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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 7, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 49
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Game over
Overly earnest Playing for Keeps fails to score

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

PLAYING FOR KEEPS
Opens December 7

Retired Scottish soccer sensation George Dryer (Gerard Butler) isn't at his best. He's moved to a Virginia suburb to be close to his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel) and re-establish a relationship with his young son Lewis (Noah Lomax), whom he hardly knows. Low on funds and hoping to get a broadcasting job with ESPN, George is gently coerced into coaching Lewis' soccer team, discovering true joy in the smiles on the faces of his charges as they learn to play the game.

What he isn't prepared for are the advances made on him by the team members' parents. One kid's wealthy dad, Carl (Dennis Quaid), looks at him and sees dollar signs, using the former professional athlete to schmooze business clients. Others, like single moms Denise (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Barb (Judy Greer), look at George and see a cure for their bedroom loneliness - George a bit unprepared for, but not unreceptive to, this sudden carnal attention. But it's Lewis he wants to impress and Stacy he longs to get close to, and if he's ever going to do one, let alone both, of those things he's going to have to finally grow up and become the mature adult he's always refused to be.

Playing for Keeps has all the potential in the world. It features an outstanding cast of character actors (including the unmentioned Uma Thurman, Iqbal Theba, and James Tupper) and a solid director in Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness, The Last Kiss). The behind-the-scenes crew includes crackerjack cinematographer Peter Menzies (Die Hard With a Vengeance, The Incredible Hulk), production designer Daniel T. Dorrance (The Paperboy), and veteran composer Andrea Guerra (Letters to Juliet, Nine), while the scenario itself is ripe with dramatic and comedic possibility bordering on the infinite.

So what's the problem? The issue is that Robbie Fox's (So I Married an Axe Murderer) screenplay runs rampant with cliché and never meets a melodramatic plot point it doesn't want to slovenly embrace. It isn't interested in going into the complicated emotional nuances continually hinted at throughout, instead contenting itself with doling out puerile platitudes. It wastes the majority of its talented female supporting cast - especially Thurman - in thankless roles well beneath their respective talent levels, and for each time it manages to get something right there are countless more where it runs pointlessly in circles desperately searching for a reason to exist.

At the same time, the movie somewhat shockingly goes down pretty easy and isn't as difficult a sit as that description of the script might imply. Butler is at his roguishly charming best as George, while Biel walks through the film with a quiet confidence I found moderately entrancing. The scenes between father and son have kick to them, an emotional heft the remainder of the movie sadly lacks, and while the ultimate solution to our hero's problem is as clichéd as they come, there's something about the way that Muccino delivers this syrupy pap that didn't cause me to gag. There are laughs to be found, a couple tears that potentially could be shed, and moments of warmth and heart that break through the melodramatic tedium, all of which helped make the movie palatable.

This is not to say that Playing for Keeps scores. It misses the net by a wide margin, going over the goal post and sailing into the crowd. This is one instance where a talented cast and a strong director are let down by a screenplay whose inherent shortcomings they just can't compensate for. The movie earns a red card for wasting its oodles of potential, and it's easy to see why distributor FilmDistrict is releasing it into theaters with little fanfare and almost nonexistent backing.


Lost at sea
North Sea Texas has its charms but ultimately disappoints

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

NORTH SEA TEXAS
Opens December 7


Pim (Jelle Florizoone) isn't happy. Lonely and introverted, the teen feels neglected by his gadabout single mother, Yvette (Eva van der Gucht), while also harboring a secret crush on his slightly older next-door neighbor, Gino (Mathias Vergels). Circumstances evolve, relationships change, and soon Pim realizes he must be open about his feelings no matter the cost, unsure whether doing so will alienate him further from him mom and ruin any chance for a future with his outgoing and athletic friend. But that's part of growing up, and if the young boy is going to live an honest life and have the future he dreams about, the truth must come out - and, sometime soon, so must he.

I can't say I'm quite as taken with the Belgian import North Sea Texas as so many others seem to be. After watching it during last spring's Seattle International Film Festival, I felt no need to write in-depth about it one way or the other, the only notes I took singling out Florizoone for an impassioned, gently magnetic performance. But the movie itself? As handsomely produced as it was, as nicely understated as Bavo Defurne's direction proved to be, I couldn't help but feel like I'd watched this film before, the final product delivering little, if anything, I hadn't already seen numerous times.

Revisiting the movie several months later, many of my thoughts and feelings toward it remain unchanged. Defurne, working from a script he co-wrote with Yves Verbraeken and adapted from André Sollie's novel, does handle the proceedings with a delicately dexterous touch, never overplaying the inherent melodrama of the piece and allowing Pim's journey to more often than not eloquently speak for itself. Additionally, the film has a visual aesthetic that's colorfully intoxicating, director of photography Anton Mertens delivering images that feel lived-in and suitably rusticated.

A STELLAR PERFORMANCE
Then there is Florizoone. As stated, he is the end-all, be-all of this film, and much like Quvenzhané Wallis (who I realize is almost a decade his junior) in Beasts of the Southern Wild he cuts a magnetic and emotionally complex swath virtually impossible to resist. There are layers to his performance that are oftentimes surprising, and for much of the narrative I was never quite sure what he was going to do or say next, making his ultimate destination a somewhat startling one filled with internal nuances and emotional truisms.

Yet my reservations remain. The subplot concerning Yvette is a little ham-fisted and obvious, and if Defurne does ever ratchet up the melodrama it is directly related to the moments and scenes involving her. I also couldn't help but wish that Gino had been fleshed out more, and as good as Vergels is in the part (he's close to wonderful), as a character he frustratingly maintains a one-dimensionality that drove me nuts.

I do get why international and domestic festival audiences have fallen in love with the film. There are numerous superlatives that can be thrown the picture's way, and in the end the climactic dramatics do hit home in a way that is potent and pure. I just can't help but feel like with a little more effort - maybe an additional rewrite - Defurne and company could have avoided many of the inherent clichés of the story and gone on to craft something magical. As it is, North Sea Texas isn't without its merits. I just don't know if there are enough of them to make up for its more obvious shortcomings.


Making a Gayby
Stars of acclaimed indie film talk about Gay-straight sex

by Chris Azzopardi - SGN Contributing Writer

There are lots of ways to have a baby if you're a Gay man with a platonic girlfriend. Surrogacy is one option. You could adopt. Maybe even go the donor insemination route.

Or... you could just get naked and stick it in.

Gayby, an acclaimed indie film from writer/director Jonathan Lisecki (recently nominated for Best First Screenplay by the esteemed Spirit Awards), now available on DVD, is the story of two besties, Jenn and Matt (real-life friends Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas), who decide to fulfill a lifelong promise to have a kid ... by having sex together. Here, the two stars talk about how they differ from - and resemble - their on-screen personas, and how a Gay man can (believe it or not) conceive a child the 'natural' way.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT


Jenn: We met during our freshman orientation at Boston University, and it was literally and completely love at first sight. I don't mean love like, 'Oh my God, I want to marry that guy' - it was like, 'You're coming with me.' He's just one of those soul-mate people who knows you. We go together really well - he's very much my brother. So I can't even think of him having sex. It totally creeps me out. But neither of us really can. We get grossed out.

Matthew: Yeah, we're never going to have sex. That's never gonna happen. 'WE'RE BOTH NEUROTIC'


Jenn: I remember reading, 'Jenn's walking around the city depressed and she falls into a bush' and thinking, 'I can't wait to fall into a bush!' I thought it was this big moment, like I'm gonna fall from a cliff into a bush, and it wasn't. I have as much fun as my character does and I work hard like she does, but it's obviously high comedy - I'm not walking around falling into bushes. I was also a spinning instructor for years, and that is my motorbike.

Matthew: We're both really neurotic. I think we both share that quality, so I don't think Jenn is the only neurotic one in this relationship like she is in the film.

HAVING BABIES


Matthew: I have no desire to have a baby. Jenn wants to have a baby. She always says that I'm gonna be involved in the child's life, and I'm sure I will be.

Jenn: If Gay-couple friends of mine wanted me to have their baby or something - I'm not in the market to do that right now. I'm not ready to mother at this moment, but I'm not against it. I'm not even against having sex with a Gay man!

DOES THIS EVER HAPPEN?


Matthew: I would say maybe, like, less than one percent of the time. But maybe it's more. I don't know anyone who's done it this way. I feel like people are more apt to go the turkey-baster method. If sex were the only option, I think I'd be able to handle it. I mean, it's very strange. It's obviously more an excuse to write a really funny scene than something that happens in reality. [laughs]

THE FIRST SEX SCENE


Jenn: That was actually our favorite scene to shoot. It was really hard not to break. We had actually shot that scene in the short a couple of years ago [Gayby was originally a short]. It's longer in the film, obviously, but it's pretty much what we did in the short. I think we were just so comfortable. Matt and I travel. We're always sleeping in the same bed. It was really easy. Like, 'Oh, this is a familiar moment.'

Matthew: It was a blast. There's a comfort there that I wouldn't have had if it were with someone I didn't know. A lot of the awkwardness was authentic in that it was so easy to imagine how awkward it would be in real life to have to go through that, so I think part of that added to the fun of making that scene. It's totally awkward but doable.

[The shoot] was pretty casual. Jonny is one of those directors where I didn't feel like I was under his control too much. It felt a lot looser than that. I guess for the physical stuff it would depend on the shot, like if they needed the shot of me jerking off under the sheet and Jenn's face in the background, there was definitely a specificity to that - the angle of the camera and how high my hands could jerk upward. That sort of thing. [laughs]

IN DEFENSE OF SEX WORK


Jenn: People who say that sex scenes - at least with the gorgeous gentleman I've been given the pleasure to be cast opposite of - are awkward, hard, and weird are lying. They're lying because they want to be artsy-crafty. It's bullshit. There is nothing weird about it. People were watching! People were filming! Come on, that's great. I was given my best friend and three gorgeous men who are wonderful gentlemen. Going to work to make out with someone? Not difficult. I can see the allure of the porn industry.

ADVICE TO GAY MEN


Matthew: My character, Matt, has it right: He suggests that he gets off outside of her and then rolls over and sticks it in when it's just about to happen. That's the best way for a Gay man to go about having sex with a woman. It saves you from actually having to go through with it for too long. IT'S ABOUT FAMILY

Jenn: The film is very much about the family that we create. We have our biological family and then we grow up and move to big cities, or we move away from our family of origin and we build our own little family with our friends, coworkers, and neighbors. We get to choose who we want in our family when we get older. We have the gift of choice. Just like I chose Matt, and Matt chose me. He's definitely my Gay husband.

Matthew: The definition of family isn't exclusive to just blood relatives. It's really beyond that. I am not very close to my family, and I moved to N.Y. and I had to create my own family, essentially. That's what the film is about. It's about creating your own family when you don't necessarily have one. Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website, www.chris-azzopardi.com.




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Home is Where the Test Is
Home HIV Test Video

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Teresa Guajardo and Tina Roose
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Game over
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Lost at sea
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Making a Gayby
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