"Saints and Sinners" would be a good title for a double bill of Love Free or Die and K-11, two queer-centric movies both just out on DVD and available OnDemand. Content-wise, these two filmsa documentary about Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopalian bishop and a ramped-up jailhouse drama inspired by the gay/transgender unit of the LA County jailcould not be further apart. But the two movies do illustrate the wide range of diversity within the gay community and how we're often perceivedin good and bad waysby the mainstream.
When we meet Robinson at the outset of Love Free or Die, he and his partner, Mark Andrew, are hanging ornaments on their Christmas tree. It's 2008five years after Robinson had been elected bishop of New Hampshireand though Robinson and Andrew put on a brave face as Robinson narrates his own story, the dust has yet to settle on his controversial election. A tireless gay-rights activist and an obvious lightning rod (Robinson wore a bulletproof vest under his vestments at his consecration ceremony following death threats) the bishop seems to take the naysayers in stride, doing so with humor and equanimity. But the bucolic Christmas scene in which the two men shyly talk about meeting and falling in love is underscored by the tremendous snub that Robinson was at that point facing.
The Lambeth Conferencesa once-a-decade meeting of Episcopal bishops presided over by Rowan Wilson, the archbishop of Canterbury in the United Kingdomdidn't invite Robinson to be part of the event because of Robinson's sexual orientation. Sensing a chance to further his goal of seeing gay people accepted into the church, Robinson decided to make the trip on his own, and the film's director, Macky Alston, and his crew follow him there. As the bishops convene, severalincluding some who attended seminary with Robinson and describe themselves as dear friends of hisdefend their conservative viewpoints in the "gentle" terminology often resorted to by religious folks to justify their homophobia. Some speak out in Robinson's favor, but none of them go so far as to boycott the conference or call into question the exclusion of their fellow bishop.
Robinson, literally locked out of the meetings, is gamely glimpsed attending luncheons and other events thrown in his honor about town. At one point, he is interrupted during a service by a religious terrorist who is quickly escorted out of the church. Shaken, Robinson nevertheless presses forward, gently pushing his message of tolerance and inclusion for all. Later, we see him attend a conference in the States in which church officials vote on whether other gay bishops can be elected and if same-sex marriages can be performed by the church. Again, we hear plenty of rhetoric on both sides about why this is either a good or bad thing but at no point do we see any direct conflict or confrontationsomething the exceedingly polite film could use.
Robinson (who retired at the beginning of this year) certainly paved the way for others and the election of a lesbian bishop at the film's conclusion is proof of the quiet storm that Robinson helped generate within the church. But the filmmaker's polite approachAlston's aversion to taking to task the prejudicial viewpoints expressed by the religious leaders they film for examplewhich mirrors Robinson's own soft pedal mannerundercuts the power of the message and diffuses the urgency the movie's title suggests but never actually presents.
K-11 is also a terrible title for a movie that purports to reveal the shocking, incendiary goings-on inside a primarily gay/transgender ward of the L.A. county jail. After viewing the stereotypical characters and situations in writer-director Jules Stewart's debut feature, "K-Y" seems a more appropriate monikercopious amounts of which you'll need to utilize in order to take in this lousy movie (and yes, I'm purposely being as vulgar as the movie itselfor trying to).
Stewart, mother of actress Kristen (whose leaving the project made headlines), has crafted something that seems to have been inspired by the worst parts of Caged, Fortune and Men's Eyes, and a raft of other dreadful exploitative prison pictures (Pam Grier always seems to be lurking just out of frame). The violence and sex are ramped up, while the decision to set the movie, which has no real storyline, in the LGBT ward seems nothing more than a blatant grab for the attention it wouldn't otherwise receive.
Poor Goran Visnjican interesting actor in films like The Deep End and who played Christopher Plummer's boyfriend in Beginnersis cast here as Raymond Saxx, a drugged-out record producer who might have killed one of his star acts while high. Tossed, for unexplainable reasons, into the queer pen while awaiting trial, Raymond, who is straight, is quickly confronted by Mousey (Kate del Castillo), the brazen, transgender queen of the cellblock who holds sway (literally, in her stripper heels) over the other misfits and the horny, drug-addicted, corrupt prison guard with a shoe fetish (D.B. Sweeney) who wants to get with her againand the sooner the better.
There's a raid on the pharmacy, a fashion show, the repeated rape of a young girl by a child molester, and lots more to add to the sleazy vibe but K-11, which is a sort of cross between a rat-infested episode of Oz and RuPaul's Drag Race, offers none of the camp or salacious pleasures of either of thosewhich might be this supposedly outrageous movie's biggest offense.
Mad Men, AMC's hit show that follows the exploits of Jon Hamm as ad man extraordinaire Don Draper against the backdrop of the ring-a-ding-ding 1960s, is back for its seventh season. As the show has progressed, moving from the early '60s to 1968, viewers have seen Draper go from the king of Manhattanan inveterate, hard-drinking womanizer whose faults are written off time and again because of his ability to come up with unforgettable ad campaigns for his firm's uptight clients.
Who knew that we were watching the story of a real-life mad man, aka photographer Bert Stern, whose career in advertising and photography has included Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sophia Loren, Natalie Wood and Truman Capote among his subjects, and whose legendary status was assured with his iconic pictures from the last photo session with Marilyn Monroe before her untimely death in 1962?
Stern is the subject of Bert Stern: Original Mad Man, a tremendously entertaining portrait of the 80-year-old photographer by Shannah Laumeister, a comely blonde whono surpriseis another of Stern's conquests. Stern narrates the outlines of his Hugh Hefner-like career (only Stern himself took the pictures of the beautiful women), and his daughters and former wife are among the interview subjects. The movie is filled with an endless array of Stern's tremendous photographs and background on his 1958 masterful documentary take on the Newport Jazz Festival, Jazz on a Summer's Day. The film will screen Thursday, April 18, at The Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. www.siskelfilmcenter.org
Chicago International Movies and Music Fest (CIMM): The annual fest returns April 18-21 with a host of music-themed movies and live music eventsmore than 70 films and dozens of live performances. The fest is celebrating 50 years of the Rolling Stones on film with a retrospective that includes a bevy of rare concert, video and documentary glimpses into the seminal band's unprecedented career. The fest also includes three movies with a decided queer bent: Peaches Does Herself (a transsexual rock musical), the lesbian-flavored And You Belong and Asphalt (a 1929 German silent movie) with live scoring by Yael Archer. Check www.cimmfest.org for venue and ticket information.
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