GAY FILM REVIEWS BY MICHAEL D. KLEMM
Lion's Gate, 2001
Starring: Dan Bucatinsky, Richard Ruccolo, Adam Goldberg, Sasha Alexander, Andrea Martin, Doris Roberts
Rated R, 95 minutes
Of Sugar Plums
Starring: Mark W. Hardin, Edward J. Fasulo, Jean Feton, Vincent Wares, Kevin Joseph
Unrated, 78 minutes
HBO Video, 1997
Unrated, 8 episodes,
Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
It's an old plot. Two people, engaged to be married, insist on playing Cupid by matching up their respective best friends. It has all the makings of a cute Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan comedy. All Over The Guy, however, is the first film that I have seen where a straight couple attempts to play matchmaker with their two gay friends.
Eli (Dan Bucatinsky) is an anal-retentive fussbudget who watches The X Files and collects Planet of the Apes memorabilia. He is attractive, though slightly nerdy. Tom (Richard Ruccolo) is a hunky and likable slob who drinks too much while coasting through life. Their opposing natures are established during the credits. Eli is seen cleaning and then leaving his immaculate apartment, stopping first to straighten the number on the door. Tom stumbles through his messy living room as he looks for his keys, forgets about a bottle of water on the roof of his car and drives away while it rolls off. Eli is heading to an AIDS clinic to be tested, as he always does following a breakup, while Tom is on his way to an AA meeting. Each tells a confidant how they were fixed up on the blind date from hell by their well-meaning friends, and frets about seeing each other again at the upcoming wedding.
Their first date is a catastrophe. The uptight Eli freaks out when Tom says that he never saw Gone With The Wind because he "doesn't like black and white movies." Yet Tom has such "killer eyes." They meet again by chance at a flea market but this almost goes amiss too when Eli says he is looking for a Cornelius action figure from Planet of the Apes. Despite their differences, they manage to connect sexually this time, but commitment-phobic Tom sneaks out in the morning. This doesn't stop their determined straight friends, Brett (Adam Goldberg) and Jackie (Sasha Alexander) from inviting them both over for dinner without telling the other.
While this might sound like sitcom material, it really isn't. Scenes like Eli turning into a stalker in a moment of weakness and getting arrested for staring into Tom's windows help to keep the proceedings from getting sappy. Having one of their many breakups occur during an argument over the semantics of "Fuzzy Wuzzy Was A Bear" (is it "wuzzy" or "was he?") was just one of the many ways that the writing rises above the lowest common denominator of most romantic comedies.
Eli is the product of touchy-feely psychotherapist parents while Tom's folks are dysfunctional alcoholics. Eli wants a Hollywood romance while Tom is afraid to commit. Will they ever fall in love? Well, this IS a movie after all so - as Tom repeats ad nauseum - "you do the math." Still, nothing is wrapped up in a neat bundle at the end when they meet again at the wedding, and the audience is left to draw their own conclusions.
Bucatinsky and Ruccolo are very relaxed in their roles and they generate definite chemistry onscreen. They are ably assisted by Lisa Kudrow and indie film goddess Christina Ricci in small supporting roles. Second City Television alumnus Andrea Martin has a blast chewing the scenery as Eli's mother. The flashbacks of mother using Barbie and Ken dolls for a sex education lesson are a hoot. Ditto for the scene when she telephones during his second date with Tom to warn him about testicular cancer and gives play-by-play instructions how they both can perform self-examinations on each other.
A major plus is that All Over The Guy is not about being gay. It's simply about two people trying to connect while doing everything in their power to sabotage the relationship. This is a sweet little film that shows that commitment can be a bitch no matter what a person's sexual orientation is. I was surprised to learn that screenwriter Bucatinsky's script is based on his own play in which the two lovers were originally straight! This has to be a cinema first. Gays often turn straight when translated to the silver screen, it's never the other way around. I'm thankful that this was an indie release and not a Hollywood blockbuster.
All Over the Guy is hardly Citizen Kane but it is an enjoyable little film that is packed with honest little truths about love and relationships. My only criticism is a the use of a few banal songs (that were probably written by the director's cousin) during transitional scenes. And let me once again mock the hypocritical film ratings board. All Over the Guy is rated R when it should be, at most, PG-13. (I'm sure that Queer as Folk would be a triple X if it was ever released to movie theaters.) For DVD collectors: the disc includes interviews, deleted scenes, storyboards, a production commentary and a pointless alternate ending.
Unfortunately, not all indie releases rise to the same heights. One to avoid is a 2001 stinker named Visions of Sugarplums. Joey and Bruce are about to celebrate their first Christmas together and their revelries are cut short when Bruce's conservative Bible Belt parents come to Manhattan for a holiday visit. Bruce devastates Joey by asking him to temporarily move out while he "de-gays" the apartment. Sound familiar? La Cage Aux Folles Redux perhaps? Hardly.
This one wins my award for being the most amateurish film I have ever seen. Shot on video, the sound was recorded live and is often drowned out by background noises. Picture a relative's camcorder home videos, bad sound and all. Even Ed Woods' low-budget Plan 9 From Outer Space was more technically adept than this. Both the script and the acting are terrible. The inability to decipher the dialogue is a blessing in this case, especially when the token nelly drag queen who lives downstairs wanders into the picture to provide unwelcome and stereotyped comic relief.
Subtlety is nowhere in evidence. Histrionics in scenes that should be dramatic become comic fodder instead. When Joey's father, a church minister, inevitably discovers his son's homosexuality, he responds by striking him repeatedly with his Bible. But it all ends happily with Joey (director Edward Fasulo) coming home and serving Bruce breakfast in bed while showing off his oiled-up physique in the movie's best lit scene. Thankfully, Visions of Sugarplums is only 78 minutes long.
The first season of Oz, HBO's gritty and often-homoerotic prison drama is now available on home video. Oz has a large gay male following for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who has watched the show: rough trade, gratuitous nudity, not to mention dropping the soap in the shower.
But, prurient reasons aside, Oz is tightly written, fast paced and absolutely riveting. Oz is the ironic name given to Oswald State Penitentiary, and most of the action takes place in Emerald City, an experimental cellblock run by the naive Tim McManus who believes he can rehabilitate the hardened criminals in his care. Various factions divide the prisoners: mobsters, Muslims, Aryans, even drag queens. Plotlines include inmate backstabbing (literally), dishonest guards, a corrupt governor, and cellblock sexual tension. Oz is Quentin Tarrantino crossed with Jean Genet.
While sexual violence is common, Oz is also noted for the well-publicized romance between Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergeson) and Chris Keller (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit's Chris Meloni.) Unfortunately, for new viewers, they will not meet until the second season. But one of seasons one's best story arcs concerns the twisted relationship/rivalry between Beecher and white supremacist Vern Schillinger (J.K. Simmons). Beecher is taken under Schillinger's "protection," and then raped and his butt branded with a swastika tattoo. When Schillinger forces him to dress as a woman, Beecher takes refuge in drugs. High on angel dust, he almost kills his Nazi master.
Is this a positive depiction of homosexuality? Of course not, Oz takes place in prison. As of season five, Beecher and Schillinger's feud is still going strong.
Oz is well acted and worth watching for the off-beat casting. Rita Moreno, for example, plays Sister Peter Marie. Edie Falco, (Carmella Soprano on The Sopranos), was the head guard for the first two seasons. Luke Perry once guest-starred as a corrupt minister, and last season Betty Buckley played a musical performer doing community service at the prison. As a longtime viewer who missed the first season, Oz's release on video was long overdue. Parts of the pilot episode were stiff but the directors and cast quickly found their stride in subsequent episodes. The riot in the season finale is as taut as any feature length movie.
The 3-disc DVD set also includes deleted scenes, a featurette and two episode commentaries by Tergeson and series creator Tom Fontana. Oz is brutal and over-the-top, and sometimes quite funny. While not for the squeamish, adventurous viewers will love it.
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