Thursday, 30 January 2014

A group of reviews for TheGayUK

I haven't added much to my blog recently, so thought I'd group together here some of my recent reviews for TheGayUK.

The two DVDs that came through my letterbox just after Christmas could not be more different, though both come from our friends over at Matchbox Films.

The first of the two I watched was Having You, written and directed by Sam Hoare. There are some great performances here, from Andrew Buchan as recovering alcoholic Jack, from Philip Davis as his thoroughly nasty and unlikeable father, from Romola Garai, as Jack’s beautiful girlfriend, from the gorgeous Steven Cree as Jack’s business partner and sponsor, and from the ever watchable Anna Friel as Anna, a blast from the past who drops a bombshell on Jack that he finds difficult to come to terms with. 

It’s a gentle, watchable movie, which draws you in, but I confess to finding it somewhat manipulative with an ending that is just a little too pat to be convincing. None the less, worth catching if you have a couple of hours to spare one evening.


Director Beth B brings us Exposed: Beyond Burlesque, an expose of the ‘new’ burlesque scene, which seeks to challenge traditional ideas of body, gender and sexuality. A mixture of interviews, glimpses backstage and filmed performances, we are introduced to an engaging group of individuals, who might also, in other circumstances, be called misfits. According to Mat Fraser, an English performer with phocomelia of both arms due to his mother being prescribed thalidomide during her pregnancy, burlesque is an honest and sometimes brutal art form. It can also be extremely vulgar, which is I suppose the point. There is a lot of naked flesh on show, though very little in the way of titillation. Maybe, to fully experience the power of these acts, one has to be in the audience, but most of the interest really comes from the interviews, and the performers’ often quirky view of life; at its heart a touching little love story between Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz. Truth to tell, it is a little long and could have done with some judicious pruning. I found my mind wandering quite a bit after the first hour.

Matthew Ferdenzi in The Gay Naked Play

In The Gay Naked Play, currently at the Above The Stag Theatre in Vauxhall, Dan (Alexander Hulme) is director of the Integrity Players, a small off off Broadway group of players dedicated to “great art”. The company also consists of his loving (and very pregnant) wife Amanda (Stacy Sobieski) and their friend and leading actor Harold (Lucas Livesey). They have lofty ambitions and a staunch refusal to compromise , but they have one problem. Tiny audiences. And when their sole and major backer, who just happens to be Amanda’s Machiavellian mother Imelda (Ellen Verenieks) withdraws her support, they have an even greater problem. No money. What are they going to do?

Enter Eddie Rossini (Christopher Woodley) and his two cronies, T.Scott (Robert Hannouch) and Edonis (Toby Joyce). Eddie proposes a trashy homoerotic stage version of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ” starring porn star Kit Swagger (Matthew Ferdenzi). It’s a sure fire commercial hit, but will the Integrity Players give in to financial pressure and in so doing lose their integrity? I’m not going to give the game away, but I think we can all guess the answer to that one.

Adam Bell’s play is a witty and often hilarious comment on the eternal conundrum of artistic compromise; popularity versus art. The writing itself is often really clever, abounding in quips and one-liners that wouldn’t have been out of place in an episode of Will and Grace

My problem was more with the execution. Director Andrew Beckett has allowed too much of the play to be played on one level, with actors shamelessly mugging and playing too many of their lines out front. The often hilarious antics of T.Scott and Edonis would have benefited from a greater contrast with their boss, Rossini, but he too was encouraged to overplay much of the comedy, which resulted in a lack of contrast. Surely underplaying the role would have made it even funnier. It’s a shame, because the play is a lot of fun, and I feel sure that this cast had it in them to deliver a much more multi-faceted performance.

That said, the audience on opening night enjoyed themselves enormously, and nobody was complaining about Matthew Ferdenzi getting his kit off more than once. Maybe it will settle down a bit in the next few performances.

Free Fall (or Freier Fall, to give it its German title) is an award winning drama from director Stephen Lacant. It has been branded a sort of German Brokeback Mountain, and indeed there are parallels between the two movies, but in some ways Free Fall is more gritty, more rooted in the present day.
Marc would seem to have his life sorted out. He’s doing well in the police force, his girlfriend is having a baby, and they have just moved into a house, next door to Marc’s parents. He is happy (or he thinks he is) and everything is going well for him. He meets Kay at a training camp and the two men become attracted to each other.  Though Marc tries hard to fight his feelings, he later starts a relationship with Kay and subsequently finds his life spiralling out of control. 

I suppose the basic storyline has a certain resemblance to Brokeback Mountain, but there the similarities end. Whereas in Brokeback much of the romance is played out against the magnificent scenery of Wyoming, this relationship is much more claustrophobic, harder to hide as so much of their life is in plain view; not much chance for the men to get away from their colleagues and Marc’s family.

Ultimately the movie is not just about Marc’s coming to terms with his homosexuality, it is more about whether he will allow himself the freedom to walk away from the life that has been set out for him by his parents, his colleagues and his girlfriend. Marc finds it impossible to choose between Bettina and Kay because he can’t decide between the two lives they represent, between comfortable domesticity on the one hand, and freedom, with all the danger and unpredictability that suggests, on the other.

Ultimately that choice is made for him, and though we do not know how life will pan out for Marc, there is a suggestion that he will eventually break free.

With superb performances from the two central actors, Hanno Koffler as Marc and Max Riemelt as Kay, not to mention Katharina Schuttler as Marc’s girlfriend Bettina, it is an engaging and involving movie, beautifully filmed and subtly played out. Lacant directs with a sure hand which is honest and true. Recommended.

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