Monday, January 14, 2013

Boys Life 5 (2006)

Boys Life 5 (2006)


The short films featured on this DVD explore a number of themes and are each rewarding in their own way.


For film buffs "Fishbelly White" might be of particular interest since it is the short-film "rough draft" of what eventually became director Michael Burke's full-length feature "The Mudge Boy". The differences between the earlier and later films mainly come through the subplots and expanded characters that the longer version can accommodate, with some elements of the main story changed or rearranged for dramatic effect. (For example, in "The Mudge Boy" the relationship between Perry and Duncan is far more vividly dramatized, and what I'll refer to as the chicken incident happens under more jarring circumstances.)

It is fascinating to compare the two films and see how the changes served to give the later film more impact. Still, while that later film is blessed with a bigger budget and the presence of rising star Emile Hirsh in the title role, the lead actors in "Fishbelly" do manage to put their own stamp on the characters of Duncan and Perry. (In this shorter verson of the story hardly any other character registers much. For instance, we barely glimpse Duncan's father, whose presence in the later movie is pivotal.) If "Fishbelly White" makes you curious to explore the story in more depth then you should definitely seek out "The Mudge Boy". I was disappointed when the DVD release of "Mudge Boy" didn't include "Fishbelly White" as a special feature but was very happy to find it here.

Another of the short films, "Time Off", similarly comes across like an earlier version of a later film by the director, in this case Eytan Fox and his feature "Yossi and Jagger". In "Time Off", a ranking officer in the Israeli army is attracted to one of the recruits under his command and is conflicted to the point of over-compensating. After a number of unexpected events that transpire during a day of military leave in the city of Jerusalem, the recruit is finally on to his commanding officer's game. In a sublimely clever final scene the officer seizes an opportunity to signal to the recruit how he feels about him. (This movie's dialog is in Hebrew with English subtitles.)

"Late Summer" is a 70's period piece set in New England and told in flashback, about an adolescent boy who arrives in Boston to stay with relatives after his father dies. In the days that follow the boy develops a powerful, life-changing crush on his older cousin. Let me say right away that as someone from Massachusetts I thought it was great to finally encounter a movie character with a Boston accent that actually sounds authentic, but that is just one of the many details that this production gets absolutely right. The ending comes abruptly and (to me) seems a little heavy-handed, but ultimately it doesn't detract from the excellent performances, direction, and production values. I should note that the actor playing the older cousin bears such a resemblance to Mark Wahlberg that at first I thought he might be another one of his brothers.

"Dare" is the shortest of the films here and despite being the director's graduate school project displays utter confidence and polish. Two high school boys -- one popular, the other a loner type whose friends are mostly girls -- end up spending an evening together at the popular boy's house. Ostensibly they are there to "run lines" for a school theater production, but anyone who's encountered this setup in other movies will be able to predict what happens next. Again, though, the writing, direction, and performances are so good in "Dare" that a story often retold is made new again. In fact you're ultimately left wanting to know more about what the future holds for the two main characters -- the sure sign of a gifted storyteller.

There are a lot of gay-themed short-film collections on DVD these days. This is one of the best.


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