Franco and Mathews make a meta-exploration of normal
Instead, this movie focuses on the production effort to shoot new versions of those scenes, with actor Val Lauren taking on Al Pacino's role from the original movie. Like Pacino's character, an undercover cop working in an underground world of gay S&M clubs, Lauren isn't exactly comfortable with all the gay stuff going on, a point made clear as he asks others how they feel about the whole set-up, including a tete-a-tete with Franco, to discuss the hardcore gay sex that will be a part of the process (and film.) Lauren is receiving pressure from his girlfriend and a seemingly homophobic friend (or agent) who try to convince him to walk away from the situation, but he has a loyalty to Franco that stands strong.
The thing is, this isn't really what the film is about either. There's a whole other layer to the film, which is introduced slowly, quietly and effectively, and which may not be obvious until it smacks you in the face. Then, on a second viewing, you'll notice hints here and there that registered before but which now stand out as clues to the movie's true story. That Franco and Mathews were able to slip this concept in so subtly is a testament to their skill and creativity as experimental filmmakers, but also couldn't work without all the misdirection at play, most important of which is the explicit sex scenes. The on-screen penetrative acts and full-frontal nudity on the part of several of the actors is about as distracting an act as you can see on-screen, especially when the film (seemingly) is focused on how Val reacts to these sexual moments occurring directly in front of him, as well as how the difference between porn and art is determined.
As clever as the film's concept is, it doesn't all come together, with one of the major speedbumps coming, ironically, in the form of Franco. In addition to serving as a camera operator, he also has a handful of large speeches where he professes his distaste for his normalized ways of thinking when it comes to sexuality. Whether it's the writing, the actor or perhaps improvisation, it's hard to take his words seriously, as it comes off like he's a first-year college student who's taken intro courses in gender and LGBT studies and sociology, and now understands the world better than you do and is making sure you know it. Lauren's own eye-popping, jaw-dropping reaction to being witness to a guy-on-guy sex scene is actually even less nuanced. The problem in analyzing the parts is the story under the surface might make those choices intentional.
In the end, which comes quickly, just 60 minutes after the first frames unreel, one is left questioning what to believe about the film, and no one seems to be pulling back the curtain, with an open-ended finale leaving more questions asked than answered. That said, this is a brief distraction, and the work of some playful artists who treat the world of film as a laboratory for their entertainment and their artistic goals. SDH
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is naturally not a bombastic affair, but it performs all of its functions very well, with clear dialogue that's clearly separated from the music (when it's supposed to be) and an overall natural sound.
In a nice touch, related short films are included from both co-directors. From Mathews, In Their Room: SF (20:13) is another entry of his series of films on gay male intimacy, profiling several gay men from San Francisco within the confines of their bedrooms. Sex is key to this piece, with lots of crotch close-ups and talk of intercourse, along with some nudity and one man masturbating to completion. Mathews is a talented documentarian, and he paces the piece well, but the subject matter will not sit well with some people.
Franco gives us the black-and-white Feast of Stephen (4:27), where a young teen becomes obsessed with shirtless guys playing basketball, until his attention catches their attention, leading to a session of gay-bashing. However, from that point, all bets are off, in a climax that will be received differently by people, depending on certain personal convictions. However, it's interesting either way.
Wrapping things up is the trailer for Interior. Leather Bar., along with previews for four other Strand Releasing films.
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