Welcome to my little corner of the gay erotic romance universe . . . well, half of it, anyway. (You can find the other half at RachelHaimowitz.com.) This is the place to come for sneak previews of new projects, release information, and the occasional M/M book review. I'll also share thoughts on the industry on occasion, and I hope you'll come share yours in return.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Movie Reviews for Pervs: Shame

So this Friday, I went to see the new Steve McQueen / Michael Fassbender Movie, Shame, at the 2011 New York Film Festival. I was in excellent company: Cat Grant bought the tickets and treated myself, Liz Silver, and Damon Suede to the showing. And not that they're not awesome people, because they totally are, but did I mention Michael Fassbender and Steve McQueen were there? Because they were :D

I shall limit my fangirl squeeing, primarily because once Michael went through the photo call (which we were able to watch from about twenty feet away, but had to peek between the row of photographers), his handlers hustled him past the rope pretty quickly. He did try to sign autographs, but they told him he needed to introduce the movie. Ah well.

Speaking of introducing the movie, here's the blurb from IMDB:

In New York City, Brandon's carefully cultivated private life--which allows him to indulge his sexual addiction--is disrupted when his sister Cisssy arrives unannounced for an indefinite stay.
Basically, it's about an OCDish sex-addict who holds down a highly successful job in (I think?) an ad firm and suffers so deeply from his addiction that he jacks off in the bathroom at work, keeps porn on his work computer, brings prostitutes to his house, and randomly picks up women wherever he can find them. He's a miserable SOB, either in agony or numb pretty much all the time. The impression you get is that orgasm is the one moment in life when he is not in agony, and he chases it with the relentless desperation of someone who knows it's killing him but doesn't know how else to feel. His sister shows up and throws a serious wrench into his orderly life. Worse, she seems to make him think about all kinds of things he'd rather not think about every time he looks at her. She makes him face his present, too; when he starts having to hide around her, he seems to realize how fucked up he is, and starts trying to change.

So, on to the review. I want to (and will) treat this as a real review because the movie was pretty incredible in a lot of ways, but I'll be doing it within the framework of the Perv Score. For those new to Movie Reviews for Pervs, here's the four criteria by which films are judged:

  1. Hotness of the star(s)
  2. How often and how thoroughly the star(s) get nekkid
  3. Severity of ass-kickings to which the star(s) are subjected
  4. And, as something of an afterthought, whether or not the movie was actually any good
So, combined real and perv reviews, beneath the jump.

Hotness of the star(s): 10

Well, if you've been round these parts before, you'll know I think Fass is so hot you can't even look at him directly without blinding yourself. Carey Mulligan is also lovely, Nicole Beharie is downright stunning. And all the random hookups Brandon has are with beautiful women too. So, this one gets a perfect 10.

Nekkidness: 9

Yes, Shame has full frontal nudity. You see most or all of many of the women. You see all of Michael Fassbender. As many others have remarked before, yes, he's . . . genetically gifted (or, who knows, maybe just a shower and not a grower?). As many others have consistently failed to remark before, the total nudity (for Fass, at least) is lightning-fast, mostly shadowed, tastefully shot, and not meant to titillate or shock. But, brief fangirl moment? Oh holy Christ is that man gorgeous. And no, I don't just mean from waist to thighs. His body's amazing, and you get to see it all in various states of, er, use.

Mostly I think the nudity works very well for the film, but there was one scene where Brandon comes out in a towel that falls off and gives you a nice view of some lovely ass, and it was so damn distracting that it took away from the intensity of an otherwise very angry and kind of frightening scene. 

As for the sex scenes themselves? Everyone's been talking about them like they're shocking and outrageous, except these people fail to mention the part where they're not. I don't know, maybe it's just my background as an erotica writer, but IMO, only one of the sex scenes went beyond what you'd find in your average R-Rated movie, and believe me when I say that even that scene wasn't titillating at all (in fact, it hurt to watch--so much so it made people sniffly). By and large, the sex scenes  were tastefully shot, the action and even the nudity often more implied than shown. For instance, the picture on the left here was taken by a photog during the shoot; in the movie we only see this scene from behind.

Anyway, on the Perv Scale, Shame loses 1 point in this category for duration--Brandon had his clothes on most of the time, and even when he didn't he was often only shot from the chest up--but it's still a rock-solid 9.

Ass-kickings: 8

Brandon only actually gets his ass kicked once in this film, and he did everything he could to provoke it (which ought to tell you a lot about this character's mental state), and it's shot from behind so you really only hear it rather than see it. But when it comes to suffering characters, few are as relentlessly miserable as he was. He actually cries once or twice, and other times--even during sex--looked just seconds from breaking down, and Fassbender's such a ridiculously damn good actor that you can't even enjoy it. You're just miserable for him. All you want to do is give the poor boy a hug. That said, for the depth and breadth (and utterly convincing performance) of the internal suffering, Shame gets an 8 in this category.

Movie quality: 9

I think Shame's greatest asset, as an experience, was its actors. To the last, they impressed the hell out of me. Fassbender deserves an Oscar, and for as stupendous an actor as he normally is, I think he actually outdid himself here. You spend the whole film just aching for him, absolutely riveted to the screen. There's little dialog but he carries the whole movie via flicks of expression across his face. One scene in particular that I think encapsulates that: Brandon, for reasons I won't spoil, goes out for a nighttime run. The camera follows him as he runs past block after block of NYC at night. And runs. And runs some more. It's a long shot. I mean long. He's not saying anything, not doing anything but running, you can only see him in profile, and yet you never once think, Man, this just keeps going and going. To the contrary, I was captivated. Totally engrossed. They could have followed him running the whole damn island north to south and probably still wouldn't have lost my interest. (Though I will admit to wondering sometime toward the end of that shot how many streets they had to close and how much it must have cost them.)

Shame's next two greatest assets were its visuals and its score, both of which were stunning on their own and perfect compliments to the movie's overall sense and purpose. McQueen is a brilliant director, but there's no mistaking his roots as an acclaimed visual artist when you watch this film. The film's palette is mostly grays and browns, depressed and sort of washed out without feeling under-saturated, and it sets the mood perfectly. The brightest hits of color all revolved around sex: a woman's lips, a nipple, a slinky dress, a live webcam shot on a computer screen. As for the score, it was rarely invisible but never intrusive: a character all its own, setting the mood to perfection.

The one place I think the movie falls down a little is the script, and even that I think mostly worked quite well. The film is well-paced (though you need be a patient viewer; if you want your entertainment fast and relentless, Shame is not the movie for you), what little dialog it has is precise and powerful, and the script does an excellent job of highlighting just the right moments to create an extremely thorough--but not obvious or overbearing--overall picture. Brandon's and Cissy's past is never spoon-fed, but there are plenty of hints, and I sort of suspect that different people with their different preconceptions will all walk out with different thoughts about that issue. And that? I absolutely love.

Also, rather surprisingly (and, again, rarely mentioned in other reviews), the movie has quite a bit of humor in it. For as dark and depressing as the subject matter and its portrayal is, you spend a lot of time laughing at a lot of things. This comic relief was desperately needed, perfectly timed, and well placed. 

But as for what's wrong with the script, it's tough to get into without spoiling you. I will say, vaguely as I can, that I felt the ending could have been done better. There was also one set of scenes in the middle done half in and half out of flashback for no reason I could discern, and that treatment actually made things a little confusing at first. Lastly, as Damon Suede said during an after-movie discussion over veggie Chinese, the film was pretty predictable. That said, that bothered me very little because, as with many art house films, the experience is in the journey itself, not in where it takes you. And oh, what an experience it was. Shame is brilliant in so, so many ways, and I suspect I could watch it a dozen times without it wearing thin for me. So for movie quality on the Perv Scale, this film gets a 9.

Overall Perv Score: 9.0

Which, coincidentally, is the same rating I'd give the movie as an average viewer who isn't interested in Fass's bum or doesn't like the way he cries ;-) So when this comes out in December, even though it'll probably only play at a handful of art house theaters nationwide, go hunt it down. Trust me, it's worth it.

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