Thursday, June 9, 2011

Boys And Their Toys

The past week has been filled with a media firestorm about Congressman Anthony Weiner. From outraged cries demanding Weiner's resignation to some priceless moments of comedy from his old friend, Jon Stewart, Weiner's exploits have been headline news. To my mind, the three most level-headed, rational, and humane articles written about the situation were:
It should also be pointed out that most men have two functioning hands. If you put a camera-equipped smart phone in one of those hands and a penis (their own or someone else's) in the other, there's a pretty good chance that blood will not be rushing to their brain.

Two new films being shown at Frameline's 35th San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival rely  on electronics and social networking to move their plots forward. In each film, a man who has been in a relatively stable and loving relationship finds his life upended by petty lies and stupid moves. One of those men just happens to be a politician.

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In October 1993, when Mary Matalin and James Carville got married, many a cynic wondered if the road to the altar for the two political consultants from opposing presidential campaigns had been paved with fantastically angry sex. Because Sweden's political landscape (and culture) is so different from America's,  Tova Magnusson's new political comedy, Four More Years, is a very special treat. With an energy level reminiscent of 2009's In The Loop, this film focuses on:
  • David Holst (Björn Kjellman), the adored front runner of Sweden's conservative political party.
  • Fia (Tova Magnusson), David's athletic wife and chief assistant.
  • Jörgen (André Wickström), David and Fia's right-hand man.
  • Martin Kovac (Eric Ericson), the openly gay darling of the rival Socialist party who is being considered by Sweden's Prime Minister for an important promotion.
As the film begins, David is appearing opposite a fawning television interviewer on election night. It seems obvious to everyone that he is about to become Sweden's next Prime Minister. However, at the last moment, a sudden shift in voting from one of the smaller parties ruins his political dreams and brings a shocking defeat.

Fia (Tova Magnusson), David (Björn Kjellman), and Jörgen
(André Wickström) are shocked by the election night results

Over the next two years, David sinks into a state of depression and political irrelevance. Most of his time is spent running from one meeting to another as Fia and Jörgen hand him color-coded reminders of what he should say to each group of his constituents. While they keep David (who is quite adept at getting his talking points correct) on a tight schedule, the man hasn't had an original thought in a long time. Because of  his depression, his marriage to Fia has fallen into a rut.

The last thing David expects is to find himself falling in love with one of his political rivals, a man of unbounding charm who shares a passion for the same rock group. Martin has just been dumped by his hunky, young boyfriend Hugo (Richard Ulfsäter). Although David has always clung to the fantasy that he was bisexual, Fia never had any doubts that he was gay. She married David because they were best friends and worked well together as a team.

Martin (Eric Ericson) and David (Björn Kjellman)

Instead of the usual angst in which a gay man worries about introducing his boyfriend to his parents, David must suffer the agony of telling his parents that the man they have drawn an instant liking to is a Socialist.  Meanwhile, Martin has to decide whether to accept a major political appointment (which would mean having no time for a personal relationship).

One evening, when Martin has invited David over to his apartment for an intimate dinner for two, Hugo shows up and tries to woo Martin back into a relationship. When David sees the two men kissing, he is heartbroken and has no idea how to handle the situation. Upon returning home he encounters further humiliation when he walks in on Jörgen shtupping Fia.

For David, there is no sense of marital indignation. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.  And besides, this is all happening within David's political family.

Four More Years is an intelligent, sophisticated political comedy whose politicians are not hounded by a celebrity-crazed media and are thus capable of having reasonably private lives. While it's nice to see a film in which two middle aged men of ordinary looks (and with relatively unremarkable bodies) are physically intimate, what really shines through is Eric Ericson's sweet charm and obvious charisma.

Although the trailer for this film lacks English subtitles, it's easy to figure out why Martin's persistence wins out in the end. The only question is how he will finally get the stubborn and confused David to be realistic. Magnusson does a beautiful job in crafting the film's surprise ending.

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Last year, Frameline screened J.C. Calciano's comedy about an average-looking gay guy trying to find true love in West Hollywood. Following the success of Is It Just Me?, Calciano became involved in filming a series of video skits on YouTube entitled Steam Room Stories.

Calciano's latest film to be screened at Frameline is eCupid, a cautionary tale that could have saved Anthony Weiner's ass if he had seen it a year ago. On the surface, eCupid would seem to be about a healthy gay man who has it all.

Marshall Thomas (Houston Rhines) is a handsome young employee at an ad agency. He and his lover, Gabe Horton (Noah Schuffman), own a lovely home which they've shared for nearly seven years. Their best friends are another gay couple, Chris #1 (Andy Anderson) and Chris #2 (Joe Komara), who don't hesitate to spend part of their evenings looking at other gay men's profiles online.

Marshall, however, is down in the dumps. He's bored at work where his boss, Mr. Hutchington (John Callahan), wants him to produce the same old ad design for a watch manufacturer.  Nor is he getting a whole lot of loving at home from Gabe (whose attempts to keep his failing café in business have left him in a state of perpetual exhaustion).

Marshall (Houston Rhines) and Gabriel (Noah Schuffman)

To make matters worse, Marshall is about to turn 30. So one night, while feeling unappreciated and unloved, he downloads a new app onto his computer. By the time he has risen the next morning, eCupid (which is much more aggressive than Grindr) has harvested all the contacts from his smart phone and computer and started to reorganize his life. After sending Gabe a text message informing him that Marshall wants to date other people, the software starts sending hunky young men over to their house who are more than eager to have sex with Marshall.
  • Jimmy (Chris Rubeiz) is a rather chunky guy who is still using an old college picture in his online profile. Although he originally thought Marshall was hot, he's turned off by Marshall's clumsy suggestion that they go out to dinner and assumes that Marshall thinks Jimmy just wants to be fed.
  • Carson (Gary Riotto) is a professional party planner who wastes no time rearranging the furniture and inviting lots of hot boys over to Marshall's house.
  • Dawson (Galen Drever) is a horny frat boy who, within moments of arriving, has pulled a giant latex dildo from his backpack in anticipation of getting down to business.
Dawson (Galen Drever) and Marshall (Houston Rhines)

When Gabe erupts after supposedly being dumped via text messaging, Marshall's lame protestations are easily misinterpreted. It doesn't help matters that Marshall's friend from work, a new hire named Keith (Matt Lewis), is trying to make out with Marshall when Gabe walks in the door.

With Keith guiding Marshall through an extremely superficial party scene, Marshall starts to realize what he's lost. Meanwhile, Richard (Brad Pennington) is trying to get the emotionally wounded Gabe to join him on a dinner date. On his way to pick up his belongings from their cabin in the woods, Gabe stops at a mysterious diner whose all-knowing waitress (Morgan Fairchild) is the voice of the eCupid software application.

Calciano has no problems finding handsome young actors to provide the necessary eye candy to satisfy his audience. His script provides a series of vicarious thrills for those who would never be categorized as the "The Young, The Buff, and the Restless." While eCupid doesn't aim to be much more than romantic fluff (it will probably sell well as a DVD), it does offer viewers a new twist on the old adage: "Beware your fantasy-- it might just come true."  Here's the trailer:

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