Wednesday, December 28, 2005

America Brown, reviewed for This Week In Texas by Duane Simolke, author of the West Texas fiction collection The Acorn Stories.

Though best known for their gay titles, TLA Releasing
also distributes independent films of general
interest. The best of those I’ve seen is America
Brown. Australian actor Ryan Kwanten takes on a West
Texas accent and an emotionally tortured role as
America “Ricky” Brown, a football player who goes to
New York City to meet his town’s football hero.

Directed by Paul Black, this film starts out a bit
slow and disconnected, but I kept feeling that all of
the characters would keep revealing much more about
their past, their actions, and their motivations. The
movie pays off in all of those respects. The further
the story goes along, the more Ricky and the people in
his life illuminate their pain, their regrets, and
their joy. It keeps getting more emotional, more

Kwanten appeared on Australian TV while growing up and
recently starred in the short-lived WB series
Summerland; I hope to see him in many more roles. The
cast of America Brown also includes Elodie Bouchez,
Frankie Faison, Hill Harper, Karen Black, Leo
Burmester, Michael Rapaport, and Natasha Lyonne.

Friday, December 23, 2005

In E. Conley’s review of The Acorn Stories, she says that “The ability to depict such a wide cross section of humanity, including details of each character's breadth of knowledge and experience, takes a talented, insightful author, and Duane Simolke is such a writer.” (Click that link to read the review, and many more.)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Everyone DVD review for This Week In Texas. Review written by Duane Simolke, author of Holding me Together: Essays and Poems -- Second Edition.


This Canadian movie caught my attention with its funny teaser line: “The guests have arrived and so has their baggage.” I knew from there to expect dark comedy with romantic entanglements. The fact that it centers around a gay wedding made it much more appealing.

At the beginning, though, I found the movie a bit tedious. It keeps switching between five seemingly unrelated scenes of couples arguing. Some of the music seems orchestrated with the intention of making those scenes even more annoying.

Several minutes into the film, the connections between the different couples become obvious, along with the reasons for their arguments. Family and tragedy connect them. At that point, the characters become sympathetic and even charming.

Even as the sad back-stories unfold, and even among the sometimes cold or cruel ways these characters treat each other, Everyone remains a comedy. The more the characters interact, the funnier it gets.

The multi-talented Bill Marchant wrote, directed, and produced Everyone, even co-writing and performing the title song with Michael Chase (who plays Gayle). One of the funniest roles goes to Katherine Billings, as the mother of one of the grooms; another goes to Carly Pope, whose character seems to live for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Matt Fentiman and Mark Hildreth are the stars, though. They portray a thoroughly mixed-up but devoted male couple who want a ceremony on their third anniversary. “It’s not a wedding,” they keep reminding each other. But it’s also not a good day for the ceremony.

Most of the actors in Everyone have appeared in a number of TV shows, movies, and/or stage productions. All of them seem perfectly cast.
Harry and Max DVD review for This Week In Texas. Review written by Duane Simolke, author of Holding me Together: Essays and Poems -- Second Edition.

Harry and Max

Admittedly, the plot of this comedy/drama sounds shocking, irreverent, and unlikely, but Harry and Max delivers emotional insight and probing character studies.

Harry (Bryce Johnson from Home of Phobia and TV’s Popular) takes time off from his boyband to spend time with his younger brother, Max (Cole Williams). We quickly learn that something happened between them during an earlier vacation, and Max wants it to happen again. Besides appearing in independent films and on 8 Simple Rules, Cole Williams is the son of singer/songwriter/actor Paul Williams. Williams lends a believable charm to his role, while Johnson makes his character cocky yet scared.

Despite the constantly frank dialogue, the irreverent comedy, and the overly obvious parallels to a certain real-life boyband, the movie ultimately centers around strained relationships that have lost their sense of boundaries. Harry’s parents rely on him financially, even though they can no longer tolerate his anger or his drinking. Loved as a member of The Mamas & the Papas and as an actor, Michelle Phillips seems like the only choice to play Harry and Max’s mother; though we actually (and unfortunately) see very little of her, we learn that she has now pushed Max into the music business.

Of course, the parent/child boundary is hardly the film’s more obvious concern. Harry and Max’s sexual experimentation not only creates tension for their bond as brothers, but also prevents Max from truly seeking a gay relationship with someone other than Harry. Despite other experiences, he really just wants Harry, but their popularity makes that unlikely. Harry’s former girlfriend (Rain Phoenix from O and To Die For) gets trapped in the middle of their struggles, and it quickly becomes obvious why she wants to move on with her life.

Writer/director/editor Christopher Munch previously explored a gay relationship in a popular music setting with The Hours and Times. With Harry and Max, he delivers another short and low-budget but thoughtful film.
Conspiracy of Silence DVD review for This Week In Texas. Review written by Duane Simolke, author of Holding me Together: Essays and Poems -- Second Edition.

Conspiracy of Silence

With the Catholic Church struggling over sexual issues and losing priests, this movie seems especially timely. Considering how much the Vatican hates Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this Irish import received a cold welcome in Italy.

Now TLA Releasing is providing American distribution for the DVD of Conspiracy of Silence. Succeeding as a thriller, an exploration of theological issues, and on many other levels, this movie ultimately relies on strong performances from its cast, which includes Jonathan Forbes (from the Horatio Hornblower TV movies), Jason Barry (from Titanic), and Brenda Fricker (Academy Award winner for My Left Foot).

During a Vatican meeting on AIDS, a gay priest becomes annoyed with the lack of action and creates a protest, which the Vatican quickly squelches. Word of the protest goes unmentioned until three years later, when the priest commits suicide.

While a reporter begins examining the case, an Irish seminarian is fighting expulsion, which stems from the ungrounded suspicion that he had a sexual encounter with another young man at the seminary. The reporter and the seminarian both find corruption and a lack of compassion, all centered around the vow of celibacy.

John Deery, who also directed the film, wrote the screenplay from his Catholic background, and his fear that the Vatican’s hypocrisy and unwillingness to debate celibacy is destroying Catholicism. The film deals honestly and compassionately with both gay and heterosexual relationships, but never attacks religion. Instead, it looks at the dangers of absolute, unquestioned power.

Harry and Max DVD review for This Week In Texas. Review written by Duane Simolke, author of Holding me Together: Essays and Poems -- Second Edition
Ethan Mao DVD review for This Week In Texas. Review written by Duane Simolke, author of Holding me Together: Essays and Poems -- Second Edition.

Ethan Mao

Out writer/director Quentin Lee (Drift) offers a low-budget, independent film about an Asian-American teen whose homosexuality puts him at odds with his tradition-bound family. However, Ethan Mao is hardly the typical coming out drama.

Ethan (Jun Hee Lee) was never the same after seeing his father (Raymond Ma) shoot a robber. Life gets worse for Ethan after his step-mother (Julia Nickson) finds a gay skin magazine in his room and Ethan’s father kicks him out.

After reluctantly becoming friends with the drug dealer and hustler Remigio (Jerry Hernandez), Ethan casually asks Remigio to go back to his family’s house with him while they’re gone. Unfortunately, they come back, leading to a hostage situation.

While the characters’ Asian background obviously informs their actions and attitudes, this certainly isn’t a movie that will appeal only to Asians, just as it shouldn’t appeal only to gays. The casting of Jerry Hernandez, a hilarious little scene with an Anglo neighbor, and the many ways that this family seems so strangely familiar all add to the movie’s universal appeal.

Distracting dream sequences and flashes of unconvincing performances mar this drama, but not enough to ruin Quentin Lee’s attempts at showing the difficulty of life for gay Asian teens. The characters all seem cold at some point, but their posturing conceals and intensifies deeper emotions. Even the friendship between Remigio and Ethan hides something more.

The ending is satisfying. After a series of unexpected turns, it makes the entire film worthwhile and Lee’s next movie worth anticipating.
Heights DVD review for This Week In Texas. Review written by Duane Simolke, author of Holding me Together: Essays and Poems -- Second Edition.

A day in the life of New Yorkers reveals constant surprises in what they learn about themselves and each other. Their lives, seemingly unrelated at first, intersect throughout the movie in ways that neither the characters nor the audience can fully predict.

Heights features a talented and familiar cast, including Glenn Close, Isabella Rossellini, James Marsden, and Jesse Bradford. Directed by Chris Terrio, it also features hidden emotions, agendas, and needs in a deeply human and moving way.

From the obvious fact that at least one of the male characters is gay to the less obvious secrets the twenty-four hours still hold, Heights keeps viewers glued with strong performances, believable emotions, and an obvious love for New York City and its citizens.

Despite the beautiful photography and the many plot twists, Heights relies on realistic dialogue and skillful acting more than anything else. It delivers in those ways and more. Amy Fox adapted the script from her play, and will, hopefully, continue to bring such engaging characters to stage and screen.
Mysterious Skin DVD review for This Week In Texas. Review written by Duane Simolke, author of Holding me Together: Essays and Poems -- Second Edition.

Mysterious Skin

Adapted from Scott Heim's 1996 novel, this sometimes dreamy, sometimes brutal, and often disturbing film engages the viewer in the lives of two boys. One boy responds to sexual abuse, and his attraction to his abuser, by becoming a hustler who fears showing emotion. The other boy hunts for the truth behind his lost time by clinging to UFO theories. As young men, they will eventually meet, for a beautiful ending to an often ugly story.

Director Gregg Araki, not known for avoiding controversy, deals honestly with the emotions of both characters, and the other people in their lives. Brady Corbet (Thunderbirds) plays Brian, the supposed UFO abductee. Corbet convincingly portrays Brian as constantly distant, constantly fragile, always searching for truths that he knows will hurt him.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (TV’s 3rd Rock From The Sun) recently starred in another instant gay classic, Latter Days. In Mysterious Skin, he owns the screen as the older version of the hustler, Neal. Quiet but smoldering with emotions, Neal obviously loves his mother (Elizabeth Shue from Leaving Las Vegas) and his best friend (Michelle Trachtenberg from TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Still, he acts coldly or even cruelly towards other characters, and himself.

Gregg Araki continues to distinguish himself as one of the most innovative and daring directors among gay movies. Looking back at Araki’s films, I hated Nowhere and Doom Generation, liked The Living End, and loved Splendor. Mysterious Skin took him to a new level in my opinion, and in the opinion of countless other viewers. With his most daring movie, Araki actually managed to appeal to mainstream critics; Mysterious Skin deservedly received constant praise during its theatrical run. Its arrival on DVD will bring it to a much larger audience.

For the DVD of an unusual movie, why not offer an unusual special feature? Stars Brady Corbet and Joseph Gordon-Levitt both give extensive readings from Scott Heim's book, sprinkled with images from the film. This feature reveals much about the characters they played, how they approached those characters, and why Araki found the novel so compelling.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Gay Book Receives Rave Review!

For my 200th blog entry here, I wanted to share some good news!

In a review appearing both at and in the November 25, 2005 issue of EXP Magazine, SouthWest Edition, critic Shawn Revelle calls the revised, second edition of my book Holding Me Together “an inspiring and timely collection of works.” Revelle goes on to share details about the book, which he also refers to as “a worthwhile and life-affirming read.”