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On this page: HOUSE OF BOYS | L.A. ZOMBIE
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last update 2.Apr.11
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House of Boys
3.5/5  
dir Jean-Claude Schlim
scr Christian Thiry, Jean-Claude Schlim
prd Bob Bellion, Jimmy de Brabant
with Layke Anderson, Benn Northover, Eleanor David, Udo Kier, Steven Webb, Luke J Wilkins, Emma Griffiths-Malin, Stephen Fry, Oliver Hoare, Joanna Scanlan, Sascha Ley, Chris McHallem
northover and fry release Lux 20.Nov.09,
US Mar.10 euff,
UK Apr.11 llgff
09/Luxembourg 1h53

london l&g film fest
house of boys Starting with the same plot as Burlesque, this ambitious film turns into a full-on Aids drama. And while it feels somewhat dated, as well as melodramatic, the filmmaking is intimate enough to keep us engaged with the characters.

In 1984, strong-willed teen Frank (Anderson) runs away to Amsterdam and gets a job in the seedy House of Boys, run by Madame (Kier). Frank immediately develops a crush on his roommate Jake (Northover), who's working there for cash to move away with his girlfriend (Griffiths-Malin). And Frank also befriends the housemother (David) and two dancers: pre-op twink Angelo (Webb) and rebel-punk Dean (Wilkins). When circumstances change, Frank and Jake start a romantic relationship. But their happiness is short-lived when Frank comes down with a mysterious illness.

Before politics and tragedy take over, the film is lively coming-of-age story, with actors who realistically portray young men with their lives ahead of them. The club features a colourful mix of go-go strippers, drag queens and burlesque acts, with gay-for-pay prostitution on the side. And in the Cher role, the eerily ageless Kier brings a mythical quality as the has-been reliving his youth through ever-younger boys. Of course, the period informs us immediately what this illness is, which is spoken of in hushed tones as "gay cancer" before a helpful doctor (Fry) sets everyone straight, as it were.

Writer-director Schlim seems to be drawing from his own life, with warmly lit scenes that evoke a nostalgic vibe. The early sections are a celebration of youth, which comes to an early end as these young men are forced to face their mortality. He pulls no punches in his depiction of Aids, although as things get maudlin, he looks for hope even in the grimmest moments.

The actors are all watchable, making the most of both hysterically bendy dance numbers and histrionic emotional scenes. It's sexy, although for a movie about strippers, it's strangely coy about the nudity and sex. And in the end, it feels like an Aids drama from 20 years ago, although the statistics at the end show that this is still an issue worth talking about.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs
31.Mar.11
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L.A. Zombie
3.5/5  
dir-scr Bruce LaBruce
prd Jurgen Bruning, Robert Felt, Jorn Hartmann, Bruce LaBruce, Arno Rok, Damien Todaro, Matthias Von Fistenberg
with Francois Sagat, Rocco Giovanni, Wolf Hudson, Eddie Diaz, Andrew James, Matthew Rush, Erik Rhodes, Francesco D'Macho, Adam Killian, Tony Ward, Santino Rice, Tim Kuzma
safat
release US 12.Nov.10 dvd,
UK Apr.11 llgff
10/US 1h03

BERLIN FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST

raindance film fest
london l&g film fest
l.a. zombie LaBruce brings his usual eerie comical moodiness to this outrageously graphic tale of a lonely zombie in Los Angeles. So clearly it's a metaphor, right? Indeed, the film is impossible to categorise. And even though it's utterly in-your-face, we still somehow feel for this guy.

A blue and green zombie (Sagat) emerges naked from the Pacific and gets a lift from a young guy (Giovanni) in a pickup. After an extremely gruesome crash, the zombie almost compassionately restarts the guy's heart, albeit in a rather profane way. The next day he blends in with the homeless people in Los Angeles, and as he roams through the city, he awakens recently killed people such as a shooting victim (Hudson), gang member (Diaz), drug overdose (James) and dealers caught in a massacre. But he longs to be normal.

Sagat brings his considerably physicality to the role, as well as a soulfulness that he expresses with his face and body. He never says a word, and yet we vividly feel his loneliness as he searches for love through these macabre sexual encounters. There are elements of zombie, werewolf and vampire in the character, who seems to restore a fragment of his humanity after he gives the proverbial, erm, "kiss" of life to the dead (using a prosthetic zombie-phallus).

The film's only dialog is random overheard fragments of conversation, and the soundtrack is an inventive combination of Kevin Hoover's electronic music and Mikael Karlsson's orchestral score. The result is a film that feels almost elegiac, as images constantly flicker back and forth between fantasy and fantastical reality. The overall effect is almost hypnotic.

Visually, Saintjc's moody, rich cinematography makes up for the cheap production values while capturing Southern California's eerie beauty. And the grisly make-up effects are extremely effective, as is the zombie's constantly shifting appearance. Although the meandering, episodic non-plot is a little dull, like a porn movie with the extreme bits cut out. Indeed, the cast is made up almost entirely of porn stars like Sagat, and even this edited version of the film is still unlikely to get a proper release due to its explicit combination of grisliness and sex.

18 themes, very strong violence and sexuality
7.Mar.11
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Open
3.5/5
dir-scr Jake Yuzna
prd Kelly Gilpatrick, Jake Yuzna
with Daniel Luedtke, Morty Diamond, Gaea Gaddy, Tempest Crane, Jendeen Forberg, Emma Molin, Jill Sweiven, Hal Wells, Cathleen M Conway, Benjamin Fredrickson, Maeri Hedstrom, Jean Dalsin
diamond and leudtke release US Jun.10 fff,
UK Apr.11 llgff
10/US 1h28

BERLIN FILM FEST
london l&g film fest
open Artfully and beautifully directed, this film feels like a feverish dream, with characters whose gender is impossible to define. It's an impassioned, important call for respect, although it's unlikely that a bigot would watch it.

Cynthia (Gaddy) works in a plastic surgeon's office in Minneapolis-St Paul, and sees a man and woman, Gen and Jay (Crane and Forberg), having themselves altered to look like identical twins. As a hermaphrodite, Cynthia is fascinated by their pandrogyny, and decides to leave her boyfriend and take a road trip with Jay to find herself. Meanwhile two men, Syd and Nick (Diamond and Luedtke), are just starting to fall for each other when they find themselves facing a surprise pregnancy, because Syd was born female.

The cast is made up of non-actors playing characters who share their own gender identities, which gives the film an almost documentary feel, even with the inventively stylish production values. The script is open-handed and full of possibilities, allowing the characters (and actors) to be themselves on screen, which makes the story both moving and unpredictable. Although as the two separate plots progress, things get increasingly melodramatic, with the characters confronting insecurity, obsession and heartbreak.

There are also a few rather unnecessary flashbacks, which at least give us telling glimpses of their childhood struggles. But each scene bristles with emotion, skilfully shot in striking locations and played honestly by the cast. Yuzna directs his actors to bracingly natural performances that really get under the skin. And there's something refreshing about a film that continually challenges us to put aside our preconceptions and expectations.

Lush colours, moody music and extreme close-ups establish a foreboding (and somewhat pretentious) tone from the start. The point seems to be that the human body is a canvas that we can shape to our personal yearnings, but that biology ultimately has the final word. Essentially, the filmmakers are saying that gender identity is such a deeply personal issue that it's only through ignorance that you could call someone either wrong or normal. And really, all of us play the game one way or another.

15 themes, language, sexuality, some grislines
9.Mar.11
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Unhappy Birthday
3/5    
dir-scr Mark Harriott, Mike Matthews
prd Nic Speranza, Mark Harriott, Mike Matthews
with David Paisley, Christina De Vallee, Jill Riddiford, Jonathan Keane, David McGillivray, Amanda Tibbetts, Hong Khaou, Zoe Korsner, Danid Denby, Gillian Burns, Philip Harker, Adelheid Wildhirt
paisley and devallee release UK Apr.10 llgff
10/UK 1h29

london l&g film fest
unhappy birthday You have to give credit to the cast and crew for creating an effectively gothic atmosphere in this low-budget British horror movie. It doesn't always work, but it's still rather good fun to watch, if only for the campy, creep-out vibe.

Rick (Paisley) drives his girlfriend Sadie (De Vallee) into the countryside to isolated Amen Island for a birthday surprise involving a local woman (Riddiford) who has a secret connection to Sadie. Along the way, they meet up with their friend Jonny (Keane) and are delayed waiting for low tide to cross the causeway to the island. But things are beyond strange on this island. And when Sadie discovers that Jonny and Rick are having a fling, her reaction isn't exactly predictable. Then the villagers figure it out, and things get increasingly freaky for everyone.

There's an ominous sense of menace from the opening shot, with brooding music and eerily altered images of the rising tide. And the island community is like the Village of the Damned, as these three colourfully dressed "incomers" are stared at when they arrive. Clearly, things are going to turn very nasty. And while much of the sinister insinuation is enjoyably batty, with a strong religious vibe, it's also a little clunky.

Meanwhile, the story's emotional elements, which mainly focus on Sadie's discoveries about her own past, feel somewhat overwrought. But it's very well shot, drawing us into the story through the sheer mystery of it all. The central plot is involving, even with the awkward editing and a couple of uneven performances. And there's a very strong sense of the isolation of this place, which is palpably separated from the rest of society.

While the film's moody tone is effective, the filmmakers are trying just a bit too hard to stir in dark secrets, religious imagery and echoes of creepy-village movies like The Wicker Man. This makes it feel rather pushy and portentous, especially since the film feels more silly than scary. Even so, the plot, acting and filmmaking get increasingly histrionic, which provides plenty of entertainment value. And you do have a sense that this might be what the writers-directors intended.

15 themes, language, strong violence, sexuality
8.Mar.11
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