Over the last decade, the openly gay novelist Tom Dolby has won literary acclaim for his queer-themed novels and other writings. He now makes his feature debut with Last Weekend. Dolby scripted the movie, and his college pal Tom Williams co-directs. Based on Dolby's own privileged upbringing, the story focuses on the Labor Day weekend gathering of a dysfunctional family headed by the luminous Patricia Clarkson as the matriarch Celia Green.
Clarkson headlining a movieany movieis reason enough to see it but, admittedly, Celia ( let alone her two disagreeable sons ) would try the patience of even the most centered of Zen Buddhists, let alone an antsy movie audience. Celia is a perfectionist, and a bad oneakin to Mary Tyler Moore's WASP control freak Beth Jarrett in Ordinary People stacking her cloth napkins just so on her dining room table; and as finicky as Barbra Streisand insisting with complete sincerity in interviews that the flowers outside the windows of her guesthouse be color-coordinated with those of the interior furnishings.
Celia's spacious summer home of brick, wood and gorgeous views on Lake Tahoe, where the Green clan, gathers is a testament to her perfectionism and it is kept in immaculate condition ( with the help of two live-in servants, Hector and Maria ). This fantastic mansestraight out of a House Beautiful spread, and filled with light, air and comfy couchesis jam-packed with bric-a-brac collected over the 30 years, as Celia and her seemingly amiable ( and very patient ) husband, Malcolm ( Chris Mulkey ), have summered there. It might even live up to Streisand's standards ( it also served as the summer house for Elizabeth Taylor's wealthy family in A Place In the Sun ), but it doesn't seem to really provide Celia or anyone else much pleasurealthough everyone insists otherwise.
The main drama of the piece actually hinges on whether Celia will decide to put the place up for sale. "I'm so tired of my life being safe," she complains to the neighboring lesbian couple ( an underused Mary Kay Place and Sheila Kelley ) but, still, she's not sure if she should sell and leave the past and all its supposedly happy memories behind in order to move forward. It's not a question of moneythe family is very well offand though Celia points out that neither her cranky younger gay son Theo ( Keep the Lights On's Zachary Booth ) nor the much crankier older, straight Roger ( Running with Scissors' Joseph Cross ) uses the house often, they both go batshit when there's a hint that mom might be selling. ( It's clear that dad has zero say in the matter. )
There's no surprise there as these two brothers are perhaps the most ill-humored, argumentative pair of characters one is likely to encounter. On arrival for the weekend with their respective partners ( Theo brings Luke, his latest boyfriend, and Roger brings his girlfriend, who Celia openly dislikes ), both have immediately started arguing nonstop with mom and it's immediately clear that these two crabby apples didn't fall far from the carefully pruned tree.
Celia's high-handed control pretty much spoils the good time for everyone and both Theo and Roger, when they're not kvetching with mother, are going after their partners. Nothing seems to stop the bickering for longnot a couple of life-threatening accidents ( involving Theo's boyfriend and the caretaker ), the arrival of a TV star ( Glee's Jayma Mays ) from the show that Theo writes for, the revelation that Roger's been fired for losing his company millions of dollars and especially not the intrusion of the Green's brash, nouveau riche next-door neighbor ( Judith Light, having fun with her noxious character ). That Clarkson occasionally cuts through the thicket of familial tension and offers moments of insight into this vacuous woman is once again a testament to the powers of this phenomenal actress.
The moviewhat with that picture-postcard house, scenery and fetching cast as well as Clarkson's carefully worked-out performancemight be enough to lure folks into theaters for this family reunion but be warned: The affluent Green family isn't shy about nattering on and on about their rich people's problems. Be prepared for not just a Last Weekend, but a very long one as well. lastweekendfilm.com
HBO has long been noted for its shocking, expose-type documentaries that center on many of the social evils besetting America and the world at large. The network's latest, Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia, from British filmmaker Ben Steele ( who wrote, shot and directed the movie ) doesn't disappoint on that score.
The film, which focuses on the effect of Russia's anti-gay amendment to its infamous propaganda law ( which was unanimously enacted ) is like a punch in the stomachand, in the course of the movie, that's only one of the abhorrent behaviors on view. Steele stints on nothing as he tags along with a man whose main purpose in life is to rid Russia completely of gay people; films the threats made to attendees of an LGBT film festival; and interviews the head of the Russian Orthodox church who espouses zero tolerance for gay people and equates ( as much of the country does ) homosexuality with pedophilia, declaring, "Permitted evil gives rise to more evil"for starters.
Although homosexuality has been legal in Russia for 21 years, the country's conservative stance has strengthened over time and it's estimated that only 1 percent of Russia's gay population is out. The anti-gay propaganda law has made it open season on Our People. In perhaps the most chilling section of the film, a vigilante group ( Russia's largest, which boasts of chapters in 30 cities ) lures an unsuspecting gay man to an apartment packed with gay-bashers ready to humiliate, torture and perhaps kill its victim. These disgusting incidentswhich are called "safaris"are then uploaded to a YouTube-like site that is extraordinarily popular. All manner of brutality toward gay people ( and those suspected of being so ) are not only tolerated but lauded. Police intervention in these violent acts is rare and prosecutions are rarer still and often get overturned.
All of this makes a person like Russian gay activist Kiril Aleksandrovich that much more of a hero. The simple act of protest against the brutality by holding up a sign or passing out leaflets on a busy street corner is to invite death threats or much worse ( as Steele's film demonstrates ). As America's queer community makes continued process in its fight for queer equality, it's been sobering to note the steps backward that many foreign countries have taken when it comes to gay rights ( as detailed in God Loves Uganda, Call Me Kuchu and The Abominable Crime ).
Our community, thanks to many news accounts, has certainly long been aware of Russia's deplorable homophobic policies. Now with Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia, we have disturbing images that offer proof as well. With out actor Matt Bomer narrating, the film premieres on HBO on Monday, Oct. 6. http://www.hbo.com/#/documentaries/hunted-the-war-against-gays-in-russia
John Wojtowicz ( the infamous character who robbed a bank in Brooklyn in 1972 to get money so his lover could have a sex-change operation ) was immortalized when Al Pacino played him in 1975's Dog Day Afternoon. As incredible as the story of the robbery and its lively, disparate characters is ( and boy, is it ever ), there is much more to this story than director Sidney Lumet's masterpiece revealed.
In Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren's documentary The Dog, we get the whole enchilada. Wojtowicz narrates his own improbable tale and fueled by this queer Scheherazade, whose legacy is both outrageous and pathetic, The Dog is as entertaining as its central subject. ( Read my complete review in the 8-20-14 issue of WCT. ) The film is having its Chicago theatrical premiere at Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave., on Oct. 3-9. http://facets.org/cinematheque/films/oct2014/the-dog.php
The 50th anniversary of the Chicago International Film Festival is being celebrated as the fest plays Oct. 9-23. The lineup has much to offer queer film fans with everything from a screening of the George Cukor 1954 classic A Star Is Born with Judy Garland and James Mason to the Chicago premiere of The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch as queer icon Alan Turing as two prominent examples. I'll have a more detailed look at the fest in next week's column. www.chicagofilmfestival.com/