Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studios’ latest box office behemoth, certainly has gay appeal, what with its hunkified, occasionally shirtless leading man Chris Pratt, a preening villain played (too briefly) by a Liberace-fied Benicio Del Toro, a prominent supporting turn by stage and screen diva Glenn Close, and a queer-ish bromance between a talking raccoon and a walking tree. If all this isn’t enough, the film also features side and rear nudity of chief baddie Ronan the Accuser, personified by The Hobbit trilogy’s Lee Pace (or, perhaps in these shots, an impressive body double). I noticed several other gay men in the opening weekend screening my partner and I attended, so some of us definitely contributed to this sci-fi comedy’s stellar, $94 million bow.
The unwitting heroes of the film’s title are a ragtag, rather motley crew of five diverse aliens. Peter Quill (Pratt), who much prefers the name Star-Lord (who wouldn't?), is an earthling who was abducted by aliens as a boy in the immediate wake of his mother’s untimely death 26 years earlier. Gamora (Zoe Saldana of Avatar and Star Trek fame, as if she needed another franchise) is the green-skinned, traitorous daughter of master Marvel villain Thanos, who himself makes a brief appearance. Drax the Destroyer, played by pro wrestler Dave Bautista, is a heavily-tattooed and amusingly literal-minded strongman. And then there are Rocket and Groot, the first a genetically-enhanced critter with the ability to speak and an inflated ego (“Ain’t no other thing like me except me”) and the second a massive, self-regenerating piece of foliage with a severely limited vocabulary (“I am Groot” is all he can say, ad nauseam). These two audience pleasers are voiced, respectively and effectively, by A-listers Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel.
There is a lot of plot packed into the screenplay by James Gunn (who also directs) and Nicole Perlman between character back stories, villainous schemes, jetting from intergalactic location to location, some political history and laying the groundwork for an inevitable sequel, already scheduled for release in 2017 (in addition to other future Marvel productions). Speaking of, be sure to stay through the end credits for a terrific cameo that could well foreshadow a certain character’s further return to the big screen. Guardians of the Galaxy is also visually busy, loud, crass, unremittingly though not graphically violent, and somewhat derogatory toward women despite Close’s high-ranking role.
Some fanboys and even fellow critics are claiming Guardians ranks right up there with the original Star Wars as a humor-tinged space opera. It really doesn’t come near that classic’s filmmaking innovation or mythological sweep. Heck, it doesn’t even exceed Marvel’s own The Avengers (2012) in acting or storytelling prowess. It also takes a good hour for Gunn to find the proper blend of comedy and seriousness in Guardians of the Galaxy, as the spectacle’s first half lurches uneasily between the two. Once it hits its stride, though, the movie offers undeniable pleasures and unexpected emotional heft… especially whenever Rocket and Groot are involved.
Another new release focuses on a man who may be considered a real life hero to some, but it is doubtful Fifi Howls from Happiness will gross anywhere near $90 million. Too bad. Mitra Farahani’s beautifully modulated documentary about gay Iranian artist Bahman Mohassess is now playing in New York City courtesy of Music Box Films and is scheduled to open in Los Angeles on August 15th. Farahani not only succeeded in finding her long-missing subject living in quiet, self-imposed exile in Rome; she inadvertently captured the moment of his sudden death in 2010, which is heard but respectfully not shown.
To those unaware, as I was before watching this doc, Mohassess was a successful painter and sculptor in Iran prior to the revolution there that deposed the shah and ushered in the rule of the even less tolerant ayatollahs. The artist fled, destroying much of his own work in the process so it wouldn’t “fall into the wrong hands” or be sold to private collectors, since many of his creations had been commissioned by the government for all the people of Iran. “I am a human rights prisoner,” Mohassess declares to Farahani, whom he more often than not calls simply “the lady” during filming (he also serves as something of a co-director, often specifying how he wants certain lines subtitled or certain images used in the finished film).
The chain-smoking Mohassess comes across as well read and highly intelligent in addition to being flamboyant and outspoken, and he possessed an endearing, snickering laugh. He was also openly gay in a culture and time that largely prohibited such sexual self-expression. Mohassess wouldn’t be considered a champion of LGBT rights today, however, based on such positions he claims in the documentary as “equality is an idiotic notion” and, in regard to the growing acceptance of homosexuality, “all the (political, artistic and philosophical) beauty was in its prohibition.” It is nonetheless worth hearing and considering his perspective.
Divided into four chapters and perhaps one chapter too long, Fifi Howls from Happiness (the title refers to Mohassess’ personal favorite among his paintings) offers a remarkably uncensored glimpse into a very significant life through creation, exile and its inevitable yet noble end.
Given his critical stance on modern-day gay visibility, Mohassess likely would not approve of at least one of two new gay-interest DVD releases. I wouldn’t blame him. Eroddity(s), the latest from prolific writer-director-cinematographer-editor Steven Vasquez (Luna Park, Vampire Boys 2), is a self-described “twinkapalooza” tribute to The Twilight Zone. Sadly, talented though he is, Vasquez is no Rod Serling.
This four-story anthology (available on DVDfrom TLA Releasing) boasts plentiful full-frontal nudity plus sex of both the homo and hetero varieties, some of which appears to be non-simulated, as well as a couple of not-bad songs/musical performances. The stories deal in turn with an incestuous relationship between brothers, boyfriends cheating on each other with the help of a time-manipulating mix tape (Guardians of the Galaxy's Peter Quill might like that one), a voyeuristic high school student playing with the camera he got for Christmas, and a dead gay boy who rises from his grave seeking revenge. While they aren't bad, the middle two are overlong and all are lacking in Serling's trademark irony. What really cripples them, however, is the generally awful acting. The boys are uniformly attractive but classically trained they ain't. The sole exception out of all four mini films is Alderic Vitale, who plays a conflicted but compassionate "half breed" townie in the final story. He's got true potential.
Meanwhile, French gay porn star François Sagat is making his much-ballyhooed "mainstream" acting debut in Christophe Honore's Man at Bath (Homme au Bain), now available on DVDfrom Canteen Outlaws. Honore is well regarded for such prior international hits as Love Songs and Ma mere, but there is little that can be called mainstream about Man at Bath. The plot about two male lovers (played by Sagat and Honore regular Omar Ben Sellem) separated for a time, perhaps permanently, while one travels to New York City for work is negligible and features abundant nudity and graphic sex. The movie also serves as something of an homage to the sexual-existentialist work of American writer Dennis Cooper, who even appears in one scene as a sadistic gay neighbor.
Sagat, he of the trademark tattooed scalp, has sex appeal to spare and a body that doesn't quit. Unfortunately, he doesn't exude as much charisma playing an "average" person. It wouldn't hurt him to smile a bit more frequently, and this film does provide a good first step toward more artistically legitimate opportunities. Man at Bath, while not uninteresting, falls disappointingly short of providing complete satisfaction.
Guardians of the Galaxy: B
Fifi Howls from Happiness: B+
Man at Bath: C+
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.