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Lez Bomb

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When is the best time to come out to your family? As Lauren (Jenna Laurenzo) is about to find out, Thanksgiving is NOT one of those times.

Lauren has been dating Hailey (Caitlin Mehner) and when things get serious she decides its time for her family to meet her girlfriend. The problem is Lauren’s family doesn’t know she’s gay. When Lauren arrives ahead of Hailey at her family’s home for Thanksgiving, she surprised by her roommate Austin (Brandon Micheal Hall). He’s been invited to celebrate the holiday with the family and Lauren’s mom Rose (Deirdre O’Connell) and dad George (Kevin Pollak) are convinced Lauren and Austin are a couple. Austin, who doesn’t quite mind the confusion, gives a few half-hearted attempts to rectify the situation but caves when confronted by an irate George. When Lauren tries to tell her parents the truth things start to spiral out of control. And that’s when the rest of the members of this wacky yet lovable family arrive.

And what a motley crew of characters they are. Lauren’s loser brother John (Davram Stiefler) has the hots for Hailey and won’t be persuaded to leave her alone. Lauren’s Grandpa (Bruce Dern) is the first to find out that Lauren and Hailey are a couple and Grandma Josephine (Cloris Leachman) is convinced Hailey is Lauren’s side dish and Austin is her main course. Aunt Maggie (Elaine Hendrix)  just wants everyone to appreciate her artichoke dip, cancer survivor uncle Ken (Rob Moran) is just happy to be there and their overly-hormonal daughter Jessica (Jordyn DiNatale) is hot for Austin. And pothead uncle Mike (Steve Guttenberg) sets the basement on fire and the whole family is uprooted to Rose’s motel for Thanksgiving dinner. And all the while poor Hailey is stuck in an awkward limbo of staying hopeful but losing faith that Lauren will make her big announcement. In the chaos, Lauren must come to terms with her sexuality and face some harsh truths about herself.

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Lez Bomb is written and directed by filmmaker Jenna Laurenzo who also stars as Lauren. This is her feature film debut and her first film, a short called Girl Night Stand, went viral. This multi-generational comedy is quirky, off-beat and all around charming. There are plenty of side-splitting moments and the humor is perfectly paced. The story itself would be ridiculous if it wasn’t grounded in some very real emotions. This film has a lot of heart. I loved the tender, somber moments in the film. For example, when its revealed Grandpa promised to pray with the rosary daily if his son Ken survived cancer was particularly touching. I also appreciated the scene when Lauren talks to her mom Rose about how she struggles with her sexuality and the inconvenient truth that it’s just easier to live a lie than to come out. In an interview with Gravitas Ventures, Laurenzo said,

“The mother-daughter story for me is the heart of the movie… Telling my mom that I was gay was one of the most challenging things because she knows me the best, and while I was afraid of disappointing her, I was equally afraid she’d be upset with herself, for missing it. But it was really me, who was not ready to be honest with myself… We often assume it’s the external pressures that make coming out difficult, and while that is also a factor, sometimes it’s the inner struggle that needs to be reconciled. That theme extends beyond sexuality.”

The film’s resolution happens a little too quickly and cleanly. I felt like there needed a few more minutes of drama before it wrapped up. Otherwise this was an incredibly enjoyable movie. Highly recommended!

Lez Bomb releases in theaters tomorrow November 9th and on VOD.

Benched

“This is about the playing. Not the winning or losing. It’s about having fun.”

Michael (Garret Dillahunt) is eager to work as assistant coach for his son’s little league baseball team. But he gets more than he bargained for with head coach Don (John C. McGinley). These two are as different as could be. Michael was a curling champ in his youth and fondly remembers the spirit of the game and has long forgotten any wins. Don, on the other hand, remembers every game and holds personal grudges when circumstances led to a catastrophic loss. Their coaching styles clash, confusing the kids who don’t know who to listen to. Should they buy into Michael’s brand of everyone-is-a-winner mentality? Or should they listen to coach Don who believes every game is a fight for glory? As the season progresses we learn more about the complicated histories of these two coaches. Michael is a recent widower starting fresh in a new town. Don is having marital issues causing him to put more of his focus on the game. Will the two find a way to work together to help the team make it to the championships?

 

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Benched is the feature film directorial debut for Robert Deaton and George Flanigen. Unlike other movies about elementary school sports, the focus here is not on the kids but on the adults. I thought this was a curious choice for the filmmakers. Besides some scenes singling out a couple of the kids in particular and a thorough introduction to each team member, we really don’t know much about them as characters. They’re not who were rooting on. Instead it’s the two coaches, both of whom are navigating through a transitional period in their lives.

Adding just a touch of estrogen to the film is Jlynn Johnson who plays Carolyn, a love interest for both Michael and Don. I wish her character was more complex but there wasn’t much room in the film for her part to bloom and blossom.

The clash between Michael and Don is a sort of metaphor for a divided America. Michael is the stereotypical lazy liberal, accepting of many, encouraging of any effort and sees all the kids as equals in their field. Don is the hard-nosed conservative with a winners-versus-losers mentality who is very vocal about the team’s hierarchy. They learn from each other and ultimately have to compromise. Perhaps the message here is a political one rather than one of personal motivation.

If you’re looking for a positive sports movies featuring kids overcoming obstacles, then look elsewhere. Benched is a much different movie. It’s a complex study of disparate individuals, in this case, two adults. The film starts off a bit cheesy and awkward but once it picks up I found it quite engrossing. The baseball scenes were fun to watch and I found myself rooting on the team. If you like sports movies and want to try something a bit different, give Benched a shot.

 

 

Benched is screening in select theaters today and also available on VOD.

Hot to Trot: Inside the World of Same-Sex Competitive Ballroom Dance

“Dancing is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.” 

In the world of ballroom dancing, there is a strict gender construct. Men and women. That’s it. To qualify for competition you must have a male dancer as leader and a female dancer as follower. But where does leave members of the LGBTQ community? Rejecting the mainstream ballroom scene, a group of dancers have sought out their own way to participate in their beloved dancesport.

“It makes a difference when you get to dance with the gender you prefer.” – Benjamin Soencksen

In a new documentary by director and producer Gail Freedman, Hot to Trot explores the little known world of same sex ballroom dance. It follows the story of six dancers as they prepare for the 2014 Gay Games, the largest and most prestigious international same-sex dance competition in the world. In NYC we have Ernesto Palma, a former meth addict from Costa Rica who found a new appreciation for taking care of his body and embraces his love of dance. He starts off with partner Robbie Tristan, a Hungarian ballroom champ who runs a dance studio. But when Tristan has to leave the country for urgent medical care, he begins a new partnership with Nikola Shpakov, a Russian dancer who is coming to terms with his sexuality and his father’s traditional values. In San Francisco there is Emily Coles, a diabetic who wears an insulin pump 24/7, and Kieren Jameson, her dance partner. Coles struggles with her medical condition while pursuing her passion for dance. As Jameson starts to slip away, she recruits her partner Katerina Blinova to help her compete.
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“Dance relationships are intimate in a way that no other relationship is.” – Emily Coles

The documentary follows these dancers over the span of four years leading up to the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland, Ohio and beyond. The film includes extensive interviews with the dances as well as their family members and spouses and judges, dance organizers and coaches. We follow as they train, compete and fall in love. Ballroom dancing is an emotional experience and the physicality of it requires the partners to be in tune with each other. It’s fascinating to see how the different pairs struggle with this as they prepare for the big day.

As a former non-competitive dancer, I was particularly fascinating with the training process. But what drew me in was how these dancers are breaking down gender binaries by rejecting the mainstream notion of male-female ballroom dancing. I wish the film had explored how these dancers made a living outside of their sport. I wanted to learn more about Tristan’s dance studio and what dream job was drawing Jameson away from ballroom dance. Did the dance support them enough or did they all have to work full-time jobs to make ends meet?

Hot to Trot shines a spotlight on the little-known world of same-sex ballroom dance and gives the dancers the platform they deserve. Their stories are joyful but come from a place of emotional pain. This compelling documentary is a must-see for anyone interested in dance or the LGBTQ community.

Hot to Trot opens August 24th at the Quad Cinema in New York City and September 14th at the Laemmle in Los Angeles. Other cities to follow. Visit the First Run Features website for more information.

Update: Hot to Trot is available on iTunes and Amazon VOD 1/29/19 and on DVD 2/5/19.

Porcupine Lake

Life for 13-year-old Bea (Charlotte Salisbury) is in a state of transition. Living with her mom Ally (Delphine Roussel) in Toronto, the two head north to Parry Sound, Ontario to spend time with her father Scotty (Christopher Bolton).  Her parents are separated and on the brink of divorce but take the summer to re-evaluate their marriage. Scotty runs a diner, the Snack Shack, the central hub for the small community. It’s there that Bea meets Kate (Lucinda Armstrong Hall), another girl her age. The two lock eyes and instantly connect. They’re as opposite as they come. Bea is awkward, quiet, thoughtful and  Kate is outspoken, self-assured, abrupt. They both come from broken homes but where Bea has caring parents, Kate has a strung out mother, angry sister and mentally disturbed brother. Bea and Kate quickly develop a bond that goes deeper than just friendship. On the cusp of womanhood, these two sort through their feelings for each other and must deal with the escalating dramas in their respective families. Bea and Kate’s story is one of love and friendship told over one glorious summer.

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Porcupine Lake was written, produced and directed by Canadian filmmaker Ingrid Veninger, founder of pUNK films. In an interview Veninger said about the film: “Porcupine Lake is a story I’ve wanted to tell for years.”  The idea came to her while she was in a writing workshop led by actress Melissa Leo. Veninger goes on to say,

“All of my films have been personal — not autobiographical but always a combination of fiction and real experience. When I was 12, my father managed a roadside snack bar in northern Ontario. I spent many endless summers wanting a best friend so badly, but mostly I was left alone to be with my boredom and solitude, and ultimately, my imagination.”

The film was shot on location in Parry Sound and the surrounding area. During production another movie, a behind-the scenes documentary called The Other Side of Porcupine Lake, was film simultaneously.

Over 50 girls auditioned for the parts of Bea and Kate. Veninger was looking for young actresses who were natural in their instincts but could also be true to the characters. She found two gems with Salisbury and Hall.

Porcupine Lake is a sensitive portrayal of two young girls on the precipice of change. It brilliantly depicts the attraction between two people who are totally captivated by each other. It also does a fantastic job exploring family dynamics and capturing small town life. The lead actresses were totally convincing. I was drawn in by the story so much that I was already craving a sequel by the end. It’s like a quieter Heavenly Creatures (1994) without the tragic intensity.

If you’re looking for a good coming-of-age LGBT story, look no further than Porcupine Lake.

Porcupine Lake is distributed by Breaking Glass Pictures and will be available on DVD and digital on August 14th. The DVD includes the behind-the-scenes documentary.

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En el Séptimo Día

Representation matters.

En el Séptimo Día (On the Seventh Day) tells the story of José (Fernando Cardona) a Mexican immigrant working and living in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. He lives in an overcrowded apartment with his friends. Every day they work at a local restaurant, washing dishes, delivering food and bussing tables. Others sell cotton candy on the street, work construction jobs, etc. On the seventh day, Sunday, they’re free to do what they love the most: play soccer. The story follows José and his friends during one week which starts with a semi-final tournament and ends with the much anticipated final game. The problem is José’s boss, who considers him the most valued employee among the immigrant workers at the restaurant, needs him to work on Sunday for a private event. But this means José, who is also the most valued player on his soccer team, will have to miss the game. With each new day we are exposed to aspects of José’s life including his coworkers, his friends, the blue collar workers he meets on his delivery route as well as the pregnant wife waiting for him in Mexico. In the end, José has to chose between the work that feeds him and the joy that sustains him.

 

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“I don’t see any other way. Either we get slaughtered or I get fired.” – José

En el Séptimo Día is a poignant drama about an underrepresented group of individuals who are an important part of the fabric of American society. This quiet film is about finding small joys in a life filled with endless work. You just don’t see stories about Hispanic immigrants. Perhaps first and second generation Latino Americans but not immigrants who are starting a new life in America. And in a time where ICE reigns and our nation is plagued with fear mongering, a humane story about Mexican immigrants adds some empathy and understanding where it was lacking before.

The film was written, produced and directed by Jim McKay, best known for his stories about average folks including Girls Town (1996), Our Song (2000) and Everyday People (2004). According to an interview on the Cinema Guild website, McKay’s inspiration for the film came from a variety of sources including his own work on Our Song and Everyday People, his wife’s documentary La Boda, and his own experience working in a restaurant alongside Mexician immigrant workers from the Yucatan. The biggest source was Mexican New York by Robert Smith, a book profiling a community of immigrants from Puebla, Mexico who had settled in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

The majority of the cast members, including the star Fernando Cardona, are non-actors. McKay said, “the film is about Mexican immigrants and I was determined to make it with Mexican immigrants.” He sought out not only Mexicans but ones based in Sunset Park where the story takes place. However in the interview McKay makes it clear that the actors are playing characters and not themselves. The film was shot over 19 days in June and July of 2016 in Sunset Park, Park Slope and Gowanus in Brooklyn, NY. A few scenes were shot on a rainy day on October. McKay injects as much realism in his film which watches like a hybrid feature film/documentary.

The movie is primarily in Spanish with several conversations in English. It adds authenticity to the story. McKay and his team did a great job casting the variety of players especially Fernando Cardona who delivers a fine performance and is just captivating to watch on screen. I fell in love with this movie and its characters and was rooting on for José. I particularly enjoyed one scene when José is waiting outside a building where he’s going to make a delivery. He meets a blue collar worker who speaks Spanish and they chat about their mutual love for soccer. It’s a brilliant moment when commonality brings together two people from seemingly very different worlds.

En el Séptimo Día stole my heart. This is one you won’t want to miss.

 

 

En el Séptimo Día is showing in theaters across the country through August and September. Visit the Cinema Guild website for details.

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