Dog Sweat


Dog Sweat

Sunset in Teheran.

(2010) Ensemble Drama (Indiepix) Ahmad Akbarzadeh, Tahareh Esfahani, Bagher Forohar, Sharokh Taslimi, Rahim Zamani. Directed by Hossein Keshavarz

Since the revolution in Iran deposed the Shah and brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to power, Iran has existed as an Islamic fundamentalist theocracy, its laws deriving from the Sharia law of the Koran. Moral police enforce the laws, harassing women who are wearing lipstick, or young men for wearing t-shirts that display messages friendly to the West.

The Iranian population is the youngest on the average on Earth, with two thirds of the population under thirty. These young people have grown up indoctrinated by the mullahs and ayatollahs as to the rightness of Islamic law. They have also grown up seeing American television on clandestine broadcasts, showing them the freedoms available elsewhere and many yearn for the same thing for themselves.

Massoud (Taslimi) copes with this yearning by drinking himself into a stupor day after day on black market liquor (alcohol is forbidden in Islam), often imported from America or the notorious home brewed “Dog Sweat.” His indolent life comes to a screeching halt when his mother is seriously injured in a car accident, her neck broken as well as other terrible injuries. She is brought to a hospital which is overcrowded and by our standards, primitive. She gradually slips away and Massoud becomes enraged with what he sees his country’s decline.

Hooshang (Akbarzadeh) and Homan (Zamani) are the best of friends, inseparable. They work out at the gym together, horseplay in their swimming pool and hang out at cafes. And while it is never stated overtly, it seems pretty likely they are gay which is also forbidden – in fact, it is so forbidden it doesn’t legally “exist” in Iran. Their parents are most eager to get them married off. Many gay men in Iran are faced with similar choices – to exist as “bachelors,” unwed and severely limited in their activities, or to have some freedoms as married men and fathers. When Hooshang is paired with a bride, the relationship with Homan is put into doubt.

His bride is Mahsa (actress uncredited), who yearns to be a pop singer which is also forbidden in Iran – women cannot sing solo. Still, she cuts a demo in a friend’s studio and proves to be quite talented. She gets some interest but now a respectable married woman she must decide whether to risk her standing or pursue her dream.

Kate (actress uncredited) is a self-proclaimed feminist who is having an affair with a married man – a man who happens to be married to her cousin. Her brother Dawood (Forohar) is recently returned from studying at an American university and he becomes enamored with Kate’s friend Katherine (actress uncredited). The two decide they want to take their relationship farther but finding a place to do it is difficult at best so they walk the streets of Teheran endlessly, waiting for their chance for privacy and intimacy.

In the meantime Kate is also being pursued by Bijan (actor uncredited) in a creepy stalker-like way. She is left with the choice of a life of sexual encounters with a man she loves but cannot have, or the freedom of being a married woman with a man she doesn’t love.

Such is life in Iran. I found the glimpse fascinating. Much like life in any totalitarian regime, people find a way to live their lives, looking for back alley ways to get the things they want and need to bypass the authorities. There is the ever-present specter of the harsh punishment for violators, including imprisonment and execution for certain offenses.

The filmmakers had to shoot this guerilla style, sometimes without the knowledge of authorities and sometimes with forged permits. The result gives us a look at the everyday Iranian, free of government propaganda about how moral the society is. Some might find it more moral than our own in many ways, but people have their own moralities; some find drinking, smoking, dancing and fornicating to be perfectly acceptable by their own moral compass. All right, most do.

There were plenty of logistical difficulties in making this film. For one thing, they could only make it in small doses, forcing some actors to drop out as they became more nervous about their involvement in it being discovered. This leads to some storylines feeling hurried and ending abruptly.

There’s a great scene when Kate and Dawood’s mother finds a condom on the floor. She assumes it’s Dawood’s and asks him when he’s going to bring his girlfriend home, and seems pleased that her son is interested in someone. When he responds that the condom isn’t his, she goes into Kate’s room and has a screaming match, calling her daughter all sorts of names and slapping her face until Dawood intervenes and says he was mistaken, that the condom is really his. It seems that some things aren’t so different in their society as ours, eh?

While this is an ensemble-style drama, the storylines for the most part don’t intersect. While Keshavarz does an admirable job of giving all of the stories equal time and attention, some are more successfully told than others – an occupational hazard for this kind of storytelling. Still, this is worth checking out if for no other reason to see how the other half lives – and how things could easily be here were fundamentalist religious sorts in charge.

REASONS TO GO: A rare glimpse of everyday life in Teheran and the challenges that face the people living in a fundamentalist theocracy.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the story lines meander a bit and end abruptly.

FAMILY VALUES: A good deal of sexuality (although nothing overt), smoking and drinking, some violence and adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed on location in Teheran, usually clandestinely and often with forged permits. The actresses mainly wore wigs when filming scenes without their shawls in order to keep their heads covered per Islamic tradition and Iranian law.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the images of Teheran deserve a big screen viewing.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: The Happy Poet

I Love You, Man


I Love You, Man

Jason Segel and Paul Rudd share a bro-mantic moment.

(DreamWorks) Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons, Jane Curtin, Jon Favreau, Jaime Pressly, Lou Ferrigno. Directed by John Hamburg

In this Age of Information, we have invented terms that didn’t exist before for relationships that had no name before. When two guys become obsessed with one another in a non-sexual way, it’s called a “bromance.” While there have been plenty of movies about male bonding, this one is the first to use the term, at least in its marketing.

Peter Klaven (Rudd) is an L.A. realtor who is looking to make his mark by selling Lou Ferrigno’s (playing himself) home. The commission he’d receive would give him enough cash to develop a property of his own and hopefully set him up for success. He has a fiancée, Zooey (Jones) that he adores and who is his best friend.

Peter is also a bit uptight and perhaps the least cool person in Los Angeles, a place where cool rules. Peter is somewhat metrosexual, and has always been more comfortable with women than with men. In fact, he has no male friends to be the best man at his wedding, a fact pointed out by his gay brother Robbie (Samberg) who is his dad’s (Simmons) best friend.

It turns out Zooey has some concerns about this as well, so Peter decides to go out on a series of “man-dates” to find himself a best man-friend. Initially, it goes horribly. He goes to a poker game run by Barry (Favreau), the husband of Zooey’s best friend Denise (Pressly), but winds up irritating Barry the Blowhard by winning at poker (and every other competition) despite having absolutely no idea what he’s doing, and finishing up the night by throwing up on Barry.

Other dates go soundly wrong as well, as Peter is mistaken for gay and other predictable results. It isn’t until another open house for the Ferrigno property takes place when Peter meets Sydney Fife (Segel) who is there for the free food that things finally begin to look up. Sydney’s insights and genuine free spirit strike a chord in Peter and they wind up exchanging numbers, which leads to some sweet hanging out.

Sydney has a nice little house a block away from Venice Beach, but we never see the inside of it. What we do see is Sydney’s “man cave,” a converted garage in the backyard where Sydney keeps his toys; a drum kit, flat-screen TV, recliner, lava lamps and the sort of things that bachelors like to keep in their homes to make them look cluttered and man-comfortable – and the sorts of things that go away once they get married.

Sydney and Peter share a love for the progressive rock trio Rush (a favorite of mine too, I have to admit) and other things to bond over and soon Peter is spending more time with Sydney than he is with Zooey. It looks like Peter has found his best man, but is he going to have a wedding to use him for?

Hamburg and company have almost surely studied the Judd Apatow method of modern film comedy, because this movie could easily have been made by Apatow, who has Knocked Up and Superbad on his resume, among others. There is enough crudeness to make it edgy but not enough to make it raunchy.

Rudd is one of the funniest guys you’ve never heard of. He is quite possibly the best comic character actor working today. He can take a character like Peter, find out the things that make him funny and underplay him just enough so that he doesn’t necessarily stand out, but you leave the theater finding that most of the best laughs were his.

In fact there were plenty of funny moments here, although there were also times that it seemed like the filmmakers were trying to force things a little bit. I get that guys talk like “Dude Dudingham” “The Great Bro-bowski” back and forth ad nauseum, but it doesn’t have to go on over and over again. We get it.

One other note; while I realize that being mistaken for gay has some humor potential, it made for some awkward stereotyping that I didn’t find funny. While there are plenty of bitchy gay men out there, I thought that some of the jokes in this area went over the line into the offensive zone. A little sensitivity might have been in order here.

But then again, if you’re overly sensitive you probably shouldn’t go to a comedy. The point of a comedy is that you should be able to laugh at yourself and if you can’t do that you might need therapy of a different sort. There is certainly plenty to laugh at here, just not as much as I was led to believe by the critics. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood for this. Oh well.

WHY RENT THIS: More of a “bro-mantic” comedy than a romantic comedy. Some genuinely funny moments. A credibly authentic look at male bonding.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the humor is a bit forced. The gay jokes are somewhat repugnant.

FAMILY VALUES: The language here is a bit rough for the younger sorts. There are also some fairly crude situations which make this unsuitable for children.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: J.K. Simmons’ character is named Oswald. In the HBO series “Oz” (which co-starred Simmons), the name of the prison the show was set in was Oswald State Correctional Facility.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Nothing listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Crazy Heart

The Night Listener


The Night Listener

Sometimes Robin William's ad-libs get on Toni Collette's nerves so much she wants to strangle him.

(Miramax) Robin Williams, Toni Collette, Sandra Oh, Joe Morton, Rory Culkin, Bobby Cannavale, John Cullum, Lisa Emery, Ed Jewett, Becky Ann Baker, Joel Marsh Garland. Directed by Patrick Stettner.

Our view of reality is really made up of a series of perceptions, not all of them ours. Very often we believe something to be merely because somebody told us that it was, be it the media, a friend or a loved one. Just because we are told something is so doesn’t necessarily make it so, no matter how much we may want it to be.

Gabriel Noone (Williams) is a radio personality on NPR, and one of the most popular on the airwaves. His late night show “Noone at Night” mainly consists of Noone telling tales about his life, concentrating on the eight-year struggle of his partner Jess (Cannavale) with AIDS. As a result, he has become a hero to the gay community and a well-respected raconteur everywhere else, a kind of gay Garrison Keillor.

As successful as he is, he is having all sorts of problems at home. His relationship with Jess is disintegrating, and it’s tearing him apart. Unable to get past his grief and pain, he is unable to do his show. Ashe (Morton), a friend of his in the publishing industry, in an effort to cheer him up hands him an unpublished manuscript of a book that his publishing house is about to put out, about a courageous young boy named Pete (Culkin). Pete grew up in a household of abusers who put him through the worst kind of tortures imaginable. Little more than a sex toy, he was eventually rescued and later adopted by a sympathetic social worker named Donna Logand (Collette), but by this time the boy had contracted AIDS.

It turns out that Pete is a big fan of Noone’s radio show, and the two strike up a series of conversations. Noone comes to admire the boy’s courage and spirit. He is in the final stages of the disease now, in the hospital more often than he is at home. The boy’s fight slowly brings Noone out of his shell of despair.

However, something is not quite right. When Jess finally gets to talk to both Pete and Donna, he notices that their voices sound alike. Upon further examination, it turns out that nobody has ever seen Pete—only Donna. Gabriel’s research assistant Anna (Oh) does some digging and can find no records anywhere of a situation even remotely resembling that of Pete Logand. When Gabriel talks to Donna about his misgivings, she has an explanation for everything. Still, the misgivings persist and the publisher eventually decides to delay publication until they can get to the bottom of things.

Gabriel is torn. He wants to believe that Pete exists, but he has doubts and yet if he is real, then he just helped kill the dream of a dying boy. Wracked by guilt, Gabriel decides to go to Wisconsin to ascertain the truth for himself.

The novel that this movie was made from was in turn based on the story of Anthony Godby Johnson, the “author” of the book “Rock and a Hard Place” and who victimized such people as Oprah Winfrey, Mister Rogers, Keith Olbermann and novelist Armistead Maupin, author of The Night Listener. I thought it interesting that Maupin gave his lead character the name of Noone—or no one. Clever, don’t you think?

Williams, who it now can safely be said is one of the more gifted actors working, takes on the role of a gay man riding an emotional roller coaster. There is a great deal of sadness in him but also a good deal of resolve. He isn’t a typical hero for a thriller, clearly conflicted about his own doubts. He really needs to believe, but can’t quite bring himself to.

Ever since she first came to my attention in The Sixth Sense Toni Collette has continued to impress me more and more. She is taking on roles that challenge her and stretch her nearly every time out and she has the ability to take a role that has little substance and make it something better. She is given a lot more to work with here, and she is magnificent.

Director Stettner, on only his second feature film (The Business of Strangers was his first) shows a sure hand. The pacing is steady and unrelenting. There is not a bit of wasted business. He also makes some intriguing choices. For example, he shows Donna early on in the movie to be well dressed, good looking, competent and confident. When Gabriel finally meets her she is frumpy, plain and unpredictable. The idealized Donna is what Gabriel imagined her to be; the reality turns out to be a bit different.

This is a well-written, well-acted drama…er, thriller…ok both. I was pleased to see the gay characters portrayed as people whose sexuality happens to be of that orientation. Too often gay characters in the movie are flamboyant queens (and Williams bears some responsibility for this here) who can’t really be taken seriously. Gabriel Noone is a serious character, flawed and over-emotional sometimes yes, but with a heart as big as a buffalo and a mind to be reckoned with. Maybe that will be what The Night Listener is remembered for in the long run.

WHY RENT THIS: A competently executed thriller/drama whose main characters are gay men whose sexuality is merely a part of their personality. Williams and Collette give solid, grounded performances. There are a lot of subtleties in the movie that are delightful upon further reflection.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Noone behaves inconsistently from time to time which while making him a more realistic character can sometimes be annoying to the viewer.

FAMILY VALUES: Some disturbing sexual content, as well as some fairly rough language.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The real-life husband of writer Armistead Maupin plays Jess’s friend Lucien, whom Noone refers to as “Lucifer.”

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Sukiyaki Western Django