Christmas, Again

(USA 2015)

Nothing puts me in the Christmas spirit like a gloomy holiday story. Noel (Kentucker Audley) sells Christmas trees on a makeshift lot on a sidewalk in Brooklyn. He works an all-night 12-hour shift. He constantly has to ride his worker, Nick (Jason Shelton), and Nick’s girlfriend (Oona Roche) to get anything done. He fields petty questions and solves petty holiday problems for petty, self-absorbed customers. He sleeps and eats—I wouldn’t call it living—in a trailer on the street, where he survives on a diet of energy pills and antidepressants stashed in an Advent calendar. He buys scratch-off lottery tickets for fun. Oh yeah, he broke up with his girlfriend sometime in the last year. Noel seems lonely. Or is he just someone who doesn’t need the company of others?

One night while working, Noel comes across a woman, Lydia (Hannah Gross), passed out on a bench in a park. Their paths—and her jittery boyfriend’s—cross a few times, and that’s it. 

Christmas, Again probably is not going to end up being anyone’s favorite Christmas movie anytime soon, but it works on quite a few levels. More a string of quiet events than a full story, its real achievement is the mood it sets. Dolorous and blue, the camera moves slowly and blurs the background leaving only hints of cold colors. The cinematography (Sean Price Williams) is beautiful, making the shots literally an opaque blue. I loved the old distorted Christmas music that sounds like it’s playing from an AM radio, the Christmas lights permanently out of focus in the background, and the uneasy, unnatural, and sometimes suspenseful interactions between Noel and Lydia, both of whom are easy on the eyes. There’s a palpable sense of despondency that comes through here.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B

http://www.xmasagain.com

I Am Michael

(USA 2015)

In the late Nineties and early 2000s, I picked up XY Magazine whenever I saw it on the news rack, usually at Borders, Tower Records, or Unabridged. It was a sort of gay culture Sassy meets Star Hits—I’m showing my age here, I know. Unbeknownst to me, XY contributor Michael Glatze went from “out” in San Francisco to poster boy for Evangelical conversion therapy in a matter of years. This film chronicles his seemingly bizarre change of heart.

I Am Michael has the makings of a winner: a complicated and interesting true story, a star cast, and timely subject matter. Sadly, it’s a big disappointment. James Franco is just okay as Glatze—never mind that his real-life sexual ambiguity rings tired these days. However true to life the events in the film may be, so many gay cliches—circuit parties, techno music, three-ways, drugs, fake blonde hair—are thrown in that it feels flat, hollow, and insulting after awhile. Worse, cowriter/director Justin Kelly gives short, superficial treatment to what drives Glatze’s metamorphosis; he provides a basic explanation but fails to get inside the guy’s head in any meaningful way. On top of all that, the film has the cheap look of a made-for-television movie. Surely, a gay can do better than this.

On the positive side, Zachary Quinto as Glatze’s suffering partner, Bennet, is great; he expertly builds his character’s frustration and weariness with Glatze’s constant angst and Bible diving while remaining tender when he needs to (for example, as he does when Glatze calls him out of the blue). Emma Roberts as Rebekah, the girl Glatze meets at Bible school and eventually marries, is also great; she plays a “nice girl” really well, and she makes us feel her confused uneasiness with his past. Both are memorable high points in a forgettable film.

(AMC River East) D

Chicago International Film Festival

http://www.justink.me

Bloodsucking Bastards

(USA 2015)

Bloodsucking Bastards exceeded my expectations—which admittedly were not high. A weird sort of mix of Office Space and Office Killer with Twilight and Dead Alive, it was stupid, sophomoric, gory fun. The plot– the head of a failing sales department hires a vampire to improve productivity– could have moved faster, but the acting was surprisingly good. Both Joey Kern (Tim) and Fran Kranz (Evan) were highlights.

Probably the most “independent” film I’ve seen all year, Bloodsucking Bastards thankfully did not aim to be more than it is.  Bravo!

(Facets) C+

http://www.bloodsuckingbastards.com