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Monday, September 27, 2004

The Trip.

DVD reviewed by Duane Simolke for This Week In Texas

This epic starts during the seventies and follows eleven years in the lives of two gay men who seem totally wrong for each other: an outgoing gay activist (played by Steve Braun) and a repressed, closet-case Republican (played by Larry Sullivan).

Not surprisingly, hilarity ensues, especially with Alexis Arquette and Jill St. John in flamboyant supporting roles. Still, The Trip offers much more than comedy. It also shows how love matters more than any differences, and it offers insight into how the political climate of two decades affected gay communities and gay individuals.

The Trip received numerous awards during its trip through film festivals and eventual wider release. The DVD’s many extras make it even more appealing.
Sordid Lives.

DVD reviewed by Duane Simolke for This Week In Texas

In writing my West Texas fiction collection The Acorn Stories, I knew that West Texas offers more colorful characters than anyone could believe. I’ve met much stranger folks here than I ever created. I keep hearing the same about Sordid Lives when I watch it over and over with other West Texans. Frequent comments include “I know these people,” “That’s my home town,” and “Those are my relatives.” Such comments border on scary, considering how bizarre this little movie gets.

I can’t imagine anyone watching Sordid Lives and not laughing, but writer/director Del Shores also offers compassionate looks at his eccentric characters. Never mind the low budget filming, or the little flaws that some viewers will catch with repeated viewings. The fact remains that most people will want those repeated viewings.
Food of Love.

DVD reviewed by Duane Simolke for This Week In Texas

Based on David Leavitt's book The Page Turner, this charming and well-acted film brings viewers around the world as it follows the story of a young man who turns pages for a famous pianist. The young man falls in love, but numerous complications make their relationship seem impossible. Some people will hate the ending, but will probably still love the music, the locales, the romance, and the emotional journey of eighteen-year-old Paul.

The DVD extras include interviews with David Levitt, director/producer Ventura Pons, and members of the cast. As with the DVD of And Then Came Summer, I enjoyed learning about the movie’s background almost as much as watching the movie itself.
And Then Came Summer.

DVD reviewed by Duane Simolke for This Week In Texas

Jeff London wrote, produced, and directed this simple but touching story about gay love and the many ordeals that gay teens face. Anyone who ever felt different or rejected should enjoy this film.

Cameron Cutler directed the photography, and the peaceful, coastal environment creates a counterpoint to the internal struggles that two teenage boys face as they realize how they feel about each other. The DVD’s extras, however, reveal how the movie’s settings resulted largely from London’s lack of budget. The interviews show his great enthusiasm, shared by his actors, to make this little film happen. The film’s alternate beginning, also included, would have provided more foreshadowing, but I liked slowly discovering the backgrounds of the characters.

Some of the actors give somewhat wooden performances at first, but London manages to draw more emotion from them as the tensions escalate. I wish I could say the same for The Last Year, a movie London directed and produced, but that movie’s plague of bad acting ruins a strong screenplay by Russ Williams. Jeff London deserves great actors, and a better budget.
Angels in America.

DVD reviewed by Duane Simolke for This Week In Texas

Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece actually encompasses the separate plays Part I: Millennium Approaches and Part II: Perestroika. After seeing a wonderful performance of Part I at Texas Tech University, I kept wanting to see Part II performed live. Instead, I saw both on HBO, adapted for television.

Mike Nichols, the director of Biloxi Blues, The Graduate, The Birdcage, and many other hit movies, brought his considerable talent to Tony Kushner’s screenplay. The resulting mini-series deserves the many Emmy nominations and awards it received.

As with the plays, some of the actors play multiple roles. Jeffrey Wright reprises his stage roles, joined by famous movie actors like Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson, as well as underrated independent movie actors like Justin Kirk and Mary-Louise Parker.

Examining how AIDS affected and changed America, Angels offers dreamlike story-telling and emotional performances. Despite its sometimes surreal vision of life during the 1980s, it encapsulates the human capacities for betrayal, denial, survival, acceptance, and compassion.

Jeffrey Wright used his Emmy win to call attention to how AIDS continues to devastate both Africa and African Americans, as well as to a need for films that deal with those issues. Hopefully, such projects would attract extraordinary talents like viewers will find with Angels in America.
Latter Days.
DVD reviewed by Duane Simolke for This Week In Texas

I wanted to see this movie from the first time I heard about it. Proving itself more than worth the wait, Latter Days easily ranks up there with gay favorites like Torch Song Trilogy, Sordid Lives, Jeffrey, Friends & Family, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It will doubtlessly make its way into countless DVD collections, and not just among gay viewers.

C. Jay Cox, best known for the screenplay of the gay-friendly comedy Sweet Home Alabama, makes his directorial debut with Latter Days, which he also wrote. Dealing sensitively with a romance between a gay man and his Mormon missionary neighbor, this comedy quickly takes dramatic turns. If I explained too much of the plot, it would sound contrived, but Cox uses serendipity to show how people’s lives interconnect and change each other. (Besides, I wouldn’t want to ruin the plot twists!)

The DVD includes, among other features, a fascinating documentary that explores the film’s history, from the planning stages through its making and into the early months of its theatrical release. I hope C. Jay Cox will write and direct more great films like this one!