Thursday, August 21, 2008

20:08 (Shelter)

Thoughts and screenshots from the 20th minute and 8th second of films released in 2008. I was missing my 20:07 series so I'm bringing it back albeit in an altered form. Looking only @ this year's titles.

Shelter (Jonah Markowitz). Released March 21st, 2008 (one week prior to its DVD bow)

Zach: You dating anyone?
Shaun: No, just broke up.
Zach: Is that why you're really down here?
Shaun: Nah, nah, nah... nah. [pause] Yeah, actually it is.
That exchange, twenty minutes into this pleasant Here!-bound film, takes place between young confused Zach (Trevor Wright) and his best friend's older brother Shaun (Brad Rowe, pictured), who was once his mentor in surfing. Zach and Shaun will soon become lovers, much to their initial surprise. This conversation, taking place before Zach has allowed himself to understand anything about Shaun's personal life, is typical of Shelter's mellow and modest charms: slightly funny but you don't laugh, mildly sad but you won't need tissues, flirtatious without ever making it to sexy.

As I was watching the film I remembered floating in the ocean in spots where non-threatening waves would jostle me around a bit. Sometimes I was up: wow, this gay movie actually has real characterizations (shock) and ideas about topics other than Gay (double shock). Sometimes I was down: I started to get the nagging suspicion that all involved were capable of more than they were giving. If Shelter never quite delves into some of those rare and welcome non-sexuality based issues it raises (namely the responsibilities of non-parental family members to children, friendships that cross class lines, and the awkward transitions of fully adult relationships that started as childhood friendships) ...well, at least it's raising them. Too few gay movies ever look beyond the three favored topics of the genre: AIDS, the coming out process and today's favored sub-subgenre: the raunchy sex comedy. I wish there was a little more heat between the straight leads in Shelter (yes even gay-financed gay-audience seeking films favor gay-for-pay casting) but I liked the film.

One of the ways you can tell this is a step above the typical disposable GLBT film is the look of it. While it's definitely on the bland side (perhaps a budget issue) there are also actual ideas present. Look at the way the characters seem to match their environments. Consider Shaun's pad (left) which is all light and airy with cool greens and blues... people dress accordingly there. Then consider Zach's humbler abode (pictured right). It's not quite Garden State chameleon kitsch but the idea is there: Zach can't escape his tiny low-end life. He's starting to dissolve into the space, becoming one with the walls and furniture. I didn't realize until I was writing this that the director was once a production designer. That bit of trivia doesn't surprise me at all.

Thankfully Shelter differentiates itself from its own environs more than Zach himself. I may have wanted the movie to be more (it's so vague with its more intriguing elements that one imagines that maybe it should have been a television series instead: flesh this thing out!) but it's still better than the typical indies one sees in queer places like Logo or Here!


adam k. said...

Nathaniel, what did you think of the German coming-out film Summer Storm? I vaguely remember seeing it on one of your year-end grade lists (before I knew what it was). Have you seen it?

I can understand the opinion (held by many critics, per rotten tomatoes) that it was mediocre/typical, but I thought it was a cut above the usual crap gay films. I really enjoyed it.

Looking forward to this Shelter thing. It's always so exciting to see an intelligent and humane film about gay people.

Adam said...

I just saw 'Shelter' this past week and am pretty much on the same page as you. My qualms with it passing over some of its best themes were mostly forgiven at the sight of Brad Rowe looking like Brad Rowe.

I agree with the Adam above that 'Summer Storm' was a nice surprise. I've gotten pretty bored with coming out films lately, but for whatever reason that one felt a little more valuable. It goes through the motions as they all do, but it relied on quality filmmaking as much as it did its sincerity.

par3182 said...

i appreciated shelter sidestepping the middle class angst that goes hand in hand with so many coming out films; zach's entrapment by his family commitments and the working class suspicion of artistic tendencies made the story so much more intriguing

although i lost interest when all the pieces started to fit together a little too neatly towards the end

trevor wright is a hell of an actor - i hope he gets more work

tina holmes was kind of wasted as the controlling sister; the packed house i saw it with at the melbourne gay film fest hissed her like she was a cartoon villain

adam k. said...

Tina Holmes was in another good gay movie??? YAY for her.

I need to watch Edge of Seventeen again. If it were cheaper, and I had money, I'd buy it.

re: Summer Storm, it helped that all the actors were very good, and the sense of naturalism was totally there. Plus, the lead actually (gasp!) DIDN'T look like a model. He was just... "interesting" looking. How refreshing. And I think the fact that the film was German gave it some instant automatic arthouse cred in my mind, deserved or not.


I liked summer storm too but it was way cheesy once they were totally enmeshed in the summer camp portion and the storm and the race and what have you.

agreed about the non-model look being a plus. I actually liked that about Shelter too. Not that Trevor and Brad aren't attractive men. They totally are. But Brad Rowe has a few wrinkles now and Trevor has one of those great changing faces where one moment he is totally hot and the next he's visibly haggard and way older than his years. A good actor's face I think.

As per Tina Holmes I was going to say something about her but decided to edit the post shorter. I always love her and even if she couldn't quite sell this particular Bad Mommy™ I still think she's almost instantly moving just by showing up.

Rick Schoen said...

Thanks for some Shelter love. I watched the DVD again recently, this time with the production commentary. I find new things to enjoy each time. The more times I watch it the more I enjoy Tina Holmes' performance. Of course, Trevor and Brad are great. I totally understand what you said about wanting the film to be more. What a great series this would make.

gabrieloak said...

I caught Shelter last April in San Francisco and I think it has a bit more substance and is better acted than a few movies I've viewed lately with gay relationships. The two leads have great chemistry and I liked the subplot of the sister being the less reliable character. The end of the film could have been developed more--this couple now has the responsibility of a kid-- but overall this is a solid film.