Judge George Hatch makes the best of this mixed lot of British imports. One is a knockout; one is beastly, and one will test your bloody patience.
The Good, the Bad, and the Unendurable.
The Best of Gay Britain is a boxed set of three full-length features of varying interest and quality. Here's the rundown:
• Like It Is
Remember "one-hit wonders?" They were smash hit songs that reached Billboard's Top Ten, then the group or singer simply disappeared. Like It Is seems to be the cinematic equivalent. The film introduced the sexy and talented Steve Bell, but he never made another screen appearance. Paul Oremland shot a made-for-TV movie in 1990, and, eight years later, he directed Like It Is. Along with screenwriter Robert Gray, it's their only film. What happened to such a talented and creative team?
In Like It Is, Steve Bell plays Craig, a bare-knuckle boxer from Blackpool, opening up to gay life with the help of Matt (Ian Rose), a sophisticated and ambitious record producer in London. Matt's roommate, Paula (Dani Behr), is a singer with aspirations of attaining disco-diva status; both are smoothly manipulated by impresario Kelvin (Roger Daltrey). Kelvin dangles a recording contract in Paula's face, and he teases Matt with the possibility of managing one of his clubs.
When Craig enters their lives, Paula immediately resents him because he's claiming too much of Matt's attention—and divas always come first! Kelvin isn't too pleased because Matt is spending too much time away from the office, and there is a deadline for a rock video Matt is coordinating. It's not surprising that both Paula and Kelvin are going to extra lengths to create a rift between the two new lovers. Paula even tells Craig that Matt is a "serial shagger," insinuating that their relationship "won't last long a'tall."
Like It Is opens with Craig in the gritty and violent world of bare-knuckle boxing. It's an illegal and underground "sport," much like cock-fighting is here in America. The matches take place in bar basements, garages, and empty nighttime warehouses, and young Craig is the champ, beating older contenders' faces to a pulp. Not a pretty sight. When Craig follows Matt to London, he finds the glitzy glamour of gay clubs enticing. Their growing relationship has its ups and down, but Like It Is isn't your typical coming-out story. The contrasting milieus of boxing and the disco scene are a nice touch in bringing a blue-collar / white-collar couple together.
The acting and production values are so polished that I found it hard to believe this is an independent British film. Alistair Cameron's cinematography beautifully captures the both sides of Craig's world, and the neon-lit London streets are especially effective. Some fancy-footed editing by Jan Lang keeps the film moving at a fast clip. Steve Bell is a real boxer and he won British Amateur Boxing Association's featherweight title in 1998, the same year this film was made. Bell, Rose, and Behr all deliver standout performances, and Chris Hargreaves is genuinely sympathetic as Craig's brother, Tony. But it's Roger Daltrey who really steals the show. This former lead screamer of The Who plays Kelvin as a decadent old queen with an eye for boys of barely legal age. He wields his power with vicious verbal attacks and cynical innuendoes, distancing everyone from his own loneliness. Daltrey makes Kelvin the kind of person you love to hate, and he obviously relished playing the part.
Like It Is is a winner. You won't feel sucker-punched by this one.
• The Wolves of Kromer
The Wolves of Kromer is billed as an alleged allegory, and "A Modern Fairytale About Lust, Greed, and Sexuality." The "wolves" here are gay outsiders in the local community. They sport Eurotrash hairdos, Spock-like pointed and pierced ears, and—get this—they wear fur coats with tails attached to the back. Sorry, but I just didn't buy this image at all. And these "wolves" looked absolutely ridiculous disco-dancing around a campfire.
There are two subplots about the wolves Seth and Sebastian falling in love, and two old ladies trying to kill off their mistress, then, in turn, blame it on the wolves. None of it really comes together, and waiting for something to happen quickly becomes intolerable. At one point, the ladies claim, "We found the Missus outside last night. She must have been sleepwalking in her wheelchair." That's a pretty clumsy statement because the Missus's bedroom is on the second floor of a house with no elevator.
The keepcase says the film runs 100 minutes; IMDb has it listed at 82 minutes; my DVD player clocked it at 75 minutes. Still too long for what it fails to accomplish. I have to admit the cinematography by Laura Remacha is stunning, and it's the film's only asset. First Run Features' 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is sharp and bright, and the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, crisp and clear.
You can toss this one to some real wolves, but I'll bet they'll stay away from it, too.
"Well, I poured you a cup of tea this morning."
For Boyfriends, I should simply refer you to my review of Love! Valour! Compassion! because here's yet another tedious, Xeroxed account of disintegrating gay relationships. Straight people won't want to endure the angst, and gay men will have a "been there, and haven't we seen this all before?" gut reaction. Granted, the specter of AIDS doesn't hover in the background as it did in L!V!C!, but Boyfriends offers nothing new.
Paul and Ben are hosting an Easter weekend birthday party for Ben, and they've invited friends to their country estate. They bicker about—well, anything at all they can find to bicker about; and they are (surprise!) pondering a breakup. Matt and Owen are celebrating the "anniversary" of their third month together. It's also been a test-period because Matt wants to make their relationship permanent, but that would include being monogamous, and Owen (surprise!) still likes quickies with strangers. Will is a counselor for disturbed boys, and six years ago he helped teenager Adam through some crises. Adam is now 20 years old and (surprise!) Will's latest one-night stand, so Will invites Adam to the party. James is another friend who arrives a little late because (surprise!), he just had a tryst in the bushes with Owen.
Boyfriends is well acted by relatively unknown performers, but the story has been overworked and the dialogue re-hacked into banality. It can all be summed up in two lines, "Are we interrupting something? Are you two quarrelling or making up?" On the keepcase, critics have called Boyfriends a "perceptive comedy" and "very funny." The only laugh I got was at the very end of the closing credits. After literally dozens of thank-yous, the last reads: "No Thanks to the Residents of the Coupwater Estate." The best thing about this film is hearing Dinah Washington's version of "I Wish I Knew the Name (of the Boy in My Dreams)," which is played several times.
First Run Features' transfer looks to have been cropped, because several of the names in the title sequence are cut off. The zoom feature on my remote also has a "Shrink" option, and it appears Boyfriends may have been shot in 1.78:1 aspect ratio, though I can't confirm this because there are no tech specs at IMDb.
NOTE: I do have one reason for suggesting that you rent this DVD. There is an 11-minute short directed by Barry Purves, and narrated by Derek Jacobi. Made in 1995, "Achilles tells us the bold tale of the erotic relationship between Achilles and his young soldier-lover, Patroclus." What makes the short so astonishing is that Purves has utilized the old-fashioned, Ray Harryhausen style of stop-motion animation.
His two lead characters have the look of classic marble statues brought to life—sans togas or fig leaves! The other soldiers wear Taurus-like masks and are donned in S&M leather chest straps and studded jocks. Not only is the animation amazingly well done, but also Purves tells the story using terrifically edited and surreal montage sequences. The short is in brilliantly bright widescreen color, with a gray marble frame at the top and bottom.
In 2002, Barry Purves won the British Animation Award and The Chicago International Children's International Films Award for Hamilton Mattress. This 31-minute short is available on DVD and I plan to check it out.
Boyfriends is just another forgettable bitchfest, but if your local DVD outlet has discount days, or offers a free DVD after so many rentals, pick this one up and watch Achilles. It's better than Troy, and about 20 times shorter!
Way overpriced at thirty bucks a pop for the three individual titles, First Run Features is also asking too much for their boxed set, The Best of Gay Britain. You can go to Amazon's marketplace and buy a new copy of Like It Is for a reasonable twenty dollars, the average price of an indie import—and you'll get more than your money's worth of excellent acting, direction, and a story that will hit you with all the power of a bare-knuckled punch in the face. You may want to rent The Wolves of Kromer as a gay novelty, but Boyfriends is "a must to avoid."
In order of appearance: Not guilty! Guilty. GUILTY!
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Scales of Justice, Boyfriends
Perp Profile, Boyfriends
Studio: First Run Features
Distinguishing Marks, Boyfriends
• Achilles: A Stop-Motion Animated Short
Scales of Justice, Like It Is
Perp Profile, Like It Is
Studio: First Run Features
Distinguishing Marks, Like It Is
Scales of Justice, The Wolves Of Kromer
Perp Profile, The Wolves Of Kromer
Studio: First Run Features
Distinguishing Marks, The Wolves Of Kromer
• Commentary with Director and Writer
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