With "Boys Life 4: Four Play" Strand Releasing continues its popular series of entertaining gay-themed shorts, all of which typically feature good-looking young men, most of whom are looking for Mr. Right or are caught up in a romantic dilemma. The dramatic exception is Alan Brown's 29-minute "O beautiful," which premiered last April at the Egyptian in the American Cinematheque and Outfest's annual Queer Shorts program.
"O beautiful" is one of the most eloquent, powerful films ever included in either the Queer Shorts or the "Boys Life" presentations. It opens with a high school youth, Brad (Jay Gillespie), staggering through a field at night, a gash on his head and clad only in a sweatshirt. Appearing in the darkness is a classmate, Andy (David Rogers), who has come back to rescue Brad after witnessing the sexual assault on him. Clean-cut Andy is torn with guilt: He knows what happened was wrong but also believes "Gay isn't OK with God," but this is just the beginning. Brown and cinematographer and co-producer-director Sean Morrison effectively employ a split screen to depict the separate worlds of Brad and Andy.
By coincidence, Eric Mueller, in a contrasting light mood, also uses a split screen imaginatively in his clever and amusing 16-minute "This Car Is Up." Mueller divides the screen into four sections. The lower, larger two depict the daily lives of two men. The lower left panel focuses on Pete (Michael Booth), a balding, handsome lawyer of about 30 whose office is in a high-rise building, while, in the lower right panel, Adrian (Brent Doyle), a wiry, tattooed-and-pierced bicycle messenger, goes about his rounds, which include regular deliveries to Pete's building. The upper two panels are each composed of three strips of film, frequently spinning as if they were wheels in a slot machine, a deft visual metaphor for the role chance plays in romance.
The filmstrips further express the lives and longings of the two men. On a smoke break by his building's bicycle stands, the well-tailored Pete takes note of Adrian and soon realizes that he is attracted to him beyond his look, so very different from his own. Will the wheels of fortune spin in Pete's favor, permitting another encounter with Adrian? "This Car Is Up" is a brisk work that uses the full potential of the camera to give it wit and punch.
The title of Phillip J. Bartell's "L.T.R." refers to "long-term relationship," which is what Michael (Cole Williams), 21, and Riley (Weston Mueller), 20, think they have fallen into after knowing each other two weeks in Phillip J. Bartell's wry mockumentary, which in 16 minutes shows just how short a period of time "forever" can be. There's an amusing twist that reveals just how intrusive a documentary filmmaker can be.
With rueful humor Brian Sloan's 24-minute "Bumping Heads" opens up the often painful generation gap and preoccupation with youth so prevalent in the gay community. Late at night in a hospital emergency room, Craig (Craig Chester), 35, is being treated for a head wound he suffered in a barroom brawl. At his side is Gary (Andersen Gabrych), a happy-go-lucky 24-year-old for whom Craig feels a strong attraction that is not mutual; it is possible that a potential reciprocal attraction on Gary's part could be blocked simply by his regarding Craig as ancient. In the course of Craig's hospital stay Gary's appreciation deepens, centering on the reason for Craig's scuffle, but even with this shift Sloan leaves us on a highly tentative — and completely realistic — note as to whether the two men could ever be more than friends.
Brent Sloan is the executive producer for the 87-minute "Boys Life 4," each segment of which is polished, succinctly developed and well-acted. It deserves as warm a reception from audiences as its predecessors.
'Boys Life 4: Four Play'
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: Mature themes
A Strand Releasing presentation. Executive producer Brian Sloan. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.
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