Friday, October 28, 2011


DISCLAIMER: I am not a historian or a Shakespeare scholar so this review is based purely on the viewing of the film itself.  Any linked sources are for informational purposes only and are not an expression of an opinion on the validity or invalidity of the ideas, opinions or persons depicted in this film.

The new film Anonymous proposes a theory that the man the world knows as William Shakespeare was not who he seemed to be.  Was William Shakespeare merely a public face for the the world's greatest playwright?  After watching this film, you may begin to wonder.

The film is framed as a play taking place in modern day telling the story of the period piece portion of the film.  The Prologue, portrayed by Derek Jacobi, comes out on stage declaring a series of facts about Shakespeare; that no manuscripts were ever found written in his own hand, that he was illiterate, and that he spent his later years away from his life in theater entirely in a menial trade.  The Prologue implies that these are all facts that support the tale about to unfold.

Through a very well executed dissolve, the period piece portion of the film takes over for the majority of the film.  Once transported to the Elizabethan era, the usual suspects of the day appear: royals Queen Elizabeth I and King James I, playwrights Ben Johnson, Christopher Marlowe, royal advisers William and Robert Cecil,  the earls of Essex, South Hampton and Oxford, and of course
William Shakespeare himself.

It is the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, that
Anonymous claims was the true scribe of Shakespeare's words.  From an early age the future Earl of Oxford is drafting and presenting his work for Queen Elizabeth I, the first production being a Midsummer Night's Dream.  However due to his station in life, it would be inappropriate for him to be presenting his own work, but he is compelled to have it performed.

To that end he enlists
Ben Johnson to be his public persona and offers to pay him handsomely to do so.  Johnson agrees to stage the play de Vere gives him, but cannot bring himself to take credit for the work and bills the play authored by Anonymous.  But as the audience calls for the playwright, company actor William Shakespeare comes out onto stage to take credit...and so begins the greatest scam of literary history?

The film portrays
de Vere as a man both artistically and politically passionate. In one instance he tells his wife that writing is the only way to silence the voices in his head and in the next he is using his plays to create grassroots political activism of the people against the corrupt forces at court who would eventually machinate the installation of the Scottish King James onto the English throne.

de Vere not only uses Shakespeare's public face to steer the opinion of the masses, he also expresses his romantic desires denied him through his marriage of circumstance.  To prevent the truth of a Hamletesque murder to come to light, de Vere is forced to marry the daughter of his former guardian William Cecil, one of Queen Elizabeth I's most trusted advisers.  But his heart still belongs to the virgin queen, Elizabeth I, whom according to Anonymous had at least three illegitimate children as members of her at court.

Unfortunately, all's well does not end well for the period piece players in Anonymousde Vere is blackmailed and nearly brought to bankruptcy by Shakespeare, it's implied Marlowe is killed by Shakespeare in an attempt to prevent himself from being exposed as a fraud, the Earls of Essex and South Hampton are convicted of treason and Essex beheaded, Queen Elizabeth I spends her remaining days a much frailer monarch having her mind poisoned by the Iagoesque Robert Cecil, and Johnson himself haunted by a promise made to de Vere to never betray his secret.  In fact, the only person to survive, in another Hamletesque fashion, is King James of Scotland, now King James I of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. 

Anonymous ends ultimately with a dissolve back to the theatre and with a final presentation by the Prologue.  The end credits are displayed against a backdrop of people leaving the theater.  This story within the story is a very powerful way to portray how the human mind often will process theater and film, by taking ourselves into the story directly with disregard to the surroundings themselves.
There are several moments in the film that provoke a strong reaction to the skills of the story and actors.  The two that most stand out for the Filmfreak Mafia are when the Earl of Essex barges in on Queen Elizabeth I while she is changing and when Ben Johnson meets de Vere for the last time.  Both exemplify the principle that narrative can leave a lasting impression without the assistance of mechanical and inorganic special effects.

When the the Earl of Essex storms in on the Queen changing, we see an older Elizabeth in an exceptionally vulnerable state.  She is in her dressing gown, her traditional red haired wig is off showing her natural white hair, and the expression on her face is unmistakable.  A combination of disbelief that the Earl has the audacity to enter without permission and absolute horror that he is seeing her in her natural state.  This moment of most raw humility is one that is captured exquisitely on film and enhanced by the actors portrayals themselves.

Ben Johnson first refused de Vere's offer and then as he saw the plays performed and Shakespeare get the credit and adulation, he resented both men for eclipsing his attempts at success.  He eventually reported on the production of Richard III to the Master of Revels, since Richard was being portrayed as a hunchback, a slight to Robert Cecil.  But as before and again now, de Vere knew he had made the right choice in choosing Johnsonde Vere poignantly says to him "You may have betrayed me, but you will never betray my words."

Some will say that Anonymous is attempting to bring up old theories regarding the validity of the works of William Shakespeare.  However, Anonymous is at its core a story, whether you choose to believe it, should not diminish the enjoyment you get from the portrays.  Isn't that the premise of the film itself?  To show that words are the most powerful tool at humankind's disposal?  

Anonymous shows how de Vere's words inspired the common man to rise up against perceived tyranny and to soften the heart of a monarch who had long ago banished him from her court.  The words themselves have the power, not the name their are attributed to.  Shakespeare's own words fit this story best "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet..."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Judas Kiss

What would you do if you were sent back into your own past to change your future?  Would you risk derailing your only career success, if it meant your future might be better?  These questions are at the core of J.T. Tepnapa's new film Judas Kiss.

Struggling Hollywood filmmaker, and former film student prodigy, Zachary Wells returns to his alma mater Keystone Summit University for it's annual student film festival to serve on the film jury.  Zach is hesitant to return to the school he dropped out of after winning the festival 15 years earlier, but after his friend Topher Shadoe's latest film gets financing, he feels obligated to take Topher's place.

From being stuck in the freshman dorm to inadvertently sleeping with a student in the film festival, Zach feels coming was clearly a mistake.  However when coming face to face with his trick from the night before at a finalist interview, old wounds open up for Zach, not just from his time at Keystone, but the years that lead up to his matriculation there.

As the finalist interview begins, Zach is in disbelief that the boy standing before him is claiming to be Danny Reyes, the writer and director of Judas Kiss.  Judas Kiss was the film that Zach had won the film festival with 15 years earlier.  Danny Reyes is his real name, before he changed it after moving to Hollywood to Zachary Wells.

After trying to find an explanation from academic dean Mrs. Blossom (who ironically makes a comment earlier how it is sad that he and Topher had changed their names after leaving school), Topher who is not returning his calls, and the lurking campus guide Mr. Welds, Zach begins to accept that he is in a paradox in which he is reliving his past in the present moment. 

As Zach and Danny try to find a way to co-exist during the remainder of the film festival, each is confronted with choices that will forever affect the other.  From Danny becoming involved with Shane Lyons (who's family is he primary benefactor of the school's film program) at the cost of a budding romance with fellow student Chris Wachowsky, to Zach following the advice of the mysterious Mr. Welds and setting into motion the events that could disqualify Danny's film from competition, the past and present collide and make a most uncertain future.

Judas Kiss is a complex film that deals with more than just a paradox of going back in time to fix a past mistake.  It shows that even though the root cause of a lifetime of unhappiness may be a single event, without understanding the motivation for that mistake, the same end result is inevitable.  By slowly exposing the events that lead to Danny creating Judas Kiss, the film goes beyond what it appears to be on the surface and draws you in and does not let you go until the end.
Judas Kiss is a film that succeeds through a well developed and engaging story, masterfully told through its genuine and sincere performances by its cast, including Richard Harmon as Danny Reyes (recently seen as Jasper on AMC's The Killing), Sean Paul Lockhart (formerly Brent Corrigan) as Chris Wachowsky, and Charlie Davids as Zach Wells.  Shot entirely on location in Seattle, primarily on the University of Washington campus, the film has a visual texture that accents the stories paradox theme by time seeming to stand still.

Judas Kiss won over the Filmfreak Mafia through the touching scenes between Zach and Danny before and after they realize they are living a paradox.  Zach takes on a fatherly role toward his younger self, the kind of relationship both wish they had with their father.  This type of story telling through direct and powerful dialogue, present and centered in the frame, this is what the Filmfreak Mafia searches for in film and wishes more films still offered.  Judas Kiss receives the Filmfreak Mafia's most heartfelt recommendation and is very grateful to the 16th Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival for bringing this film home.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Going Down in LA-LA Land

Casper Andreas makes his fourth appearance at the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival with his latest film Going Down in LA-LA Land.  Set and shot in Los Angeles, it has a well developed story and the look and feel of a Hollywood blockbuster.  Based on the novel of the same title written by Andy Zeffer, the film follows the journey of a young man who moves from New York to pursue his acting dreams in Los Angeles, but along the way falls into the world of gay porn and escorting, only to find true love before the final reel.

Adam arrives in Los Angeles, a little impressionable, only to be greeted by his opportunistic and somewhat jaded friend Candy, who's been trying to make her mark on the acting world with limited success.  Candy has a fiance who has been supporting her endeavors.  Adam is not so fortunate and goes on a series of interviews for jobs, signs up for temp work, and eventually lands a job as a receptionist at a talent agency.  

The job does not last long due to his mildly OCD boss pushes him over the edge, and a chance meeting at the local gym with freelance photographer/director/editor Nick, who helps Adam land a job at porn company Jet Set Men as an office assistant.  Adam's boss Ron is very happy with his work but is always encouraging him to appear in front of the camera.  Eventually  Adam agrees to do a single nude modeling photo shoot for Ron, but only if Nick is the photographer.  Sparks begin to fly at the photo shoot, and Adam and Nick wind up dating.

After Candy and her finance break up, she has no choice but to raise Adam's rent, and so begins escalating his descent into the adult entertainment world.  First Adam agrees to do a solo scene with Nick as the photographer, which eventually leads to a full-on porn film, and peaks with Adam becoming one of Ron's secret high end discrete escorts.

As Adam's life becomes more complex, Nick's recreational drug use escalates.  Adam reaches his breaking point when Nick takes him to a party at an influential film producers home, only to find Nick having sex with the host of the party.  But Adam's single life does not last long, as he becomes romantically involved with his next escorting client.

John is a major star on a family friendly TV series and in the closet.  John whisks Adam away from his porn/escort work and offers him a job not only as his boyfriend, but as his personal assistant.  Unfortunately Adam's former boss turns up like a bad penny and tips off the tabloids that Adam used to do gay porn and the suspicions that John and Adam are more than just employer/employee begin.

John needing to protect his image lets Adam go both as his personal assistant and boyfriend, and Adam prepares to head Miami for a fresh start.  In a true Hollywood ending though, John realizes his love for Adam is more important than any career fall-out, and the two drive off into the sunset with Candy staying behind to talk to the tabloids and cash in on her fifteen minutes of fame.

As with his previous films, Casper Andreas has created a story that draws you in and makes you genuinely feel for the characters struggles and hope that they will overcome then.  While we see Adam go through what may be a typical Hollywood story in terms of doing anything to get by, he does not lose sight that in the end, love is far more important than any amount of career success. When John comes to realize this as well, the audience is left with a sense that even in Hollywood, a fairy tale ending is possible.

We Were Here

We Were Here is a powerful documentary about the impact of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco from its first signs to the present day.  Featured at the 16th Annual Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, the film is a series of first hand accounts from those who lived in San Francisco during the early years of the AIDS crisis.  Those interviewed include everyone affected by this disease, those living with it, those who treated patients in the hospitals, and those who counseled those living with the disease.  Intertwined with the interviews is footage from news coverage of the public's reaction to the epidemic, marches to prevent violation of the affected's civil rights, and displays of real obituaries from the Bay Area Reporter of those who have died during the early years.  

The obituaries become a most powerful image as they begin to become layers and eventually engulf the entire screen to become a visual precursor of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.  But the central message in the full screen of obituaries is to show the magnitude of how the AIDS epidemic was allowed to ravage just a single geographical region while the federal government in charge at the time turned a blind eye to what was going on before them.

One of the most heart wrenching stories is from a man who was infected in the early days of the disease and participated in an early drug trial that wound up killing all of the participants, including his partner at the time.  He accounts his survival to being too weak to handle the side affects and he dropped out of the trial after only a couple of months. 

This film should be seen by everyone, not only those who still think AIDS is a divine punishment, but by those who think they know the impact AIDS.  The stories told in this film show people who lived through one of the most traumatic periods of American history and are still willing to share their stories.

Randy Shilt's book And the Band Played Onlater developed into a filmchronicled the early days of the AIDS epidemic from a medical and political standpoint, whereas We Were Here shows a more personal view of the same story.  The two films together become a powerful history for a period in our history that should never be forgotten and should never be allowed to happen again.

The Filmfreak Mafia encourages everyone to watch the trailer for We Were Here and share it with your friends and loves ones.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Man 2 Man: A Gay Man's Guide to Finding Love

The 16th Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival brings Christopher Hines's latest film Man 2 Man: A Gay Man's Guide to Finding Love to audiences of the Emerald City. You may recall Hines's previous works featured at prior SLGFF's, The Butch Factor in 2009 and The Adonis Factor in 2010.  This latest installment explores the topic of gay men struggling to find long-term romance in the digital age.  

Through interviews with gay men currently looking for the "one" and discuss the struggles they find from within the community and themselves.  Also featured are a married couple from Massachusetts who discuss the methods they have used over their long-term relationship, including being sexually non-monogamous for a period of time, only to return to being exclusively monogamous.

The documentary also provides a brief history of how gay men have traditionally and currently seek out relationships, including how gay men are often early adopters of new technology to that end.  The founders of Manhunt, Grindr and provide interviews how they came to found their companies and how they feel they are impacting the gay community.    

Possibly the most informative part of the documentary is the statistical data which indicates that 80% of gay men are seeking a long-term relationship, but only 1/3 have found one.  The reasons for this according to the experts can include a variety of factors, with one of the main ones being childhood isolation that many gay men experience.  

Since there are fewer accurate representations of gay life growing up, gay men often undergo a second adolescent sexual awakening once they come out.  The result is that in comparison to their straight counterparts, gay men are starting long-term relationship game late.  However, the interpersonal issues facing gay couples are virtually identical to those of straight couples, according to the experts in the film.

While Man 2 Man may be intended as a film for gay men to better understand themselves, Hines has created a film that can provide a greater understanding to both gay and straight audience alike.  This is why it is worthy of being one of the Filmfreak Mafia's picks. 

Monday, October 17, 2011


From the director who brought you the gay romantic comedy feature Is It Just Me? featured in last year's 15th Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, comes eCupid, a feature in this year's 16th Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.  The film shares its name with the iPhone appeCupid is a story of how a young gay couple deals worth the seven year itch in the technology age.  

Marshall is about to turn 30 and is in a dead end adverting job.  His boyfriend Gabe is trying to keep afloat his struggling cafe.  Recently they have been spending less quality time together since they are both so exhausted from their jobs.  Marshall in an act of frustration downloads eCupid to his phone to see what else is out there.  

Over the course of the film the app sends and deletes text messages, arranges for chance meetings with Marshall's fantasy "types", including an aggressive young intern, skater boy at a bar (played by Real World DC's Mike Manning), a fratboy who delivers, and even sets him up to tell off his boss (played by John Callahan who played Edmund Gray on All My Children from 1992 until 2005).  In the end after all the very long (and at times drawn out) mishaps, Marshall discovers that what he has been looking for is already right in front of him.

eCupid is a film that definitely belongs in the vast canon of average gay romantic comedies that is equivalent to a chick flick.  It does not demand of its audience to suspend disbelief (other than an app going rogue, but anyone who has seen 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL 9000, it's not that far fetched) and does not make you feel any smarter for having seen it.  A good story that provides a laugh or two for a few hours is sometimes its own reward.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dirty Girl

Dirty Girl, the opening night feature of the 16th Annual Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, is the story of a straight girl and a gay boy in Norman, Oklahoma who just don't quite fit into the small town's vision of what it is to be a teenager of the 1980's.  Danielle is promiscuous and outspoken, while her soon to be partner in crime Clarke is introverted and in the closet.  The two meet after Danielle is sent to the "Challengers" class (a politically correct term for Special Education) after  asking her "Life Choice" (sex education)  teacher his thoughts on the pull out method.  The two are saddled together as partners for the standard "caring for a baby" assignment, in this case a bag of white flour they name Joan, after Joan Jett or Joan Crawford, depending on who you ask.

At first Danielle has no time for assignment or Clark, but after her mother informs her she intends to marry her long-time boyfriend Ray, a Mormon with two kids from a prior marriage,  Danielle enlists Clark to help her find her father she has never met.  At first Clark refuses but after his parents find his gay porn magazines under is bed, he steals his Dad's car, credit card, and takes off on a Thelma & Louise-esque trip with Danielle to California to find her dad.

Along the way they pick-up a hitchhiking male stripper who teaches Clark how to dance and takes his virginity, but only after Danielle gives him some financial incentive to do so.  This leads to the young Bonnie and Clyde needing to enter an amateur stripping contest to pay for gas money.  At first Danielle can't understand why her best moves are not working on the room of drunk men, but after learning it is a gay bar, Clark is trust upon stage to perform in a scene reminiscent of Flashdance, water and all.

Unfortunately, Clark's dad catches up Danielle and Clark, who sacrifices himself so Danielle can get away and reach her dad's house, but not before her mom with Clark's mom in tow get there first.  After heart breaking reunion between father and daughter, Danielle returns home a changed girl, much more reserved and wanting to just make it through the day.

In the film's final twist, Danielle performs in the school talent show Melissa Manchester's Don't Cry Out Loud, only to find Clark standing at the back of the auditorium having returned from his military school incarceration. As the two are reunited in a seemingly over the top yet touching scene from An Officer and a Gentleman, the two complete the duet with on stage together. 

Dirty Girl is yet another example of how film can and should rely on the narrative to engage the audience and not rely on gimmicks to distract from the lack of narrative.  With continuous memorable one-liners that you will never stop quoting to your friends, this film has a feel and texture reminiscent of classic John Hughes's 80's teen flicks like The Breakfast Club, and clearly will stand the test of time with its universal appeal to that formerly fat kid we all still fee like we are.  

With an amazing all star cast, including Mary Steenburgen, William H. Macy, Milla Jovovich, Dwight Yoakam and Tim McGraw, and even a cameo from Melissa Manchester herself (who happened to be in attendance at the screening for the opening night feature of the 16th Annual Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival), and break out performances from the two leads of the film, Juno Temple and Jeremy DozierDirty Girl shows that it is the story and acting that make a film so powerful and memorable.

In the end, Dirty Girl reminds us all about the search to find love and acceptance and how much it can hurt to have the love we seek be unattainable. This no more clearly depicted than when Danielle sees her dad playing with her little half-sister and she knows that the bond he shares with her is something she will never feel.  This one heart breaking scene is reason enough for this film to receive the Filmfreak Mafia seal of approval and yet there are so many more.  Thank you Three Dollar Bill Cinema for bringing this well crafted and deserving film to Seattle.