Tag Archives: movies

Movie Review: Impossible Choice

[Content Note: Homophobia]

Last night, as I scoured both Netflix And Amazon Instant Video for gay-themed movies to watch, I came across Impossible Choice, an extremely-low budget film that came out in 2012. The brief description on Amazon caught my eye:

For the minister’s son, Brandon, this is a summer of awakening and acceptance of his homosexuality. For his father, this is a challenge to his roots in the bible.

In many ways, that description reminded me of the movie Rock Haven, which I love (and still wish I could find my copy of). I decided to watch it.

After watching it, I skimmed through the customer reviews on Amazon. This is a movie where it seemed like either reviewers loved it or hated it. In many ways, I agree with the negative reviews, as they all brought up great points. This was an extremely low-budget film. The writing was awful. The story — actually at least two different plots that were only related by the fact that they happened at the same time and in the same place — jumped all over the place. And there were several questions the story left unanswered. (Like whatever happened to the criminal charges that were brought against Lance? You get the sense that they were trumped up, but it’s never shown that the police learn this fact.) Or there was the sudden shift of Captain Dan from being totally opposed to the idea of running a gay cruise (in the first scene or two, he throws around the word “fag” quite liberally) to being entirely in favor of it and defending the idea in front of the people of Palmyra. In fact, I had to go back and verify that the virulent homophobe I remembered from the first few scenes really was Captain Dan, because they seemed like completely different characters.

The best part of the movie — as many of the negative critics noted — was the ten minute “play within,” a play created by some of the movie characters for a college drama class. In the “play within,” Matthew Shepard and Tyler Clementi meet up in the afterlife and tell each other about the events leading up their eventual deaths. It was well acted, moving, and possibly the only truly memorable part of the entire movie. It also really didn’t seem to have any bearing on the rest of the movie, which made it odd in context.

I will admit that despite all its technical flaws, I do have some warm feelings toward this movie. This is partly because its setting is local to me, as the gay cruise that serves as subject matter of one of the plotlines and the setting for the climax of the other takes place on the Erie Canal and starts from the nearby town of Palmyra New York. There’s something about seeing shots of local geography — and having it recognized in the film as such — that’s just touching to me.

Also, the themes of the movie, while poorly executed, are near and dear to my heart. Granted, in many ways, that makes the poor execution of the movie all the more sad. In the long run, I think it would have been better if those who made it would have focused either on the work to get the gay cruise approved or on the story about Brandon’s relationships with his father and his love interest, Lance.

Would I recommend watching it? If you have a couple hours to spare and access to Amazon Prime, sure. Especially if you live in or around Monroe County New York. Especially if you’re also gay.

But if you have access to a movie like Latter Days or Rock Haven (and haven’t already watched it to death), you may want to check one of them out instead.


Movie Review: Shank

I’ve watched a number of movies that have dealt with the theme of young men coming to terms with being gay.  However, it is the rare movie that explores that theme with the intensity and rawness as Shank, the British film directed by Simon Pearce.  In this film, Pearce gives us a glimpse into the life of Cal, a teenage gang member who is trying to hide his sexual orientaion from his fellow thugs.

The movie quickly introduces us to Cal, who copes with his feelings by engaging in random sexual encounters, drug use, and gang violence.  The first few scenes show the gritty nature of his life in the gang.  However, Cal’s life suddenly changes when his best mate, Jonno, and their de facto leader, Nessa, decide to pick on poor Olivier, a French exchange student who is stereotypically and somewhat flamboyantly gay.  In a moment of conscience and fear — and perhaps seeing too much of himself and his potential fate in Olivier and the treatment he receives — Cal stops the pair from beating the French boy, allows him to escape, and then abandons his fellow thugs to apologize to Olivier and offer him a lift home.

Cal attempts to return to his gang’s hideout later, only to discover that he is not only unwelcome, but an acceptable target for his former comrades’ anger and violence.  Cal escapes and returns to Olivier, and the pair soon get involved in a rocky, tenuous relationship.  However, Nessa and the other gang members discover Cal’s secret and begin to hunt down the pair.

This movie is a masterful blending of grit (to rival FAQ’s and Ethan Mao) and tender sensuality, demonstrating the storm of emotions that Cal experiences as he is tugged in different directions.  All of the actors play their parts well, filling each scene with emotion through words, tone of voice, body gestures, and expression.  Even characters like Nessa, whose deeper motives for her anger and rage towards Cal are beautifully fore-shadowed toward the beginning of the movie, are given a great deal of attention and depth.

One particularly interesting piece of cinematography in this movie was the use of the cell phone video footage. The gang always recorded their acts of violence via cell phone, and this fact was used in the movie to hint at violence to come at times.  It was an interesting way of adding a bit of suspense at critical moments.

My one criticism of this movie would be that there’s a bit more synchronicity in the movie than is really reasonable.  For example, it’s entirely too convenient that the first sexual encounter Cal has with the movie is with Scott, who later turns out to be one of Olivier’s university instructors.  There were other coincidences involving Scott, which I will not go into, as it would reveal too much about how the movie concludes.

As a final note, I would warn readers that this is a very violent movie and even includes sexual violence.  Those who are bothered or emotionally trigger by such things should either skip this one or take appropriate precautions when sitting down to watch it.

Movie Review: Shelter

Shelter (2007 film)

Image via Wikipedia

I’m a fan of movies that deal with a gay guy who is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality.  There’s just something touching and nostalgic about watching the main character discover his feelings for another man and begin to sort through the emotional obstacle course made up of love, desire, fear, doubt, and guilt.

One such movie that stands out in my mind is Shelter, the 2007 movie about a young man, Zach, living in California.  Where Shelter differs from other great coming out movies, like Latter Days and Rock Haven, is that Zach’s major conflict isn’t so much about his religion, but his family.

Zach lives with his older sister, her live-in boyfriend (at least I don’t get the impression their married) and his five year old nephew.  Zach works at odd jobs to help support his sister and little Cody, who sees his uncle as a major father figure.  Zach’s life begins to change when is best friend’s older brother, Shaun, comes to town for an extended stay.  Zach and Shaun fall in love, and quickly finds his desire to be with Shaun quickly coming into conflict with his family obligations.  His sister, Jeanne, is concerned about her son being around all that “gay stuff” and doesn’t think it’s healthy environment.  (Strangely, Jeanne isn’t all that concerned that her live-in boyfriend is asking her to go to Oregon for six months and leave Cody behind.) Despite Shaun’s undying adoration of Cody and his willingness to make Cody a part of any plans he and Zach might have, the family conflict leads to problems in the couple’s budding relationship.

In addition to the conflict between love and obligations to a family that doesn’t approve of gay relationships, this film weaves in the extra dimensions of different family backgrounds.  While Zach and his sister have lived a difficult life with plenty of hard luck and few breaks, Shaun comes from a well-to-do family.  This difference leads to differences in perspective and different approaches to their problems, adding to the conflict.

All of these elements are handled well, or at least as well as they can be in a 97 minute movie.  It makes for a touching and heartfelt story, and one that I could personally identify with on many levels.

Religion and Movies

DVDs.jpgWhile guest-blogging at The Wild Hunt, John Morehead proposed using science fiction movies as a basis for interfaith dialogue. His idea and the post itself are fascinating, and I strongly encourage my readers to check it out.  It’s certainly a concept I want to think over and explore more closely.  In the meantime, though, I’d like to turn my attention to one of the responses that John’s post generated.  Hadiah Starlight commented a bit on the poor representation of Wiccans and other Pagans in cinema in general:

I agree that cinema is a reflection of what is going on socially in our
world, but as a Pagan I find it very sad, and disheartening that we are
still not presented in a more “positive light”, and that people’s idea
of witchcraft is the Harry Potter films, or The Craft. We are briefly
presented in a more positive light, in the Lord of the Rings series,
but until we are presented as anything other than “Science Fiction” we
will never be taken seriously.

Leaving aside the question of whether or portrayal in cinema really affects how seriously we’re taken (I’m personally inclined to think that if any causation between the two points exists, it’s more likely to run in the opposite direction), this comment caused me to wonder how Christianity and religion in general fairs in cinema.  So I walked over to my media cabinet, combed through the 300+ DVD’s I currently owned, and started pulling out any DVD I felt had some sort of religious portrayal in it.  I ended up with about 25 DVD’s (a smattering of them are represented in the picture attached to this post).  Furthermore, I felt my choice to include some of the titles might have been a bit generous.

While I don’t claim that my personal DVD collection is a representative sample of all cinema out there, I do think that the relatively low percentage of titles I pulled that I felt had some religious content is quite telling.  It would seem that a great number of movies simply don’t have much to say about religion at all.

I began to comb through the titles that I had pulled out and started considering the similarity between how religion was incorporated into the movie.  I began to notice that the titles seemed to fit a few different categories.  The first and most obvious category were those movies that were intended to offer editorial commentary on religion or certain aspects of some religious subcultures.  Two such examples are Saved! and Dogma.  As these kinds of movies tend to be heavy in satire and highly critical, I’m not sure we as Pagans sould be in a hurry to see these kinds of movies about our own faith traditions.  They may be helpful in the future as our traditions become more established and could benefit from such criticism.  But for right now, I think we’re better off being grateful that our religions aren’t being represented by these kinds of movies.

Unsurprisingly, a considerable number of movies in this category were science fiction movies.  In these movies, religion became framework for understanding the classic battle between good and evil that drive these movies.  The Exorcist, Ghost Rider, Constantine, and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe are all good examples of this category of movie.  Indeed, the abundance of these kinds of movies suggests that it’s not just Pagan religions that are most easily explored, represented and expressed through science fiction.  So that’s a limitation we may simply need to accept for now.

I will note, however, that Christian-themed science fiction does appear to be of a theologically superior quality than Pagan-themed science fiction most of the time.  Each of the movies I listed above spend a great deal of time exploring a cosmology and theology that explains the world where these fantastic and even supernatural stories take place.  The nature of heaven and hell as well as their relationship to the “natural world” is explored in Constantine in fascinating detail that suggests a worldview far more complex than anything seen in The Craft.

But when one considers the amount of Christian theology and cosmology that is readily accessible to the average screenwriter, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Many of them probably grew up learning about it.  Almost all of them have spent their lives surrounded by it.  And then there are simply libraries full of books that they can learn about it from.  And some of the best religiously-themed science fiction — such as the Chronicles of Narnia — have been written by Christian theologians themselves.

Compared to this, Pagan theology and cosmology (in its numerous forms and variations, no less) isn’t as easily accessibe.  There’s not nearly as much written about it.  Most people have not learned it first hand, nor do they come into contact with it regularly.  Is it any wonder that Pagan theology is less well developed in the movies then?

The final general category of movie I found was those movies in which religion somehow influenced the plot and created.  The best examples of this in my collection include Latter Days and Rock Haven, which are movies about young men who find themselves facing romantic and sexual feelings that their religious says are sinful and must be changed or repressed.  These movies then center around that conflict, the effects it has on the characters, and the eventual resolution.  Similar movies exist that deal with other faith struggles, such as understanding and coming to terms with tragedy and loss.

Personally, I would love to see similar movies from a Pagan perspective.  I would love to see movies where a Pagan character tries to reconcile his faith with life issues or find comfort and guidance through tragedy and difficulty from his faith.  The problem is, writing such a movie again requires a deep understanding of Pagan theology and philosophy, as well as how the affect the rest of an adherent’s life.  This is not the kind understanding that the average screenwriter is going to possess.  In short, Hollywood isn’t going to make this kind of movie simply because it’s ill-equipped to do so.

If we as Pagans really want to see positive portrayals in cinema, I think we’re going to have to find those in our community who are ready to be the story-tellers and the screenwriters who will do it.  After all, we are the only ones who can portray our lives because we are the only ones living our lives.

So as much as I’d love to see better portrayals of my faith on the big screen, I won’t hold my breath until I or another fellow Pagan is prepared to write them and try selling them to a movie studio.