Thursday, May 30, 2013

Inside Out 2013: Reviews #2

Reviews of screenings from the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Mixed Shorts: Local Heroes [shorts programme]

Genre, mood, and orientation are all rubbing elbows together in this program that is unified by its local content. There's also a mix of fully-realized ideas, quick hits, and pieces that we might optimistically say show promise. But it's always rewarding to see familiar sights and sounds up on the big screen. In roughly descending order, here's how the programme shook out for me.

The gem of the bunch is definitely For Dorian (Dir: Rodrigo Barriuso, 16 minutes, Australia/Canada), the story of a bourgeois father who has good reason to be protective of his son Dorian. But as he's growing older and learning to conceal things, there are a few signs — a new "friend", a possibly non-meteorological interest in the TV weatherman — that Dorian needs space and independence. Sweet in tone and nicely-observed, Dylan Harman gives a nice turn in the title role with a shy smile and a glint in his eye.

Also quite excellent is Dependent (Dir: Stephanie Markowitz, 4 minutes, Canada), a new music video from Reg Vermue's Light Fires project. (Attendees will also have been grooving to some Light Fires in the festival's trailer.) I've heard this number in live performance for a little while now, but the studio version — performed as a duet with Owen Pallett — ups the ante considerably. Markowitz matches that with a stylish concept that puts us in the middle of the first-we-break-up/then-we-make-up-dynamic. After its première at Inside Out, expect to catch this on a small screen near you.

How would you fare if you had to look in a camera and give an honest account of your choices? I'm Yours (Dir: Chase Joynt, 5 minutes, Canada) puts us face-to-face with two individuals who have both experienced a transition, albeit in opposite directions. Shot against identical white backgrounds, the film cuts between multimedia artist Nina Arsenault and her unnamed counterpart as they have an open conversation about their identities and their changes. Their responses humanize them while giving us a hint of the variety within the trans experience. Brave, forthright, and admirably concise.

Also admirably concise is Shawn (Dir: Mark Zanin, 4 minutes, Canada), where a pair of guests at a funeral each make some surprising discoveries about their dead lover. This gets its laughs from its premise and ducks out without lingering too long.

Knowing how far to stretch out a concept is a bit of a problem for a couple films here. Happy 16th Birthday Kevin (Dir: Jen Markowitz, 11 minutes, Canada) dives head-first into the dark, dark world of its tormented goth protagonist with over-the-top glee, but the deadpan tone is hard to sustain without drying into dust. Still, while hanging out at a particularly awkward birthday celebration, it gives a nice portrait of loving/oblivious parents and the circles of social exclusion — and the chance that there might be someone out there to take us away from all of this.

Stormcloud (Dir: Kate Johnston, 14 minutes, Canada) feels a bit too much like two films jammed together. Its comedic centrepiece, with Vi, a heartbroken artist, inviting a pair of door-to-door bible-thumpers to come in off the porch and say their piece gets some laughs, especially from Mandy May Cheetham whose barely-repressed desires make it unclear who's going to convert whom. But the dramatic wraparound structure doesn't work as well and its metaphors of storm clouds and silver linings are rather too obvious.

It might be my general lack of interest in celebrity culture that kept me from feeling too engaged by Her With Me (Dir: Alyssa Pankiw, 13 minutes, Canada), where a local-girl-made good takes up with a townie while trying to conceal the nature of her tryst from the paparazzi. We have paparazzi in Toronto? Best element here is some well-deployed Army Girls tunes in the soundtrack.

Breaking and Entering (Dir: Andrew Hull, 6 minutes, Canada) feels more like an extended trailer for an impressionistic arthouse feature than a compelling story on its own merit, but might engage those satisfied with a more symbolic cinematic style.

Jason's Dad (Dir: Matthew Campea, 13 minutes, Canada) has died with a secret in this short that could be subtitled "Every Melodramatic Canadian Film Ever". The grim, repressed melancholy is so thick here that the film verges on self-parody, while the plot turns on a smartphone without a password and monumental surprise at someone having a queer bit on the side, both of which seem a little implausible in 2013. Meanwhile, bask in the muted, muddy palette and simmering, brooding expressions.

Screens: Thursday, May 30, 7:00 p.m. @ TIFF Lightbox 1

Hot Guys With Guns (Dir: Doug Spearman, 110 minutes, UK)

Pitching itself as "Boystown meets Chinatown", one might have guessed that this film would be some campy fun in the vein of Lethal Weapon-esque 80's action flicks. But don't expect a parody. The film takes itself much more seriously, and has ambitions of being a bona fide comedy-thriller. Sadly, however, it just doesn't pull it off.

Someone is on a crime spree, knocking out and robbing the participants at Hollywood's upscale gay sex parties. The discreet nature of these events is enough to keep anyone from calling the police, and it's not until rich, unlikable Pip (Brian McArdle) loses the watch he inherited from his father that anyone seems inclined to investigate. His former flame Danny Lohman (Marc Anthony Samuel) is taking a PI course to prepare for an acting role, and despite himself he gets pulled in to untangle the caper. Along the way, there's a romance angle as we find that the pair still-kinda-maybe have feelings for each other.

The plot elements hold together, but at nearly two hours things feel generally bloated, especially with all the hammy acting along the way. Samuel brings an easy, natural affability to Danny, but the rest of the cast generally bogs things down. That makes it hard to care too much as things unwind. The secondary characters generally fail to engage, except for Pip's shrill, presumably-meant-for-comic-relief lush of a mother who leaves a negative, we-couldn't-afford-Jessica-Walter impression.

Most of the other elements are unsatisfying as well. In the style of PG-13 action movies, don't expect any nudity besides a few bums and don't be surprised at the rather chaste bondage party. There are some undertones of racism and class conflict in the dynamic between Pip and Danny, but they don't really go anywhere interesting. In the end, this is neither good enough to be good nor bad enough to be entertaining, and the film's made-for-cable aesthetic will ultimately see it consigned to the status of bland product, gay twist or no. Not recommended.

Screens: Friday, May 31, 7:30 p.m. @ TIFF Lightbox 1

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