Coffee Date

TLA Releasing,

Stewart Wade

Jonathan Bray,
Wilson Cruz
Jonathan Silverman, Sally Kirkland, Elaine Hendrix, Deborah Gibson, Jason Stuart

Unrated, 94 minutes

Love Life

Waterbearer Films, 2006

Damion Dietz

Stephan D. Gill,
Stephanie Kirchen,
Keith Bearden
Jill Kocalis

Unrated, 72 minutes


Rock Haven

TLA Releasing,

David Lewis

Sean Hoagland,
Owen Alabado, Laura Ann Coles, Katheryn Hecht, Erin Daly

Unrated, 78 minutes

Date Movies
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, December, 2007


I wrote in my website's bio that "though I grew up starved for queer images, I've also lived to see a time when I could actually get blase about it." I would have never believed this possible when I was in my 20s but I've reached the point where I actually feel oversaturated with gay films. Almost anyone today with a high-def video camera and Final Cut-Pro on their computer can make a movie. The prohibitive expense of distributing 35mm prints has been replaced by the DVD and web downloads. There is such a glut of them now... from coming out dramas and comedies to erotic vampire serials on Here! TV.

But most of the new films disappoint. I've watched a lot this year and none of them are contending to be the next Brokeback Mountain. However, many of them have flashes of interest - even it's just provided by a hot actor. The following short reviews are films that are not great by any means but they aren't bad either. Some would make okay date movies.

Coffee Date, written and directed by Stewart Wade, is a cute confection about a gender-confused blind date that goes awry. Straight boy Todd, played by soap star Jonathan Bray, is 35 and rebounding from an ugly divorce. Casually but stylishly dressed, he is getting ready for a blind date he made on the internet. He tells Barry, his slob of a brother (who is sleeping on his couch), that he's on his way to his coffee date with Kelly. Barry posted the ad online for Todd and asks "You didn't exchange pictures, did you?"

Todd winds up at a gay coffeehouse called Romancing The Bean, sharing a small table with a hot young Latino (The Real Life's Wilson Cruz) who is also waiting for his Internet date. It doesn't take long for the audience to realize that brother Barry was playing a joke and posted Todd's ad on an M4M site. Here's where thngs get complicated; they bonded online over a love of film and the two men, thinking they are still waiting for their dates, begin to talk about movies and find that they have a lot in common.

Todd overcomes his initial gay panic attack and makes friends with the guy. When they finally realize that they are each other's dates, they laugh it off, each vowing to exchange pictures next time. Then suddenly Todd asks Kelly if he wants to go to an Ingmar Bergman double feature with him - he says that he's not asking him out on a date, he would just like to see the films with him. And then Todd gets revenge on his brother and freaks him out by bringing Kelly home and taking him into his bedroom - where they both convulse with laughter after they shut the door.

So far so good. The situation is contrived but it is comic and the chemistry and timing of the actors is priceless. But Coffee Date has been expanded from a short film, a festival favorite, that was just the coffeehouse blind date scene. What works as a one act short doesn't always lend itself to be expanded into a full length film. Just look at most of the movies made out of Saturday Night Live skits (It's Pat! anyone?).The material is too thin and the movie winds up being a sitcom.

Barry calls their mother to tell her that Todd's gay and suddenly she flies in to be with her son at this critical time. Mom (Sally Kirkland) is in shock but she does her best Sharon Gless from Queer as Folk by being all lovey-dovey and joining PFLAG. The trouble is, she just won't believe Todd when he insists that he is not gay. Ditto for his brother and suddenly all his co-workers think he's gay too. Finally Todd begins to question it as well and wonders if he should sleep with Kelly in order to find out once and for all.

Farces usually work best when the cast is wearing 18th century frockcoats and powdered wigs while slamming doors at a fever pitch. Contemporary farces seldom work (unless the author is perhaps Joe Orton) and, unfortunately, Coffee Date turns into a so-so episode of Will and Grace or Friends expanded to feature length. One third act "surprise" is just too ludicrous to be believable. But there are charms along the way and a likable cast. Wilson Cruz gets top billing and his is the standout performance. He looks great too. Jonathan Bray as Todd comes across as a studlier version of Will Farrell. Their scenes together elevate the film.

Sally Kirkland also appears in:
Adam & Steve
Flexing With Monty


Love Life is an interesting film that explores a marriage of convenience, opening with an interviewer asking Joe (Stephen T. Gill) and Mary (Stephanie Kirchen) what a typical day of their married life is like. Here's the rub: Mary is a bisexual woman who got married just to please her mother so that she wouldn't be cut her off from the family money. Joe is a former pro athlete who coaches at the local college. He is gay - and in the closet big time - and Mary is the perfect beard to help project the proper image at the university. The money is good too. It's a situation advantageous to both. There is also an agreement that each is free to have sex partners on the side.

Joe and Mary are old college friends and have been married for most of the previous year. Mary isn't really that interested in sex while Joe cruises parks for other guys. Up until now, each has been content to live a life without love. Even though she's not supposed to be, Mary is jealous and resentful of the men Joe picks up but mostly she is afraid that he might someday fall in love with one of them and decide to end their sham marriage - which would be the end of Mama's money.

And she does have reason to worry. Joe is attracted to the handsome landscaper who came by that morning to give an estimate (Joe found the man's ad in a gay newspaper). When he gets mad at Mary because she followed him in the park, he storms out, checks into a gay-owned motel and calls Tom, the landscaper. There, over several beers, he tells the specifics of his mockery of marriage and Tom asks him if he wouldn't rather have the real thing. Meanwhile, in tandem, Mary is also telling the same story over wine to her college friend, Aura, who is in town for a visit. Mary and Aura had sex together a few times while in college - do you think the flames might ignite again?

This one is a rarity; it can appeal to both the guys and the ladies. Actually, one of the nice things about this movie is the way it cuts the two love scenes together - one between two men and one between two women - providing a nice contrast and rhythm.

The opportunities for drama are myriad but the film would feel like a Lifetime TV movie if it weren't for the copious nudity (frontal too) and sex scenes. The directing is flat and the drama never catches fire. The camerawork is adequate, at best, and the sexual interludes are way too dark. Director Damion Dietz refers to Ingmar Bergman's Scenes From A Marriage on the disc's commentary so that may explain the film's glacial pace (it might have helped if he had Bergman's cinematographer, Sven Nykvist). But despite its often clumsy execution, Love Life is well acted and the storyline is, in itself, quite compelling. And - I'll be honest - Stephan T. Gill as Joe is quite simply one of the hottest men I have ever seen in a movie. He is Tom Selleck as re-imagined by Tom of Finland and he is shirtless or wearing a tank top for a good chunk of the film. (I know this sounds superficial, but every straight reviewer mentions what a babe Angelina is in the new Beowulf.)

Love Life is only 72 minutes long so it's not too big of a chunk of your life that you won't get back. Even though it screams "first year film student," the story is a pretty good one and it was nice to see a film that equally features both gay men and women for a change.


More On Damion Dietz:
Dog Tags


On the other hand, Rock Haven is a Lifetime TV movie (except for one full frontal shot). This one is the classic opposites attract romance. Brady is 18 and devoted to serving the Lord. He and his mother have just moved to a seaside community. When we first see him, he is sitting on the beach, reading the Bible. One day, he stops dead in his tracks when he sees Clifford, 19, standing on the beach and slowly and sensuously pulling off his shirt. When Clifford sees him and smiles, Brady runs away in terror. Later, as Brady showers, he rubs his body while thinking about the boy on the beach.

We all know where this one is going, don't we? Brady is, of course, deeply in the closet and is fighting to suppress his urges. It doesn't help that his mother - who looks like Wendie Mallick with her hair in a bun - is about to open a Bible School. Their house is sparsely decorated, like a monastery, and the worst copy of Da Vinci's The Last Supper that I have ever seen is hanging in their dining room. Brady's mother, sensing that something is wrong, tries to fix him up with a nice Christian girl - who knows immediately that he's queer because he isn't staring down her dress.

Brady, though fighting his "sinful" desires, is drawn to Clifford who is doing everything in his power to pull Brady out of the closet. It is worth noting that Clifford respects Brady's faith (or is at least humoring him) and takes an interest in the Bible. Of course their friendship eventually turns into love but, as soon as they go all the way, Brady's Christian panic clicks in. Will Brady be able to reconcile the two raging storms inside him?

On the plus side, Brady and Clifford's love scenes together are sweet and sexy - especially a very long uninterrupted camera take of the two boys kissing. The scene where they initially bond over junk food is cute (Clifford's mother is an aging hippie/Wiccan whose idea of junk food is a granola bar - oh, and to contrast with Brady's home life, she is, of course, a free spirit who encourages her son's love life.)

On the minus side, we've seen this story before many times and the movie moves at a snail's pace. Almost every time something starts to happen, the scene will dissolve to images of surf, rocky cliffs, or wind blowing through the fields until you want to scream. (The boring music cues accompanying these overdone scene transitions only adds to the annoyance factor.) This approach might work in Terrence Mallick's films but it stops this movie dead every time.

I received no press on this film, and pickings online are scarce as well, so I am going to assume that writer/director David Lewis once had to reconcile his sexuality with his spirituality and that this script is somewhat based on his experience. To his credit, Rock Haven is not preachy but it needs to further explore its main theme. As is, there is too much shorthand. A little less scenery and more character development would have helped. Both of the mothers are one-dimensional types and the priest at the church seems a tad liberal considering how pious his parishioner, Brady's mom, is.

What strength the film does possess is the chemistry of Sean Hoagland and Owen Alabado as Brady and Clifford. Some of their moments together truly shine - at least they do until the director cuts to yet another shot of the tide rushing in on the beach. And I suppose Rock Haven gets a few points for not ending the way that I expected it to. The scene where Brady first sees the athletic Clifford on the seashore made me think of a similar moment in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man when Stephen Dedalus watches an Irish lass wash her leg on the beach and has an epiphany reconciling the sacred and the profane. (Okay, that sounded pretentious but that scene did make me think of Joyce.) I also doubled over laughing when Brady said to his priest, "You know, non-Christians can be a pain sometimes."

There are a few deleted scenes on the DVD. Two of them would have added a bit more character richness had they been left in the film. Next time a few less pastoral screen transitions, okay? Thank God there weren't any incidental songs too.

As I said when I began this installment, none of these films are bad. Each has their charms. I just don't expect to see them cited in any film school texts any time soon.


More on David Lewis: