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Friday Film Review: Shelter

Friday Film Review: Shelter

Shelter (2007)

Genre: GLBT Romance

Grade: B

This movie had been mentioned so many times on other movie reviews here and at Netflix that I knew I needed to see it. I’m probably going to disappoint a lot of people with my grade but while I liked it, it ultimately comes across to me as a candy fluff film. Sweet, likeable, nice while it lasts but not something that will stick with me very long.

“Forced to give up his dreams of art school, Zach (Trevor Wright) spends his days working a dead-end job and helping his needy sister (Tina Holmes) care for her son (Jackson Wurth). In his free time he surfs, draws and hangs out with his best friend, Gabe (Ross Thomas), who lives on the wealthy side of town. When Gabe’s older brother, Shaun (Brad Rowe), returns home, he is drawn to Zach’s selflessness and talent. Zach falls in love with Shaun while struggling to reconcile his own desires with the needs of his family.”

This is an indie movie that doesn’t look like one. I’ve watched a lot of Indie films and usually end up accepting the shortcuts the directors are forced to deal with. From what the director and two main actors say in the commentary, the film was shot in three weeks, mostly on location with certain scenes being grabbed and filmed when the opportunity was there. Honestly, except for the subject matter, it’s not obvious. Or not *that* obvious. Some scenes – like Zach and his girlfriend Tori on a bluff at the beach or Zach and Shaun talking in the garden at Shaun’s parents’ house – were shot racing for the last bit of sun and are absolutely beautiful. The montage shots of the ocean are lovely too – even if I’m not sure why those shots are there beyond showing that Zach loves to surf. Some directors actually thrive under tight shooting conditions and – at least in this case – Jonah Markowitz is one of them.

“Shelter” has a great sense of place and culture. These are surfers living in SoCal. Gabe is almost a stereotype of it and I could easily see him calling everyone “Duuuuude” and actually meaning it. He, Zach and Shaun come across as natural young men – interested in surfing, drinking beer, telling jokes and getting laid. Zach and his sister Jeanne ooze a working class vibe. Life has obviously not been as easy for them as for Shaun and Gabe and it shows – from the slightly run down SUV Zach drives to the ratty house with a concrete back yard to Jeanne’s hard edge desperation to get out of there, whatever the cost.

The film doesn’t deal in obvious gay stereotypes. There are no drag queens, no queer best friends, decorating is never mentioned and the fashion sense is young male grab-whatever-shirt-doesn’t-smell-the-most. There is no sashaying, no limp wrists, no clubbing – in fact there is no camp at all. Zach and Shaun could be any sexual orientation males. It’s obviously a gay themed movie but it doesn’t come across to me as one that is being strictly marketed to the GLBT community – it’s very open to anyone and a film that I think anyone can enjoy.

So, what could I possibly find to harsh about and call fluff? Shaun is out and comfortable about his sexuality. Zach has had a long term girlfriend even if hints are dropped that their relationship isn’t rosy – tepid and more like friends is a good way to describe it – but has he ever thought about being attracted to men? I didn’t get that feeling and his acceptance of his new sexual reality seems too easy. Yeah, he wavers a touch and push-pulls a tiny bit but those scenes seem more obligatory than visceral. Shaun is also extremely accommodating of Zach’s am I/aren’t I? moments – perhaps because he’s older and already been through it. Still he’s waiting with open arms and a lack of “are you sure *this* time as opposed to the others.” Were I he, I’d be a little wary for a bit longer.

The movie also avoids getting too deeply into conflicts. Zach is afraid of what others will say if his new relationship becomes known. He’s f*cking his best friend’s older brother and that best friend is obviously into p*ssy. But when Gabe and Zach finally talk, Gabe is all “fine, it’s cool, I’m the one you used to come talk to, is it true guys give the best head, are you attracted to that guy walking down the street?” easy with it. Even the whole “you’re involved with my sibling” aspect of it is glossed over. Jeanne seems like she’s going to be the major sticking point after she says things like she doesn’t want her son around Shaun or “why are you spending all this time with Shaun/you’re not a fag, are you?” to Zach. But in the major, final scene of the film, she caves and says almost nothing. Even Tori, Zach’s girlfriend, seems hardly to care. And we never see any scenes of these people finding out for sure about Zach’s new reality. Each of them somehow seems to already know what’s going on when they finally have these conversations with Zach. That’s some gossip grapevine going on in this town.

One thing I do like is how what turns out to be the main source of conflict isn’t the typical gay movie one. Zach’s character toys with the dreaded martyr syndrome. He puts off his dreams of going to art school in order to work a lousy, low paying job. His older sister plays on his sense of responsibility to pawn off the care of her 5 year old son while she goes out and parties all night. I like the relationship between Zach and his nephew Cody – who is an incredibly unselfconscious young actor – and the final resolution of who keeps Cody and what his future might be is positive. What makes this whole subplot a win for me is that this could happen to anyone, anywhere. It says that not every crisis in a GLBT life revolves around AIDS/coming out/discrimination.

This is a positive take on coming out movies. It’s got characters to care about, is lovely to look at with swirling ocean waves and gorgeous sunsets, offers some humor and laughs, ends on a positive note and no one dies. But it also skims over a lot of conflict potential like a stone skipping across water and all the characters seem way too accepting of gays. Sure this would be great if this was always how it happens in real life but as portrayed, it’s like a gay friendly AU. It’s head and shoulders above lots of other gay movies I’ve seen, yet I can’t help but say if I were watching the same movie only with hetero characters, I’d have been left feeling ultimately let down with the fluff factor.


Friday Film Review: The Princess Bride

Friday Film Review: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride (1987)
Genre: Fantasy/Fairy Tale/Romance
Grade: A-

“Death can not stop true love.”

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

I’ve actually been a little scared to write this review. It’s been such a favorite story of mine – both the book which I read yonks ago as a teenager and the movie which I’ve loved for years – and a cult favorite of so many people that I admit the desire to do it justice almost tied me into knots. But finally I pulled out my DVD copy for my 451st watching, made copious notes and took a deep breath before sitting down at my computer. Here goes. Be gentle with me if I don’t quote your favorite line.

Buttercup (Robin Wright Penn) and Wesley (Cary Elwes) have finally admitted their love for each other when Wesley goes off to seek his fortune before they marry. But after he’s reported as having been killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts, Buttercup mourns for five years. At that point, she’s coerced into an engagement with Prince Humperdinck of Florin (Chris Sarandon) whom she doesn’t love.

When Buttercup is kidnapped by three mercenaries Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), Fezzik (Andre the Giant) and Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), a mysterious man in black follows them and defeats each mercenary with swordplay, wrestling skills and superior logic plus some advanced planning. It’s then that the identity of the man in black is revealed – though it’s hard to see why Buttercup didn’t catch on earlier.

But Prince Humperdinck, aided by his trusty six fingered man Count Rugen (Christopher Guest) has a nefarious plan which is only revealed when he catches up with the runaway pair. Now it’ll take all Inigo’s sword skill, Fezzik’s strength, Wesley’s superior intellect and planning skills plus a miracle pill, a holocaust cloak and a wheelbarrow to save the day.

“Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

William Goldman’s book is close to perfection. It’s an amazing adventure, it’s funny, it’s poignant and it rips fairy tales while paying true homage to them. For years it begged to be made into a movie but it took years before Rob Reiner, who also loves the book, took the helm and finally things got underway. Goldman adapted his own book into the script which mostly manages to retain its charm and wit and breathtaking adventure while not getting bogged down in all the details which are okay in a book but not a movie.

The casting is spot on. Elwes has the athleticism and humor plus the physical comedy needed to play Wesley. “This is true love – you think this happens every day?” He’s also damned good looking in an “Errol Flynn with a pencil thin mustache” kind of way. Robin Wright Penn is a good choice to play one of the most beautiful women in the world – after she scrubbed her neck a bit – and displays some gumption as Buttercup though as the titular character in the book/movie I wish Goldman had let her do a bit more than yell for Wesley. Count Rugen describes her as a touch simple and I tend to agree. Sarandon is both handsome and venial and can pout well in the end. I like how he can immediately convey that there’s something not quite right with his character but without giving it all away too soon.

Of the three mercenaries, Mandy Patinkin is my favorite though Andre is running almost neck and neck with him. Their obvious friendship and chemistry is one of the joys of the film. The effort that Patinkin and Elwes put into their sword practicing shows – which is a good thing since they engage in the best sword fight in history and Goldman had taken the time to get all the correct fencing styles mentioned. And when Inigo finally tracks down the man who killed his father and then dispatches him – I cheer madly every time.

“Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father. Prepare to die!”

Christopher Guest is delightfully evil as Rugen, the man with an interest in pain but who is still concerned about his Prince. “Get some rest. If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.” Billy Crystal and Carol Kane are side splitting as Miracle Max – “The King’s stinking son fired me, and thank you so much for bringing up such a painful subject. While you’re at it, why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?” – and his wife Valerie. “Have fun storming the castle!”

Peter Falk and Fred Savage are charming as the grandfather who reads the book to his grandson. This is also a fabulous way to convey information about the story which would have come off as an info dump any other way. “Is this a kissing book?” And look for Peter Cook in a funny bit part as the plummy voiced bishop. “Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam…”

One character who does not work as well for me is Wallace Shawn as Vizzini. Not only does he not look like the Sicilian he’s supposed to be but while everyone else deadpans the humor of the story and makes it work, he forces his lines which then come off as strident or smirky rather than sarcastic and funny. He does have a great exchange with Inigo though. Vizzini: “HE DIDN’T FALL? INCONCEIVABLE.”
Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

There are some cheesy special effects such as the climb up the Cliffs of Insanity, only two R.O.U.S.s in the Fire Swamp and the substitution of the Pit of Despair for the much more intricate Zoo of Death from the book but with only $16 million to spend, they still made it look pretty darn good.

I love that since its release, it’s become a classic that adults and children can both enjoy. It’s a charming, very funny, very witty fable. But it’s also “not just your basic, average, every day, ordinary, run of the mill, ho-hum fairy tale. It’s got “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” in short, it’s got almost everything and it’s one of my all time favorites. A-

“There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.”