One of the best known songs from Stephen Sondheim's 1987 musical, Into The Woods, contains the following lyric:
Careful the things you say, children will listen.
Careful the things you do, children will see and learn.
Children may not obey, but children will listen.
Children will look to you for which way to turn,
To learn what to be.
Careful before you say 'Listen to me,' children will listen.
Careful the wish you make, wishes are children.
Careful the path they take, wishes come true, not free.
Careful the spell you cast, not just on children.
Sometimes the spell may last past what you can see
And turn against you.
Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell.
Children will listen,
Two films being screened at San Francisco's Frameline 36 Film Festival show the results of Sondheim's warning from astonishingly different perspectives.
If you're the kind of person who loves family scenes in which a doting parent reads a bedtime story to a child, stand warned that Love and Anger is about as far removed from The Princess Bride as you can possibly get. Written by Brian Benson (who directed) and Michael Phillis, this hilarious 17-minute short picks up where Andy Warhol and The Cockettes left off and takes the art of grotesque storytelling to a whole new level.
Love and Anger takes viewers deep into a dark, skanky fairy tale starring the intrepid Vonda (Ladybear) and Cousin Wonderlette (Brian Benson) in a tale that is far too gruesome and ridiculous to lock up in a crypt.
Cousin Wonderlette and Ladybear in a scene from Love and Anger
Ladybear stars as Vonda, an overweight goth teenager who gets knocked up and tries to leave her bloody infant in a dumpster (look for an exciting new way to cut an umbilical cord). Her baby, however, is saved by the appearance of a rather clumsy fairy godmother who thought she had finished with her community service after safekeeping John Waters and Divine.
After years of Cousin Wonderlette being treated like garbage by her abusive mother, the fairy godmother tells the young girl (who snores like a pig) that true beauty lies inside of her and she should search out her inner truths. As she roams the countryside (hoping that someone will give her a vagina), Cousin Wanderlette falls into what seems like a mud puddle but is, in reality, an outdoor toilet inhabited by a hungry, bug-eyed coprophiliac with a strange, shit-eating grin.
The mud shower she just received was one the gigantic bowel movements let loose from the Big Blue Giant, who is eventually coerced into giving Cousin Wonderlette his magic belt for protection.
As Cousin Wonderlette continues along her bizarre adventure she encounters all sorts of fabulous creatures ranging from a green-haired forest troll to a fidgety wood nymph who can't stop snorting tree sap. The film's skag drag costume designs by Loretta Hintz become increasingly grotesque and fabulous (I adored the hot pink robot fish). You really have to see Love and Anger to believe it.
One of those children who has listened intently to the adults around him and taken every word to heart is the protagonist of Elliot Loves, a beautiful new film written and directed by Terracino about a young man who is full of heart and hungry for love. Elliot Ayende is a Dominican American gay man who has grown up with the kind of mother that Pedro Almodovar worships.
Fierce, fiery, fantastic, and addicted to watching The Price is Right, Elliot's mother (Elena Goode) got knocked up in high school by a young man who told her that being pregnant was entirely her problem. He wanted nothing to do with it.
As a result, Elliott has grown up in the shadow of his mother's flamboyant personality and a steady parade of boyfriends who never seem to be all that interested in her precocious, nelly son. When the film begins, the audience sees nine-year-old Elliot (Quentin Araujo) sitting on the toilet mimicking a shampoo commercial with the flair and fervor of a budding young queer. As the film progresses, the action moves back and forth in time to capture Elliot's life with his crazy mother and the ongoing search by 21-year-old Elliot (Fabio Costaprado) for a genuine boyfriend.
At 21, Elliot is lusted after by men of all ages, even if few stick around for long. Still, he's at the age where a two-day relationship can be "really intense" and his best friend, Hector (Robin de Jesus), is always available for sympathy.
Like his mother, Elliot wears his emotions on his sleeve. He can go from being a giddy chatterbox to an intense tangle of emotions in the flash of an eye.
True love, however, keeps eluding him. One night he can be taken home by a man who professes his love, but whose lover arrives home from a business trip the next morning. On another occasion, a man sheepishly tries to trick Elliot into a threeway with an old friend from New Jersey. But Elliot's bouncy personality keeps him afloat, especially when (fresh out of the shower) he gets to perform his "clean dance" for a man he hopes to impress.
As men drift in and out of Elliot's life, one feels the aching disappointment of an emotionally available young man who has witnessed a long line of his mother's boyfriends pass through his life. Luckily, Elliot's Aunt Carmen (Elaine del Valle) has always told him that he is special. One of his teachers, Mrs. Mills (Erin Fogel), even makes a point of telling Elliot that his name means "He who walks with God."
In the brief uptick of a hot romance with Kiko (Jermaine Montell), a muscular Puerto Rican fitness trainer who likes to brag about the size of his dick, the audience gets to watch Elliot flirt with codependency before being forced to move on with his life.
With a tag line of "The boy can't help it!" Elliot Loves bursts with the idealism of youth, the vulnerability of childhood, and the emotional hunger of a young man on the prowl for more than just a quick fuck. Elliot's recipe for survival? "Keep it cute, papi."
Terracino's film includes some delightful animation sequences. But its core strength lies with the two actors (Quentin Araujo and Fabio Castoprado) who deliver bravura performances as Elliot. Elena Goode's Latin spitfire of a single mother is beautifully realized (as is Elaine del Valle's portrayal of her sister, Carmen).
Kiko (Jermaine Montell) and Elliot (Fabio Costaprado) make love
While there is plenty of beefcake on display as eye candy, the beauty of Elliot's soul and his youthful exuberance dominate the picture. One of my favorite actors, Robin de Jesus, scores strongly as Elliot's friend Hector.
Elliot Loves is an uplifting film that has been written, shot, and acted from the heart. You won't want to miss it. Here's the trailer:
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