"An absent mother and a harsh father don’t make for the happiest beginnings and Todd is the brother who left town, while Chet stayed, looked after his father and ran the family hardware store. When Todd’s promiscuous LA lifestyle falls apart and he is forced to return home, the story properly begins. Chet’s shy refusal to engage with a gay lifestyle is thrown into high relief by Todd’s very modern engagement with online sex, outdoor cruising and full-on misbehaving. The clash of cultures forces both of them to re-examine who they are."
It's natural that any talk of Tiger Orange will revolve around Frankie Valenti - better known as the porn star Johnny Hazzard - who stars in Wade Gasque’s debut feature. A porn star gets bums on the seats, and hogs the limelight, voluntarily or not. That burden is unfair on Valenti, and the film, distracting us from what's really important: the story. I went into the cinema blissfully unaware of Valenti's turn: Tiger Orange is just one of twelve features I'm seeing at this year's BFI Flare festival, and by the time I sat down to watch, I couldn't remember a thing I'd read about it. Valenti sure looks familiar, I thought as the film rolled. Where had I seen him before? Another indie flick? A web series? Stepping out of NFT1 (and small town California) and onto the Southbank, I found myself pleasantly surprised when it finally clicked, because Valenti is the best thing in this film. (Darryl Stephens - gay indie royalty and Noah's Arc alumni - has an all too brief cameo.)
Admittedly, he gets the best hand. Valenti is the wild Todd; he gets to be sexy, funny, and out of control. Ty Parker has the thankless task of portraying his boring, stay at home, sexless brother Chet (Varietysays, "The pic is hindered by Chet’s colorlessness: Vanilla is too flavorful a description for the character.")
Tiger Orange is an interesting twist on that hoary old trope, the polar opposite brothers. Chet (Parker) might be straight, but he isn't straight. And Todd (Valenti) isn't trying to get away from smalltown USA: he's come back. And it works. Tiger Orange is a warm, engaging, and rewarding little film - it's a "nice" film, as programmer Brian Robinson said in his introduction (he also said it's very much a "festival film", perhaps to downplay the expectations of thirsty queens who'd come to see Johnny Hazzard and not Frank Valenti). It won't set the world on fire, but anyone who's seen it will look back fondly. "Tiger Orange? That's the one with Johnny Hazzard, right? Yeah, it was a sweet movie. It was nice."
"Randy, a young black man, is wrestling unsuccessfully with his burgeoning sexuality. A member of his church choir, he has a tight cohort of school friends who seem more aware than he is of his sexuality. Meanwhile, at home Randy has to contend with his deeply religious mother, grief-stricken since his sister was mysteriously abducted. An unexpected encounter with a young actor and filmmaker changes things for Randy."
Blackbird arrives bearing a heavy load of expectation. Not only is it based upon the much-loved novel of the same name by Larry Duplechan (who went on to write not one but four sequels), it also follows director Patrik-Ian Polk's The Skinny, which has accrued a devoted fan base (and which I've warmed to in recent years since seeing it in 2012). And, as those of us who frequent gay film festivals know all too well, Blackbird is that most rare of beasts: a film about black gay men.
So how does it hold up? Pretty well, it turns out. This big-hearted picture has laughter, tears, sex and singing in equal measure. Blackbird is blessed with a talented, likeable cast. Newcomer Julian Walker is a joy as Randy, and Noah's Arc: Jumping The Broom veteran Gary LeRoi Gray gets the best lines as wisecracking Efrem. Star turns Mo'Nique and Isaiah Washington both acquit themselves admirably.
That isn't to say Blackbird is without its flaws. It feels a little like there's too many ideas in play in this film adaptation, and not enough time (or, perhaps, interest) in developing all of them. Polk would have done better to stick more closely to the source material (indeed, many of the less positive reviews of the film focus on where it strays from the novel). Efrem is particularly poorly served in this respect, his storyline left dangling. I'd have preferred to spend more time with him than on Crystal's pregnancy. And there's a huge lapse with an ill-judged rape gag - surprising, given that Polk featured a harrowing male rape in The Skinny. Rape jokes might get a big laugh, but that doesn't make them okay.
However, Blackbird is, for the most part, a warm, funny, sexy film, and it deserves every success. If you want to find out what happens next to "Randy" (the book's Johnnie Ray has been renamed here), then you only have to read Blackbird's sequel, Eight Days A Week. Randy has a long road ahead of him, but you won't regret going on it with him for a second.
In the beautiful but treacherous waters of Brazil’s Futuro Beach, two men find themselves in danger. Lifeguard Donato manages to rescue German tourist Konrad, but the other swimmer disappears beneath the waves. Mourning the sudden loss of his friend, Konrad finds solace in the arms of Donato, and the attraction between the two soon evolves into something serious. When Konrad leaves Brazil for Germany, Donato decides to join him, but after a period of happiness Donato’s past begins to haunt him...
Futuro Beach has an impressive pedigree: it's directed by Karim Aïnouz, who brought us the much-vaunted Madame Sata (2002), but his latest film is a damp squib. Leads Wagner Moura and Clemens Schick exude zero charisma; after an hour and three quarters in their company (and some eight of their years) I had no sense of who these men were, of what they were feeling, or what their story was. They're merely bystanders in Aïnouz's picture postcard scenery. I can do silent - I'm a huge fan of Tsai Ming-Liang - but Moura and Schick give me nothing. When Jesuíta Barbosa joins for the third act, he adds some much-needed zest (not to mention eye candy), but it's too little, too late.
Watch it for the stunning scenery (and a very cool sequence in the Berlin Zoo aquarium). But there's nothing else here.
The BFI Flare team may have allowed a non-white member onto the programming team, but - on tonight's offering at least - the festival remains (to coin a phrase) hideously white. It was hard not to feel my heart sinking a bit as one pair of white boys after another wrestled with their feelings in The View From Here, a collection of six shorts on the theme of coming out.
That's not to diminish the films themselves, all of which were, at least, charming and competent. Søren Green's En eftermiddag (An Afternoon) was sweet ("Mathias and Frederik hang out after school. But does Mathias have the courage to tell his friend how he really feels?"), and Neil Ely's Mirrors ("a pair of ‘straight’ guys discuss their feelings in the cramped confines of a gay club toilet cubicle") wryly truthful. But there was a certain sameness to the other films - Gryning (Stockholm Daybreak), Tomorrow, and particularly Simon Anderson's Morning Is Broken - a tired retreading of the old tropes of self-loathing, of fruitlessly pursuing the unattainable straight guy.
Tired doesn't apply to Yohann Kouam's Le Retour (The Return), which stood head and shoulders above the other films, both looking and feeling like a full length feature. Opening with a group of black youths posing for the camera, gazing nonchalantly at the sky, it stars Adama Procida as 15-year-old Willy, who "must make sense of the world around him after he learns the truth about his older brother" (a dazzlingly beautiful Yann Gael). It's a rare glimpse into other lives, other stories; Le Retour alone is worth the price of the ticket.
BFI Flare: In case you didn't get the memo, Black Lives Matter.
Michael Sam on the criticism he receives from the black gay community for dating a white man. “My fiance gave me the strength [to come out]. The challenge I get now is, why are you not dating a gay black guy? Why are you dating a white guy? Why would I do that? Why would I leave someone I fell in love with and have been through so many challenges with.”
Empire's queer family of colour is the real "new normal", writes Karamo Brown: "According to the Census Bureau sampling known as the American Community Survey, African-American or Latino gay couples are twice as likely as whites to be raising children."
Looking actor Russell Tovey has become the latest victim of the faux outrage of a Twitter storm, when a quote from a Guardianinterview was taken out of context. Disappointingly, sites like Towleroad led with misleading headlines like "'I thank my dad' for not letting me become 'really effeminate'."
Feeling Russell Tovey: "Over the years, [Russell Tovey] crafted the man he wanted to be. We can debate the validity of the reasons why he did it, and yes, he absolutely could have expressed himself better on the topic. You don't always know how people are going to perceive your comments. Sometimes that perception is very different than what you intended. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt... I, for one, am willing to cut the guy some slack."
Lifestyles of the gay and not so famous. "This whole gay lifestyle thing sounds so decadent and hedonistic and sinful, like a two thousand calorie dessert and here I am gay and living my boring little life, paying my children's college bills, remaining faithfully married to my husband and taking out the trash. Clearly, I have missed out on the lifestyle I was entitled to."
A male model’s journey to the edge and back. "How a pimply Canadian farmboy rose to conquer the runways of Paris and Milan, then fell into a downward spiral of days-long drug trips, perpetual partying and a very public breakdown."
Will we ever see Studio 54 again? "It might be true that the rich and infamous don’t dance like the high and crazy ’70s and ’80s. They’re still dancing, though cautiously as they wonder who’s watching them."
"I would also like to take this opportunity to squash the persistent rumours about mysterious 'disappearances' and emphasize that rural and urban areas are now enjoying a life of harmony and peace. I'm sure you're glad to hear this. And I'm happy you're glad."