Shorts Directed By: Carlos Augusto De Oliveira, Dominic Haxton, Nicholas Verso, Bryan Horch, Eldar Rapaport, Shaz Bennett, Rodrigo Barriuso, Magnus Mork
Reviewed By: Timothy Breach
On the other side of the milestone that was X, we move onto We Are Animals, the 11th collection of Boys on Film from Peccadillo Pictures. I truly love the title of We Are Animals (which is taken from one of the shorts). It’s the truth, though some like to picture us as being separate from, or above the animal kingdom. This plays into the common thread within these shorts of giving into human nature, our natural desires and urges; being who we are; or alternatively denying them. It’s a premise with power, but one which can be approached from multiple angles.
What better way to start than with the short which the collection derives its name from: We Are Animals – an intriguing short set in an alternate 1980’s where the reaction to the AIDs crisis has been extreme. I love alternate history with the what ifs and the power of turning points (which are usually only seen in hindsight). It’s a powerful sub genre of sci-fi which is explored across various mediums – this is my first taste of LGBT alternate history though. How would I describe it? Brilliant. It quickly sets up the world which creates the questions in your mind to hook you in. At it’s very core is the idea of giving in to our primal desires (as shown by the tribal/ritualistic nature of the Pink Panthers). It confronts the notion of conformity head on and delivers on every point from the use of inter-cuts to the use of sound and is difficult to pick fault with.
You know what they say, “once you kill a cow, you gotta make a burger”. Yes. That is my link between We Are Animals and Burger, and I’m not apologising for it. It’s just that I don’t have much to say about Burger. I mean it’s not bad and it does what it does rather well (creating a documentary-esque feeling through the characters’ dialogue and action) but it barely progresses into anything and the ending just raised concern. In terms of whether it fits with the title of the collection… well I suppose you could look at it as different animals or tribes coming together around a water hole. In that regard, it fits. It just didn’t excite me.
From Cardiff to Alaska… which is colder and wetter? Anybody know? Now where was I? Yes, Alaska Is A Drag. A near perfectly balanced comedy drama that had me hooked from beginning right through to the end. Everything was set so effortlessly that it was difficult not to be hooked into the world created; one of non-conformity against a pack of ‘animals’. Leo is only true to himself and being such a character, who also doesn’t conform to stereotypes, makes you want to root for him. Along with the “love interest” slot being taken up by a “best friend interest”, the whole thing was refreshing. My only quip was that it was too short, though, to my relief, a feature length version is in the works and you can donate to it on Kickstarter!
What’s summer like in Alaska? Well how about three summers in Denmark? Last summer, this summer and next summer? Well that’s the Three Summers you’re given in this short. I for one don’t understand the set-up; why are we going into the future? It doesn’t make sense to me. On top of that there was a disconnect between the tone and message of the story; is this a comedy or a drama? The score confused things even further and then came the pivotal sexual encounter (which was probably the best scene). There’s the whole desiring an older man, giving in to temptation and the notion that a horny straight guy will f*ck anything – they’re animals – but I didn’t care enough for any of the characters to be moved at any point, despite what could’ve been dramatic and tense scenes.
So we’re looking for tension, yes? Well thank God for The Last Time I Saw Richard – though God cannot protect you from all of your demons! Is that a spoiler? I don’t think so because we all have inner-demons, but when we mix that with mental health issues, what’s real and what isn’t? This blurred line is what hooks you into this short and, in my opinion, it provides everything I love about horror and sci-fi in an amazing condensed package. Everything from the cinematography, the score, the execution, the story to the performances encapsulated me in this creepy, tense, eerie world which I wanted to delve into. If a film makes me jump, it gets bonus points. If a film makes me want to shout at the screen it gets even more bonus points. But I’m getting carried away with saying how perfect and beautiful the final product is, and haven’t delved into the links to the collection title. There must be some. I need there to be some. Well, I suppose what’s more animalistic than the side of us that we cannot control, the side of our psyche which makes us susceptible to mental illness, the side that lets the demons in?
If demons exist, then does God exist? If so why does it have to monotheistic? What about the Greeks and Romans? What about… Cupid? Think I’m getting lost on a tangent? Stick with me. Little Boy on the surface seems to be about a guy with commitment issues confronting a stalker. However, for it all to make sense that stalker must be Cupid (or something similar). This also raises a lot of questions but ones that are more plausible when in the realm of fantasy than the ones that were raised by him merely being a human stalker. If this is true, this short is elevated to being above average. It creates tension well but beside that isn’t wholly original without him being Cupid. So if Cupid is real, that must mean that there is a word beyond the animal kingdom and that man may truly be above it, right? Or this short just shows that we can’t escape our own flaws and pitfalls – we are who we are and that might just screw up our chances of finding love. How cheery!
Every so often a short comes along which stands out, not necessarily on its merits, but definitely on the issues it tries to address. For Dorian is one of those, though it’s also rather good too. The question of representation in the media typically revolves around gender, race and/or sexuality. I’m not sure how to say this in the most politically correct way, but those with disabilities are often left out of the discussion. Times are changing (as seen by the casting of an actress in EastEnders for a role which wasn’t written with a disability) but as a whole it’s moving slowly (as with representation of Trans, though Cucumber/Banana did well in that respect) and I can only speak from a British perspective. So where does Dorian fit in? He’s gay and he has Down Syndrome. What is nice is how neither are majorly played upon; they’re just who he is. He cannot change who he is and he doesn’t try to conform to society. It is his father who is faced with issues when he realises that his son is growing up – I suppose he is over-protective and forgets for a moment that Dorian is just like any other person, no one took advantage and made him gay. And who cares if Dorian gets his kicks from the weatherman? It’s natural! It’s all handled brilliantly, which makes for a heart-warming and satisfying ending.
What is one thing that is inappropriate for a father/son to do? Spooning of course! (What a lousy link) *grumbles* Let me try again… erm… a good nights rest is good for the mind and the body, right? Well that means you need to a good mattress, and that’s certainly not what these guys have at the beginning of Spooners (I guess that’ll do!). So what do you do when you need a mattress? GO SHOPPING! Though what if your partner is slightly uncomfortable with the idea of mattress shopping as a couple? Despite him being your “husband”? Well this whimsical and original short explores that concept through the wizardry of a smart bed, which reveals that no one really gives a damn whether you’re gay, big spoon, twinky or submissive – it’s a hoot, with some great lines and visual comedy. And it’s link to the title of the collection… well I was going to do down the route of animals making nests and such but seeing as the short is a comedy, it’s link is the fact gays have an affinity with woodland creatures and that’s why we use terminology such as bear, cub and otter.
The time has come for this review to go into hibernation (well it’s more a death because it’s the end, but that’s nasty imagery!). We have sat through another collection, well, I have… and some of you just read this for whatever reason. I do hope that you watch some of the shorts, if not the whole collection, and broaden your appreciation, knowledge and experience of short films and LGBT+ cinema. So, back to We Are Animals. From the title I hoped for a collection that would be more raw, edgy and boundary pushing. That’s not to say that the collection is bad, because it’s not. There are highlights from the world-building in We Are Animals to representation in For Dorian. It’s a solid collection, even if the connection may be a little lose in places. It is however just my interpretation of how they fit together – no one says that they have to, and for individual reviews, you can check out my blog, Constrained Film Reviews. So where does it rank? That’s getting extremely difficult, but I’m going to put it between Cruel Britannia and Bad Romance.
An Interview with Actor-Director Adi Spektor
Movie Marker Magazine sat down with award-winning actor/director, Adi Spektor to talk acting, making movies in Hollywood and his latest role in ‘The Miracle of Hanukkah’.
Can you tell us a little about your early beginnings living in Poland?
When I was growing up in communistic Poland, there weren’t many opportunities for child actors, so when I was a kid, I would create puppet shows for my sister and we would play for hours. Other times, I would come up with different characters and would interact with her as that character. She really believed that I was someone else. It was fun. Also, although my parents are supportive of my acting career now, at the time, they wanted me to become a doctor, so acting professionally wasn’t even an option for me then. So unfortunately, I never had a chance to study acting in Poland.
What inspired you to take the acting journey?
I was always interested in human beings, why they are the way they are, what drives them, what’s important to them and why. I wondered what it would be like to be someone else for a short period of time. Acting gives you an opportunity to experience that, and there is no way you could have this experience in real life. I like to see and feel what it is like to “walk in someone else’s shoes”. As an actor you can do that, and then come back safely to your regular life.
You have co-starred in some hot TV shows and movies. Can you tell us a little about your most recent roles and have you enjoyed one more than another?
I played a Latvian gangster in ‘Rizzoli & Isles’ which was really fun to play, since I had to learn Latvian dialogue for it and I don’t speak the language. In ‘Scandal’ I played a Russian art dealer, who is double crossed and killed. Recently I had the chance to work with one of Hollywood’s legendary directors in a new studio blockbuster movie that will be in the theaters all over the world in the summer 2017. That was a real treat and I learned a lot from this experience. I am usually cast as some kind of Eastern European bad guy, so I especially like the characters that I have never had a chance to play before. Like for example the role in my film ‘A Miracle of Hanukkah’, I was playing a loving, Jewish gay guy who is also into BDSM and the supernatural. Completely different!
Your recent lead role in the film ‘A Miracle on Hanukkah’ you wrote, produced, directed and starred in. Can you tell us about the film and how you came up with the idea?
I like to make films with an uncommon and unpredictable story line. I have seen many films about exorcism, but the story line in them is very similar and there is usually a priest involved as one of the characters. Since I am Jewish and I speak fluent Hebrew, I wanted to create a Jewish version of the exorcism, which would give me an opportunity to use my language skills as well. Also, I didn’t want it to be a horror. When I was visiting a friend of mine, I saw a beautiful hanukkiah (menorah made just for Hanukkah) in his house and I borrowed it. This is how I decided that my film would take place during the first day of Hanukkah. The story line just came while I was already writing the screenplay.
You have made two award-winning smartphone movies. Can you tell us how this idea came about?
I decided to produce my first iPhone film after I was a Juror at the iPhone Film Festival, and saw the quality of these films. We had a script and a director, but the rest was up to me. It was a challenge because this kind of production wasn’t very popular at the time, we had to learn as we went along. The production took 10 days and I soaked up a lot of practical knowledge. The process inspired me to want to direct my own film, so I decided to challenge myself and shoot it on iPhone 5s. It was a success. ‘How to Rob a House’ has been screened all over the world and has won multiple awards.
What type of genre of film or TV show are you drawn to traditionally?
It depends on the day. Sometimes I like to watch a fast pace action film, another time a horror or a comedy. As an actor, I am more drawn to characters than the genre of film. I like to explore new characters that I have never had a chance to perform.
When you are not acting, what do you enjoy to do?
Physical and mental fitness is very important to me. I train in the gym on average 4 days, 2-3 hours at a time. I also love to read. So, I try to read as much as possible, both in English and Polish, to keep my vocabulary up to speed. When I have time, I try to watch as many movies as I can. I enjoy watching movies, but I also watch them as an actor and as a director. When I like the specific light they are using or a camera angle, I try to remember it, so maybe I can use it later in my productions. At times, I watch interviews with well accomplished directors, trying to pick their brains. There is still so much to learn, and internet is a great source of all kinds of knowledge.
What can we expect to see you doing over the next few months?
Presently, I am writing my first feature film, which is much more complicated than writing a short. There are many more story lines that must come together, there are more characters to develop etc. Also, it’s more challenging to keep an audience’s attention for 90 minutes rather than a 7-minute short! We are hopefully starting production in 2017.
Holding The Man
Reviewer: Freda Cooper
Director: Neil Armfield
Stars: Ryan Corr, Craig Stott, Anthony LaPaglia, Guy Pearce, Kerry Fox, Geoffrey Rush, Sarah Snook
Released: June 3rd, 2016
Cast your mind back to the mid-80s, when the world became aware of AIDS. There’d been deaths among the San Francisco gay community and in the UK we had those doom laden TV commercials. Designed to inflict the maximum amount of fear, they came with a built-in stigma. But what about the rest of the world? What about Australia, home of the ‘mate’?
Which is exactly where “Holding The Man” is set, a country that doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think about gay culture or the 80s epidemic. So it gives us a different angle on a piece of social history that we think we already know.
This is director Neil Armfield’s adaptation of Timothy Conigrave’s book of the same name, about his 15 year relationship with John Caleo. After meeting at school in their teens, they stayed together until the early 90s, surviving separation while Tim (Ryan Corr) went to drama school, the occasional temptation along the way and the opposition of John’s (Craig Stott) parents. And their devotion becomes even stronger when they are both diagnosed as HIV positive.
Essentially a personal story, it’s set against the sweeping background of social change, at a time when legal and social attitudes towards the gay community started to show the first signs of shifting, but when AIDS first appeared and was viewed as a death sentence. And it’s the personal side of things that really hits you between the eyes.
Both boys are from conventional, middle class families and attend a Catholic school. John’s family are devout Catholics and he’s the more reserved of the two, taking his time over the relationship. He’s also more conscious of pressure from school and his family, especially his father (Anthony LaPaglia) who never comes to terms with the relationship. Tim’s parents (Guy Pearce and Kerry Fox) are more tolerant and eventually more accepting. And, if there’s an award for a Best Supporting Put-Up Bed, it has to go to the one in the Conigrave household, where it’s used by John on his visits: later it moves to the hospital, where it’s occupied by Tim on overnight stays.
This is a film that sneaks up on you – and how. You know in your heart of hearts how things are going to end, whether you’ve read the book or not, but the first two thirds of the film are filled with charm, laughter and warmth, regardless of the struggles faced by the couple. And they’re very appealing: showy, aspiring actor Tim, who discovers that he’s never going to set the acting world alight, and the quieter, more grounded John with those lush eyelashes and thick, dark hair. They draw you into their world, you get to know them, you laugh with them – and out of nowhere comes the hammer blow.
Knowing about their diagnosis doesn’t lessen the shock. It’s because you’re hoping against hope that maybe there’s a treatment that will mean they can stay together. But this is the late 80s and early 90s and today’s medication was a long way in the distance.
The performances are excellent, especially Ryan Corr as the irrepressible Tim, who loves to challenge attitudes. But it’s Anthony LaPaglia who really stands out in the plum role of John’s dad, a man who dearly loves his son but finds it impossible to understand, let alone tolerate, his lifestyle. His only way of coping with his son being in hospital is to quibble with Tim over the items John plans to leave his will. You instinctively despise the man for being so intransigent, but you also find a twinge of sympathy for him. As he says to Tim, everybody “knows” about him and John. They may know, but that doesn’t mean they understand. He most certainly doesn’t. He can’t. And he knows it.
Comparisons with “Brokeback Mountain” are inevitable and a touch too easy. Yes, there are parallels but real similarities between Jack and Ennis and Tim and John are few, especially when it comes to social attitudes. The ending is devastating. Especially because it’s true. And tissues are compulsory.
LGBT History Month Review – Lilting
Director: Hong Khaou
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Cheng Pei Pei, Naomi Christie, Andrew Leung, Peter Bowles
I have chosen to review the recent feature film Lilting to celebrate LGBT History Month, the first feature from London-based filmmaker Hong Khaou. Starring the endearing Ben Whishaw as Richard, Lilting tells the story of the how Richard copes when his partner Kai dies suddenly, and how he longs to share his grief with Kai’s Cambodian-Chinese mother, Junn. They do not share a common language, but Richard recruits an amateur translator who struggles to bring Richard’s profound grief to light without dealing with the secret we dance around- that Kai was gay.
The film, although clouded in grief and sorrow from beginning to end, is utterly charming. You are locked into a time warp with Kai’s mother, Junn, expertly played by Pei-pei Cheung, with heartbreaking dreamy flashbacks of Kai visiting her, that arrive unannounced to break into her day. Whishaw is greeted with frosty suspicion, and he hovers in the background, keen to hold onto any link with the ultimate love of his life. Set in contemporary London, we flit between Richard’s hectic flat and the vintage-themed care home Junn now resides in, which brings a dark comic tinge to the scenes as the characters remain unnerved and uncomfortable during the first visits.
The struggle to connect the two vastly conflicting cultures of modern day London and Junn’s traditional Chinese background palpitates throughout the film, with a concluding crescendo which burns brightly and passionately, breaking the barriers between Richard and Junn. At last, a common language is found in the grief that they share for the person they most cared about.
I chose this film because it is so much more than a film about two protagonists playing out a LGBT relationship as, indeed, that part of the narrative has already happened. It’s a universal love story centred around grief and an all-inhabiting relationship. In the way that audiences turn to Brief Encounter or Roman Holiday as their go-to classic romance, I also go to Lilting. Dealing with a subject as profound and tragic as the loss of the ‘one great love’ as delicately and as interestingly as it does is a real success, especially for a first feature. We are also able to see the struggles that Kai had with the lack of cultural understanding about his relationship within his family, which is both fascinating and significant for modern audiences. The struggle to come out to his family was a very real one, and how much did he have to sacrifice in order to keep this a secret? With such a young death, it seems to drive home to view that it’s so much better to live openly and honestly, especially as his mother fully embraces her son and his life by the end of her journey in the film.
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