Monday, June 25, 2007

another story from the closet

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Previously on... Stories from the Closet.

Welcome to another installment of our favorite 12-year-long series of awkward, telling exchanges between a mother and her closeted gay son. This time my mother will be played by Suri Cruise (Adorable!), and I will be played by Evandro Soldati (Hot!). Let's set the scene for what may in fact be our series finale:

It is Pride weekend. Friday night, I left the house at 10pm, and didn't get back until 8am. Then, I was gone for most of Saturday (after a quick nap), and didn't get back until 6am. I slept for 3 hours, and then headed out at 10am on Sunday. After leaving a message on my phone telling me not to stay out too late a few hours earlier, I receive a phone call from my mother at 10pm that night:

Mom, angry: "Where have you been?"

Me, annoyed: "Out with friends."

Mom, still angry: "You're always out with friends. I don't even know who these friends are. You've been gone all weekend."

Me, still annoyed: "I don't understand why you have to know who all my friends are. It's not like you will remember any of them."

Mom, angry, but also a little distressed: "And I never know what you're doing anymore! You came home at 4 or 5 last night."

Me: "Why do you have to know that either?"

Mom: "Don't you know I worry about you?"

Me: "Why do you have to worry?"

Mom: "Because you're out all the time, and you never think about the future. I don't even know what you're going to do with your life. I hardly even know who you are anymore."

Me: "I am not out all the time. It's only been a couple days just this weekend. There's no point in worrying."

Mom: "How can I not worry? I'm your mother!"

Me: "I don't know what you want me to tell you."

There is a long pause. Neither of us says anything

Mom, her voice beginning to break up: "Do you know the nightmare I've been having all weekend? I keep having this nightmare that you're going to come home one day and tell me you're gay!"

My mom begins to sob, but I have nothing to say to this. What am I supposed to say? I can't say the one thing she wants to hear, though she can't honestly expect to hear it.

Mom, through tears: "I'm sorry."

Me: "For what?"

There are a few heaving breaths and then she hangs up.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

siff hotties: melvil poupaud

The ninth installment of SIFF Hotties! (Previously, Hommes de Paris, Juan José Ballesta, Lee Young-hoon, Boys of Cashback, Quim Gutiérrez, Dasepo Sonyeon, Joseph Chang, and Joe Odagiri.)

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I don't know much about Melvil Poupaud, except that he started acting when he was still a kid. I saw him in last year's SIFF playing a young gay photographer in François Ozon's Time to Leave. His character finds out he has a terminal illness that will kill him in a matter of months and after coming to terms with it, sets about making things right in his life before he dies. It was a good movie. This year, he played a hot and very charming French man in Zoe Cassavetes's Broken English.

Beware, one of the movies below was so bad I walked out after half an hour! Guess which one.

Broken English. Rating: 5. I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. Parker Posey plays a single woman in her mid-30s who's stuck in her life. She doesn't really like her job, and she can't seem to find the right guy. Then one night, she meets a hot French guy, and all her problems are solved! No, not really, but you should just watch the movie to find out what happens with her. I felt like the movie was a good reflection on how life doesn't always go the way you want, without being heavy at all. I love Parker Posey and she did an exceptional job, and Melvil Poupaud made me want a French man to come into my life and sweep me off my feet. Zoe Cassavetes also did a really good job with writing and directing her debut feature. Oh, and the soundtrack by Scratch Massive was spectacular too.

A Parting Shot (Pas douce). Rating: 4. A nurse, angry at life, tries to shoot herself, but ends up shooting and injuring a teenage boy instead. The boy is then unwittingly put into her care. The film follows her as she is transformed by her guilt and her interactions with the boy (who is also angry at life) into a better person. There were no surprises in this movie (aside from the moment she shoots the boy), but I quite liked it, because the study of her character was done very convincingly. It was short (at just under an hour and a half) and to-the-point, and it gave me a good sense of satisfaction after watching it.

Surveillance. Rating: 1. If I could give it a 0, I would. This was a terrible movie, probably the worst SIFF movie I've seen in all my years of SIFF participation. A teacher meets a tabloid photographer with a dangerous secret at a club and sleeps with him. When he leaves the photographer's flat, the teacher accidentally takes the photographer's phone with him (they have the same model phone). Pretty soon he finds he is being tailed by agents who may or may not be from the government, and they want that phone. I would tell you more, but I don't really have to. The plot was so familiar that the filmmakers needed to do something to it to make it interesting. Unfortunately, they failed. The basic premise the movie was built on was that there are hundreds of cameras everywhere, and at any point in time, you are being watched by at least a dozen of them. Thus, to illustrate this point, every scene is shot from several awkward angles, above, below, from here, from there, through different lenses, and then edited together to create a distracting mess. As if this wasn't bad enough, the narrative was cut up and arranged seemingly at random. I know what they were trying to go for, because the technique (rearranging the timeline) is used in lots of movies where you want to reveal information slowly, but the way they did it was completely unsuccessful, and by the third or fourth time I'd seen the same thing, I wanted to tear my eyes out and throw them at the editor. But all of this was so unnecessary because it was already obvious after 10 minutes what was going on that it seemed stupid that it still thought we were still in the dark and it was inching towards some great reveal. The writing was horrible, and the direction wasn't great either, so I don't know who to fault that the actors didn't do a terribly good job. Actually, it was probably a combination of all three, which is too bad because Tom Harper and Sean Brosnan (son of Pierce) are kinda hot. Of course, I suppose you shouldn't really take my word for it, since after 30 minutes, I could stand it no longer and walked out of the theater. Maybe the rest of it was great and I missed out, but I really doubt it. I really, really, really doubt it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

siff hotties: joe odagiri

The eighth installment of SIFF Hotties! (Previously, Hommes de Paris, Juan José Ballesta, Lee Young-hoon, Boys of Cashback, Quim Gutiérrez, Dasepo Sonyeon, and Joseph Chang.)

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Joe Odagiri has been a near-constant presence in my recent SIFF experience. In 2004, I saw him in Kitamura Ryuuhei's Azumi and Kurosawa Kiyoshi's Bright Future (with that other Japanese indie darling Asano Tadanobu). In 2006, I saw him in Shinobi, and though I opted to skip it, he was also in that year's Princess Raccoon. This year, he was in three of the movies from Japan: Otomo Katsuhiro's Mushishi, the aforementioned Kurosawa's Retribution, both of which I went to see, and Sway, which I decided not to. That's seven SIFF movies in four years. Not bad for someone who got their start in a TV series of the Power Rangers genre. Anyhow, he's 31, from the lovely city of Tsuyama, and one of the more versatile actors working today. He's hot, he's cool, he's talented. I can't wait to see what he'll be in for next year's festival.

Today's reviews, spotlight: Japan.

Sakuran. Rating: 4. While the basic story is unremarkable (it's been done and done and done and done), this movie pulls it off with such attitude and style that it's hard not to like it (perhaps a result of its being based on a manga series). A girl is sold to a brothel in Yoshiwara, the pleasure quarters of Edo. She grows up and becomes a top oiran, while learning along the way that the courtesan life is incompatible with true love. Not to spoil it for you or anything, but guess what she finds at the end of the movie? The visuals were lush, the camerawork was beautiful, and Anna Tsuchiya's lead performance was a ton of fun. Also, the soundtrack was made up mostly of modern music and added a lot to the character of the film. If you are looking for a good Japanese courtesan movie, skip the bloated and plodding Memoirs of a Geisha (though god knows I love Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li), and watch this one.

Mushishi. Rating: 3. I was expecting so much more out of Otomo Katsuhiro, the director of Akira and Steamboy. Also based on a manga series, this episodic movie follows the travels of a Mushishi (Bug Master), as he goes from place to place, solving problems caused by supernatural "Bugs." Besides the fact that the movie was really slow (a quality I don't usually associate with Otomo), I had a problem with the whole "bug" thing. Because it's a fantasy setting, everything worked on a set of rules that was unfamiliar. What bothered me was that I never really managed to get a handle on any of it, and thus none of the solutions were very satisfactory for me. Everything was done with a "well, that's just the way it is" feeling, and so nothing was very smart or clever. Anyone can solve made-up problems with made-up solutions. Why did she have to pull his eye out? Because. Why does pairing Ahs and Uns make the girl's horns fall off? Because. Why did she start glowing all of a sudden? Because. Perhaps this is all very much more interesting in manga format, but if that's the case, it didn't translate to live-action so well. And to top it off, the ending was abrupt and nonsensical. Why did it end that way? Because.

Retribution (Sakebi). Rating: 4. I'm still trying to process this movie in my head, and that's mostly because of one scene that just didn't seem to fit with the rest of the movie. Sort of like it was from another movie, but director Kurosawa Kiyoshi just decided to plop it into this one to throw his audience for a loop. Other than that though, I think those who liked Kurosawa's other works will like this one too. We witness a murder occurring in the very first scene: a woman is drowned in a puddle of saltwater. But we don't see the face of the murderer. When the police come to investigate the scene, one detective (played by the seemingly ubiquitous Yakusho Kouji) finds evidence that seems to lead right back to him. Did he do it? Or is he being framed? The movie starts off immediately with a psychological tension that holds for pretty much the rest of the movie. The film examines the nature of guilt and regret all the while providing effective atmospheric chills. Kurosawa's films are also a perennial participant in the festival (I saw both Bright Future and Doppelganger at SIFF 2004), and I'll be excited to see what he'll come up with next.

Friday, June 08, 2007

siff hotties: joseph chang

The seventh installment of SIFF Hotties! (Previously, Hommes de Paris, Juan José Ballesta, Lee Young-hoon, Boys of Cashback, Quim Gutiérrez, and Dasepo Sonyeon.)

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I wrote briefly about the Taiwanese gay indie Eternal Summer previously when I was fawning over the hotness of Bryant Chang just before the festival began, but Bryant wasn't the only hottie in that movie. As you can see above, Joseph Chang is also really hot. According to this website, he was born on the 28th day of December, 1983, has an older sister, and enjoys swimming, skateboarding, movies and drawing. He went to Fu Hsin Art School in Taipei, and began his career in entertainment as a print model. Fascinating! He's appeared previously in various Taiwanese TV dramas that I've never seen, including Crystal Boys, based on the seminal gay Taiwanese novel of the same name written by Pai Hsien-yung. Joseph can next be seen in the soon-to-be-released indie Keeping Watch. From what I can tell from the trailer, Joseph plays a weirdo stalker who sometimes thinks he is his (deceased?) best friend from middle school. Glasses on, he is Clark Kent; glasses off, Superman! Other than that I don't know what the story is about, and it actually doesn't look that interesting to me (I guess the guy who cut the trailer wasn't very good), but you can judge that for yourself.

Embedded video alert! The trailer for Keeping Watch.

Two Chinese-language films reviewed.

Eternal Summer (Shengxia Guangnian). Rating: 5. I loved this movie. It's about two guys who have been best friends since they were kids and the girl who complicates their relationship. It wasn't a perfect movie, and there was definitely room for improvement in places, but it captured so well the feelings of longing as a result of unrequited love, the fear and apprehension that comes when you realize that childhood is ending and things aren't going to stay the same, and the sorrow that naturally follows both of these. Something very similar to what happens in the movie happened to me, so it also hit close to home. I totally almost cried several times throughout the movie, especially at the end, because I identified so much with the character that Bryant Chang played (Jonathan). The direction was very very good, and I'm feeling totally inadequate because the director is my age. There were some overused clichés in the movie, like the done-to-death hit-by-a-car sequence (see usage in The Cloud and Doghead in this festival alone), but it didn't really take too much away from the experience since I still enjoyed the film immensely. If I actually ever bought DVDs anymore, this would be one that I would definitely get. Watch it!

The Banquet (Yeyan). Rating: 3. Yawn. This tenth-century Chinese take on Hamlet was really boring, which is weird considering it's a fucking martial arts movie choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping. Director Feng Xiaogang usually makes soulless, showy movies which are entertaining if nothing else. His attempt at injecting this movie with real meaning was misguided, because I don't think Feng really knows how to (it takes a little more than lingering shots and slower dialogue, my friend), and as a result, most of the movie was tiresome to watch. This is one of those films where it could easily have been 40 to 50 minutes shorter without losing anything of substance. But I suppose it wasn't a complete bust, which is why I didn't rate it lower. The story was decent, the sets and costumes were beautifully made, and the fighting was very well done (even if it was really bloody). If Feng had just stuck to what he was good at, then perhaps this movie would have been better. I hope he doesn't try to stretch too far in his next project. Oh yeah, Daniel Wu is in this movie.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

siff hotties: dasepo sonyeon

The sixth installment of SIFF Hotties! (Previously, Hommes de Paris, Juan José Ballesta, Lee Young-hoon, Boys of Cashback, and Quim Gutiérrez.) And now we're back in Korea.

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Today's men are from the bizarro highschool comedy Dasepo Naughty Girls. The movie made no sense, but that's okay, because there was more than enough eye candy. On the left, Lee Yong-joo. He only had a small part in which he pretended to be a teenage girl to get dirty pics of another teenage girl over the internet only to find out that... Well, I don't want to give it away, but it's pretty obvious from the beginning. Yong-joo is 25 and that's all I know about him. In the center is Yoo Geon (sometimes spelled U Gun for fun), my favorite among the three. Yoo Geon is 24 and hails from the colorful city of hope, Daegu. In his teen years, presumably before he attended Konkuk University, he was a part of the late-90s boy band OPPA under the name Kuk Chul. In the movie, he was friends with the lead male character, who was played by the man on the right, Park Jin-woo. Jin-woo is 23, almost 24. And that's all that I know about Jin-woo too, except that his blood type is AB.

Just one review today.

Dasepo Naughty Girls (Dasepo Sonyeo). Rating: 3. Sure, it was funny in parts, but it was just so out of nowhere all the time that by the end I just about gave up on it making any sense. It was based on a web comic about the goings-on at a weird alternative high school, so I guess that's a little understandable, but still. It had nice visuals, and it was a lot of fun at times, but I just felt like it could have been better.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

siff hotties: quim gutiérrez

The fifth installment of SIFF Hotties! (Previously, Hommes de Paris, Juan José Ballesta, Lee Young-hoon, and Boys of Cashback.) Today, it's back to Spain.

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This is surly hottie Quim Gutiérrez. He plays a surly young janitor in DarkBlueAlmostBlack. He is 26 and from Barcelona. That is all I know about him.

Another couple of great movies.

For the Bible Tells Me So. Rating: 5. It is important that you see this movie, and you get everyone you know to see it too. It's a documentary about homosexuality, religion, and how the bible has been used in relatively recent years to legitimize homophobia. It profiles several families that had to overcome their religiously-based intolerance to accept a member of the family that was gay, including New Hampshire bishop Gene Robinson, former Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt's daughter Chrissy, and Soulforce's Jake Reitan. No matter who you are, you will recognize a lot of what's going on in this movie in yourself and in the people you know. This has got to be one of the best documentaries I've seen that deals with homosexuality since The Times of Harvey Milk, and all the issues covered are very now, and what we have to triumph over today. After seeing it, I wanted to get out there and tell everyone to see it. Director Daniel Karslake said to expect it to hit theaters later this year, probably sometime this fall, so look out for it.

DarkBlueAlmostBlack (AzulOscuroCasiNegro). Rating: 4. A young man gets a college degree while working as a janitor for the building in which he lives in order to support himself and his father, disabled by a stroke at the beginning of the movie. Meanwhile, his brother (Antonio de la Torre from Volver) is in prison and has fallen in love with a woman who wants to get pregnant so she'll get to live in the maternity area in the prison. There are a couple childhood friends thrown in too. I went into this film not expecting it to be the kind of movie it was. I thought it was going to be a meditative and plodding movie in which nothing much happens, which I like sometimes, which is why I decided to see this movie (oh yeah, and Quim Gutiérrez). But it turned out to be a slightly quirky and touching story about a guy finding himself stuck in a life he didn't choose, looking for a way out. This movie was put together very well, and I liked the ending.

Monday, June 04, 2007

siff hotties: boys of cashback

The fourth installment of SIFF Hotties! (Previously, Hommes de Paris, Juan José Ballesta, and Lee Young-hoon.) Look at these headshots.

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These three guys are from the British movie, Cashback, the feature-length version of the Oscar-nominated short of the same name by Sean Ellis. You might recognize the first, Sean Biggerstaff, from the first couple Harry Potter movies where he played Gryffindor quidditch captain Oliver Wood, and the second, Shaun Evans, was in Being Julia with Annette Bening. The third, Michael Dixon, I have personally seen nowhere else. Don't they have nice headshots?

I liked the following movies.

The Ten. Rating: 5. This comedy from the guys that made Wet Hot American Summer was just as funny as I thought it would be. Each of the ten vignettes take one of the Ten Commandments as their theme, and it goes from there. It was hilarious and sure to be referenced repeatedly. There's nothing quite like watching Winona Ryder making out with a ventriloquist dummy, or hot Justin Theroux playing a Mexican Jesus. I'll definitely go and see this again when it comes out in regular release (and not just for Paul Rudd, Adam Brody, Jason Sudeikis, and Bobby Cannavale).

Cashback. Rating: 4. A guy is dumped by his girlfriend and develops insomnia, so he decides to use the time in which he would usually be sleeping by working at a grocery store on the night shift. His insomnia may or may not also give him the ability to stop time. This was another formula movie that I liked. Because it was a formula movie, the film was laid out in such a way that after 20 or 30 minutes, the rest of the movie fell right into your expectations for what was going to happen. But it was fun to watch. One thing I would change though, would be less female nudity and more male nudity. I don't think I've spent as much time in my entire life looking at naked women than in the hour and a half that I spent watching this movie. The camera slowly sweeps up, down, across, and lingers all over various women's bodies, and yes, it bored me a little. But the rest of the movie wasn't as boring.

Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne). Rating: 4. Based on a novel by Harlan Coben, this thriller is about a guy who gets a mysterious email from his supposedly murdered wife after eight years, plunging him into a dangerous world of low level thugs and high level cover-ups! Was that description exciting enough? This was a really well done movie, directed by studly Guillaume Canet (the hot Frenchman who swam to The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio), with the right amount of tension, mystery, and a little bit of humor. The reveal at the end wasn't terribly surprising, but who says that it has to be?

Nanking. Rating: 4. This is an American-produced documentary about the Nanjing Massacre, where after taking the city of Nanjing during the Second World War, the soldiers in the Japanese army proceeded to pillage and raze the city, and rape and murder the civilian population, men, women, elderly and children alike, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Chinese over the course of several months. This is one of those war atrocities that a lot of people in the US seem not to know about for whatever reason, and I encourage everyone to go see this movie and learn something. And then pick up the book The Rape of Nanking by the late Iris Chang (she suffered a nervous breakdown and shot herself in 2004), and learn even more. It's extremely important that we acknowledge what happened (regardless what some Japanese nationalists might want us to believe), so that these sorts of things don't happen ever, ever again. The accounts by survivors were absolutely heartbreaking, as was the archival footage from hospitals of Chinese children mutilated and disfigured by Japanese soldiers. However, for the documentary, several actors were hired to read the writings of real-life figures who had experienced the Massacre as it was going on while they were in the city of Nanjing, and I have to say it was a little distracting, but it didn't lessen the impact of the movie. That was my only qualm. I hope to see this movie in the collections of school libraries in the coming years.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

goodbye my takohachi

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Two evenings ago, I went to eat at one of my favorite Japanese restaurants in the International District (formerly known as Chinatown), the great Takohachi, for the last time ever. It closed yesterday as the owners decided it was time for them to retire. Takohachi was one of those small restaurants where you'd go periodically for the inexpensive, delicious food and the friendly atmosphere. I almost always got the same thing here, their o-bento box, which included a bowl of miso soup, a bowl of rice (steamed, fried, or curry), and edamame, lotus root, squash, carrot, sweet omelette, salmon, shrimp, and their famous chicken karaage (always cooked perfectly). It was exactly the right portion, for when I finished, I never felt too full or not full enough, and it provided me with a lot of comfort. It will take me a while before I get over this loss.

This was the second of such been-there-forever, hole-in-the-wall Japanese restaurants to close in so many years. Not too long ago, the best ramen (or saba, if you pleased) in Seattle was taken away from us when Koraku closed up shop after decades of dedicated ramenship. All I'm left with now is Maneki, and I don't know what I'll do with myself if Maneki were ever to go away...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

siff hotties: lee young-hoon

The third installment of SIFF Hotties! (Previously, Hommes de Paris and Juan José Ballesta.) Today we travel to Korea.

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This is the adorable hottie Lee Young-hoon from the rent boy-rich boy love story, No Regret. I can't seem to find out much else about him except for the fact that he's 25. He did a wonderful job in the movie, and I hope to see more of him. A friend tells me he's going to be in Kong Su-chang's (the director of R-Point) next horror flick, GP 506. I hope he doesn't die too terribly in it...

Embedded video alert! It's the trailer for No Regret.

A couple of reviews.

The Cloud (Die Wolke). Rating: 2. I didn't like this movie, and my main problem with it was that none of the characters seemed to be very well-drawn. Their emotions were never very true to them and seemed to turn in whichever direction the plot required of them. You two, start kissing! You, you're now stubborn! You, run into the radioactive rain in despair! Why? Because then the plot can move along. What was the plot? Two teenagers who had only talked to each other once previously inexplicably fall in love just as a nearby nuclear power plant melts down. They must escape before the radioactive raincloud reaches them and changes their lives forever! While most of the emotions were counterfeit, the acting ability of the main characters was not. Both the leads Paula Kalenberg and Franz Dinda did a terrific job with what they were given, and it was probably their performances that allowed me to sit through the entire movie. Again, a car hitting something it shouldn't be hitting is used as a plot device in this movie. Surely, there is nothing more horrible than someone being hit by a car! (See previous usage in Doghead.)

No Regret (Huhoi haji Anha). Rating: 4. A rent boy (Lee Young-hoon, seen above) leaves his orphanage and tries to make it in big city Seoul. Finding it hard to make ends meet after he is laid off from a factory job, he turns to working as a rent boy in a host bar, one that the rich boy businessman son (Lee Han, a hottie in his own right) of a business executive happens to frequent. A slightly bizarre love story emerges from there. I liked Leesong Hee-il's movie, but I'm kind of wondering why I liked it as much as I did, because I had a big problem with the interactions between the two main characters. Their motivations felt authentic, but the way in which they talked to and acted with each other was so stilted and weird. And it's not that the director can't pull of interactions between people, because I liked everything that was going on between everyone else: between Su-min (the rent boy) and his fellow prostitutes and his pimp; between Jae-min (the rich boy) and his fiancée and his mother. But somehow whenever Su-min and Jae-min were dealing with each other, it just didn't feel realistic. Other than that point (which I guess is kind of major...), I quite liked the story and both the actors did a great job in their roles. It might be that I just need to watch it again, but we'll see.