charming chuckler, Cannons proves particularly appealing as we wend our way into the winter months, offering the perfect place to soak up some warm Italian rays. 4/5

Via Out In The City

A Single Man (2010)

Imagine what might have happened if Douglas Sirk had created his own fashion line. Conversely, imagine what kind of movie Donatella Versace might make given half a chance (on second thoughts, no, please don’t). Well, famously provocative designer Tom Ford has gone one better. He conquered the empires of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent as a top trendsetter, got bored, and fixed his gaze on cinema instead. The result? A Single Man: the kind of confident debut that radiates personality and visual flair while retaining a quietly fluttering heart.

It’s evident from the outset that Ford’s involvement in A Single Man isn’t based on a frivolous impulse. Yes, the film is an experimental exercise, flaunting voguish superfluities. But scrape a little at its stylised veneer, and you uncover a film that swells with warmth.

Widely considered novelist Christopher Isherwood’s greatest work (and the author’s own favourite), A Single Man is the tale of grieving middle-aged lecturer George. Eight months ago, his partner of 16 years died. Unable to escape his melancholy, George (played here with tantalising refinement by Colin Firth) is coasting through life on the currents of memory. Deciding he can go on no longer, he resolves to end his life. We meet him here, on what could be his last day.

Streamlining Isherwood’s 1964 novel, Ford snips away any non-essential characters to concentrate on the central quartet of George, his lovey, midlife-crisis-consumed pal Charley (Julianne Moore), dead love Jim (Matthew Goode, seen in flashbacks) and young student Kenny (Nicholas Hoult). The result is a curious convergence of both men’s personalities. Isherwood’s penchant for pretty youths is retained in the form of Hoult’s beautiful, curious student, while Ford imbues Moore’s Charley with a distinctly British bent (there are definite whiffs of Ab Fab’s Patsy).

“When I die, people can look at this movie and know what I was about,” the director has said. And it’s true, his fingerprints are all over A Single Man; from George’s new surname (borrowed from Ford’s first love), anecdotes about shaved eyebrows (Ford’s own faux pas), even our lead’s dogs are played by Ford’s mutts.

It’s fitting that the filmmaker’s opulent imagery should repeatedly return to eyes, this being as near to a celluloid imprint of a man’s soul as it’s possible to get. Hyper-stylised but with careful nuance, A Single Man only stumbles in its third act as the visual tricks give way to a clumsy climax that feels strangely disconnected from the philosophy of what has gone before.

Anticipation: Firth has had good buzz, and the trailer suggests Ford’s fashionista savvy could translate well to cinema. 3

Enjoyment: A film about death that is bursting with life and passion. 4

In Retrospect: Film couture, dazzling in its optical majesty. Shame about the third act stumble, but A Single Man establishes Ford as an auteur in the making. Singularly brilliant. 4

Via Little White Lies

Gangland Gay

“It was an absolute eye-opener,” says filmmaker Simon Pearce. We’re chatting about his experience shooting gay drama ‘Shank’, for which the 22-year-old first-time feature director has been scooping awards left, right and center (to date he’s bagged the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival’s Emerging Talent trophy, as well as the prestigious Audience Award in Barcelona).

A tortured love story set in the streets of Bristol, ‘Shank’ follows young drug pusher Cal (Wayne Virgo). Confused about his sexuality, Cal belongs to a rag-tag gang, and is closest to Jonno (Tom Bott), with whom he shares a handful of homoerotic encounters (“in the film there’s the blow back scene, which I kept calling ‘Blow Back Mountain’,” jokes Bott). But when Cal attempts to extricate himself from the gang, and falls for natty-dressing French exchange student Olivier (Marc Laurent), he discovers that getting out is going to be even harder than coming out.

“My friends often joke that we need to do a comedy,” laughs Pearce, “’cos I tend to veer towards darker stuff.” And dark ‘Shank’ is; a rough, fearless examination of today’s youth culture, where issues of sexuality, masculinity and violence inform and enforce our chaotic world. “I’d not seen anything like it before,” affirms 19-year-old Virgo, whose friendly, rapid-fire vernacular is the polar opposite of Cal’s muted uncertainty.

For Pearce, Virgo and Bott, ‘Shank’ represents the plucking of their feature film cherries. All of them 21 or under at the time of shooting (and all, sorry about this, straight), they’d each had varying filmic experiences, but never the heavy responsibilities that ‘Shank’ demanded them. It all began when gay producing partners Christian Martin and Darren Flaxstone, having seen a short by Pearce, offered the young director a bag of cash (an estimated £120,000, peanuts in the film business) to help bring their script to the screen.

Pearce was as stunned as anybody. “It was quite a bold decision for them to make,” he nods. “I immediately loved the story and wanted to do it, but I was worried about being able to deliver on their expectations, it’s obviously a story that is very close to them. Christian and Darren have been happy slapped and queer bashed. A lot of the themes in the film were derived directly from experiences they have had.”

Key to the film was casting. In a neat twist on traditional casting calls, Pearce and his producers sent out an announcement for actors to submit their auditions by mobile phone (“we thought that was very fitting for the film,” says Pearce). They also visited a local film college to scout for talent, and weren’t sure they’d have much luck, until… “Wayne walks in halfway through the session,” Pearce recalls, “Myself, Christian and Darren all clocked each other across the room and were like, ‘That’s him! He looks the part, God I hope he can act!’”

Virgo, who signed up for the film even before reading the script, found that the role of Cal struck a particularly personal chord. “I can relate to a few things that Cal’s been through; hanging around with people out in the park drinking and stuff,” the actor says. The part also required Virgo to bare all on camera, something that he had no problem with. “The nudity scenes I had never done before,” he says. “Like, I’d get naked for a joke or if I was pissed. But it was basically just telling the story, getting the story across.” Pearce laughs at the mention of Virgo’s nude scenes. “Wayne couldn’t wait to get his kit off! He really had no problem with it at all.”

As ‘Shank’ careers towards a gut-wrenching finale, its final scenes demanded a lot of 21-year-old Bott. “I was actually looking forward to that day,” the actor cheerily reveals. “‘Shank’ is very gritty and a lot more violent than most gay films. The end was the most challenging scene for me out of all of it.” No spoilers here, but suffice to say that ‘Shank’ wields a powerful emotional climax that will shock many audience members.

So what next for the trio? Pearce and Virgo have just completed another gay-themed film, ‘Release’, while Bott stars as a mentally disturbed young man in ‘Tender Age’. But for Pearce, ‘Shank’ will always be that special first film, overflowing with ambition and promise. “Yes, it’s a gay drama,” he reasons. “But we were keen to cross over. Christian and Darren built in themes that would enable ‘Shank’ to go beyond the gay market. Part of the film is that there is still a lot of intolerance and hostility out there. We wanted to address that. It should be seen by everyone.”

Via QX

Todd Stephens – (Not Just) Another Gay Movie Director

“Something’s got to change,” rabbits director Todd Stephens. We’re on the blower discussing the state of Hollywood’s relationship with homosexuals. More specifically, the number of gay actors still cowering in the closet, scared to come clean about their orientation. “If all the gay actors in Hollywood came out at the same time, the world would have to deal with that reality. That some of their idols are gay. But I don’t see that happening any time soon.”

Something of an authority on gay film, Stephens has made a name for himself directing runaway indie hits Edge of Seventeen and both Another Gay Movie flicks. Right now, he’s here to chat about Gypsy 83, a free-spirited road trip flick starring Sara Rue (her off Popular and Less Than Perfect) and Goth cutie Kett Turton. But that’s not before he lets us know how he feels about those closet doors. “I used to be against Perez Hilton outing people, but now I’m kind of up for it. Like, fuck it. In the case of Another Gay Sequel, I had a couple of guys who were in the first one who dropped out at the very last minute because their agents staged an intervention and told them not to play more gay parts. Some of them are gay in real life but they’re not out.”

Anyway, back to Gypsy 83. Shot in 2001, it’s been a while hitting UK shores thanks to short-sighted distributors who “didn’t think it was gay enough, they didn’t know what the movie poster was”. An intimate dramedy with a soundtrack set to the rock-out refrains of Stevie Nicks, the plot follows Gypsy (Rue), who decides to break out of her small-town apathy by driving to New York with gay best friend Clive (Turton) and enter the renowned Night of a Thousand Stevies contest. “I really wanted to explore the relationship between gay men and straight women,” Stephens reveals. “That sort of amazing bond that we often have as gay people. Our diva best friends. There’s a connection, and a love, and an intimacy, but no sex. Yeah, it’s very complicated.” And trivia fans prick up those ears, apparently Chris Evans of ‘Fantastic Four’ originally auditioned for a role in the film as a gay jock. “He wanted to be in the film and I gave the part to somebody else. I could kick myself now,” laughs Stephens.

A deep thinker with a celluloid soul, Stephens is just as interested in shooting cute guys doing naughty things as he is exploring the myriad gay issues that marshal our community. With Another Gay Movie – a queer American Pie that fuses teen angst with gross-out gags – he enjoyed toying with gay stereotypes. “I tried to do a lot with the feminine character of Nico,” he says. “I really wanted to celebrate that and sexualise him. I feel like the queen never gets to get laid. It bothers me that a lot of gay people are bothered by portrayals of effeminate gay men; that’s just part of the rainbow of our community.”

Up next, the director is pulling together funds for his “dream project”, a film entitled Flamingos. “I’m sort of fascinated by gay stories that haven’t been told,” he divulges. “What it’s like to get older and deal with aging in the gay community is something that fascinates me. I envision it as a kind of gay Golden Girls.” And who would he want to star? “I’d love to get people like Morgan Freeman to play gay. People who are really established and willing to take a chance. Jack Nicholson as a queen would be hilarious.” Now that would be a coming out to remember.

Playing it straight

“How do you do it? It must be so difficult and hard for you to hug, kiss and make love to a heterosexual on camera when you are not straight.” It’s 2006, and Brokeback Mountain – with its brave hetero leads ‘going gay’ for their art and tenderly portraying a homosexual relationship – is primed for an awards coup de gra. A giant leap for widespread acceptance of homosexuality? Not in the eyes of comic actor Jerome Cleary, who ironically posed the above question and who couldn’t help wondering one thing… What about all the ‘brave’ gay actors playing straight?

Queer characters have been coming out of the media woodworks with gay abandon in recent years – no television show is complete without a camp sidekick, no film can function without a prancing poof sprinkling the fairy dust. A recent survey by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation discovered 83 gay, lesbian and transgender characters present on television at this very moment. The days of sweeping homos under the carpet is over – they’re here, they’re queer, they’re ordering a light beer. They’re also, more often than not, portrayed by straight actors – from Tom Hanks in Philadelphia to Sean Penn in Milk.

When it comes to gay actors walking the straight and narrow, though, there’s been a media silence akin to crickets sullenly chirping. Where is Rock Hudson’s kudos for his convincing rendering of a straight man in Pillow Talk? Or Cynthia Nixon’s applause for throwing herself (often literally) into steamy hetero sex scenes for Sex and the City?

It’s a question that is – finally – beginning to tremble on certain media lips (ahem). The New York Times recently stated that “for most gay actors, Hollywood is not a warm and fuzzy episode of Will & Grace.” So that while being gay is becoming more acceptable on the other side of the pond, gay actors are still asked “wrenching questions” about their place in the world of entertainment.

Gay actors playing straight parts is, of course, not a new thing. Poofs have treaded the boards, thesping their hearts out to strains of Shakespeare since the dawn of entertainment – we’re looking at you Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. Yet, somehow, gay men butching it up for entertainment has always been viewed as somehow irrelevant, as if the level of performance involved in pretending to be straight is nothing compared to pretending to be gay. After all, argue the cynics, have we all not at some point in our lives been closeted and flexing butch-style in fear of social stigma?

Recent months have seen a turn in the gay-straight tide. A number of homosexual actors have followed the trend set by the likes of Portia de Rossi and Cynthia Nixon by coming out of the closet while playing high profile hetero roles. T R Knight of Grey’s Anatomy, How I Met Your Mother’s Neil Patrick Harris and Jasika Nicole of new show Fringe have all stepped into the pink spotlight. Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman says that “we’ve gone from the revolution to the evolution”. With actors less afraid of coming out, what happens after the event?

‘Going gay’ in entertainment is still seen as the ultimate test of a straight actor’s dedication to thesping. The ultimate test for gay actors now will be if they can acquire ‘straight’ roles post-closet. As the New York Times noted, T R Knight and Neil Patrick Harris “landed the parts before they came out”. Where will it go from here? Watch this space.

Savage Grace (2007)

Lips ablaze with crimson petulance, and cheekbones that could cut glass – Julianne Moore’s re-enactment of the life of murdered, married-for-money Barbara Baekeland fitfully smoulders. Pity the rest of this tepid time tumbleweeder never matches her magnetic, frosty fervour. Adapted from Natalie Robins’ dramatization of actual events, Savage Grace is dressed to the nines and desperate to party, all gorgeous cinematography and eye-catching cast – but ultimately it never makes it out the front door. “This society is sick!” seethes Moore… before giving her son a hand job. Family affairs, indeed. Oscillating with callous, impenetrable characters who never earn our empathy, Grace struggles like an impetuous child to seize attention with poorly-orchestrated shocks. A grubby subtext that appears to liken homosexuality with insanity is particularly distasteful. A poor man’s Far From Heaven. 1/5

Via Total Film