Saturday Church

(USA 2017)

Ulysses (Luka Kain) is a quiet, delicate teen who lives in Queens and is just starting to figure out his sexual identity — it involves wearing panty hose under his jeans. When his father dies, he becomes the “man of the house.” Unfortunately, his mother (Margot Bingham), who works all the time, is already on edge because she caught him wearing her clothes. Ulysses shares a bedroom with his younger brother, Abe (Jaylin Fletcher), who knows that he’s still rummaging through mom’s closet on the sly and gives him shit for it. School is no respite because Ulysses’s classmates are jerks.

Enter stern Aunt Rose (Regina Taylor) to help at home while mom is away at work. She takes charge, usurping Ulysses and his mother as the master of the domain. She’s not about to have a dress-wearing freak around, so she pushes Ulysses toward the one cure she knows: the Lord.

Ulysses escapes to the Christopher Street Pier, where he meets a gang of “drag queens”: Ebony (MJ Rodriguez), Dijon (Indya Moore), and Heaven (Alexia Garcia). They take him to “Saturday Church,” a space in Greenwich Village where one night a week trans mother hen Joan (Kate Bornstein) offers a meal, a shower, clothes, perhaps a spot to vogue, and companionship to homeless LGBTQ kids. This is where Ulysses finds his groove.

Too bad mean Aunt Rose is waiting for him to come home.

Damon Cardasis’s first feature length film is a winning mix of Moonlight (https://moviebloke.com/2016/11/19/moonlight/ ), La La Land (https://moviebloke.com/2016/10/13/la-la-land/ ), and Tangerine (https://moviebloke.com/2015/07/28/tangerine/ ) with just the right splash of Paris is Burning (https://moviebloke.com/2016/08/26/paris-is-burning/ ). Saturday Church has some shortcomings, but the film oozes so much charm and warmth that I found it easy to forgive its flaws. Some of the songs and dance numbers are better than others — the song in the locker room and the other with Ulysses singing to his new boyfriend (Marquis Rodriguez) as they walk to the train stand out, especially when flower petals start falling. It’s really cool.

The acting is really good all around, but Kain is particularly awesome. He gives palpable tenderness and vulnerability to his character. The so called “drag queens” are not just fierce but downright touching. The way they save Ulysses is sweet. They make you long for a friend who has your back like they do. The story here totally sold me. I look forward to what’s next from Cardasis.

With Stephen Conrad Moore, Peter Y. Kim, Evander Duck Jr.

Production: Spring Pictures, Round Films

Distribution: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Screening introduced and followed by a live Q and A with Damen Cardasis

82 minutes
Not rated

(Directors Guild of America) B-

Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival

http://www.samuelgoldwynfilms.com/saturday-church/

God’s Own Country

(UK 2017)

Francis Lee’s first feature God’s Own Country isn’t something I’d expect to open a film festival, but already it’s opened two: the 71st Edinburgh International Film Festival and the 35th Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival. I caught it at the latter.

God’s Own Country is a slow burner about a romance between a frustrated young farmer and a migrant Romanian worker. It doesn’t start out like a typical love story, it doesn’t develop like one, and it certainly doesn’t end like one. Kudos to Lee for that. In the end, it succeeds on multiple levels.

Set in rural Yorkshire, Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) is the isolated 20-something son of a middle-aged sheep farmer (Ian Hart) whose days are numbered. While his father is dying, Johnny plugs away caring for calves and sheep, obviously resenting every minute of it. Something is amiss, something that has nothing to do with the farm.

Why are you so weird, boy? Johnny are you queer, boy? Turns out, yes: we learn this early on in the film at a cattle market, where Johnny picks up a trick (John McCrea) and fucks him in the back of a trailer. This small scene tells us all we need to know about where Johnny is with his sexuality through his terse response at the end of this tryst: his trick invites him for a pint, which Johnny coldly, emphatically, and violently declines.

Enter Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a hot Romanian farmhand who shows up just in time for “lambing,” or birthing lambs. He’s not a talker, but his eyes and his hands say everything. Johnny is intrigued. So are we in the audience.

Deliberately paced, God’s Own Country is a big statement composed of small, seemingly inconsequential moments. Each one is anything but. Like a horror movie, a few scenes literally make me call out to Johnny to ask him, “What are you doing?” Comparisons to Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain are inevitable, but this is not the same story. First of all, there’s no “I can’t quit you” moment. Second, I like to think the ending is much happier even if it leaves a lot to the imagination. I can’t wait to see what Lee does next.

With Gemma Jones, Harry Lister Smith, Melanie Kilburn, Liam Thomas , Patsy Ferran, Sarah White, Alexander Suvandjiev, Stefan Dermendjiev

Production: Inflammable Films, Magic Bear Productions, Shudder Films

Distribution: Picturehouse Entertainment (UK), Orion Pictures (USA), Samuel Goldwyn Films (USA)

Screening introduced and followed by a live Q and A with director Francis Lee and actor Alec Secareanu

104 minutes
Not rated

(Orpheum Theatre) B+

Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival 

http://www.godsowncountryfilm.com