Melbourne Queer Film Festival 2016 – part one

Oh, I do love Melbourne in autumn. All the colours, the vibrancy…

Okay, that was a little cheeky – extra points if you can tell what Doctor Who story I massacred that quote from – but Melbourne really is alive in March and April, and the CBD is buzzing with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Melbourne Queer Film Festival creating a stimulating and often exhausting level of activity.

Proudly Different

I haven’t seen any Comedy Festival shows yet – I am planning to – but I have seen a few MQFF films over the past week.

First up in this, the first festival for new Executive Director Dillan Golightly and Program Manager Spiro Economopoulos, was the Opening Night film, That’s Not Us (USA, William Sullivan). Opening night films are tricky beasts, as I’ve observed before. It’s got to be something that’s going to appeal to a wide cross-section, and That’s Not Us certainly had all the right elements: three couples, a lesbian couple, a gay male couple and a straight couple head off together for a weekend away at an aunt’s beach house. Now there’s great opportunity to explore all sorts of dynamics: sexual, social and domestic. What a shame then that it didn’t exactly deliver.

Lesbians on the Loose. Well, almost...

Lesbians on the Loose. Well, almost…

Yes, each of the couples had their own issues to deal with – the girls hadn’t had sex with each other for quite a while, the boys were wrestling with the Chicago university offer one had received, and the straight two were grappling with gender role expectations, but the three storylines all operated independently of each other. And while they are all legitimate issues within a relationship, they’re not exactly redolent with dramatic potential and conflict. It all felt just a little… beige, to be honest.

I don't remember the boys playing football in the film, but that would have been more interesting than their argument about university

I don’t remember the boys playing football in the film, but that would have been more interesting than their argument about university

There were no real shouting matches or cross-couple tensions or bitch fights, and maybe that was the point of the film, but for me, it left me unmoved and ultimately I didn’t care for any of the characters. The after party in the Fed Square Atrium was a hit though.

Chemsex is definitely not an Opening Night film, but it is a good example of why we still need a queer film festival. It’s a UK documentary directed by William Fairman and Max Gogarty and it explores the rising use of drugs in London’s gay scene, the sex activity and rise in HIV infections that are intrisnically linked to it.

You may think this would make for an erotic and sexy film, and given its late-night Friday screening, a lot of the audience seemed to be up for that – but it was not sexy at all. It was sad, confronting and at times difficult to watch.

Some of the interviewees remained anonymous - understandably

Some of the interviewees remained anonymous – understandably

I’ve never been a drug user – pre-existing medical conditions prevent that – and I’ve never found the idea of chemsex attractive at all, but it’s going on here in Melbourne too, and apps like Grindr and Scruff are facilitating unsafe and addictive sex and drug use.

This documentary shows the effects that has on the lives of the men interviewed, and it is destructive. It’s a sobering, cautionary tale that despite its difficult content is a necessary film for most gay men to see.

On a much lighter note is Tab Hunter Confidential (USA, Jeffrey Schwarz), a documentary about the 1950’s Hollywood heartthrob. It charts the career of this impossibly handsome blond, blue-eyed man, from Z-grade movie actor to singer, star and household name.

Luckily, Hunter is still alive, so rather than just rely on the recollections of his co-stars and other celebrities, the filmmakers speak at length with him, and hear his stories first-hand.

Tab Hunter, the quintesential Hollywood heartthrob

Tab Hunter, the quintesential Hollywood heartthrob

What’s interesting is that while Hunter kept his sexuality hidden in the ’50s – necessarily, given the era – he wasn’t pretending to be straight, he just kept his private life out of the spotlight, and he talks quite candidly about that now, as an 80-something man.

He looks happy, and why wouldn't he? He's Tab Hunter!

He looks happy, and why wouldn’t he? He’s Tab Hunter!

It’s the innocence of a bygone era that’s the charm of Hollywood docos like this, and Schwarz has a lot of fun playing with that, using old footage and photos to ironic effect. And it certainly makes you wonder, 60 years from now, what Hollywood celebrities will we be watching with similar stories.

 

 

A world away from Hollywood is the Spanish film, Hidden Away (Mikel Rueda). Set in Bilbao, it’s about Ibra, a young Moroccan refugee who runs into Rafa, a young Spanish boy, in a nightclub. There’s an instant connection, especially for Rafa, who goes out of his way to seek out Ibra’s friendship. But both of them have to deal with prejudice in various forms: racism, classism and homophobia.

As far as plots go, it’s not exactly new – it’s a Romeo and Juliet scenario in many ways, but that storyline prvides a good framework for the more complex racial and sexuality themes. Interestingly, like last year’s Brazilian film, The Way He Looks, not once does either boy state they are gay, although some of Rafa’s friends are less than complimentary, and their attraction for each other takes a while to develop.

Ibra steals a glance at the sullen Rafa

Ibra steals a glance at the sullen Rafa

Thankfully, there are no sex scenes; it’s more about two teenage boys coming to terms with their feelings for each other and their own sexuality.

 

 

And that’s somewthing it shares in part with the festival’s Centrepiece Presentation, the local documentary Remembering The Man (Nickolas Bird and Eleanor Sharpe). It tells the not-unfamiliar story of Timothy Conigrave and John Caleo – immortalised in Conigrave’s memoir, Holding The Man, and its stage and recent screen adaptations.

Using archival footage – including home movies of the pair – and photos and interviews with the friends and colleagues of Conigrave and Caleo, it tells the story of their love, beginning as teenage boys at Xavier College, and their experiences with AIDS in a candid, heartfelt and moving way. It also provides aspects and anecdotes not heard before, and paints a respectful portrait of the men that works well as a complement to last year’s film version.

So young, so in love. A great way to remember Tim Conigrave and John Caleo

So young, so in love. A great way to remember Tim Conigrave and John Caleo

Even though it is a tender and emotional telling, there’s still a measured objectivity here that really makes it work as another part of a love story that has become part of Melbourne’s legacy and history.

And so, off I go, diving into the final weekend of MQFF films. Expect a report early next week. I promise!

 

 

It’s dark in the woods…

I have something of a love/hate relationship with musicals. There are some I love, some I hate, and some I can take or leave. And that’s even more true of film adaptations. For instance, I love The Sound of Music in any form, Les Misérables does nothing for me on either stage or screen, and Mamma Mia! is much more fun on stage than its film version. But that’s no surprise – even Meryl Streep looked embarrassed in that. And let’s not even mention Pierce Brosnan’s singing.

So what did I make of Into The Woods then? I’m glad to say I really enjoyed it, because it ticked many boxes.

Darling, do you think it's safe, going into the woods? Not at all, but it'll make a great musical.

Darling, do you think it’s safe, going into the woods?
Not at all, but it’ll make a great musical.

Just quickly, for those who don’t know, it’s the story of a Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt), who have been cursed by the Witch (Meryl Streep) and cannot have children. But she offers to lift the curse in return for some items to create the spell, and they involve other fairy tale characters such as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack (of the beanstalk variety) and Rapunzel. So the Baker and his Wife head into the woods to find these items.

But back to the boxes it ticked for me.

INTO THE WOODS

Come here my pretty…

Box 1: The original Broadway musical was written by Stephen Sondheim in 1986. I’ve never seen it on stage, but many of the songs are familiar to me. Sondheim has, of course, a strong list of other credits, including the lyrics to West Side Story and Gypsy, as well as Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. He writes intelligent,m complex and memorable songs that know how to tell a story, explore an emotion, often with wit and irony, and without talking down to the audience or labouring a point (unlike Herbert Kretzmer’s English libretto of Les Mis, which I find overwrought and overdone). And that’s why it ticks Box 2.

Suitably grotesque - Cinderella's step-bitches

Suitably grotesque – Cinderella’s step-bitches

Box 2: Despite its Disney association, and its fairy tale context, Into The Woods isn’t all saccharine and happy endings. In fact, the ending is far from happy, with a number of deaths, broken marriages and promises, and that’s the point. Sondheim takes these fairy tales and examines what happens after the ‘happy ending’. While the musical, from the start, has a sardonic and slightly satirical tone, the second act, as the characters go further into the woods, becomes much darker – but not as dark as the original stage production, apparently, where Rapunzel dies, the Baker’s Wife does more than kiss the Charming Prince, and her death is much nastier. The musical has been Disneyfied for film, but it still packs a punch. In the very full cinema we saw it in, children were asking if they could leave at the film’s darkest moments. Yes, this isn’t a kid’s film. It reminded me of The Sound of Music – a film as a kid I only ever saw up to Maria’s wedding to Captain Von Trapp. The Nazi invasion of Salzburg was far too dark.

He was brought up to be charming, not sincere...

He was brought up to be charming, not sincere…

Rapunzel lets her hair down... probably not a great idea

Rapunzel lets her hair down… probably not a great idea

A dashing prince in leather... so many gay men's wet dream

A dashing prince in leather… so many gay men’s wet dream

Box 3: A cracking cast delivers some great performances. Of course, Meryl Streep is getting plenty of kudos – deservedly so – for her portrayal of the Witch, breaking her own rule of never playing such a role, but there are other strong performances. James Corden is wonderful as the Baker; his well-meaning bumbling demeanour suits the character perfectly, and I wouldn’t be surprised if director Rob Marshall cast him after seeing him play Craig Owen in the 2011 Doctor Who story Closing Time. Emily Blunt as his Wife is also strong; Chris Pine’s Charming Prince is wonderfully complex, and he succeeds in taking a Disney stereotype and adding darker dimensions to the character. Even Billy Magnussen, as Rapunzel’s Prince, adds more to what could have just been an eye candy role. Anna Kendrick is great as an indecisive Cinderella, and Johnny Depp, for his short time as the Wolf, is perfect.

Bubble bubble toil and trouble, fire burn and Meryl bubble...

Bubble bubble toil and trouble, fire burn and Meryl bubble…

All of this sells it as a great musical film. They can be curious beasts, and often difficult to get right, but in this case, they have, and this will become one of the best remembered and loved movie musicals in the future. I can guarantee we’ll have it in our DVD collection.

Great Film Expectations met and missed

Every now and then, a film pops up that has a really interesting pedigree, and actually lives up to all expectations. Stoker is one of those films. Elysium isn’t.

Let’s talk about the second film first. Elysium is the follow-up to South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, a sci-fi film that was highly original and caught everyone by surprise. This is his first big budget Hollywood film, and while there’s some weight in the presence of Matt Damon and Jodie Foster in the cast, ultimately it all feels quite thin.

Come on, I had to include this gratuitous shot of Matt Damon undressed...

Come on, I had to include this gratuitous shot of Matt Damon undressed…

Elysium starts off promisingly enough. It’s the year 2154, Earth is overcrowded, and the rich and beautiful have created a lovely new life for themselves on the space station Elysium, while the poor and common struggle to live and work in overcrowded conditions with little in the way of money or benefits. As a vision of the future, it’s both fresh and not as far-fetched as many other celluloid scenarios. Blomkamp’s uncompromising gritty and grimy representation of the future does carry some credibility, and the concepts are reminiscent of quite a few Doctor Who stories. I was reminded of 1971’s Colony in Space, 1975’s The Ark in Space; there were echoes of the Cybermen, a touch of 1984’s The Caves of Androzani, and the David Tennant stories New Earth (2006) and Gridlock (2007). And Elysium was remarkably similar stylistically to the setting of The Girl Who Waited (2011).

RoboCop, Terminator, Borg or Cyberman? Take your pick as Damon gets ready for the big shoot-em-up finale.

RoboCop, Terminator, Borg or Cyberman? Take your pick as Damon gets ready for the big shoot-em-up finale.

The trouble is that the actual plot of the film doesn’t hold up to extended scrutiny. Max (Damon) and his story arc, exposed to lethal radiation and forced to don a computersied exo-skeleton to carry out a perilous trip to Elysium in the hope of ridding himself of the radiation (they have machines up there that diagnose and cure or heal humans of all injuries, diseases and conditions, naturally), are so heavily sognposted, it’s more like a Join-the-dots puzzle. And Foster, as the cold and ambitious Delacourt, is wofeully underused. But most disappointingly, the film’s climax is a full-blown CGI chase and fight sequence filled with numerous explosions, plenty of gunfire and an alarming body count, and what started out as an intelligent and intriguing premise ended up just as another Hollywood sci-fi action film. Which is disappointing.

Jodie Foster's looking good, but criminally underused.

Jodie Foster’s looking good, but criminally underused.

Not disappointing at all is Stoker, which is great news, because on paper, it sounds too good to be true. With the Ridley brothers Tony and Scott as producers, a script from newly-out Wentworth Miller and directed by Korean Chang-wook Park – his first English language film, it stars Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode, with a small part played by Jackie Weaver.

Grief-stricken Evelyn and India at the funeral. Evelyn's grief is short-lived once Charles arrives...

Grief-stricken Evelyn and India at the funeral. Evelyn’s grief is short-lived once Charles arrives…

Essentially it’s a psychological thriller, an American Gothic tale that has more than a touch of Hitchcock about it, especially Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and a shower scene reference to Psycho (1960), and a whoile lot of style. At the funeral of her much-loved father, India (Wasikowska) metts her far-too-charming uncle Charles (Goode), who she never knew existed before that day. India’s mother Evelyn (Kidman) takes a shine to Charles, but the truth behind him, and the sudden death of his brother are shrouded in mystery. Of course.

Evelyn has trouble coming to grips with her brother-in-law Charles.

Evelyn has trouble coming to grips with her brother-in-law Charles.

We may have seen variations on this theme before, but the style, the storytelling, and the performances in Stoker make a formidable combination. It’s interesting that for a standard American story, all the key players are not. A Korean director working with two Australian and one British leads are detached enough from the cultural and stylistic baggage than an American cast and director would have brought with them.

Wasikowska is mesmerising as the introverted and troubled 18-year-old, Kidman is statuesque amnd jaded, and makes good use of her own looks and icy reputation, and Goode’s smooth elegance works perfectly and makes his character a truly complex beast.

The very suave but mysterious Uncle Charles.

The very suave but mysterious Uncle Charles.

So thank goodness for films like Stoker, that demonstrate how remarkable collaborations can work, and show up films like Elysium that just miss the mark. But then, that’s the nature of filmmaking – there is no real and idiot-proof rule book. And that’s a good thing.

Catching up on comedy, nudity, big-budget superheroes and no-budget Classic Who

Yes, yes, I know; it’s been well over a month since I last posted, but unfortunately, other things have been getting in the way: work commitments, a sick husband, family functions… you know how it is. It doesn’t mean I’ve been idle, though.

It’s been a mixed bag of cultural experiences, from three very funny but very different Melbourne Comedy Festival shows to a blockbuster movie, a naked stage show, and a dodgy DVD. Let’s go on a quick cultural tour of my last month.

April in Melbourne of course means the Comedy Festival, and while I didn’t bust a gut to get to too much, I did see three shows: Dixie’s Tupperware Party, Nath Valvo’s Walk of Shame and Joel Creasey’s Naked. All gay shows, but all very different. Dixie Longate – essentially a drag show from a Deep South trailer trash mother and her newfound love of Tupperware. Yes, it was fun, and Dixie was quick-witted and well-rehearsed, but while there was plenty of laughs and sharp off-the-cuff material, there was no real payoff at the end, and it felt like a camp, dressed-up Tupperware party – which is all it was, really. Great fun, but not groundbreaking.

Nath Valvo contemplates how far he can push the envelope in 'Walk of Shame'.

Nath Valvo was pushing more boundaries though. In his show about being on the dole and his achievement of passing two kidney stones – with very clever and funny stops along the way – he doesn’t apologise for being gay, or for a fairly confronting (well, for the straight audience members anyway) tale about a foursome. And while he may seem scattered and random, you can tell he knows exactly what direction he’s going – even if it almost derails when he involves the audience at the end.

Joel Creasey's promotional material exposed more flesh than he showed on stage...

Joel Creasey, surprisingly with a show called Naked, was a little more ‘family-friendly’, but just as funny as he spoke about his fear of being naked in front of other people – and his country gig where he was chased by anti-gay protesters. It wasn’t his flesh he was exposing – but there was some of that as well. As there should have been.

Both Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans had their work cut out for them when faced with their gay admirers.

 

 

 

 

No naked flesh however in The Avengers, Marvel’s blockbuster movie featuring six – count them – superheroes. And that’s despite Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth reprising their roles as Captain America and Thor respectively. At least we got some great views of Evans’ arse and Hemsworth’s arms, some fun banter between the Avengers (yes, Robert Downey Jr came out on top there), and the decimation of Manhattan by Loki and his alen allies that makes Independence Day look like a senior citizens’ sightseeing tour. While not as earth-shattering as the CGI would suggest, The Avengers was an enjoyable, overblown piece of superhero cinema.

Thor wonders how many bicep curls he'll end up doing tonight...

Captain America finds sprints achieve the perfect bubble butt...

 

 

 

 

 

 

One show that needed some extra fluffing – at least, the night I attended – was Naked Boys Singing, and it wasn’t their tackle that needed tending to. Unfortunately, two of the cast were unable to perform, which left five naked boys, and the dance captain stepping up to help out.

Two of these Naked Boys were missing - can you pick which ones?

The problem was, while the boys did an admirable job singing and dancing in the buff, it was obvious that they were covering the missing boys’ arses, and some numbers seemed lacklustre and the performances uncertain. Which was a great shame, because some of the other numbers were very good. But good-looking naked boys and in-your-face tackle wasn’t enough to carry the show.

Check out the flares on those Mandrels!

Not all my cultural pursuits have been in theatres and cinemas. There’s been plenty to keep me entertained at home. Released recently on DVD was the 1979 Doctor Who story, Nightmare of Eden. Starring Tom Baker as the Doctor and Lalla Ward as Romana, from the oft-ridiculed Season 17, Nightmare of Eden is one of the most reviled, and that’s essentially because of the very cheap studio-bound sets (a staircase shifts as Baker races down it), equally cheap, but camp costumes (the designers had clearly just discovered Spandex and sparkly fabric), and the flare-legged Muppet monsters, the Mandrels, who managed not to be menacing at all, and whose flares were already out of fashion.

Even the Doctor has trouble coming to grips with these - erm - monsters...

I first saw this story in 1980, when it first screened on Australian TV, at the very start of my love affair with Doctor Who. I was 13, so still able and willing to be impressed, and there is much to admire in this story: the drug addiction backstory, the hyperspace collision, and of course Baker and Ward relishing their witty asides and double act. Watching it now, it alternates between being inspired, dreadful, camp, boring, sobering, and a lot of fun. Even when Doctor Who is really bad, there’s always something worth watching it for.

So that’s me caught up, in time for the end of autumn. Now I’m immersing myself in trashy television of many kinds – but more of that later…

 

The Safe and Comfortable Marigold Hotel

My film reviewing has slipped a bit recently, and after my Melbourne Queer Film Festival overdose in March, I’m still catching up on recent releases. Last week I finally saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

I’d seen the trailer, and that pretty much told me everything I needed to know: a strong British cast, including Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, that woman from Downton Abbey(Penelope Wilton, otherwise known as Harriet Jones, Prime Minister – we know who you are), that other woman’s who’s not Imelda Staunton (Celia Imrie) and Maggie Smith (naturally) playing a group of older people who all decide to live out their twilight years in an unlikely hotel in India. There’ll be awakenings, enlightenment and endings, all presented in a safe and comforting tone peppered with pithy one-liners and lashings of stiff upper lip sensibility.

Welcome to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - now with guests!

And that’s exactly what you get. Not a bad thing, but there’s a certain contrived and formulaic approach here as well – the nature of the beast really. It’s territory that director John Madden has traversed before – with good and bad results. Mrs Brown (1997) and Shakespeare in Love (1998) are two of his better films; Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001) not so successful. But here he does get reliably solid performances from stalwarts like Dench and Smith; immediately making the film worth seeing.

Judi Dench is delighted to be in India.

But I couldn’t help thinking that pushing a boundary or two wouldn’t have hurt, beyond putting these archetypal British characters in a chaotic and completely foreign environment where some will thrive and some will not. Maybe the fact that Wilkinson playing a gay man entering his retirement was enough of a nudge of the boundaries, but even that felt tokenistic.

What was more telling though was the audience at the screening we attended. It was at the Rivoli, so there’s always that ‘respectable’ Camberwell presence, but for this film, most of the audience were the same age, and in the same situation, as the characters – there was quite a lot of laughter as people recognised familiar scenarios and even conversations from their own lives played out on the silver screen.

And that’s where the comfort factor comes into play again. These people weren’t seeing the film to be challenged, or even educated. They were there to be entertained and engaged, and on that level, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel succeeds. And that was enough.

The Good, the Bad, and the Thought-provoking at Melbourne Queer Film Festival

So that’s a wrap for the 22nd Melbourne Queer Film Festival. And after 14 sessions, and an interesting selection of films, I hit my queer film threshold, and piked on my final session. We went hard, and then we went home. But not before we’d seen a number of good films, and at least one disaster.

The Argentinian film 'Absent'

I kicked off last week’s screenings with an Argentinian film, Absent, directed by Marco Berger, whose first film Plan B screened in 2010. Absent is about a 16 year-old boy who contrives a way to stay the night at his swimming instructor’s apartment. It’s clear – although not to the instructor, initially, that this boy is infatuated with said instructor, and the sexual tension literally drips off the screen. The infatuation is not returned, but it does trigger something of a sexual awakening in the instructor. Absent says a lot with very little dialogue, and explores desire and sexuality in a detached but compelling way. If only some US filmmakers could tell stories like this too.

The AIDS documentary 'We Were Here'

Wednesday night was a two-films back-to-back night, both very good, and both sobering and thought-provoking. The first, We Were Here, was a documentary about the beginning of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco. A series of first-person accounts from people who lived through the late ’70s and 1980s as many of their friends and lovers died around them. A moving way to see how far we’ve come, and a reminder that the battle isn’t over yet.

The very repressed Francois in 'Beauty'

The South African film, Beauty (Skoonheid), treads a dark path, with a middle-aged married man, Francois, who attends men-only sex sessions but denies he’s gay, becoming obsessed with a friend’s young and very attractive son, the flipside to Absent, really. With more than a touch of Death in Venice, it’s a tense story about a fairly unlikeable man, but its ambiguity and an enlightening final act make for engaging viewing.

Vito Russo, gay activist and writer

An interesting companion piece to We Were Here is the doco Vito, the story of gay activist and writer Vito Russo. It charts similar territory, focussing on Russo’s activist work in New York during the ’70s and ’80s. And like We Were Here, it’s a very moving and timely portrait of an important figure in queer history.

I only got to see one short film package, Sex Drives & Videotape, and what was most interesting about that was the number of short films now dealing with how gay man relate to each other, either in relationships or sexual hookups. The quality of the filmmaking has gotten better, and demonstrates a growing confidence in storytelling.

The cliched and insubstantial 'eCupid'

Unfortunately, confident storytelling isn’t something I can ascribe to eCupid: Love on the Download. This was my Festival Fail for the year. Essentially a gay rom-com that had a promising premise – a smart phone app interferes with the lead couple’s relationship – it just couldn’t fulfill. With wooden acting, dreadfully trite dialogue, and a cheesy and annoying habit of spelling out everything the characters were feeling, this was a throwback to the kind of US gay comedies I thought we’d seen the back of five years ago.

My own Private Romeo...

Private Romeo, on the other hand, was a brave fusion of a group of young and attractive military cadets rehearsing an all-male version of Romeo and Juliet. The more they rehearse it, the more it takes over their lives, and results in a simmering sexual interpretation of the play, complete with Shakespeare’s original text. Not everyone’s cup of tea, and hard-going for a late Friday night film, but rewarding nonetheless.

'Hollywood to Dollywood'

Another film that could have benefited from a different time and venue was the doco Hollywood to Dollywood. Midnight at the Greater Union in Russell Street on a Friday night wasn’t ideal, especially when punters were encouraged to dress up as Dolly Parton. Suffice to say, there was only one, a woman. the fact that a pack of drunken straight men passing the cinema before the session and wondering loudly why there were ‘so many poofs’ in the cinema may have had something to do with that. the film itself was a fun road trip with gay twins Gary and Larry on a mission to drive to Dollywood in Tennessee to hand deliver a screenplay they’ve written for Dolly.

An important and weightier documentary was The Cure – an exploration of ex-gay programs run by Christian churches in Australia. Having had a rigorous Pentecostal upbringing myself, many of these stories were very familiar to me, and credit must go to the interviewees for being so open and honest about their experiences. Hopefully this film will be picked up by SBS or the ABC, because it really needs to be seen by a wider audience beyond queer film festivals.

A hot 'August' day...

My final film was August, one that I’d heard mixed reviews of. Starring Australian actor Murray Bartlett as Troy, a man returning to Los Angeles after living in Spain, and reconnecting with his ex, Jonathan, whose heart he broke when he left. Of course, Jonathan has a new boyfriend, Raoul, but that doesn’t stop him from having some hot, and very setamy sex with troy. Unlike eCupid, August doesn’t spell everything out, and maintains a smouldering sexual tension throughout the film, and just enough subtext and commentary about relationships to keep it interesting. And it made for a fitting end to the festival – for me at least.

And, as always, MQFF has left me with plenty of food for thought, especially regarding my own feature film script. One day it too will screen at MQFF. I hope…

Queer Film Festival kicks in

With the Cloudburst of Opening Night done and dusted, it was time, last Friday, to dive into 2012’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival feet first with the new film from Casper Andreas, Going Down in LA-LA Land.

Andreas is one of the more prolific indy gay filmmakers in the US, and over the last few years, has directed Violet Tendencies (2010), The Big Gay Musical (2009) and A Four Letter Word (2007). His films usually sit at the light and fluffy end of the spectrum, with lots of eye candy, and that’s not a bad thing. With LA-LA Land, there’s all of that, but there’s a bit more substance as well. Based on a novel by Andy Zeffer, it’s a familiar story about a young gay gay arriving in Los Angeles to pursue an acting career – as you do – and soon finds himself in the porn industry – as you also do.

Matthew Ludwinski as Adam sends a smouldering look across to John (Michael Medico) in 'Going Down in LA-LA Land.

As I said, it’s nothing new, but it’s the cast here that makes the difference. Matthew Ludwinski as Adam, the Bright Young Thing, is not only beautiful to behold, but he has a natural and confident screen presence that makes him more than just a pretty face. Playing against type, and with lovely restraint, is Jesse Archer as Matthew, an uptight office manager. Also playing against type is Andreas himself as Nick, the photographer-director with a drug habit who introduces Adam to the wonderful world of porn. He is also interesting to watch, even though his big confrontation scene goes a little over-the-top. But it’s Allison Lane as Candy, Adam’s fame-hungry flatmate who almost steals the show at the film’s climax.

Plenty of laughs, plenty of eye candy, and a cynical, darker tone makes Going Down in LA-LA Land Andreas’ best film yet.

A film closer to home is Kawa, a New Zealand feature about Kawa (Calvin Tuteao), a Maori man struggling with coming to terms with his sexuality and his familial responsibilities. Directed by Katie Wolf, it’s a handsome looking film that makes the most of the stunning North Island locations, but it’s also a tad too earnest, and there are a number of dramatic scenes that would have benefited from a lighter, more sensitive touch.

Kawa (Calvin Tuteao) takes a walk along the beach with his son in 'Kawa'.

Unfortunately, these overwrought scenes detract from the power that the film’s climax could have had. It’s an accomplished film, but it feels like this story has been done many times before, and often a lot more successfully. That doesn’t mean there’s not a place for these stories to still be told, it just feels like a missed opportunity.

The final film for my weekend was the Finnish-French co-production, Let My People Go!, a crazy and whimsical comedy that only the French can get away with. Ruben (Nicolas Maury) is a French Jewish gay man living in Finland with his gorgeous boyfriend Teemu (Jarkko Niemi). He works as a postman, but when he tries to deliver a package to man who doesn’t want it – a package of cold, hard cash – the man collapses on his front lawn, and Ruben flees with the cash, and ends up back in Paris with his family for Passover.

Ruben (Nicolas Maury) finds himself in another fine mess in 'Let My People Go!'

As you’d expect, this comedy of errors gets more and more absurd and complicated, and zips along at a cracking pace. And it’s all done with a joyously bent twist to it. The quality of the screening copy wasn’t the best (the real one arrived unreadable), but the comedy was.

So that’s it thus far – there’ll be more from me in a couple of days. But if you’re really lucky, I might post about Kylie Minogue’s Anti-Tour in the next day too. And that’s worth a post all of its own…

An Unreel Out, Loud, Proud Cloudburst of an opening for MQFF

Sorry, it’s been a while since I posted a blog; life gets in the way sometimes, and will continue to do so for a little while yet.

I’ve been meaning to write about the demented Danger 5 on SBS1 Monday nights – an hilarious pastiche-spoof-tribute to cheap and cheesy TV from the 1960s – it’s a mad mix of Get Smart, Thunderbirds and classic Doctor Who among others. It’s not to everyone’s taste, I know, but I love ‘deliberately bad’ satire.

Fra from bad though was the Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF) Opening Night film, Cloudburst. Rather, it’s the best festival opener in many a year, and for the first time, Opening Night was held at ACMI in Federation Square. I’m not sure yet if this new version of Opening Night worked – after so many years of being spoilt with the glorious Astor in St Kilda, it’ll take some getting used to. Waiting at the bar for a pre-show drink during the speeches was hard work, but we were rewarded with a heartfelt speech from special guest Magda Szubanski – and she was greeted with an incredibly appreciative and extended ovation.

I’ll talk about the party in a bit; but first, the film.

Directed by Thom Fitzgerald, who has directed other wonderful films, The Hanging Garden (1997) and Beefcake (1998), it stars Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Blethyn as an older lesbian couple, Stella and Dotty, who have been together for 31 years. Dotty’s blind, and Stella looks after here until a fall, and Dotty’s granddaughter decides that Dotty would be better off in an aged care facility – something that Stella won’t have a bar of.

The pair are soon on the run to Canada where they can legally marry, and they pick up pretty boy hitch-hiker Prentice (Ryan Doucette) along the way. On-the-road hijinks ensue.

Olympia Dukakis and Ryan Doucette in 'Cloudburst'

That’s not a bad thing – in many ways it’s a fitting vehicle for the story’s sensibilities and emotions. The three leads are all great; Dukakis and Blethyn are completely credible as two women still very much in love. There are some cracking one-liners, poignant insights and sharp observations, and you can’t help but reflect on your own relationship while watching – well, i did anyway. It’s not quite 31 years, but we’re well on the way; Kieran and I were deciding who corresponded to whom. It’s great to see such a mature and well-expressed queer film on the big screen.

It was certainly getting universal praise from everyone at the after-party – if you could hear the shouted conversations in the loud and echoing downstairs foyer at ACMI. Nevertheless, it was still fun to catch up with friends and people you only ever see at MQFF.

I did make it my mission to meet the magenta-dyed US actor-writer-director Jesse Archer, who now lives in Sydney, and is in Melbourne for the Festival with the short film he directed, Half Share, and the feature he appears in, Going Down in La La Land; both of which screen tonight, Friday night. And it was Mission: Accomplished too. He was a lot of fun to take to, quick and witty and very generous.

I’m seeing Going Down in La La Land, and shall report on that, and the many other films I’ll be seeing over then next ten days, so stay tuned. I might even make some sense, too.

A Beautiful Weekend

Finally, a film that takes gay men and their relationships seriously. Thank you, Weekend, for telling it how it really is.

Thank goodness we don’t have to rely on Hollywood or indy US movies to tell gay stories on the big screen. If we did, all we’d see would be earnest ‘issue-based’ films that deal with discrimination, AIDS, coming out, first love or break taboos. Oh yes, there’s a place for them; it’s important that wider audiences sees these films, and the indy US films provide plenty of fodder for gay and lesbian film festivals and DVD releases the world over.

But thank goodness for the British film Weekend.

Tom Cullen and Chris New snuggle up in 'Weekend'.

Writer/director Andrew Haigh presents a simple story about two gay men, Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), who pick each other up at a nightclub on a Friday night, and go back to Russell’s flat. It’s as they navigate that awkward ‘morning after’ dance that the connection is really made. And while the men acknowledge it was a fun, one-night-only thing – Glen is leaving for the United States on Sunday – Russell can’t help but think about Glen at work, and they catch up again later that afternoon. And the bond begins to strengthen.

What makes Weekend a remarkable and intelligent film is that it doesn’t try to be clever, or seminal, or groundbreaking. It’s just a story about love, loneliness and unexpected emotions. It’s told in a detached, matter-of-fact way that makes it incredibly powerful and poignant.

Cullen and New don’t perform their characters – they inhabit them naturally and completely believably, both as individuals and as a couple. There is a beautiful, relaxed intimacy between them; something that is immediately recognisable, and strangely enough, very rare in the depiction of gay lovers on screen. Hollywood especially steers clear of both man-on-man sex and intimacy. Weekend has some frank, not explicit, sex scenes and discussions about gay sex, but they’re never gratuitous or shocking. Like the connection between Russell and Glen, they’re presented as natural and sensitive, and for that reason, this is not a film about two men in love, but a film about the universality of falling in love, regardless of sexuality and gender.

Over the weekend, Russell and Glen discuss the nature of being gay, how they present themselves publicly, and how they feel they’re perceived by the wider world. It’s insightful and enlightening, but never didactic or preachy.

And while the film’s ending is inevitable, it doesn’t stop the final scenes from being incredibly moving. Well, they certainly affected me quite deeply.

Weekend is the type of gay story we need to see in films now. It’s time to move on from coming-out tales, and into mature and articulate stories like this. Gay filmmakers, take note please…

Watch the trailer.