August 2010

Sunday I saw two movies and then finally got to chill at home. Heh.

Flight of the Cardinal: There are some things to dislike about this movie, among them a pretty heavy-handed fake accent done by one of the characters and a climax that feels bizarrely slapped together. However, there are many more things to like about this, including really great performances by all the actors. What feels for the first half like a skillfully executed if by-the-numbers story of “local kid on the take cons the out-of-towners” suddenly takes a very, very clever twist and becomes a whole different kind of movie. Even if the end feels like something someone slammed home for a NaNoWriMo entry in the last hours of 30 November, what’s good is very good and the more I reflect on this movie the more I like it. That it was filmed not that far from where I grew up is a bonus, yes, but that isn’t what puts it over the edge. I would absolutely watch it again. One of the best suspense films I’ve seen at NCGLFF.

My last film going experience of the weekend was the shorts collection Mother Nature Does the Rest:

Mother of the Year: Really genuinely funny and warm and very good. The audience laughed with real gusto and I was pleased with myself for getting one of the better gags way ahead of everyone else.

Gay Baby: You know exactly the arc of this short but it’s well done and funny and it features a cameo by Richard Riehle, possibly my absolute favorite hey-it’s-that-guy guy. You’ve seen him in something, I assure you, whether it’s Office Space, Star Trek or an old movie. He is always hilarious and his twenty seconds on-screen at the beginning of this short don’t fail that standard. I’m not sure I’m thrilled with the messages of this short, to be honest, but it’s so short it doesn’t have time to give too great offense.

Judgment Day: Really truly a beautiful little short. This is why I love NCGLFF. I loved this film from start to finish. It got fast and resounding applause. I can’t talk about the content because that would be like trying to describe a poem. It was just really good.

Lost Hills, California: Speaking of a poem, that’s what this film is. Again, I loved it. It brought tears to the eyes. This and Judgment Day were distinctly unlike any other film I saw at the festival this year and in a very, very good way. I really enjoyed this one.

Mothers: Surprising in its resolution if completely predictable up to that point. It surprised me by how much it resonated with me given that it’s about a circumstance I don’t ever expect to be in – fatherhood.

Second Guessing Grandma: Absolutely fantastic. I loved this film and so did the rest of the audience. Great writing, great acting, really magnificent cinematography, direction, editing – this one had it all. It didn’t look like the ’80s, but whatever. It’s a really, really good film.

Saturday I saw three movies and went to a party!

Lost in the Crowd: This was a very powerful and affecting film, if very short. It tracks a handful of homeless LGBTQ teens in NYC in 2003 up through 2010. The slow horror of the film is realizing that a significant portion of the kids seen in 2003 aren’t able to be found in 2010 or 2009 or even as early as 2005. I think people who watch a lot of documentaries get accustomed to the usual course of twists and turns, and even if the content of those twists is unpredictable the viewer can at least expect those twists to occur. When people simply disappear from in front of the camera, that’s disturbing. It’s something I don’t recall seeing since I watched Paris Is Burning in the ’90s. This was an extremely worthwhile watch and it has in fact made me decide that I want to be involved in some sort of youth outreach through the LGBT Center in Raleigh. This weekend’s big impression on me was that it isn’t enough to sit around having a good time and it isn’t enough to sit around wishing I’d had a better time of it when I was young. All the progress of the last twenty years makes us feel very comfortable and I can’t let myself be lulled into assuming progress will continue without me; on the other side of the coin, I cannot spend the rest of my life dwelling on the ways my parents’ philosophies have failed to motivate them to accept me. I cannot sit around wishing my parents were more mature. If I do that, I will just wind up bitter and cynical. If I think role models and acceptance would make youth more palatable then I’d better get off my ass and make it happen for someone else.

Howl: This movie was INCREDIBLE. This was hands-down the best thing at the festival and I was simply stunned at how good it was. Incredible animation, fantastic performances in the live-action sequences, surprise cameos and a really affecting, moving and motivating story. When Jon Hamm delivers the closing argument in his performance of the attorney defending Lawrence Ferlinghetti – the publisher of Howl – it raises goosebumps, it brings tears to the audience’s eyes and it gets applause. I have never heard people applaud in the middle of a movie. I have never heard people physically howl at a movie in accolade. It was an amazing film and rumor has it they delayed their release date specifically to show it at NCGLFF. (Films at NCGLFF cannot have already been released; the point of the festival is to show movies one cannot find elsewhere.) When this sees wide release I am going to see it again. Possibly twice.

Bear City: There’s a lot to like in this movie – some snappy writing and some really great performances – but overall I had extremely mixed feelings. Uplifting be-yourself-and-be-loved messages are always welcome, and this movie’s iterations of that are mostly done quite well. However, I had real issues with some of this movie’s messages. I’m sorry, but I don’t see how it’s okay to tell someone who is morbidly obese that he should abandon a desire to change himself and conform to a body type to appease his lover and his friends – a message that would send the audience into the streets if it were directed at a woman in order to pressure her to be thin. I am not a small man – I’m 6’3″ and I weigh in somewhere between 250 and 280 at any given time – and I am someone who has spent the last year trying to find the very fine balance between working on my weight and fitness without obsessing over them (thanks, family history of eating disorders). I am really not OK with a movie in which someone who is clearly unhappy with his body and worried about its future is actively discouraged from taking action to improve himself. Now, that said, the character is discouraged from taking a drastically invasive action to change himself, yes, and none of his friends tell him that he is not allowed to lose weight; but the procedure they so radically discourage also happens to be one chosen by a cousin many years ago and by my mother-in-law a few years ago and by a fraternity sister a couple of years ago, all with tremendous success so their melodrama feels more than a little overwrought to me. The movie works hard to affirm that this guy can be happy and in love and successful regardless of his weight and that is a good message, yes, but it all feels like a reward for listening to his friends who tell him with the same breath that they want him to be happy and that they want him not to do what he wants to do. I think there’s no pretending that it’s OK for someone to pressure his boyfriend to stay morbidly obese because the boyfriend is into that. Again, if the story had been about a boyfriend pressuring the love of his life to lose another three pounds when she or he is already down to double digits, how would we feel about that? How should we feel about a boyfriend begging his lover to keep two hundred pounds, then?

After that, Writing Medic and The Boyf and I went to the tent party out on the plaza where I enjoyed some of the best spanikopita I’ve had in years and tiny squares of dark chocolate fudge that were so rich they had arm candy. I had some truly generous bourbon and Diet Cokes and best of all someone recognized my Miskatonic University t-shirt. Some fellow nancy queen stopped me on my way across the tent for a drink to say, “Is that from Lovecraft? Call of Cthulu?” I said, “Girl, you know it is!” and then I turned around to show him the back of the shirt, slapped him on the shoulder and kept going. Loved it! I also got stopped by a woman who asked what the shirt was about because her dog’s name was similar to “Miskatonic”. The woman with her was like, “No, it’s from those books! I haven’t read them in years!” I had the opportunity, then, to recommend Lovecraft with a footnote that he was very much of his time. So, I got to get a drink on, get some spanikopita and talk Lovecraft with strangers? And hours of good companionship with The Boyf and Writing Medic? Holy shit, that officially made it the best. NCGLFF. Ever.

Friday I saw two movies and a fantastic live show!

You Should Meet My Son: This is a comedy to which the word “zany” might well be applied. I really enjoyed this movie, because even though the editing is a little uneven at times it is hilarious. Very sympathetic performances, fierce queens and some great delivery made this an extremely fun movie. I am really, really glad I caught it and I was recommending it all weekend.

Role/Play: A really neat idea for a film and two lead actors who make the most of what they have just weren’t enough to save this for me. This is a movie that raises some really interesting questions but the meat of the story – the mysteries these two guys bring with them into their current circumstance – were either insufficient for the air of controversy aroused by them or just plain kind of silly. It also dragged a little – another case in which some tidy editing could have really made it shine. That said, the leads have real and engaging chemistry and I kept being impressed by that; later I read that they’re a real-life couple, so that is genuinely nice. They are also smoking hot and this movie has eye candy galore. In the end, I’m glad I saw it.

Later that night I went to see Bruce Vilanch do a live show in Fletcher Hall at the Carolina. This was really, really, really absurdly fun. Vilanch told us about being in Durham three decades ago to work on a script with a producer – and to go on the infamous Rice Diet in the process. He told some great show business stories, some hilarious jokes and some truly hilariously raunchy gags. I had an absolutely fantastic time hanging with Bust O’Lipp for this show and getting to meet a young friend of Busty’s for whom this was his first NCGLFF. It was a great time and I really did love hanging out after. This was the best NCGLFF I’ve been to in years and I really had a great time on Friday night.

Tonight was the fantastic first night of the 15th annual NC Gay & Lesbian Film Festival at the Carolina Theatre and I have already both had a blast and been annoyed out of a theater so I’m glad I got those out of the way.

First up on the docket tonight was the “mixed shorts” collection Everybody’s Having Sex… But Ryan:

Rubdown: Good production quality, super-hot actors, genuine chemistry between the leads and some great writing but it all still falls flat somehow. The actual events of the movie – aside from the flesh and the fantasy sequences – are about as compelling as a potato salad recipe and take up way too much of it compared to the rest. Excellent eye candy and actors making the best of what they’re given don’t wholly redeem it.

Waiting 4 Goliath: Extremely predictable but also extremely well-made and the characters were simultaneously sympathetic and unhappy with themselves or each other. It fastidiously colors between the lines but does so with real skill.

Little BFFs: Cheap, cynical and hilarious. It’s like an even cattier Robot Chicken. Well worth seeing.

Go Go Reject: A genuinely sexy, hot, funny and uplifting short. Every shorts collection I’ve ever seen at NCGLFF has contained at least one really winning anchor film and this is definitely the one for this collection. The important things in comedy, for me, are the delivery, the timing and the unflappable sincerity of the actors’ performances; as soon as an actor stops selling the role and starts mugging for the camera it falls flat. The lead works his ass off in this and manages to deliver a character who’s wholly naive, utterly sincere and completely sexy. It’s also interesting to see twinks challenge the muscle-god standard in gay male beauty. The lead is still absurdly hot to be playing a role that feels inferior but such is show business. The short itself manages to make its point, entertain while doing so and wrap things up without beating the audience about the head and neck with the morals hammer. Fantastic.

You Can’t Curry Love: Often clever in both craft and presentation but the seams show, usually when the camera’s eye cuts to stock footage. The story isn’t exactly full of surprises and a couple of the performances are pretty wooden and, overall, while I don’t want to say it used too broad a brush I will say there’s more line than lane by the time this paint truck goes by. That said, wicked hot leads and it got some real laughs. The main character’s obsession with an unavailable constant tease is something with which plenty of us can identify, too.

Everybody Is Having Sex… But Ryan: Well made, but it raises that age-old question of why so many best friend characters are such insufferable twats. This question overpowers everything else the movie might have to say.

Deaf Relay: At Your Service: Incredibly funny and magnificently written. The audience cracked up repeatedly throughout and I would love to get a chance to talk to the filmmaker at some point because she’s actually in attendance at the festival.

Later I went back for a different set of “mixed” shorts called The Wolf With the Red Roses:

Little Love: I only caught the very end but it was extremely well-made and the performances I saw were touching and sincere.

Closure: A tad “film class final project” at times, and it felt very nineteen, but the people who made this are going to make something truly great sooner or later. Halfway through it the ancient old dried up husk of a queen two seats to my left yawned in this ridiculously melodramatic way and frankly that made me like the movie even more.

Remission: Disturbing and creepy and very genuinely moving. I can’t talk about the content itself without spoiling the film so I won’t say anything other than the performance is really humane and touching and when the film wants to take a hard left turn into creepy it does so with gusto and to tremendous effect. This is possibly the best short out of both programs and one of the best dramatic or horror shorts I’ve ever seen at NCGLFF. It was what made me want to see this collection and it really did not disappoint. This short would have been right at home at NEVERMORE and in any given year it would be one of the best things shown at that very fine festival, too.

That said, the same bitter old queen next to me – and his date – hated it and they weren’t letting anyone get out of there without them knowing that. They made audible comments throughout, laughed at moments of simple human vulnerability and then mocked it when it was over. I stood up to leave between films because I refused to sit there and listen to them any longer and one of them said to me, “Can’t take it anymore?”

I replied, “Of the company, no,” which got a miffed little “hmph” out of the other. “Maybe you’d prefer to rent it and watch it at home,” I said, and that didn’t get any response except a laugh from somewhere else in the theater. Yes, we are a dynamic and active community and yes as the resident custodians of culture it is as often our job to criticize as it is to curate, but goddamn it my ticket was worth just as much as theirs and I didn’t pay to hear their opinions. What the fuck is wrong with people? If someone is so cynical they can’t manage to squeeze out a single bead of sympathy for what was a genuinely moving story and a stark example of personal horror, why are they bothering to watch the films in the first place?

So, having gotten my requisite hating-another-patron-for-running-their-fucking-mouth out of the way for the weekend, I look forward to being able to enjoy myself tomorrow night.

Saturday was a big around-town day for us, as we got up relatively early-ish and made it out to the Durham Farmers’ Market downtown at Central Park. It was a mildly drizzly morning but we had umbrellas and gusto and we came away with countless peppers of various types and some blueberries and enough tiny new apples for me to bake two apple-walnut-honey-custard pies and still have three apples left over. The Boyf picked up a flower that looked like a deep scarlet brain and sent it to Katastrophes & Mr. Pink Eyes by way of me that afternoon. We had breakfast from the OnlyBurger truck, which at the farmers market sells something called the “morning special”: a burger with pimento cheese, a fried egg and a fried green tomato. Unbelievably delicious. We scarfed them down in huge bites.

After that we went over to the huge indoor flea market on East Pettigrew, a place we’d both heard about more than once but had never gotten around to checking out. This place turned out to be more than a flea market, though. It was an experience.

The indoor section is mostly clothing, jewelry and vast swaths of unabashedly counterfeit DVDs. There are banquet tables literally covered in three-ring binders of photocopied box art and movies burned to DVDs. It doesn’t really matter how your tastes run, as there’s a booth for every genre iteration known to film: Asian action flicks, American blockbusters, telenovelas, name your movie and someone there will have it. There were a couple of extremely lackluster booths of car parts and used appliances, too, but the real stars of the indoor area were the food booths. There were four or five booths indoors and a few more outdoors selling food, booths where the staff and the clientele were all of the same ethnicity and the food was clearly as authentic as it’s ever going to get in these parts. We weren’t hungry at all after the OnlyBurger or I would have gladly bellied up to a counter and seen what I could eat.

The food booths alone would be reason enough to go back but the real stars were the produce stands. Located outdoors, on either side of the building, there were produce stands that sold everything from the standard fare to plantains, mangoes, dried peppers that smelled rich and dark like cured tobacco, scarred and pitted jalapeños that looked like they could burn your tongue from across the room and more. We found thick, beautiful carrots, huge stalks of celery, avocados, weird albino zucchini squash and bags of napoles trimmed and chopped on demand. All of this was extremely fresh and at absolutely rock-bottom prices. We could not believe our eyes. They can sell all the counterfeit movies they want, my friend, as long as they keep the fat, juicy, 3-for-$2 mangoes coming. The folks we talked to were all extremely friendly and the place was a riot.

My absolute favorite thing, though, had to be the “Let Me Fill Your MP3 Player” booth, where for a few bucks a guy would load all the mp3’s one could want onto any kind of device one could want. No thanks, dude, but it’s nice to see the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well.

So what was my small humiliation? After all that, we split up so The Boyf could go to work and I could take our shopping home and head to Katastrophes’ & Mr. Pink Eyes’ place for the afternoon/evening. First, though, I swung by The Bicycle Chain to see if they had in stock the bike I’ve had my eye on when browsing their website of late. I haven’t ridden a bike in probably twenty years but I’ve been itching to try it again and we have miles and miles of gorgeous trails around here that I’ll never experience without a bike and I could use the exercise and blah blah blah. I walk a lot, yes, but I want to be able to bike, too. At any rate, I walked in and a nice young man was talking to me about the bike that interested me – after I had stated that I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in twenty years and was just interested in easing back into it in a low-impact way – and he pulled down the next-largest-size model of the one I want (the Trek 7000 – they didn’t have my size in stock) and suggested I try to climb on and “go for a lap around the store”. I did so and immediately – I mean, immediately – crashed into a row of bicycles and knocked three of them over. Employees swarmed me and the bikes and started checking to see if I had damaged anything and I was absolutely mortified. I am a big guy and I have a lot of self-consciousness about fitness and my lack thereof and the big hurdle I think most people encounter when they try to get into better shape is that initial act of being willing to be seen exercising when they’re still, like me, fat as the queen of sea cows.

I had gone in with this vision of something happening that would cause the staff of this fancy-pants bike store to think of me as a hopeless rube and then immediately taken an action creating that scenario. The guy was nice enough to talk to me about helmets and bike racks for my car after that but he pretty clearly was ready for me to leave and so was I. When I called later to be double-sure that I hadn’t caused damage that I might need to compensate them for (I had not), I introduced myself on the phone as “the guy who crashed into those bikes earlier” and the person who had answered simply said, “Oh, yeah, you.” He thanked me for calling and seemed genuinely surprised that I had, but he didn’t really make me feel like going right back out and leaping onto the first bike I saw. I felt doubly humiliated and I haven’t really been able to shake that all weekend. Normally I just couldn’t give less of a damn if it paid double wages, in terms of what other people think of me, but for some reason this has touched some raw nerves. Now I’m kind of thinking that maybe walking should be where I stay. I’ll probably get over that, but damn, the looks on their faces is burned into my memory and I can still feel the heat on my face.