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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 28.Nov.20

The American Boys  
Reviews by Rich Cline
The American Boys
release UK 30.Nov.20
20/UK NQV 1h32

two fish
This intriguing collection of six short films from the US kicks off with a young boy and steadily gets older, exploring the impact of sexuality on masculinity. The earlier stories examine feelings children have that they struggle to interpret, then later they must work up the courage to act on them, live as themselves and find a sustainable way forward. It's a remarkable set of mini-dramas, each with something to say even if the settings and ideas have been tackled before in bigger, flashier movies. But these brief tales have a big impact.

These Things Take Time dir-scr Jerell Rosales
with Zackary Arthur, Timothy Ryan Cole, Jason Heymann, Samantha Krull, Ashley Ledbetter, Annmarie Nitti, Makana Say, Jack McGraw
18/US 20m

These Things Take Time  

arthur and krull Bright and chirpy, this comical short is centred in a fourth grade classroom, where the kids are up to all kinds of mischief that they probably don't fully understand. Filmmaker Rosales creates a superbly realistic tone, with offhanded humour and a spark of internalised emotion. Using a light touch, he skilfully shoots the film from a child's perspective, grappling with emotions that seem to clash with everyone else. It's smart, sensitive and powerful.

At the centre is 8-year-old Zander (Arthur), who finds school annoying, especially with the perky classmates around him. And the super-high maintenance Reagan (Krull) has just declared that she's his girlfriend. The only thing he does like is his teacher Mr Whiley (Heymann), maybe a little too much. And while Zander tries to fend off Reagan's intensity, he's disappointed to learn that Mr Whiley has a girlfriend. So he begins to act up in class and retreat into himself at home.

Zander is a young boy just beginning to see that there's something different about him. He finds romantic relationships around him inexplicable, including his loving parents (Cole and Ledbetter). The dialog bristles with improv-style life, revealing lively layers of personality in each of the characters. And the actors deliver superbly realistic performances, even when scenes get a bit farcical. Arthur is particularly strong, stirring vivid textures into his interaction with the other characters. And where the story goes is simply stunning. It's also beautifully written, directed and played.

The Legend of Scotty Watts dir-scr Prash Sampathkumaran
with Luke Brau, Morgan Price, Avery Powers
17/US 11m

The Legend of Scotty Watts  

brau With richly hued cinematography and a lively sense of musicality, this short explores underlying feelings in a way that's remarkably involving. Writer-director Sampathkumaran takes the audience on an odyssey into a teenager's mind, unearthing emotions and obsessions that aren't yet fully formed.

In the 1980s, Julian (Brau) is obsessed with the local band fronted by hot singer-guitarist Scotty Watts (Powers). One day at school, Julian meets fellow fan Marcy (Price), and their friendship clicks. Clearly interested in him on a romantic level, Marcy asks him why he likes Scotty so much, and for Julian this is something he can barely express. But she encourages him to talk to Scotty. And as he works up the courage, Julian isn't sure whether he wants Scotty, wants to be Scotty, or is actually falling for Marcy.

"Meeting him would change everything," Julian says, as he and Marcy become friends, bonding over the music. So she pushes him to stop obsessing and actually do something about how he feels. Where this goes is awkward and surprising, taking a twist that adds a wrenching kick to the story. And the cast is terrific at capturing nuances in their interaction. It's a little loose and surreal as it tries to depict the disconnect between words and feelings. But the approach is clever and refreshingly complex.

Two Fish dir-scr Antoine Dupont-Guerra
with Aurelio de Anda Jr, Jeremy Howard
17/US 11m

Two Fish  

de anda and howard There's a lovely, evocative tone to this film, which depicts two teen boys who use honesty and emotion as they discover something about themselves that they might not quite be ready to deal with. It's a story that's been told before, capturing typical feelings in a familiar situation. But with a simple message, filmmaker Dupont-Guerra's take on the topic carries a strong burst of hope.

The athletic teen Max (de Anda) is spending his summer exercising on his own, running laps around the track and swimming lengths in the pool. Then his best pal Taylor (Howard) gets home from a trip to Europe. Happy to be able to hang out again, Max makes a point to tell Taylor that he has broken up with his girlfriend, and their glances and casual touches lead to an expression of affection that catches both of them by surprise.

The film is completely self-contained, with no other characters, which allows the sharp, minimalistic dialog to reveal the unspoken things in between the words. Both de Anda and Howard play the roles with sensitivity, revealing their characters' quiet internal yearnings in ways that feel fresh and authentic. This makes the film easy to identify with as they begin to question who they are and what it might mean, not just for their friendship but for the rest of their lives

You Can Play dir Anders Helde
scr Dennis James Clarke
with Kellan Rhude, Carson Boatman, Cazimir Milostan, Carli Olson, David Schroeder, Ric Maddox, Caroline Vinciguerra
15/US 19m

You Can Play  

rhude and boatman Thoughtful and internalised, this drama digs into the deeper feelings of its central character, who is being forced to make a decision about who he is and who he wants to be. The film is beautifully shot in low light, keeping the perspective tight to allow underlying thoughts to seep through. It's a bold little film that has some surprising things to say.

It's the evening before the last big game, and star high school quarterback Brandon (Rhude) is having an existential crisis. His coach (Milostan) offers him some words of advice about looking forward to his university career without regrets. But Brandon has something else on his mind: namely his unexpressed feelings about his best pal, teammate James (Boatman). Brandon doesn't want to leave James behind. And James is furious that Brandon is even considering staying here.

This is a story about a teen who has a chance to get out of his small town, an option his friends don't have. It may be a rather hackneyed theme, as is the rousing locker room warm-up speech, but it's refreshing that the script allows these characters to connect on a deeper level and actually talk to each other about how they feel. The key point is that no one has ever asked Brandon what he wants to do: everything has always gone as expected. And the truth is that Brandon needs to have as much courage off the playing field as he demonstrates on it.

I Think I'm Gay? dir-scr Matt Chupack
with Miles Tagtmeyer, Matt Jennings, Rebecca Goldstein, Aaron Jung, Victoria Mele, Adam Razavi
19/US 18m

I Think I’m Gay?  

tagtmeyer and jennings There's a snarky edge to this comical short, which plays with labels that are attached to various forms of sexuality. The dialog strains to catch that Sex and the City vibe, with characters oversharing and essentially offering a tutorial to the audience. But writer-director Chupack keeps it thoroughly engaging, with lively characters and funny situations, plus a healthy sense of perspective.

In his early 20s, Zach (Tagtmeyer) is horrified when, after an embarrassing sexual encounter, his girlfriend Amy (Goldstein) says she thinks he's gay. So Zach turns to his queer friends to find out if this might be true. Kyle (Jennings) says bad sex isn't proof, while Drew and Sandy (Jung and Mele) remind him that sexuality is about intimacy, not sex. To help him understand the scene, they take him on a night out. But of course first he needs a complete makeover.

Because this is essentially a primer on all things homosexual, the actual plot kind of gets lost in the shuffle of wacky jokes and pithy banter. The actors camp their scenes up to the rafters, although both Tagtmeyer and Jennings keep their feet on the ground, adding just a hint of deeper interest. Thankfully, this frankly awful queeny scene isn't the only option for gay men. But it's genuinely amusing to watch Zach try to navigate it, and the script leads to a bit of properly knowing commentary on the complexity of identity and sexuality.

Billy's Blowjobs dir-scr Michael Hyman
with Wilson Cruz, Jason Caceres, Ryan Gawel
17/US 17m

Billy’s Blowjobs  

caceres and cruz There's a earthy, intriguing tone to this stylised film, which takes some blackly comical turns along the way. Opening with an extended monolog by the superb Cruz, there are some pungent truths buried along the way, as Hymen's script cycles through humour and cynicism to some very dark emotions. The key idea is that there's more to life than cheap thrills, and maybe we need to be open to something better.

Late at night, the 40ish Billy (Cruz) is cruising for anonymous sex, bored with his current encounter. The only thing interesting is that a young guy (Caceres) has been watching him from a distance as he has been meeting guys like this over the past two weeks. Throughout this encounter, Billy talks in a stream of consciousness, remembering his one true love, which he lost suddenly. Afterwards, he coaxes the voyeur to come talk to him, and their conversation takes an unexpected turn as they challenge each other.

It's telling that Billy says that his most frightening experience was when he actually locked eyes with one of his hookups. And yet he keeps coming back for another random encounter. The set-up is somewhat gimmicky, as Billy's sexual partner (Gawel) remains outside the frame. But this leads into a conversation between Cruz and Caceres that's provocative and funny, offering pointed observations on how people have a habit of running away from themselves. It's brilliantly written and directed, and played to perfection.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 26.Nov.20

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