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last update 23.Apr.07
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Broken Sky   2.5/5   El Cielo Dividido
broken sky Artful and beautifully shot, this Mexican drama is a telling, lushly filmed examination of human connections. But it's so languorous and distant that it audiences will struggle to stay awake.

Gerardo (Hoppe) is a university student who can't keep his hands off his boyfriend Jonás (Arroyo). But the problem is that he also won't stop chatting up other guys, which Jonás can't cope with. A painful break-up ensues, and while both find other men in their lives, they also keep coming back together, unable to deny the original attraction, but also unable to return to the easy life they had before everything got so complicated. Even Gerardo's new relationship with Sergio (Rojo) is constantly compromised by his past.

As with his arty feature A Thousand Clouds of Peace, Hernández films with an operatic style that's virtually silent, using long, impeccably composed takes that burst with sensuous desire even as they're heavily choreographed. It's slick and fluid, never edgy nor raw, densely filling each frame with colour and shadow. Without any dialog to speak of, the film isn't hugely easy to follow; Soyuz's occasional narration helps, as does the fact that the plot moves with aching slowness. Basically this is a five-minute short film stretched to a numbing 2-hour 20-minute swirl of agonising desire, jealousy and loneliness.

The nice-looking young actors deliver openly emotional performances that are natural and believable, although they can't help but be superficial. Their interaction consists of little more than loaded glances--lusty, angry, miserable. And the bedroom physicality is more like ballet than sex. But the film does capture a youthful yearning for a true connection with another person, and the fact that the young simply aren't very well-equipped to achieve this.

Combining beautiful actors with striking photography, the film is rather more like wallpaper than a proper feature. Although Hernández does catch the vacuous promiscuity of these characters, he gets rather strangely preachy about it, as if he's trying to make a statement about the bitter transience of the gay relationship scene. But he actually only ends up giving us a vivid example of self-indulgent filmmaking.

dir-scr Julián Hernández
with Miguel Ángel Hoppe, Fernando Arroyo, Alejandro Rojo, Ignacio Pereda, Klaudia Aragón, Clarissa Rendón, Pilar Ruíz, Andrés Daniá, Oscar Ramirez Díaz, Miguel Aldana, Ricardo Bautista, Ortos Soyuz
arroyo and hoppe release Mex 25.Mar.06,
US 29.Sep.06,
UK 2.Apr.07 dvd
06/Mexico 2h20
London L&G Film Fest
18 themes, sexuality
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Sex Life in L.A.   4/5
German filmmaker Hick takes a raw approach to the Los Angeles sex trade, talking to models, escorts, pornstars and performance artists about their lives and careers. It's a bizarrely intimate film, really getting under the skin of these men, most of whom come across as genuinely nice guys in deeply disturbing vocations.

This is work for all of them, offering them cash and self-esteem. And it also leads them into the dangerous territory of Aids and drug addiction. Some of them come across as boys next door. And they talk about the highs and lows of their jobs with startling frankness--gym workouts, shaving before a job, cosmetic enhancements, and then into the drugs, parties and the rush of sex and fame, which they know fades away.

It's a fascinating collection of people: Bradshaw is a friendly man from Louisiana who has stumbled into a career as a top pornstar. Tucker makes his first porn film at 44 (mid-life crisis?) to see if he can do it. Ward stumbled into fame alongside Madonna, and has turned it into superstardom. And Kramer is a cute, arrogant sex addict desperate be hugely famous.

This is a straightforward, personal doc with interviews and fly-on-the-wall segments. A constant presence off-camera asking questions, Hick cuts through to reveal the men beneath the iconic surfaces. And this superficiality is a key theme--the fragility of the male ego, competitiveness and camaraderie, L.A.'s culture of desire in which sex is the only topic of conversation. And the only commodity.

Even when they're smiling about their marvellous lifestyles, depression is always just under the skin. This level of ambition is soul-destroying (and body-destroying too). While ageing is unstoppable and career-wrecking. On the other hand, they have a rare level of freedom simply by escaping society's restrictive rules about acceptable sexuality and behaviour.

In a brief coda a few months later, Hick outlines changes in each person's life. One has died of an overdose, others have advanced their careers, one has dropped out and gone home. Most are still waiting for their big break. It's a surprisingly effective, engaging film that really shines a light into an unseen corner of society.

dir-scr Jochen Hick
with Matt Bradshaw, Tony Ward, Rick Castro, Cole Tucker, Kevin Kramer, Patrick Morgan, John Garwood, Ron Athey, David Kendall, Billy Dare, Josh Darken, David Harrow
ward release US 11.May.99,
UK 9.Apr.07 dvd
98/Germany 1h31

bradshaw and tucker

18 themes, language, strong sexuality
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Cycles of Porn: Sex/Life in L.A. Part 2 3/5
Eight years later, German filmmaker Hick takes his camera back to Los Angeles to follow up on the subjects of his first film and to look at where the industry has changed. This film is far more sexualised and less introspective than Part 1, but it's just as telling.

The new generation of porn stars are represented by the Live & Raw boys, who live in a Big Brother-type hotel and get paid for performing on camera. Their average age is 22, and they clearly believe they're on the way to fame and fortune as mainstream actors and musicians. But the dead-end realities are only starting to dawn on them. The other growing side of the industry is the dirty secret of bareback porn, in which more mature actors (like West) controversially indulge in unsafe sex.

Meanwhile we meet the guys from the first film. Bradshaw has returned home to Louisiana, where he lives with his sister and works a "normal" job. Tucker has retired from porn after achieving the pinnacle of success in his mid-40s. Garwood has died from a drug overdose after insisting that he was clean. And Kramer is still clawing after fame and sex and, in what's by far the film's best segment, going home to visit his mother.

Strangely, this film isn't nearly as probing or insightful as the first part. The bareback industry seems to be let off the hook completely. And the fact that more sex workers die from drugs than from Aids is never really unpacked. On the other hand, by examining the subculture from both novice and veteran perspectives, the film vividly shows that sex work can never be a career. And it's also never glamorous.

The best thing about his film is the way it casually accepts the grim realities underneath the superficiality. How in the L.A. sex trade it's just as much about how you sell yourself as what you're selling. Everything is illusory, fame doesn't last. And most sex workers end up unable to truly enjoy sex.

dir-scr Jochen Hick
with Matt Bradshaw, Cole Tucker, Kevin Kramer, John Garwood, Johnny Law, Holden Grey, Vin Nolan, Sergio Anthony, Corbin Michaels, Will West, Damian Ford, Chi Chi La Rue
live & raw boys release US.Jun.05 nylgff,
UK 9.Apr.07 dvd
05/Germany 1h43
SEX LIFE IN L.A. (1998)
18 themes, language, strong sexuality, drugs
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The Veteran 3/5
Despite a low-budget, TV-movie sheen, this film features such an unhinged performance from Ironside that it's well worth seeing.

Amid news of the current Iraq conflict, Vietnam veteran hunter Sarah (Sheedy) discovers evidence of one of the 1,800 still-missing vets. She follows politically active priest Ray (Hosea) to Ho Chi Minh City, where he's trying to make amends with a local woman he once had a fling with. Then in his hotel, Ray is ambushed by Doc (Ironside), a former fellow soldier who it turns out had been held as a prisoner for six years, then lived in hiding for three decades. Through a series of extensive flashbacks, we learn their story. And their secrets.

The film's message isn't exactly subtle (war is hell and politics corrupts), but it's full of intriguing, insinuating touches. Furie shoots it in a vivid, atmospheric style--especially in the flashbacks, which make the most of the tropical locations and the younger cast. And he offsets the small budget with an effective recreation of battle chaos, complete with bombs and helicopters and a terrific sense of laughing, strutting camaraderie. The melodramatic plot is also deepened with some serious subtext, including both religion and sexuality, as well as some clever twists.

But the main attraction is Ironside, who matches Jack Nicholson eyebrow for arching eyebrow as he chomps on every bit of scenery he can get his teeth around. He gleefully spews out the script's silly dialog, mining each moment for jagged black humour. Hosea balances this with a more subtle, introspective performance that carries the story, while it's great to see Sheedy in such a solid, entertaining lead role, even though she's virtually outside the film's central plot.

As it progresses, the deepening mystery draws us in; clearly there is a lot more going on than the screenwriters are telling us. Although there's also a sense that the filmmakers ran out of money along the way and had to cobble the whole thing together out of whatever they had. Perhaps that explains the story's final out-of-the-blue revelations and strangely abrupt ending.

dir Sidney J Furie
scr J Stephen Maunder, John Flock
with Ally Sheedy, Bobby Hosea, Michael Ironside, Casper Van Dien, Colin Glazer, Donald Burda, Jim Codrington, Martin Kove, Austin Farwell, Jim Morse, Jaimz Woolvett, Sean Baek
release US 9.Jan.07 dvd, UK 16.Apr.07 dvd
06/US 1h30
15 themes, language, violence
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall