Shorts Directed By: Anna Nolskog, Christopher Brown, Lazlo and Dylan Tonk, Charlie Francis, Dean Connolly, Casper Andreas, Neil Ely, Tim Marshall, Leslie Bumgarner, Philip J.Connell
After months of not having any Boys on Films to review, Pecca Pics released anthology #13 this summer and, after tackling them individually (and then trying to promote my own blog for a couple of months), I am back to once again give you a brief overview of the highs and lows in the collection and ultimately try and persuade you (or should I trick you?) to indulge a little and have a little… treat.
If you’ve read my previous collective reviews on Movie Marker, then you will be aware that I try to delve into the subtitle of the anthologies and use that as a basis to judge the films – after all, they’re being presented as a whole. What immediately springs to mind with ‘Trick & Treat’ is Halloween, i.e. trick or treat, though I will assure you now – this is not kid friendly and has nothing to do with Halloween! To me it symbolises that life isn’t always about this or that, yin or yang, right or wrong. On paper it may appear that you can only have one or that there is only one option, but in real life there are a myriad of situations and experiences which typically have positive and negative sides to them. So, with that in mind, let’s delve into Boys on Film once more.
Easing us in (or not) is Surprise – which flips the ‘coming out’ story on its head (though I really don’t want to give away much). What I will say is that it’s about time there were some fresh takes on it. After all, it is 2015! Back to the short – what it boils down to is that Jack and his mother both have things to confess to one another. One thing is definitely negative and the other is positive… but there’s a slight catch – in line with the subtitle and what I said, this is real life. Beyond it being a surprising short and fitting effortlessly with the anthology theme, its well-paced, with well-defined characters and some great dialogue. The dynamic between the two characters not only gives you a sense of who they are now, but also their past. It felt genuine and believable, which is probably why I found certain lines funny. One certain line has to be censored but, as the last piece of dialogue, I hope it intrigues you enough to load it up; “I called your girlfriend a c@!#”.
What I didn’t mention about Surprise is that there is a lot of water imagery going on (to which I am still clueless) and you might just need some water to cool off after watching Boygame. It’s a stimulating short that explores the limits we have when wanting to help a friend out and gain experience ourselves – you know what I’m talking about. Though my own experience was never quite like this, I know that it comes with risks. For teens with all the self-discovery and hormones it can push the friendship into a weird zone, where suddenly that nice thing you did for one another can either fester into a treat or into something dark and ugly – a trick.
Boygame portrays this with a fine balance, not being overtly sexual or dramatic and still retaining some awkward boyish charm. The characters are believable, with their focus being to get girls, as all straight teens do; even if that has meant that they blur the lines of their friendship. To me there is something bubbling underneath the surface. Yes, it appears that their efforts will pay off but there are subtleties in the performances and construction of the dialogue which play into the fluidity of sexuality and the development of the friendship. Maybe they have suppressed their feelings for one another and their true sexuality for fear of losing the other (after all, “straight” guys don’t talk). Either way, these boys share a deep bond which is clear from beginning to end, even if that bond has changed.
Caged is rather similar to Boygame, with its focus on two friends living in a straight male dominated environment, but Caged delves deeper and explores a wider scope. It addresses the turmoil someone might feel when faced with the realisation that their best friend is gay – the feeling of betrayal, ulterior motives and the social exclusion. All of these apparent issues are because of the ‘alpha-male’ and bigoted opinions. The friend now feels conflicted. It’s believable. I feel that I over use that word but how else can I say that it feels natural – even though it’s not a situation I’ve experienced. What I liked most was the use of running (a shared hobby) to symbolise the stages of the friendship; from running together, to refusing to share water, to running solo and then, a tingly moment, back to running together. Maybe I should have said SPOILER ALERT, but didn’t anyone tell you that it’s the journey not the destination that’s important? Okay, major cliché there but it’s true and ultimately true love, whether between friends or family, can over come everything – we are who we are, and Caged shines a light on the beauty of that.
Continuing the friendship plot point is Vis á Vis; a short film that, despite being a comedy, has a life lesson for us all – sometimes you have to let go. Letting go is part of life and, ultimately, leads to better, new and exciting things. Obviously that’s ignoring emotions (which in reality are hard to) and determination to win someone back – cue this short about a friend helping another friend by deceiving the government and committing fraud; how wonderful – what a trick to play! Ultimately though there is a happy ending, though maybe not the one you think – time is a healer. What a thoroughly heart-warming message to send out, eh! It’s also actually funny too, whether it’s Ricky Martin, Wikipedia never lies or quick (if poor) thinking Martin claiming that he wears lace knickers – hmm. It’s a solid bundle where the tone, atmosphere and dialogue build up awkwardness tension and, strangely, sincerity. You’ll find it hard not to smile.
Breaking the two guys’ friendship plot point is, surprisingly, Followers. I’m not entirely sure how to fit this into the anthology – there’s a lot of Christian religious iconography and imagery so, despite the pagan roots, the short fits in a roundabout way, seeing that faith is central to the plot development. There was however something missing and, though the short is well produced, it didn’t wow me. I didn’t connect to it, so maybe there is more to the characters and relationships that I overlooked and would define its purpose in Boys on Film: Trick & Treat.
More in line with the shorts before Followers is Kissing Drew – which takes us back to the conflicting time of pubescent crushing and hormones; the ultimate ‘Trick & Treat’ time of life. Through the creative use of sound, colour and lighting, Kissing Drew depicts parallel situations – reality and fantasy. Reality is the dark side of things, where everything is a trick, a lie or deception whereas the fantasy is bright and lovely, where deception fades into desire and James gets what he wants. It’s an insight into where the mindsets of the teens in Boygame developed or the roots of the actions seen in Caged. There is a clear sense of progression and character development which, despite the sense of something about to happen, led to a complete shocker… which may have unintended side effects, both good and bad.
Now things are getting serious. This isn’t a comedy. This isn’t about coming out. A Last Farewell is heart-wrenching. It’s one of those shorts that you just need to watch; to ignore my words and truly let yourself connect with it. But you’re reading this so I guess I’ll just continue then. So, I can’t delve in without a spoiler alert – it addresses assisted suicide. You could say, maybe not with the words ‘Trick & Treat’, is the theme pushed to its limits. Imagine getting to a point whereby you love someone so much that you sacrifice the relationship and your life together to end their suffering. It’s a hard thing to do, but it’s an issue that is rarely seen in film and an issue which regularly features within the media.
It’s difficult for me to find fault with a film that opens my eyes, stirs emotion and stimulates thoughts. Not only that, but there is a beautiful effortlessness where everything seems to work together, in harmony, to really hit home the decision the lead character made and the effect it has had on him and the problems coming to terms with it is having. Where it is the honest yet moving performances, well thought camera shorts or brilliantly executed dialogue, this short is stellar.
The major problem with Middle Man is that I watched something similar not too long ago that was much funnier. As a result, the humour in Middle Man doesn’t quite hit any high and it might have stuck out more if it stuck to the drama – especially with the ending, which lacked the punch it needed.
So, where is the ‘Trick & Treat’ you ask? Well, I suppose it lies with the middle man software that deaf people can use to communicate. Though it is a useful tool (though you could just text?) it removes all emotion and accountability, which can lead to confusion, or in this case, deception – that’s a huge downside to something that is meant to help the less able.
Remission takes a combination of plot points we’ve seen in other shorts and throws them into a post-apocalypse scenario, namely two friends who end up being sexual (out of necessity it seems). Is that the point that admits its inclusion? “Hey, I’m straight but there are no girls around, let’s fuck – it’s satisfying but I actually hate it”? Or is it the occasional focus on the small treats in this baron world that is the reason? Either way, I feel that it doesn’t live up to the potential it has after the first scene where a promising dynamic is set up between the three characters. It was a while after the opening until the screen came to life and you got drawn in again.
There were also issues with audio levels and a sense of disbelief – that music player would not know you’re coming and probably wouldn’t work! I wish we didn’t have to end on Mirrors but I can’t ignore it. It didn’t work for me and I don’t particularly wish to re-watch it to find out or think about the theme of ‘Trick & Treat’.
So boys and girls, what will it be; trick or treat? Well there’s no need To decide because hopefully Trick & Treat has made you realize that life is too complicated to reduce down to this and that, and you shouldn’t always try and make it about something or the other. Though, there are some things that should obviously not be combined – mainly food/drink. I’m getting off point now, reign me in! The shorts in this anthology have explored a range of issues from a mother coming out to her son to assisted suicide – it feels thoroughly modern; very 2015 (but not in a way that will feel dated).
Yes, I admit that the overall quality isn’t up there with the likes of Boys on Film 12: Confessions, or even earlier anthologies such as Boys on Film 4: Protect Me From What I Want, but the ones that stand out truly make it stand out. Forget Mirrors, forget Middle Man and forget Followers – focus on Boygame, Caged and A Last Farewell and experience the best that short LGBT+ cinema has to offer.
God’s Own Country (DVD/Blu-Ray Review)
Released: 29th January 2018
Directed By: Francis Lee
Starring: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu
Reviewed By: Barry Levitt
Last year may have been unbearable in many facets, but for queer cinema, 2017 was a landmark year. Starting the year with Moonlight winning Best Picture, a number of LGBT films were released around the world including the critically acclaimed Call Me By Your Name, A Fantastic Woman and Princess Cyd. But perhaps the finest of them all was Francis Lee’s debut feature God’s Own Country, a story of a young farmer in Yorkshire whose way of living is permanently altered when a Romanian worker comes to work at the farm for lambing season. The film is out via Picturehouse Entertainment on DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD on the 29th January.
Johnny (Josh O’Connor) spends his evenings drinking and searching for casual sex with other men in an effort to escape his own mundane existence. He lives and works with his father and grandmother on a quiet Yorkshire farm, though due to his father’s ailing health, Johnny is forced to take care of the day to day operations. As lambing season approaches, the farm is in need of extra help as Johnny’s drinking has prevented him from doing the work necessary to keep the farm afloat. Johnny’s father Martin (Ian Hart) hires a Romanian worker named Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) during the busy lambing season to help keep the farm going.
God’s Own Country has been often described as a British Brokeback Mountain, and while the film’s similarities are worth noting, they are remarkably different in approach. The main romance in question in Francis Lee’s film is warmly embraced. The sex scenes in particular are dealt with beautifully: free of mystery and shame, the scenes are explicit without being pornographic, and bursting with passion. Sure, the resistance is there – Johnny is deeply frustrated sexually, and his sexuality is kept secret from almost everyone, and he does not exactly instantly warm to Gheorghe’s presence. The film’s power comes from Lee’s excellent script and calm, patient direction. As a viewer, Johnny’s loneliness is almost palpable, making his motivations clear and as a result it is easy to empathise with him.
Lee also does a tremendous job bringing the Yorkshire farmlands to life. His camera evokes an almost tactile response, and it is as if you could feel the grass and the mud; this film is simply full of raw and unflinching moments. There is a particularly touching sequence which Gheorghe tends to a newborn lamb that wonderfully evokes everything that God’s Own Country represents, things that seem broken can be reborn and renewed with tender love and care.
The film’s beauty also comes down to tremendous performances from the principal cast. O’Connor and Secareanu bring a wonderful vulnerability that is vital to the film’s beating heart. Ian Hart and Gemma Jones, who plays Johnny’s grandmother, are both utterly exceptional. God’s Own Country is a tender, quiet and moving meditation on love and loneliness, and wouldn’t be half as powerful without these great performances.
The home entertainment release of God’s Own Country comes with a series of deleted and extended scenes. Though it is easy to see why they were cut down or removed entirely, there is some interesting stuff here that fleshes out some of their characters. The film looks and sounds great, but it is a shame that such an excellent film wasn’t given more bonus material. Still, for fans of the film and for those who have yet to see it, one of the best films of 2017 absolutely deserves a home in your collection.
The Small World Of Sammy Lee – DVD Review
Reviewer: Freda Cooper
Director: Ken Hughes
Stars: Anthony Newley, Julia Foster, Robert Stephens, Wilfrid Brambell, Warren Mitchell, Roy Kinnear
Released 14th November 2016
In 1958, Ken Hughes’ half hour play, ‘Sammy’ appeared on British television. It attracted huge acclaim and turned its solidary actor, Anthony Newley, into a star. Several years later, he returned to the same part, this time in the much-expanded ‘The Small World Of Sammy Lee’, written and directed by Hughes and released in cinemas in 1963. The response wasn’t so warm.
Now described by some as a lost gem of British cinema, it returned to the big screen in a newly restored version at the London Film Festival and is released on DVD and Blu-Ray this week. Time for a re-assessment.
The Sammy Lee of the title (Newley) is the compere at a Soho strip joint and a fast talking chancer. He’s also up to his neck in debt with the local bookie and has just five hours to raise the cash that will prevent paying up in a more painful way. It’s a race against the clock for him to find the money, through all manner of dodgy deals. At the same time, he has to cope with a major complication in his life, the young Patsy (Julia Foster) who fell for his showy offer of a job and has left home to pursue him.
Right from the opening shot, this is a period piece and a large chunk of nostalgia for anybody familiar with the London of the 60s, Soho especially. The early moments show streets that are empty, except for the bin men collecting the remains of the night before. Them aside, there’s hardly anybody around, but all that changes as the day progresses. You find yourself picking out street names and locations – Berwick Street market for one – while the black and white photography introduces the inherent seediness of the area, such as the strip club interior both back stage and front of house, the snooker halls, the pokey bed-sits. It extends to the characters as well, from Sammy with his stock of hackneyed, vaguely smutty gags straight out of the Archie Rice joke book to the pathetic Harry (Wilfrid Brambell) who runs his errands and, inevitably, falls down on the job.
All of which makes the more law-abiding characters stand out. There’s a one-scene portrait of Sammy’s family, his hard working brother Lou (Warren Mitchell) who runs a Whitechapel delicatessen and wife Milly (Miriam Karlin), dripping in costume jewellery and lacking any sympathy for Sammy when he arrives on the scrounge. So much so, that you suspect there may have been something between the two before she settled for his brother. And there’s the naïve Patsy who sees him for what he is but still adores him and finds promotion from waitress to “dancer” in the club upsetting and humiliating.
The scenes in the club give away the film’s 30 minute original, there’s one too many scene of Sammy running through the Soho streets and the Patsy love interest feels like padding, but why should a film with so much in the way of character and location fall so flat when it was released? One reason could be timing. It didn’t fit with the move towards “kitchen sink dramas” – it came out in the same year as ‘The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner’ and ‘This Sporting Life’, while ‘A Kind Of Loving’ had been released in 1962. Sammy’s story isn’t a thriller either and doesn’t make the most of the dramatic potential of his limited time for raising that money. Nor is it a comment on society.
But, despite its shortcomings, there is much to enjoy, particularly among the performances. Newley is suitably nervy to the point of hyper as Sammy, while the oil positively drips off Robert Stephens’ club owner. And it’s littered with cameos from other familiar faces, like Derek Nimmo, Roy Kinnear and even Linda Baron (Nurse Gladys Emmanuel from ‘Open All Hours’). The street scenes in Soho are so evocative you can almost smell the garbage and the club interior is always viewed through a fug of cigarette smoke.
It adds up to a film rich in curiosity value for today’s audience, something of a love letter to the Soho of the 60s, but one that misses the dramatic target by a whisker. Second time round, it seems destined to appeal to a limited audience all over again, one that treasures older, unsung British films.
One Million Years BC – DVD Review
Reviewer: Freda Cooper
Director: Don Chaffey
Stars: Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Martine Beswick
Released: 24th October 2016
Cinema history may be littered with bikini moments, but only a few have achieved true iconic status. Ursula Andress in ‘Dr No’ (1962) for one, followed by numerous other Bond girls who tried to re-create the moment, most notably Halle Berry in ‘Die Another Day’ (2002). And there was Bo Derek in ‘10’ (1979). But only one actress had the dubious honour of sporting a fur bikini. She was the almost-unknown Raquel Welch in ‘One Million Years BC’ (1966) and the garment, with its remarkable adhesive properties, made her an international star.
The film makes its return in a newly restored version on DVD to mark its 50th anniversary. And, while Welch in her bikini is easily its best known image, it also overshadows the film’s other achievement. Not only was it the most successful film ever to come out of Hammer Studios, it was also the big screen’s most famous dinosaur epic until the arrival of ‘Jurassic Park’ some 26 years later. And much of that was down to the creations of the legendary Ray Harryhausen. While some of them aren’t up to his usual standard – little more than enlarged versions of a lizard and a turtle – there’s a great dinosaur battle which shows the maestro at his best.
The audiences queuing to see the film in ’66 certainly didn’t go along for the plot. It’s pretty basic stuff, all about two tribes. The Stone People are a vicious lot, living in the mountains and regularly knocking seven bells out of each other. They kick out Tumak (John Richardson), one of their leader’s sons, and he finds his way to the coast where he discovers the Shell People, who show him a different, more peaceful way of life. It’s not long before the two tribes come into conflict, but then they eventually have to come together in a battle for survival.
Unsurprisingly, the dialogue isn’t up to much – the occasional word and a few grunts – so the demands on the cast are more physical than anything. And, once director Don Chaffey has exhausted the appeal of Harryhausen’s dinosaurs, he throws the kitchen sink at the film in the shape of the final sequence, a volcanic eruption and earthquake, all of which is pretty spectacular for its day.
The restoration has certainly sharpened up the look of the film and the DVD comes complete with a variety of extras, including interviews with Welch and her co-star, Martine Beswick. But comparisons with today’s special effects are inevitable and, while Harryhausen’s monsters are seriously impressive for their day, both they and the film are more of a period piece, laden with nostalgia for fans of the 60s.
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