Sexy. Funny. Happy. Slutty. We're not talking about dwarves but DVDs coming out in the holiday shopping season. Two adjectives refer to box sets that easily dwarf the competition in size—and of course price, so they're only to be considered for very special recipients.
'Sexy' means Sex and the City—The Complete Series ( Collector's Giftset ) , which is great for someone who's spent the last decade on Mars; but can there be a fan of the series who doesn't already own at least some of the 94 episodes in individual season packages? For $300 ( discounted by at least a third if you shop around ) they could have included a pair of Kim Cattrall's dirty panties as an extra. At least it's an excuse to spend 47 pleasant hours with the person you give it to, rewatching the series; and this time remember creator Darren Star based the four lead women on gay men.
'Funny' refers to Barbra Streisand: The Television Specials—five of them from 1965-73. They're not all funny but most are from the period when Funny Girl made Babs 'The Greatest Star.' Spectacular in their day—specials were originally called 'spectaculars'—they'll look technically primitive today, but Mrs. Brolin was already imposing her perfectionism on those who worked for her, and the music is like buttah. That voice had just entered its prime and she had her choice of all the greatest songs ever written without concern for what was trendy or commercial. It's a great gift for nostalgiacs and younger men still studying for their Gay Card.
Happy Endings and Slutty Summer have just been released on DVD. Happy is the better film but Slutty is more queer, if that's your priority.
Gay writer-director Don Roos ( The Opposite of Sex ) tells three overlapping stories in Happy Endings ( *** ) , which plays more like really good TV than the really good movie it is. Mamie ( Lisa Kudrow ) got pregnant by her stepbrother Charley at 17 and secretly gave the child up for adoption. Sleazy wannabe filmmaker Jesse Bradford offers to hook her up with her son if he can film their reunion. Instead Mamie offers a story about her illegal immigrant boyfriend ( Bobby Cannavale ) giving wealthy housewives sexual massages. Charley's ( Steve Coogan ) partner Gil ( David Sutcliffe ) volunteered to be a sperm donor for Pam ( Laura Dern ) and Diane ( Sarah Clarke ) . Charley thinks they used Gil's sperm but lied about it to keep the men out of their son's life. In the third story Otis ( Jason Ritter ) invites slutty Jude ( Maggie Gyllenhaal ) to sing with his band. She thanks him in her usual way, even though he thinks he's gay, but she soon turns her attention to his widowed father ( Tom Arnold ) . Until near the final happy ending there's little physical affection between queers, but plenty of the heterosexual variety. Roos apparently was afraid of scaring off straight viewers.
The East Coast Chapter of The Broken Hearts Club meets in Slutty Summer ( ** 1/2 ) , a breezy romantic dramedy. Markus ( Casper Andreas ) catches his partner cheating and, unable to finish his novel, takes a summer job waiting tables where his best friend, Marilyn ( Virginia Bryan ) works. The waitstaff includes Luke ( Jesse Archer ) , a flamboyant party boy; inexperienced Peter ( Jeffery Todd ) , who is saving himself for a serious relationship; and brooding Tyler ( Jamie Hatchett ) , who gets plenty of sex but doesn't 'do relationships.' Four fags and a hag—consider the possibilities. Markus and Tyler hook up quickly, becoming more than fuck buddies but less than boyfriends. Peter and Marilyn search the Internet for love and Luke has the sluttiest summer of all. Besides playing the bland, passive lead, Andreas wrote, directed and edited Slutty Summer. He deserves credit for hiring Jon Fordham as director of photography and assembling his footage nicely. There's enough intelligent dialogue mixed with the gay banter to raise Slutty Summer above the category its title suggests, while some softcore sexual montages should stave off accusations of false advertising.
Other recent releases:
Heights ( *** ) is like Desperate Housewives moved in from the burbs—minus the housewives but with plenty of desperation. It pours on the coincidences in a few people's lives during 24 hours in Manhattan. Rich in incident, dialogue and cast, it was adapted from her play by Amy Fox and expanded and directed by Chris Terrio. Glenn Close stars as Diana Lee, a legendary actress and director who practically humps a young, gay actor, Alec ( Jesse Bradford ) , at his audition. Diana's daughter, Isabel ( Elizabeth Banks ) doesn't know her fiancé, Jonathan ( James Marsden ) , once had an affair with a famous male photographer. Relationships start and end and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities come and go as quickly as familiar actors in tiny parts: Isabella Rossellini, George Segal, Michael Murphy, Eric Bogosian.
Considering that it's a comedy, there are a lot of drama queens in Formula 17 ( ** 1/2 ) , which must be named for the ancient romantic comedy formula it follows. The only difference, other than the Taiwan setting, is that boy meets, loves, loses and regains boy instead of girl. The script is an insignificant trifle, just an excuse to fill the screen with ( mostly ) cute, ( mostly ) young, ( often ) shirtless Asian men. There's nothing in Formula 17 that hasn't been done—and done better—before, even in queer films; but it hasn't been done with an Asian cast, and silly as it is it's pleasant to watch.
The Reception ( ** 1/2 ) , the second feature by writer-director John G. Young ( Parallel Sons ) , begins with Martin ( Wayne Lamont Sims ) and Jeannette ( Pamela Holden Stewart ) living on a snowy Catskills farm in perfect biracial, binational, heterosexual domesticity. Jeannette's estranged daughter Sierra ( Margaret Burkwith ) arrives unannounced with her new husband, Andrew ( Darien Sills-Evans ) . Just when you resign yourself to watching a story about two straight couples, Sierra tells Andrew that Martin is gay. It takes half the movie for us to figure out what the men want and the other half for them to figure it out, but the actors generate enough heat to make us buy their mutual attraction. The downside is that the movie uses alcohol as an excuse for everything that happens.
Gus Van Sant makes an occasional commercial film but his heart is in minimalist offerings that are slow and frustrating to watch. Sometimes ( the brilliant Elephant ) they go somewhere and sometimes ( Gerry ) they don't. Last Days ( ** ) falls in the latter category. Van Sant's 'fictional meditation' on the death of Kurt Cobain puts images on the screen and lets you fashion your own story around them. Not everything about Blake ( Michael Pitt ) is true of Kurt but you have to know about Kurt to know anything about Blake, who spends his last days in a fog, wandering around the remote, rundown mansion he shares with his entourage ( Lukas Haas, Asia Argento, Scott Green and Nicole Vicius ) . Haas and Green, supposedly bisexual, have a gratuitous sex scene. Blake plays with an unloaded shotgun early on, possibly a foreshadowing of his death, an event we're spared or cheated out of, depending on your point of view. Van Sant has balls but he won't satisfy inquiring minds with a morbid fascination with dead celebrities.
Most of the actors in Almost Normal ( ** ) , required to play the same characters at different ages, 22 years apart, can't quite pull off either extreme. Brad ( J. Andrew Keitch ) is depressed: 'I just turned 40. I'm gay. I'm still single. You do the math.' Julie ( Joan Lauckner ) , his best friend, persuades him to come home for his parents' 45th anniversary. There Brad goes off the wagon and wrecks a car, which apparently sends him through a time warp to an alternate universe. He's back in high school but being gay is the norm and the few heterosexuals who come out are ostracized, sometimes straight-bashed. Brad attracts the romantic attention of Roland ( Tim Hammer ) , on whom he had a crush the first time around. Things couldn't be more perfect, except Brad gets a funny feeling around Julie. Whatever normal is, he's going to be queer. Writer-director Marc Moody had a cute idea and assembled his script Frankenstein-like from parts of other movies ( Back to the Future, The Wizard of Oz, Big, Peggy Sue Got Married, etc. ) , but his execution is a little off, leaving Almost Normal almost good.
Some recommended queer DVD releases from earlier this year:
— Drama: Brother to Brother, Enduring Love, Kinsey, Mysterious Skin, 'Prom Queen' The Marc Hall Story, Walk on Water, The Woodsman
— Comedy: Goldfish Memory, Monster-in-Law, Touch of Pink
— Foreign Language: Bear Cub, Beautiful Boxer, My Mother Likes Women, Producing Adults, You I Love