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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 27.Mar.22

Boy Culture: The Series  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Boy Culture: The Series
dir Q Allan Brocka
prd Stephen Israel, Philip Pierce
scr Q Allan Brocka, Matthew Rettenmund
with Derek Magyar, Darryl Stephens, Jason Caceres, Jonathan Lisecki, Joel Michaely, Jojo Guadagno, Doug Spearman, Marc Anthony Samuel, Dalila Ali Rajah, Chrisanne Eastwood, Jeancarlos Carias, Steve Grand, Ralph Cole Jr
release US Aug.21 ofla,
UK Mar.22 flare
21/US 1h26

flare film fest

See also:
Boy Culture (2006)

Is it streaming?

stephens and magyar
Filmmaker Q Allan Brocka catches up with the characters from his 2006 movie in this comical six-part series, both based on the book by cowriter Matthew Rettenmund. Once again, the central focus is on a couple that finds it difficult to stay together due to their different views of sex. The dialog and characters are sharp and engaging, and scenes are infused with lustiness, even if it's mainly talk.
It's been 10 years since X (Magyar) worked as a hustler, but he's now back in business alongside much younger guys like Chayce (Caceres). As he navigates the new realities of a scene centred around social media, he also continues to be hung up about his ex Andrew (Stephens), with whom he awkwardly still lives while negotiating their friendship. When X begins to make real money, he sometimes wonders about the various compromises he is required to make along the way. And maybe he can find a way to reconnect with Andrew.
The running joke here is that the over-confident Chayce is coaching X about today's market, from setting up an online persona to pimping him to clients who like older guys. This means that each episode comes with a little lesson about sex, with scenes focussing on dialog between often shirtless super-fit men. But the physicality remains comical in nature and obscured by camera angles or props. Which rather undermines Brocka's sex-positive approach.

Each likeable, intriguing actor finds strong textures within the slightly overwritten rapid-pace dialog. This is even more notable since most scenes are directed with a jaunty, smiling smirk. Magyar takes a superbly understated approach to even the most outrageous situations, and his chemistry with the always excellent Stephens still has a strong spark. Caceres bristles with attitude as the cocky, too-cute Chayce. Everyone else appears in one episode apiece, committing gamely to a range of witty gags.

Each episode features an encounter that has been carefully crafted to play up an aspect of gay life, usually with a pointed message about maintaining an open mind. This means that the series as a whole creates a refreshing bigger picture that makes space for a complex range of people, situations, desires and kinks. But Brocka's preference to tell rather than show leaves the sermonising feeling hollow. So the series ends up being far fluffier than it could have been. But there's still plenty of saucy fun to be had.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 10.Jan.22

The Novice  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
The Novice
dir-scr Lauren Hadaway
prd Ryan Hawkins, Kari Hollend, Steven Sims, Zack Zucker
with Isabelle Fuhrman, Amy Forsyth, Dilone, Jonathan Cherry, Kate Drummond, Charlotte Ubben, Sage Irvine, Chantelle Bishop, Jeni Ross, Nikki Duval, Eve Kanyo, Al Bernstein
release US 17.Dec.21,
UK 1.Apr.22
21/US 1h34

flare film fest

Is it streaming?

forsyth and fuhrman
With her debut feature, writer-director Lauren Hadaway skilfully creates a seriously intense drama harking back to her experiences on a university rowing team. While she adeptly captures the pressure on students who are trying to achieve sporting prowess, she zeroes in on a young woman who is so obsessive that every aspect of her life is about competition. And she's played with wrenching honesty by the terrific Isabelle Fuhrman.
A college freshman, Alex (Fuhrman) is majoring in physics simply because it's her most challenging subject. And she decides to push herself further by joining the rowing team. A relentless high-achiever, Alex dives into before-dawn practice, taking on fellow novice Jamie (Forsyth) and doing more than their coaches (Cherry and Drummond) ask of them. Of course this takes a toll on both her body and mind, but Alex isn't willing to let up at all. Even when she finds romance with a musician (Dilone), she remains fixated on making the A-team at all costs.
Ably assisted by cinematographer Todd Martin and composer Alex Weston, Hadaway gives the film a gritty, churning, all-consuming tone that's further augmented by harsh settings like the concrete gym bunker and garish frat-house parties. Alex must put in 10,000 hours to become an expert, and the cameras stick close to her through both barbed interactions and wrenching solo practice. This skilfully gets into her unstable mindset, which expresses itself in a number of harrowing ways as she pushes herself to the breaking point and beyond.

Fuhrman gives a startlingly focussed performance that highlights Alex's internal ticking timebomb, and she tempers it with brief glimpses of superficial humour and deep-seated emotions. In addition to her competitive nature, Alex has underlying curiosity about this new world, and Fuhrman manages to make her likeable even as she becomes a monster to everyone around her. Both Forsyth and Dilone have terrific presence alongside her, creating fascinating chemistry that further highlights Alex's pathological focus.

"You just started," one coach says, "give yourself a break." But of course Alex only pretends to do this. She is aware that others are smarter and more naturally talented, but to her this means that she needs to push harder. This is a harrowing depiction of someone who simply has no conception of relaxing or having fun. And the scary thing is that we all know people like this. This film doesn't offer much in the way of hope, although there is a glimmer of light at the end.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 21.Mar.22 flare

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir-scr Bretten Hannam
prd Bretten Hannam, Gharrett Patrick Paon, Julie Baldassi
with Phillip Lewitski, Joshua Odjick, Avery Winters-Anthony, Michael Greyeyes, Savonna Spracklin, Becky Julian, Joel Thomas Hynes, Steve Lund, John R Sylliboy, Desna Michael Thomas, Mary-Colin Chisholm, Bobby Pierro
release Can Sep.21 tiff,
US Nov.21 afif,
UK Mar.22 flare
21/Canada 1h47

flare film fest

Is it streaming?

lewitski, winters-anthony and odjick
Set in a Mi'Kma'Ki community in eastern Canada, this drama has an electrical charge of energy as it follows a teen trying to work out who he is. Bristling with attitude, the film revels in its youthful characters' loose physicality as they begin feeling freedom for the first time. Skilfully written and directed by two-spirit filmmaker Bretten Hannam, the film grabs hold with sharp characters and knowing details.
Growing up with a violently bigoted father (Hynes), Linc (Lewitski) struggles to establish his identity. Then when he learns that his his Mi'Kmaw mother (Spracklin) is alive, he grabs his little brother Travis (Winters-Anthony) and hits the road to find her. They hitch a ride with Pasmay (Odjick), a pow-wow dancer who teaches them about their indigenous heritage. As they travel through the countryside, they meet various people, including a pastry chef called Smokey (Greyeyes) and a knowing tribal elder (Julian). And Linc gradually responds to the fact that Pasmay is attracted to him too.
Linc and Travis are literally wounded by their childhood, carrying scars of their father's abuse. Their connection to the earth is vividly portrayed, as much of the film is shot outdoors with wide-open skies and a pungent sense of dirt and grass. The dialog between these three young guys is packed with sarcastic humour that offers insight into their personalities. And away from his father's brutal prejudice, Linc is finally able to acknowledge his sexuality with Pasmay.

The bleached-blond, lanky Lewitski has terrific presence as Linc, a boy who has been given a hard edge by his upbringing and is only now beginning to be himself and let his emotions out. Watching him unwind around the smart, engaging Odjick's Pasmay is lovely, as the growing connection between them offers a sense of healing in more ways than one. Meanwhile, Winters-Anthony adds plenty of spark as the kinetic Travis, and other characters along the way provide texture and meaning.

Finally finding the space to contemplate his life, Linc's lingering question is why his mother left him behind when she fled from his father. But the film isn't about providing clear-cut answers; it's a story about discovering that life is far more complex and varied than we ever expect it to be. And by grounding scenes in the natural world, Hannam gives the film an almost primal authenticity. The final act is perhaps a bit romanticised, but the themes and characters are thoroughly involving.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 23.Mar.22 flare

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