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.

Extending that Chorus Line

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a bit of musical theatre, and Melbourne certainly loves its musicals. But you better be quick to see A Chorus Line, because it’s only in town for a very limited time at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Exhibition Street.

"And step, two, three, four." The cast are taken through their moves.

It’s a revival of the 1975 Broadway musical about a group of young hopefuls auditioning for a place in the chorus of a new musical; not quite art imitating life imitating art, or the old show-within-a-show, but more like a musical version of a behind-the-scenes doco, or even a reality TV show. There’s plenty of singing and dancing, naturally, but not much in the way of love, drama and romance – well, not in the traditional narrative sense.

It is, of course, all about the dancers themselves; their lives, their hopes, dreams and desires. Because of that, it’s all about their performances, and this cast certainly delivers that in abundance. Most of the ensemble have had plenty of experience as ensemble performers before, so it’s great to see such talented individuals given the chance to really shine. For that reason, it’s a little unfair to highlight any of those individuals. But I will.

Take Josh Horner, for example. (I know plenty of people who would, for various reasons…) While he’s not an unknown – especially now he’s a judge on dancing With the Stars – he does a great job as Zach the director holding the audition. He demonstrates the right amount of experience and authority needed for the role – and manages to maintain that when he’s offstage and addressing the hopefuls from the back of the theatre, which he does for most of the show.

Josh Horner in full flight as Zach. And that's Euan Doidge as paul on the left, and over on the far right is James Maxfield in those impressively tight pants of his...

Euan Doidge is also great as Paul, the young gay dancer who talks about the pain of his childhood. of course, we’ve had plenty of similar characters and stories on stage and screen since then, but in 1975, portrayals of gay characters like this were rare, and this was groundbreaking.

And, Head Shots at the ready, please!

Other standouts include Leah Lim as Connie, the short Asian girl determined to make it in showbiz, and Debora Krizak as Sheila, the slightly jaded performer just a little older than the rest of them. Anita Louise Combe as Zach’s ex-girlfriend Cassie also delivers a powerful performance, especially during her big solo number, ‘The Music and the Mirror’.

On a slightly more superficial level, Rohan Browne as Greg and James Maxfield as Mike both put in great performances; their physical prowess and male beauty are mesmerising, and they have incredibly magnetic stage presences that sometimes makes it hard to take your eyes off them. Not that I’m complaining. That, and Mazfield’s amazing arse in his very 70’s, very fitted dance pants…

Be warned though, there is no interval in A Chorus Line, and has a running time of around two hours. This obviously proved a problem for the two blonde girls seated to my right on opening night – they kept checking their iPhones throughout the show, maybe waiting for a better offer. they obviously got one; they left about half an hour before the end. Which is a shame really, because they missed two of the biggest and best-known numbers from the show, ‘What I Did For Love’ and the gold-lame wonder of the finale, ‘One’.

The finale and the gold lame really kicks in...

The good news is that the Melbourne season has been extended until 11 March 2012, so you still have a chance to get to see A Chorus Line. Best you do…

Oh, and check out some of the Opening Night Party shots.

 

A Spectacular week for Sci-fi

It was a big week for sci-fi geeks – well, Doctor Who fans anyway. And yes, that includes me. Last Saturday, Melbourne was privileged to host the MSO’s Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular, and last Wednesday saw a new local comedy about a gay sci-fi group, Outland, make its debut.

But first, the Symphonic Spectacular. This was based on the very successful Doctor Who at the Proms concerts that have been performed at Albert Hall in London, and it’s the first time such a production has been seen outside the UK. And judging from its success, it won’t be the last.

Ben Foster conducts the MSO with his usual flair...

Conducted by Ben Foster, who also conducts the BBC National Orchestra of Wales when recording music for Doctor Who, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the Concordis Chamber Choir perform music from the last two seasons of Doctor Who – which, of course, covers Matt Smith’s time as the Doctor. There’s something quite thrilling about hearing composer Murray Gold’s music live, and seeing video montages on a screen above the orchestra as they perform makes you realise how important and integral the score is to the programme. Whether it’s the stirring ‘Madman with a Box’ theme for the Eleventh Doctor, or the beautiful and moving theme for Amy Pond, the music is evocative, and had me getting a little damp around the eyes more than once.

"You will be silent or you will be ex-term-inated!"

Add to that the apperance of monsters and aliens live on stage and through the auditorium, including Daleks, Cybermen, the Silence, Silurians, the Ood, Vampire Girls and the Judoon, and you’ve got an Australian fan’s ultimate dream come true. Hosted by Mark Sheppard, who played Canton Delaware III in last year’s season opener (original choices of hosts included Matt Smith, Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston and even Kylie Minogue), this was a true celebration of the music and the programme itself.

Silurian Warrior - surely someone's sexual fantasy...

And the audience absolutely loved it – of course! To have the monsters roaming the Plenary Hall at the Melbourne Convention Centre, and see the delighted responses of children and scary adult geeks alike was a treat in itself.

You can just imagine the foyer afterwards, as zealous enthusiasts queued in lines to buy all sorts of merchandise as Cybermen and Silurians and a Dalek roamed the foyer. it was a frenzy of photos and excited chatter, and I just had to join in, naturally!

I got real close to a Cyberman! Lucky I was dressed appropriately, otherwise I may have been deleted...

It’s the sort of event that the characters from ABC1’s new comedy Outland, which premiered this week, would have squealed about. It’s a gleeful and cheeky look at a gay science-fiction group that includes average guy Max (Toby Truslove), over-the-top Fab (Adam Richard), leather lover Andy (Paul Ireland), fashion twink Toby (Ben Gerrard) and wheelchair-bound Rae (Christina Anu).

Adam Richard as Fab bursts out of the closet!

As Max brings hot date Dylan home, the rest of the group turn up for an impromptu meeting, which throws Max into a spin as he tries to keep his geek self in the closet.

What’s great about this series is that it makes no concessions for those not familiar with sci-fi, and doesn’t tiptoe around the sexualities of the group. Both are on display in their unashamed glory, and rather than being niche or exclusive, I think this gives the show a universality that makes the characters and their lives immediately recognisable and easy to relate to.

Max prays that his date doesn't notice Fab's Dalek dress, but Andy doesn't think it'll work...

With lots of in-your-face jokes and sly asides (Rae is referred to as Davros, creator of the Daleks, and appears at the door of Max’s first floor apartment with no explanation of how she got up the stairs), Outland is an incredibly confident and good-looking show – and great fun to watch. I recommend repeat viewings; some one-liners will be missed first time around.

Creators John Richards and Adam Richard have a lot to be proud of here – and if it ‘normalises’ both being gay and a lover of sci-fi for a wider audience, then they’ll have done their job admirably.

It makes me want to go and join our own queer sci-fi group, Spaced Out… almost.

More Midsumma mania – going the lowbrow route

Midsumma’s drawing to a close for 2012, and I haven’t got to nearly as many shows as I would have liked. I left my run too late for tickets to Nath Valvo’s Grindr – A Love Story? – he’s all sold out! And while 37 Ways to Say I’m Gay, Twinkie and the Bear and Andy & Jonny present: Cocktails and Cocktaleswere all on my list, it just didn’t happen.

Glenda Waverley enjoys the company of the Leather Marys at DT's Golden Stiletto Rally.

I did get to DT’s Golden Stiletto Rally and Foam-a-Sexual at The Peel – neither event is what you’d call ‘highbrow’, but they were both a lot of fun. And sometimes that’s all you need.

I did get to see a show this week that was also a lot of fun, but where it sits on the ‘Brow Scale’ is not easy to define. I’d say it was highbrow with lowbrow inspiration.

The show is called Pageant – The Musical, and as you’d expect, it’s a beauty pageant of sorts, sponsored by the fictitious Glamouresse beauty products label. It’s set in the United States, of course, and has a great time parodying beauty pageants and American culture and sensibilities.

Miss Texas lends a helping hand in 'Pageant - The Musical'.

Hosted by Frankie Cavalier, there are six contestants: Miss Texas, Miss Bible Belt, Miss Industrial North East, Miss West Coast, Miss Deep South and Miss Great Plains. They’re men playing women, of course, but it’s not drag – not as we know it, anyway. The irony is that even though they’re presenting as women, they are obviously men. And without going overboard with self-awareness and satire, the show manages to comment on what it is to be a woman, beauty preconceptions, and what is passed off as talent in this age of reality TV competition programs.

It’s all gloriously tacky and cheesy, and while some of the ladies possess real talent: Miss Texas knows how to tap dance, Miss Deep South has impressive ventriloquist skills, and Miss Bible Belt knows how to ring those bells, but my favourite ‘talent’ was Miss West Coast’s interpretive dance. While displaying remarkable dancing skill, she also lampoons modern dance and its pretension.

Every performance, five judges are picked from the audience, and the pageant’s winner is determined by these randoms. I don’t know how or why, but i was singled out to be one of these judges. And as a result, Miss Industrial North east won the crown that night, largely because of her blissfully unaware and appalling performance on the piano accordion. For me, this alone epitomised the sly dig Pageant takes at self-delusional beauty queens.

Pageant finishes this Saturday, February 4, so get in quick if you like the sound of it. As for me, I’ll be having quite a cultural day that day, with the MSO’s Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular in the afternoon, and A Chorus Line that evening. And then maybe Pride March on Sunday – if I’m up for it…

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.

January in Melbourne

January’s always a crazy month in Melbourne. Not only is the city teeming with tennis tourists for the Australian Open, but it’s Midsumma too; there’s Australia Day as well, and in the middle of it all, it’s my birthday. Today, in fact. And we’re very lucky this year, because we’re blessed with wonderfully hot Melbourne summer days. So I’ll be off to Prahran Pool later, because I can.

Before I do though, here’s a little Midsumma update. Last Friday night, my partner Kieran opened his show for 2012: Glenda Waverley presents Four Dead Divas. I helped out as a stagehand, naturally, and director Kevin McGreal doubled as sound and lights guy.

Glenda Waverley at Carnival last week. She may be a diva, but she ain't dead yet!

Glenda’s show this year is something of a departure from the usual drag or cabaret show; this one’s more of a lecture with music numbers, and Glenda examines why the gays have embraced four stars in particular, Dusty Springfield, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland and Elizabeth Taylor. They’re camp, they’re divas, and they’re dead.

It went down pretty well with the good-sized opening night audience. I think the highlights were Glenda channelling Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford as she launches into the notorious wire hangers tirade, and her performance of a slightly sozzled and tragic Judy belting out ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. She tackles Liz’s embarrassing ‘Send in the Clowns’ admirably too. There’s one more show, this Friday night, January 27 at 10.30pm.

Saturday night, after a fraught and confused trip to Docklands – and can I just say, I’m not a fan of Docklands; not one of Melbourne’s finest hours – to find the Circus Oz Melba Speigeltent, where we saw our friend George in John Henry presents: Crack a Fat Circus.

'Crack a Fat Circus' (c) HONEphotography.com

It’s a cheeky and energetic show full of humour and acrobatic dexterity. It’s not overtly gay, but it doesn’t need to be; the sensibility is definitely present. There’s a lot of sexy content, such as sexy topless aerial artists, lithe women climbing all over each other, and an infectious exuberance that keeps you smiling.

Crack a Fat Circus is on till January 28, so find your way down to Docklands, and check it out.

The sun is beckoning now; best go and see what it wants…

 

And we’re off!

Welcome to The Urban Hunter, and thanks for joining me.

Just as a quick introduction to this blog, here’s a bit about myself, and what you’re likely to find here. Basically, it’s all about hunting down urban culture adventures and experiences.

I’m a Melbourne writer and reviewer of a certain age. I’ve been writing for about 20 years, mostly on film, TV, Arts, and occasionally music, fashion and contemporary culture. So expect to see posts about these things.

For example, I did enjoy Martin Scorsese’s new film Hugo, but I thought it didn’t really get going until Hugo and Isabelle became friends, and the story finally kicked in. Martin, you could have tightened that first half-hour up, and that would have made all the difference.

"Ah, that's the key to getting this movie going. I'd better get this to Martin Scorsese quick smart!"

George Clooney wonders if there'll be room in Hawaii for his Golden Globe AND an Oscar...

Another film that, for me, is receiving a lot of unnecessary praise, is The Descendants. Oh yes, George Clooney’s getting all the attention for an apparent ‘performance of his career’, but essentially it’s another story of a rich and privileged American family dealing with tragedy, secrets and emotions, but this time they live in Hawaii. That’s not a bad thing, but I found it hard to care.

Not the case with Weekend, a new British film about two gay men hooking up, but I’ll leave that for another post.

And yes, I am gay, so expect to see the occasional post about gay characters on the screen, and maybe even poolside and beachside swimwear reports over the summer.

I’m also a very proud Doctor Who fan – well, more than a fan; I’ve written about the show quite a lot as well, and interviewed many of the current cast. If you’re interested, you can check out my thoughts on the 2011 season at the ABC blog site. So the good Doctor will crop up here from time to time too.

As well as being in the tennis thrall of the Australian Open, Melbourne is also hosting Midsumma, the gay and lesbian cultural festival. I won’t be writing about the tennis, or Margaret Court, but I will talk about Midsumma shows and events.

Anyway, that’ll do for my first post. Hopefully I’ve piqued your interest, or scared you off. In either case, please feel free to drop by weekly, and let me know your thoughts, and your urban hunting adventures.