The Shiny Shrimps 2019 ****


The gay sports comedy has been a growing sub-genre since 2001’s The Iron Ladies; Cedric Le Gallo and Maxime Govare’s light-hearted French film does a nice job of providing feel-good fare while managing to get a few timely digs in. The Shiny Shrimps is the name of a gay men’s water-polo team who have aspirations to take part in the Gay Games in Croatia. They’re saddled with a swim-coach named Mathias Le Goff (Nicolas Gob) who has been suspended by his governing body for homophobic remarks. The team, of course, resent his presence, and act up in the most provocative ways they can think of. But as the team leave France, Le Goff starts to get to know the men as people, and the common ground they finds brings friendship and achievement in equal measure. The Shiny Shrimps ends up landing somewhere between Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and The Full Monty, with stereotypical characters given endearing life in a tragi-comic setting. ‘ Trans is complicated’ “No it’s not’ “Yes it is’ runs a key argument as it transpires that the shrimps have some issues of their own; they’re fiercely anti-lesbian, and have an anti-trans prejudice that needs to be addressed too. But these issues are deftly integrated into a lively romp that’s as much about men performing Sabrina’s 1980 Euro-smash Summertime Love on an open-topped bus as it is about examining gay rights, although there are sharp inflections; when Le Groff asks why the men can use stigmatic language and not him, the answer is succinct; minority privilege. With a good emotional range and a heady mix of sports, song and drama, The Shiny Shrimps is a satisfying look at a group of spirited sports-men, and delves to some effect into what’s going on under the men’s Under Armour.

The Shiny Shrimps hit UK cinemas from Sept 6th 2019.



Salome’s Last Dance 1988 ***


As well as a peerless acting career, Glenda Jackson has had a second act as a politician, serving as a Labour MP in the UK parliament before retiring to act again in 2015. As she takes to the stage in a 1882 brothel in Ken Russell’s film, surrounded by topless models and portly men in leather thongs, it’s easy to see how her political and theatrical goals might look similar; anyone wondering what other strings British MP’s have to their bows should pay close attention. Decadence, as it often is with Russell, is the subject; Oscar Wilde (Nickolas Grace) retreats to a bordello to watch various creatures of low morals perform his banned play Salome, which is reproduced here in full, translated by Russell’s wife Vivian. Stratford Johns, beloved tv detective turned unlikely muse for late-period Russell, makes an arrogant Herod, and Imogen Millias-Scott plays Salome in a off-kilter way; her striptease is given a non-binary twist by Russell using a man as her body double to sting any potential voyeurs. Salome’s Last Dance is a hard film to sit through, consisting largely of monologues which have gained a certain mustiness over time. But the costume and staging are as imaginative as might be expected; Russell was a creative force, and it would be nice if the fan-boys who scramble over his most salacious work (The Devils, Tommy) showed some interest in this difficult, but surprisingly melancholy and mature take on the methodical literary madness of Oscar Wilde.


Can’t Stop The Music 1980 ***

can't stop

A musical folly of the highest order, Can’t Stop the Music is a loving tribute to the Village People, who surfed the disco wave of the late 70’s with hit songs like YMCA and Go West. Of course, being gay, and it’s no secret that the Village People were super-off-the-charts gay, was considered to be something of an commercial issue in 1980, so the Village People somehow get side-lined in their own movie to allow centre-stage to a solid heterosexual pairing of Police Academy’s Steve Guttenberg and Superman’s Valerie Perrine. He’s a song-writer, she’s a model, they share a NYC flat and the Village People are their ticket to stardom. Rhoda’s mother from the popular sitcom, Nancy Walker is a random choice to direct, and producer Alan Carr’s promise that co-star Bruce Jenner would become a household name as the “Robert Redford of the 1980’s seems somewhat wide-of-the-mark seen from today’s perspective. With surprisingly vivacious but non-sexual bursts of male and female nudity, lashings of strange scenes including milk promotion and Leatherman from the Village People singing Danny Boy, Can’t Stop The Music is an oddity for the ages, destined to play in the background of all the best parties until the music finally stops.

Partners 1982 ***

partnersThe buddy-cop movie is something that always seems to have been a cliché; what happens when you pair a policeman with a child, a woman or even a dinosaur? In James Burrow’s 1982 comedy, Ryan O’Neal is the LA tough-guy who has to deal with a seismic change in his life when he’s forced to work alongside a gay man. Not just any gay man, but a 1982 comedy gay man in the form of the late John Hurt, who wears a pink furry track suit that makes him look like the Easter Bunny. Hurt’s career as a terrific character actor had been established long before Alien made him an unexpected household name, but his performance is uncertain here; at times, being homosexual seems to require behaving as if recently lobotomised, at other times, like an alien. O’Neal, as in the similarly neglected star vehicle So Fine, seems to enjoy being thrust into unusual outfits, notably bondage gear, but the story about going undercover is strictly rote. The screenplay is by Francois Veber, who was responsible for many French films made into US remakes (The Birdcage, Dinner for Schmucks), and it feels like his ability to lean into stereotypes for comic effect has been misunderstood here. Partners isn’t a good film, but as a time-capsule of how negative Hollywood has been about homosexuality, it’s one of a kind. There’s more than a few reasons this film has been buried, but it can be exhumed, freshly or not, via streaming services or even You Tube.

A Man of No Importance 1992 ****

Albert Finney’s career had phases rather than just a highlights; while his 80’s output was something of an anti-climax for the actor who burst into world cinema in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, by the 1990’s, there were increasing opportunities to see the great man giving it both barrels. In Suri Krishnamma’s charming comedy-drama, Finney excels as Alfred Byrne, a gay bus-conductor who feels forced to repress his sexuality due to the mores of the time. His unrequited passion for fellow driver (Rufus Sewell) remains just so, but Byrne sees an opportunity when the striking Adele Rice (Tara Fitzgerald) gets on his bus. He quickly arranges a performance of Oscar Wilde’s Salome with Adele as the star, but emboldened by Wilde’s words, Byrne’s attempts to reveal his true nature end badly for him.  With the atmosphere of 1963 Dublin persuasively caught, A Man of No Importance is one of these lucky films that sees great talent well harnessed; after Finney’s death, this was deservedly mentioned alongside Tom Jones, Under The Volcano and The Dresser as amongst Finney’s best.

Papi Chulo 2018 ****

Writer/director John Butler’s Handsome Devil was a try-hard feel-good coming-out story that played to closely to the teen-movie playbook to work; with Papi Chulo, he gets back to basics with a simple, but satisfying story of a gay weatherman who is looking down the wrong end of a recently ended relationship. Given some time off by work, Sean (Matt Bomer) starts a painting job as a bit of therapeutic DIY, and enlists some professional help in the form of Ernesto (Alejandro Patino), a local tradesman. An unlikely friendship blossoms between the two men. But Ernesto is a heterosexual family man, and Sean fears that his feelings are about to be burnt once more. Making good use of LA locations, Papi Chulo is the kind of indie drama that’s worth seeking out; Butler shows genuine empathy with his characters, and although the action is light and amusing, there’s no doubt of the hidden depths that both characters have. Like a good short story, Papi Chulo entertains before reaching a punch-line; while inevitably flagged as gay interest, it’s a film that crosses boundaries in it’s whole-hearted appeal.


Booksmart 2019 ****


William Goldman’s aphorism that ‘nobody knows anything’ is particularly true of the streaming side of Hollywood; it boggles the brain that Booksmart would be given a big push in terms of theatres and advertising in the US, and released on Netflix the same day in Europe, ensuring perfect HD copies were online. It’s a real shame given that Olivia Wilde’s film is probably the best comedy of 2019 so far, with Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein as two teenagers who realise that high-school is about to become history, and all their hard work has stopped them from living outside of their textbook. This prompts a Superbad-style tilt at living a Bacchanalian lifestyle for one night only, with drugs, sex and numerous frustrations afflicting the twosome on their way to their graduation ceremony. Booksmart is a female-driven comedy that delivers enough laughs to be worth recommending, with two great leads, plus some fun work from Billie Catherine Lourd, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow and Jessica Williams as a Gilmore Girls obsessive. Booksmart has all the makings of a sleeper hit, but that success won’t come at the box-office when the release has been deliberately hobbled in such disappointing fashion.