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Filmmaker David DeCoteau perfects the Gay thriller
by Gary M. Kramer - SGN Contributing Writer

Prolific out filmmaker David DeCoteau has two films on DVD this month: The Pit and the Pendulum, his latest Queer re-imagining/adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe's story (after film versions of The Raven and The House of Usher) and Brotherhood V: Alumni, the newest installment of another series he helms. On the phone from his home in Los Angeles, DeCoteau spoke about his genre films, which focus less on plot and more on hot guys in their underwear.

The director's films, for the uninitiated, are B-grade thrillers where sinister things happen to beautiful people. In Pit, seven gorgeous, athletic college students agree to allow JB (Lorielle New) to hypnotize them. Alas, several of characters meet horrible ends. In Alumni, a handful of high school friends are reunited a year after a murder to ferret out the killer.

The filmmaker insists his genre entries are thrillers, not horror movies, because there is little blood and no gore. "They are not terrifying. I'm very squeamish and proper. I'm not into extreme violence, and gore, I've done vampire movies without blood and fangs. They are the opposite of true horror films - rarely are there naked women, coarse language and [graphic violence]."

Likewise, his Poe adaptations put a new twist on an old master and eschew suspense for sensuality. "We used the original text as inspiration, and [added] Gay and Bisexual characters," DeCoteau says, joking that the scariest thing in his films are when straight guys "see two guys in their underwear & touching and not knowing what will happen next."

The filmmaker has developed a cult following for featuring sexy studs in their skivvies. DeCoteau started out his career making erotic films (under a female pseudonym, back when he was closeted, but that's another story). These days, however, his skin quotient is low. "Nudity is a taboo, even rear nudity," he exclaims, adding, "There's nothing very erotic about a flaccid penis." Although he made the 1997 Gay romance Leather Jacket Love Story, which featured full frontal male nudity and sex, DeCoteau has moved away from explicit cinema, concentrating instead on homoeroticism.

And DeCoteau is all about the tease. "I push the limits, and I respect the limits, and there is a lot of negotiation - how tight and what color the underwear is," he reveals. "It's in the contract! Guys want black, not white because of VPL - visible penis lines - especially if they get wet."

Pit has a lengthy scene of two hot guys wrestling in their black briefs, while Alumni has a lengthy love scene between two underwear-clad men. The filmmaker describes these moments as "over the top" plot elements meant to change the audience's expectations, not shock them. He admits that these scenes and his films are campy. "I don't like to wink at the audience. They are a bit ridiculous, but I try to do something different with each one and have an outrageous moment."

The love scene in Alumni is the first same-sex kiss and cuddle scene in the Brotherhood series, and DeCoteau is proud of this, even if he claims that it is difficult to get actors to do "boy-boy intimacy" onscreen.

Likewise, getting the actors he wants to do nudity is an uphill battle he chooses not to undertake. "People are not willing to drop trou just to be in a movie. The minute the underwear comes off, 99% of the actors would run. The actors who want to be stars get paranoid [about nudity] unless Gun Van Sant asks them to do it in an important big-budgeted project."

As such, DeCoteau focuses his energy on casting, selecting talent by personally reviewing the 5,000-7,000 submissions he gets for a film. He recalls producers criticizing his actors for being "too pretty" and he acknowledges that some guys who come in are so striking, "the straight guys in the office are checking them out."

DeCoteau says that the actors he discovers and casts - such as Jason Shane-Scott (One Life to Live) in Pit and Nathan Parsons (General Hospital) from Alumni - trust him because they know he will make them look beautiful, not foolish.

What is more, the filmmaker is careful about how he portrays his characters - especially the Gay and Bisexual ones. Both Pit and Alumni feature Queer characters that are both good and evil. DeCoteau says that evil Gay characters provide "a dilemma" - citing Sharon Stone's "killer Lesbian" from Basic Instinct - but emphasizes that, "The characters' being bad has nothing to do with them being Gay." One solution he has found is to level the playing field by introducing many Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual characters in his films.

If the filmmaker's style is not for everyone, he has amassed legions of fans. "It's a weird subgenre," DeCoteau admits. "There's a niche out there that likes my films. Otherwise I wouldn't be making them."

Or so many of them.

© 2010 Gary M. Kramer


Ghost Writer a fitting final note for Polanski
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Ghost Writer
Opening February 26


Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) is in a bit of a fix. His ghostwriter, so close to completing the controversial former British prime minister's memoirs, has recently passed away, falling over the side of a ferry in a drunken stupor and drowning in the icy waters.

Now he has a new Ghost (Ewan McGregor), and the once-powerful politician isn't sure what to make of him. But when a breaking scandal involving political prisoners and the American CIA puts him directly in the crosshairs of being labeled a war criminal, Lang has no choice but to leave his new writer alone and go to Washington, DC to try and sort this mess out.

Now his Ghost is curious. Why is this scandal affecting Lang so profoundly? What is it that makes the man's long-suffering wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) willing to step aside when she never has been willing before? Why does the politician's top aide Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall) want him out of the local island hotel and into the main residence? And why is there no investigation into his predecessor's death? Why is everyone apparently eager to let the case be forgotten, even though there is strong evidence suggesting the death was hardly accidental?

If this really ends up being director Roman Polanski's last film - and considering the state of his legal troubles, it very well could be - then I'm hard-pressed not to call The Ghost Writer the Oscar-winner's best in over 30 years. Easily as accomplished as his justifiably lauded 2002 effort The Pianist, this thriller harkens back to the filmmaker's landmark pictures of the 1960s and '70s. This is his Chinatown for a new millennium, his Repulsion, his Rosemary's Baby, and like 1962's Knife in the Water, this is a masterpiece of suspense, paranoia and alleged violence that had me struggling for air in its vice-like grip and wondering what was going to happen next.

Based on the novel by Robert Harris and working from a script he co-wrote with the author, Polanski shows himself to be as much of a professional technician at generating thrills and chills as he's ever been. There isn't a false move or beat, nothing that gives off an artificial sheen or calls attention to itself for being obtuse or glossily unbelievable. While a case could be made that a third-act twist settles the score a bit too cleanly in regards to Lang's perceived and/or imagined abuses of power, the reality is that the seeds were planted at the start and then allowed to grow unhindered. Polanski keeps his eye on the ball even as he gamely misdirects viewers into looking into inconsequential keyholes.

This is done by making sure the focus is always on the Ghost. Beautifully played by McGregor (easily his best role since Big Fish, probably since Moulin Rouge), the whole movie is seen through his eyes. Much like Warren Beatty's Joseph Frady in 1974's The Parallax View or Robert Redford's Joseph Turner in 1975's 3 Days of the Condor, here is a man who believes himself to be three steps ahead when in reality he's firmly trapped right behind the eight-ball. He thinks he's smarter than everyone around him, more attuned to their duplicity and lies, but this Ghost isn't as sharp or as clever as he imagines, and when the web starts constricting around his neck, it did the same around mine, too.

Like all of Polanski's films, even his most odious like Pirates or The Ninth Gate, this one looks and sounds superb. Alexandre Desplat's (Fantastic Mr. Fox) mesmerizing score is the perfect accompaniment to the onscreen action, while Albrecht Konrad's (Aimée & Jaguar) almost antiseptic and institutionally clean production design is the ideal counterpoint to the unwieldy political chaos. As for Pawel Edelman's (The Life Before Her Eyes) cinematography, there aren't words to do it justice, as the man's skills behind the camera are attuned to all of Polanski's playfully gut-wrenching melodramas.

Best of all, however, is Hervé de Luze's (Tell No One) crackerjack editing. In a way, I can't help but think Polanksi's ongoing forced home confinement while his legal troubles are sorted out affected him and de Luze. The movie's claustrophobic feel, its unquestioned sense of unbreakable confinement, its unwavering impression of overpowering dread comes from an indescribable place, and I couldn't help but wonder if Polanski felt himself to be the Ghost as he and his editor assembled their paranoia puzzle pieces together into a finished product.

I'm not sure everyone will feel the same about The Ghost Writer as I. Some will undoubtedly hold current affairs against Polanski and not give his film the benefit of the doubt, while others won't have the attention span required to allow this thriller to blossom into greatness. But for fans of the auteur able to separate his personal life from his cinematic one, and for others open to old-school suspense where no one gets away clean and failure truly is an option, this political whirligig delivers the goods. It is a bona fide masterpiece from a master of the medium, and if it does end up being Polanski's final motion picture, I can't think of a greater high to end on.


Cop Out a funny movie with a stupid title
by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

Cop Out
Opening February 26


Kevin Smith's waistline is getting more reviews than his movie. This is never a good sign. And the title, an obvious double entendre with a tenuous relationship to the actual movie, doesn't do much to sell the flick, either.

In addition, the trailer makes Cop Out seem like a rehash of a genre that seemed played out 20 years ago. I wasn't sure there was anything new to do with the genre, and the trailer did nothing to convince me otherwise.

So I found myself sitting in the AMC Pacific Place 11 theater on a rainy Tuesday evening surrounded by a few other critics and a theater full of advance screening regulars (there is apparently an entire subculture of folks that take advance screenings rather seriously). I wasn't expecting much.

I figured Bruce Willis (NYPD cop Jimmy Monroe) would be the gravelly voiced tough guy with wicked one-liners and a heart of gold. Tracy Morgan (his partner Paul Hodges) would be the clownish sidekick with savant-like detective powers and, uh, a heart of gold.

They would wisecrack their way through a narrative rife with family drama on one side of life and a really mean drug-dealing villain with an accent on the other side of life.

I was correct on all counts. But while all the above is true, Cop Out still finds a way to seem fresh. Cop Out is the first laugh-out-loud comedy of the year.

Jimmy and Paul have been partners for nine years. Their unorthodox methods have earned them a reputation within the department and on YouTube. The boys get suspended without pay just before Jimmy's daughter Ava (Michelle Trachtenberg) is scheduled to get married. Since Jimmy is sans income, Ava's aging frat-boy stepdad offers to cough up the dough.

Elsewhere in Gotham, a ruthless Mexican drug dealer named Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz, playing the exact same character he plays in Weeds) is looking to expand his empire.

Worlds collide via a stolen baseball card worth $80,000.

This sounds fairly complicated and I haven't even mentioned Sean William Scott's hilarious turn as a martial arts bandit with the mouth of a 12-year-old and the mind of George Carlin.

Smith takes a new direction with Cop Out, a buddy cop comedy aimed squarely at the mainstream and big, big box office. He got the stars, the screenwriters, and the money, and he made it all work.

The one-liners come fast and furious. The ad-libs are many and expertly edited using jump cuts and quick cuts. This is a cop movie with the comedic sensibility of the best Kevin Smith flicks (Clerks and Chasing Amy). The witty and inventive dialogue and expert cinematic craftsmanship make Cop Out exponentially better than your average buddy cop comedy.

Willis and Morgan are stars for a reason. They don't reinvent comedy in Cop Out, and the writing and direction definitely serves both of them well. However, at the end of the day it's about the star and the camera, and the camera loves both of these guys, though in different ways.

While Sean William Scott is great as a small-time thief, it's Adam Brody (as Officer Barry Mangold) who was the big surprise. It goes without saying that Brody is absolutely precious. That unruly mop of hair and those big doe-eyes with lashes that never end had me swooning. What doesn't go without saying is that he's funny as hell stealing scenes from veteran Kevin Pollack (Mangold's partner) and even taking a couple of moments from Willis and Morgan.

Cop Out isn't a retooling of the classic cop comedy. It's more like a contemporary take on the genre that is much better than its title or its trailer indicate. Check it out; you will laugh out loud more than once just like I did, and just like the ASRs (Advanced Screening Regulars).




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Pletnev's joyous Russian National Orchestra
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A Dyke About Town: Winterblues and The Last Station
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Filmmaker David DeCoteau perfects the Gay thriller
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Ghost Writer a fitting final note for Polanski
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Cop Out a funny movie with a stupid title
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