Friday, November 30, 2007

Damage Done

DAMAGE DONE (dir. Roy Burdine, US, 2007) If you are feeling overwhelmed by holiday bliss, then here is the perfect antidote! "Damage Done" is unrelenting as it follows the tragic trajectory of a co-dependent relationship between two people attempting to save each other: one from the pain of his past and from the pain of her present. As emotionally bleak and painful as the story is, the film itself is stirringly shot and edited with a fabulous score by Force Theory and songs by Zachariah and the Lobos Riders. I don't know whether it was my need to look away from the 'car wreck', but I began to notice director Roy Burdine's excellent coverage and editing through out. The rapid cutting and spurning of continuity gives the film something of a dream (or nightmare?) quality. This exceptional technique helps make witnessing the personal implosions on screen a bit easier. Zach Selwyn delivers a WIDE character arc that descends into a relationship hole that isn't necessarily foretold when we first meet him. In fact, re-watching his entrance after he takes his last, tragic beat, is something of a revelation as to his performance. The object of his struggle is played by Bonnie Warner, whose character is something of a cipher, considering the amount of territory she is required to cover. In fact, it is the inclusion of all the various plot points (a gun, drugs, mothers...) that at one point confused me a bit, but at another, keeps the film from becoming dull and painful.

It is not an easy viewing. However, given the emergence of 'mumblecore' within the indie film market, DAMAGE DONE gives a good JOLT away from the navel gazing!

Maxxxxx says
re DAMAGE DONE: "Such a cranky bird!"

CLICK HERE for more...

TLA Releasing: "Naked Boys Singing" and "Socket"

TLA Releasing has a couple fun flicks in their pipeline. First, coming out on DVD this Tuesday from TLA Releasing is a nifty stocking stuffer, all puns intended!

NAKED BOYS SINGING (dirs. Robert Schrock, Troy Christian, USA, 2007, 83 mins.) This is something of a video record of the little revue that has played Off-broadway for ten years. However, note that this is NOT a recording of THAT production, but a staging specifically for this film. That will probably matter only to the purists or to those wanting a 'souvenir' of the production, as the piece itself is not exactly "Les Miserables", but a nice, fluffy bit of "gratuitous nudity" (as the opening number doesn't hesitate to proclaim). There are nearly a dozen writers credited, including Bruce Vilanche, who apparently all contributed to the lyrics. I thought perhaps a skit or dialog had been cut, but the film actually runs LONGER than the play does! However, since it is a revue, there is room for material to have been added and cut during its ten year run. (I have not seen a stage production, by the way.) The songs run from fun-and-campy to cabaret-like sobering, with some piano bar show tunes in the mix. Some pieces such as "The Bliss of a Bris" and "Perky Little Porn Star" are a delight! However, it is when it tries to take itself seriously that the piece lags. Though far from a musicalized "Puppetry of the Penis", it does try to transcend its basic premise: 10 naked guys trying to make you smile! It is not unlike a gay "Oh! Calcutta!", though the creators would like to think otherwise. The cast is exceptionally likable and display a professional level of talent that might be unexpected given the exploitative nature of the piece. The original creator and director, Robert Schrock appears to have guided the cast, though co-director and choreographer Troy Christian is responsible for its transition to film.

The film was shot digitally and, due to the musical nature, the sound is nearly completely synced, which is more than noticeable at times. Since it is a live performance, one would have hoped for more of a live recording, sound-wise. However, since there is limited (if any!) body mic possibilities, there was the necessity of looping nearly the entire film, which slightly takes away from the performance aspect.

The DVD comes with a "making of..." that is nearly as long as the feature! It is an exceptionally thorough featurette, including some behind the scenes drama with the cast - always appreciated! Other extras on the disc include the trailer as well as trailers for other TLA Releasing releases. There is also an odd little video montage from "Justus Boyz", a clothing manufacturer that provided the undies for the production.

TLA Releasing has also announced the acquisition of "SOCKET" (dir. Sean Abley, US, 2007, 90 mins.), which I saw earlier this year at Gaylaxicon 07. It was an unannounced, last minute, midnight presentation, which was thoroughly enjoyed. Abley cast a hunky and appealing couple of guys who dramatize a sci-fi version of sexual and chemical addiction. A group of electrocution survivors gather to 'get off' on re-electrocuting themselves, more or less. Yes, that is over-simplified, but the performances and editing are well above the standard, as far as gay schockers go! (Ha! Get it?! hee hee hee...) I'm excited to see it again, and NOT at midnight, this time... It releases in March, as the accompanying press release details:

(Philadelphia PA / London, UK, November 5, 2007) TLA Releasing has secured non-theatrical, home video, VOD rights for North America and United Kingdom to SOCKET (2007, U.S.) written and directed by Sean Abley. The film will be released on DVD March 25, 2008 in North America and the summer of 2008 in the United Kingdom, through the TLA Releasing label.

TLA acquired the film from Los Angeles based production company, Velvet Candy Entertainment; TLA Releasing was represented by TLA partner and Director of Acquisitions Richard A. Wolff and the deal was negotiated by writer, director, producer Sean Abley and producers John Carrozza and Doug Prinzivalli of Velvet Candy Entertainment. The deal was finalized at 2007 AFM.

“SOCKET contains elements of sci-fi and horror wrapped up in an unconventional gay romance.” Said Richard Wolff of TLA Releasing. “Production company Velvet Candy Entertainment has some exciting projects in the pipeline and their first project is an accessible, entertaining blend of sexy chills and thrills.”

In SOCKET, surgeon Bill Matthews (Derek Long) is recovering in the hospital where he works, after being struck by lightning on the beach. His intern is the mysterious and sexy Craig Murphy (Matthew Montgomery of Gone but not Forgotten), who has been struck by lightening too. As Bill is released from the hospital, Craig slips him a card inviting him to a meeting of “people just like us.”

Intrigued by this “group,” Bill gets up the courage to attend and find other survivors who have been electrocuted in massively creative ways. But as the doctor discovers, the members are hooking themselves up in order to get off. And not only does Bill become hooked to the “juice,” his relationship with Craig really sparks, leaving a trail of dead bodies and blood in its wake.

"When we started working on SOCKET just over a year ago, we would say to each other 'Wouldn't it be great if TLA picked up our film?' said writer/director/co-producer Sean Abley. “And now here we are working with TLA on the first of, hopefully, many more films to come. We're thrilled to say the least."

For additional information about SOCKET visit and

Maxxxxx says
re Naked Boys Singing: "Dooby doobie dooo-oooo!"
re Socket: "Wooooo! Pretty!"

CLICK HERE for more...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Commercial Catch-up: Control and Across the Universe

CONTROL (dir. Anton Corbijn, UK, 2007, 121 mins.) Briefly, this is a bio-pic of Ian Curtis' life with the 'post-punk' band, Joy Division. Not so briefly, this is gorgeously, if not brilliantly photographed and framed film, in widescreen black and white, by Martin Ruhe, though considerable 'online chatter' credits director Anton Corbijn, who is a celebrated photographer, particularly of rock bands as his subjects, i.e. he did the cover to U2's "Joshua Tree" album. Just the composition within the frame lends itself to comtemplation. It was reminiscent of the independent work coming out of the UK in the late 60's/early 70's, though that is about a decade before the film is placed. The lighting and production design is suitably sterile and morose, since it frames the character, Ian Curtis.

Sam Riley plays Ian Curtis with a tragic, yet graceful despair. During the performance sequences, Riley seems to leave his body, which becomes a tangle of limbs flying in front of him. I am not so familiar with Joy Division, much less any video of them, so I do not know if Riley's physical performance during the band's sequences is literal or a poetic analogy to his epilepsy, which haunted him and drove him into ever deeper depressions. Regardless, Riley photographs stunningly in black and white, and his singing performances are mesmerizing. Even if the character lacks the ferocity that usually garners nominations (i.e. Bette Midler in "The Rose"), his depth, skill and the fact that he is in nearly EVERY FRAME, should attract due notice on everyone's top 10 list at the end of the year. His 'off stage' persona as the passive-aggressive-civil-servant-for-a-day-job, is mostly opposite the always great Samantha Morton, who plays his wife. Morton was nearly unrecognizable in her entrance, when they first meet. However, during one of the more climatic of the numerous arguments between them, she turns what is merely on paper a few questions, into an awesome monologue of queries and pauses. Also notable is Toby Kebbell as the band's manager, 'Rob Gretton'. Perhaps it is because he is the only character in the film allowed a punchline, but his presence is wonderfully edited within the otherwise dismal storyline. The rest of the guys in the band are nearly background, without becoming generic. However, all four of them were trained on the instruments and perform live - not synced. Alexandra Maria Lara plays 'Curtis's lover, but she is merely window dressing in this. She is GORGEOUSLY photographed, but window dressing, nonetheless, as she is not given all that much to do.

Though I could not hum a few bars to a Joy Division song if my life depended on it, once the soundtrack got going, I vaguely remember their sound and really enjoyed the music, now 25 years later. Overall, I can not say I was moved to tears, as were a few in the audience I was with, as well as a report from a friend who saw it in Toronto. I just found it too beautiful to look at, even during its tragic climax, to be depressed.

Similarly, though 180 degrees its opposite in visual style, tone and budget, no doubt, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (dir. Julie Taymor, US, 2007, 131 mins.) is a BIG, BEAUTIFUL love letter to the Beatles. Director Julie Taymor could well become the next Ken Russell! The woman will sacrifice any performance or script for the sake of her imagery. She is just lucky enough to be brilliant, as far as her visuals are concerned. What is a simple boy-meets/loses/gets-girl story is set during the Viet Nam war, scored completely by Beatles songs, and sung by the cast. She has led her cinematographer (Bruno Delbonnel), production designer (Mark Friedberg), art direction (Peter Rogness) and costumer (Albert Wolsky) to create a Disneyfied version of "Hair". If I could be so gauche as to make the pitch: it is "Mama Mia" meets "Hair" meets "Beatlemania". Though the political commentary is intact, it is simplified in to a generic anti-war statement. In fact, the pacifists become the antagonists by the end of the film, which I found a tad distressing.

The ENORMOUS cast (well it IS a $200 million production, I would guess) is led by Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess and Joe Anderson. At the time I saw it, I thought they were competent enough. However, I don't remember them, unlike the various supporting cast, including Eddie Izzard, Bono, and Joe Cocker, who each pop in for a ditty, regardless of how well it might play in the script or not. These three guys display more character and prove to be more adept at a 'musical' than the leading players. I just regret that the Eddie Izzard scene could have been cut without any loss what so ever.

Of the two dozen or so songs that Taymor includes here, there were a few I had no recollection of as being by the Beatles, and they didn't really serve any dramatic purpose within her screenplay, either. She is a self indulgent artist, who does not apparently self-edit much. However, she IS an artist and she does have moments of ecstasy! I WILL have this when it is on DVD, even if I do not intend on watching it from beginning to end, but chapter skipping my way through it...

Maxxxxx says
re Control: "Such a pretty bird!"
re Across the Universe: Whistles the theme from "Bridge Over the River Kwai"

CLICK HERE for more...

Commercial Catch-up: Politics and Religion

A pair of fabulous documentaries have ZOOMED past here in Atlanta:

JIMMY CARTER: MAN FROM PLAINS (dir. Jonathan Demme, US, 2007, 125 mins.) Director Jonathan Demme has created a very difficult piece to encapsulate, much less 'sell', which describes the dilemma that the subject of his documentary faces, also. The film concentrates on Jimmy Carter's publicity tour for his book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" by following him through the media circus that surrounded him for just using the word 'apartheid' in the same breath with 'Palestine'. The 'character' of Jimmy Carter is big enough and well known enough, that we don't need much more than a refresher on who he is before launching out on the road with him. What comes as sort of a bonus in seeing him in action, is that even at 82 years old AND being a former President, he still carries his own bags and flies on commercial airlines, with just the minimal of security around him. As for a 'warts and all' portraiture, Demme catches Carter being only annoyed at worst, and that is limited to the cell phone juggling he has to do from airplane to hotel, as well as dealing with interviewers who have obviously not read the book they are criticizing him for. By keeping any political lashing at the current administration out of the film, Demme has restrained it to an observation of an 'old generation' politician faced with current media frenzy that seeks a soundbite and not a discussion, even with a topic that is as complicated as the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, Carter and his publishers, Simon and Schuster, are more than aware that just using the word 'apartheid' in the title was a publicity stunt in itself, though the word that everyone involved uses is 'provocative'. It is something that as the six week tour continues, Carter seemingly regrets having done. Though he admits that it was his way of sparking a debate on the subject, the result of having to defend himself proved to be a distraction from the topic at hand. And it is that unspoken drama Demme captures in the film.

In short, and what makes the film great, though unsellable: Demme documents a generally well-liked political figure as he wrestles against a voracious media in defending and selling his ideas about the Israel-Palestine conflict. It doesn't sound like such a good time, but it is! Demme's dramatic style of using close-ups to look into his characters' dilemmas (i.e. "Silence of the Lambs" and "Philadelphia") is perfectly suited here as we look into the faces of his interviewers and his 'fans' at the signings. The fans are clearly in awe of his presence. The interviewers are too distracted by their own agendas to make a connection with their subject. Demme is also invisible throughout, to the point that I am not sure he was present during the entire filming. His absence elevates the film from being an op/ed piece, to a truer document of an event. The detractors are given enough screen time to voice their opinions about the book, that Demme cannot be judged as having a political agenda, as much as a social one, regarding the state of the media.

He also exposes the base of Carter's inexhaustible energy, which is his faith and his relationship with Rosalyn. Carter's religious belief, though not fully explored here, runs throughout the film, whether it be his saying grace at each meal, the shared bible reading he and Rosalyn have even when he is on the road, or the occasional sermons he gives in Plains, GA. However, all of these displays are privately held. He does not promote his religion while on the road or in interviews. He just acts upon it through his tireless actions. During the two to three months that the film follows him, if he is not on the road for the book, he is on the road with "Habitat for Humanity" in New Orleans (which is the closest moment he comes to criticizing the current administration on film), or attending the Carter Center board meetings. Ironically, his travel is only limited by President Bush. Carter is not allowed to enter Lebanon because of the 'statement' that his mere presence would make. A moment that Demme includes, which is a political statement in itself.

At 125 minutes, the film runs long, however it doesn't feel it. But a documentary at that length will make distribution even more difficult. Catch it when you can!

FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO (dir. Daniel G. Karslake, US, 2007, 95 mins.) Politics intersect on religion in this documentary profiling two gay men, three lesbians and their families' belief systems and how that affects their relationships with each other. Included in the group is Chrissy Gephardt, Congressman Dick Gephardt's daughter, and Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay man to be elected to bishop in the Anglican Church. Interspersed with the interviews and profiles of the subjects and families are commentaries by biblical scholars regarding the literalist interpretation of the Bible. At one point, I felt the film got a bit stalled in the etymology of the word "abomination", but then it is the BIG WORD for biblical literalists in their condemnation of homosexuality. Other than that, the film does build to a dramatic and surprising climax at the doorstep of "Focus on the Family" in Colorado Springs, as well as the Episcopalian Convention, where Bishop Robinson is ordained. The Gephardt's journey holds no real surprise, it has been previously documented. However their inclusion here (as well as being the 'poster family') will give the film more exposure. Oh, and curiously, this was the second gay-and-religion themed documentary I've seen this year produced by Michael Huffington, aka Arianna's ex!

Maxxxxx says
re Jimmy Carter Man From Plains: "Such a good bird!"
re For the Bible Tells Me So: "Bless you!"

CLICK HERE for more...