Reviews

Byron Katie Interview

By Jeff Walsh

Two years ago, I saw a notice for a book event by Byron Katie, whom I had never heard of prior to receiving that bookstore e-mail. I'm always game to hear new voices, and the name of her then-new book, "I Need Your Love -- Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead" was certainly intriguing. So, I showed up early for the lunchtime event in San Francisco's financial district. I grabbed a copy of her book, figuring I'd decide during the event if I were going to buy it and get it signed after she spoke.

The chairs slowly filled up, and people from the bookstore started passing out "Judge Your Neighbor" worksheets, in case we wanted to do "The Work" with Katie during the event. People around me whip out their pens and are all excited for the opportunity. "Are you going to do The Work," the man next to me asks. I told him I don't know what he's talking about. He smiles and says I'll know soon enough.

Finally, the place is standing room only and Byron Katie appears, except there seems to be some communal understanding that she is just "Katie" to everyone. Her presence is so at ease and embracing, my first impression was that whatever she uses to get to that place, sign me up.

Sal Sapienza Book Review / Interview

By Jeff Walsh

In "Seventy Times Seven," Salvatore Sapienza's debut novel, Brother Vito is living a double life. By day, he teaches the boys in his high school religion class. But at night, he might be anywhere from a Pet Shop Boys concert, a dance floor, or a sex club.

It's not the book you're thinking, though. Vito isn't living a double life. The brothers in his house know he's gay, and his gay friends know about his religious life. Throughout the course of the novel, Vito struggles to choose between two sides of his being that seem perfect and whole to him, except they can't coexist.

Obviously, you might hazard a guess at which side wins out, because otherwise they'd be writing this book up on religious websites instead. But the journey is interesting because of that duality. Vito has a true yearning for the gift that he finds in his religious life and its spirituality. It isn't the closeted priest and the big declaration or scandal that people might expect. As Vito weighs the pros and cons, he keeps making good points for each. It isn't that he just has a blind spot that prevents the decision.

Garcon Stupide: DVD Review

By Jeff Walsh

There exists a subset of movies that tries to make you think there is a good movie happening at a level that you don't understand. There is vague symbolism, knowing glances between characters, shifts in shooting style, all a clear tip-off to people who "get it." The subset keeps you quiet for fear of dismissing a movie that seems dull and contrived on its face, but where you risk being exposed as a cinema fraud if you say the emperor isn't wearing any clothes.

On the high-end, I've felt this way about critics' darlings like "Syriana" and "Half Nelson," and on the low end, part of me thought there certainly had to be more going on in "Garcon Stupide," a French movie by Lionel Baier. The movie centers on its young protagonist, Loic, who meets guys online and has sex with them. He doesn't want to know their stories; it isn't intimacy, just sex. He lives with a girl who lets him crash for free, and listens to his vague plans to better himself.

Hellbent: DVD Review

By Jeff Walsh

For gay horror fans, "Hellbent" is a dream come true. A killer is loose in West Hollywood, decapitating his gay victims, on the night of a huge Halloween carnival.

The film follows most of the traditional horror conventions: the killer who walks slowly yet always seems to catch his victims, sex leading you to an early death, and the lack of any real motivation for why the killings are happening in the first place.

The movie begins with a gay couple making out in a car near a park. We see silhouettes nearing the car while they pull their clothes off, but with not much room in the back of the car, one decides to hang his head out the window to give them more room. And just as his partner is pulling down his pants, instead of getting head he loses one. Roll title sequence.

In Her Line Of Fire: DVD Review

By Jeff Walsh

"In Her Line Of Fire" finds Mariel Hemingway as a Secret Service agent assigned to protect the Vice President of the United States (David Keith). While en route to a diplomatic tour of Asia, their plane crashes in the South Pacific, leaving the survivors on a remote island where they are kidnapped by rebel soldiers that intend to sell the vice president to the highest bidder.

The movie is a taut, action-packed thriller. No gaping holes in the plot. The main issue is that for this story to work its magic on you, you really have to buy into the notion that it's a woman kicking all these guys' asses. That is the conceit of the story. If that seems empowering or makes you want to see the movie even more, then you're off to a good start. If your reaction is "So? She's a woman, and...?!" then there's a good chance it will seem like a formulaic movie with a woman playing the Stallone role. Maybe some people really are attracted to a movie where a tough, no-nonsense woman, aiming to teach rebel soldiers a lesson, straps on a huge

Queens: DVD Review

By Jeff Walsh

As Spain is about to wed its first gay couples ever, five women have to confront their pasts, presents, and prejudices before seeing their sons marry in "Queens," a glorious Almodovaresque film from Manuel Gomez Pereira. This Spanish film (with English subtitles) may be about gay sons getting married, but the headstrong matriarchs steal the show.

One mother has to confront the fact that her son is marrying the son of their gardener, who she's never even let set foot in their house for decades. Another comes a little too well packed from Buenos Aires, with her dog and no real plan to go home anytime soon. One is sexually compulsive in awkward situations and finds herself alone with her future son-in-law. One runs the hotel where all the gays are coming for the reception, but the chef (with whom she's having an affair) decides the whole kitchen is going on strike right before the reception. And, well, you get the idea...

Dante's Cove First Season: DVD Review

By Jeff Walsh

"Dante's Cove" is a sexy, gothic, campy soap opera that combines elements of Melrose Place, any horror movie involving centuries-old legends and spells, and Queer as Folk. Watching the first season on DVD (a second has already run on here! TV, and a third season has been ordered), my first impression is that watching this with a group of people would have definitely heightened the experience, primarily because it is the kind of movie that begs for people to cry out in disbelief, but at the same time it walks the line fine enough to pull off the whole crazy premise.

In a nutshell, a woman catches her groom-to-be having (graphic) sex with another man in the 1840s. Sadly for him, she has magical powers and sentences him to spend eternity in a sub-basement of the house chained up until some "handsome young man" kisses him. But then, she makes him look into the mirror to see that he is no longer the striking gay lothario he formerly was, but a wrinkled old coot with crazy-long grey hair. Somehow the inability of no one to find him there in the first place is now compounded by the fact that no one would want to kiss him anyway? But this isn't the kind of show where you sit around and dwell on these things for too long.

Poster Boy: DVD Review

By Jeff Walsh

"Poster Boy" tries to be so many things, you end up wishing it just picked one thing and stuck with it. The movie is about a closeted gay son of a powerful right-wing Senator up for re-election. His father wants him to introduce him at a campaign stop at the son's school. The son has kept a low profile there and doesn't want to be associated with the campaign. Another guy hooks up with the senator's son and decides to out him at the event. And the movie is told with the framing device of the son finally telling a newspaper reporter the whole story of what happened leading up to the father's speech on campus.

Reading that, it sounds like a pretty decent movie, so let's drill down a little further. First of all, let's examine the framing device. Four months after a political scandal, the son is going to tell his story to the press? In politics, there's no such thing as four months for something like this. It would be an entire non-story at this point. The other thing, we have a reporter from a fictional San Francisco newspaper who seems to not get the gist of homosexuality, telling him he's a handsome boy, didn't he even try to hook up with some of the co-eds on campus?

Before The Fall: DVD Review

By Jeff Walsh

I'm not exactly sure how to review "Before The Fall," a German film about a young boxer who is trained in an elite German school during World War II. Part of the problem was that is was on my stack of gay DVDs to review for Oasis, so I went in with some expectations... primarily, that it has something to do with being gay. So, let me be clear up front, there is no gay content in the movie. Nein!

That said, it was a very well put-together story about friendship and standing up for what you believe in, as well as showing how easy it is for fascism to spread unchecked. (A message that is still, sadly, needed.)

The primary story is of a young boxer that comes from a poor family. Someone sees him box and asks him to box for the German military academy, so against his parents' wishes (they are opposed to the Nazis) he goes to the school.

Transparent: Book Review

By Jeff Walsh

In Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers (read excerpt), Cris Beam delivers a compelling glance into the transgender underbelly of Los Angeles, where primarily black and Latina trans girls (biological boys who identify as female) struggle with their identity, their families, their lack of money, and ultimately themselves as they pursue what to them feels natural.

When I started reading the book, my impression was it was going to be a non-fiction book in the tradition sense, where Beam becomes a fly on the wall, like a nature documentarian observing her subjects from a close enough distance to know their essence but not affect their natural patterns. This isn't that book. Beam herself refers to it as a memoir, to dispel any notions otherwise. From the very beginning, Beam plants herself in the book, first as a volunteer teacher at a run-down school for gay youth in Los Angeles, and through the book as a gatherer of their stories, their mentor, friend, and ultimately, one of the girls' foster mother.

Shock To The System: DVD Review

By Jeff Walsh

In "Shock to the System" (out this week on DVD), Chad Allen plays gay detective Donald Strachey in a noir murder mystery set against the backdrop of a gay "reparative" therapy program, and the crazy part is, it's actually an enjoyable, well-written, worthwhile movie.

I'm not sure why, but whenever I would see books like this in the gay bookstore with jacket copy exclaiming thrillers being solved by gay and lesbian detectives, well, I pretty much thought it was silly and a subgenre I really didn't want to know anything more about. I mean, what does being a gay detective bring to the picture exactly?

So, when I got the review DVD for this movie from Here! films, the second Donald Strachey movie at that (after 2005's Third Man Out), I was hesitant. My hesitancy didn't last long.

Getting It: Book Review

In Getting It, Alex Sanchez delivers a poignant story about Carlos Amoroso, a 15-year-old boy who feels that life is passing him by. Unlike his friends, he's still a virgin. Even worse, he hasn't even kissed a girl. And the girl he wants to kiss most, the girl of his dreams doesn't even know he exists.

But when Carlos happens to sees Queer Eye on television, he gets an idea: if he asks Sal, the boy at school everyone says is gay, to give him a makeover, maybe the girl will finally notice him. Just as long as no one sees him talking to Sal and gets the wrong idea. Sal agrees to do it, as long as Carlos pays him and helps him start a GSA at their high school.

Sanchez really captures the awkwardness of adolescence in this light, quick read. Carlos and his friends speak with a shorthand and familiarity that pulls you right into their world and paints them all with a caring and humanity underneath all their hormonal sex talk. The story lets Carlos explore his negative and uncomfortable thoughts on homosexuality, as he slowly becomes friends with Sal.

Rainbow Boys: Book Review

By Jeff Walsh

It was strange to read Alex Sanchez's debut novel "Rainbow Boys" for the first time, knowing it had recently been banned from a summer reading list for its sexual content. Part of me had that at the back of my mind, wondering when it was going to get all hot and heavy… and then I hit the last page, wondering what I missed. It was a copy from the library, so maybe someone tore all the sex scenes out?

I should know by now that even implied sex between two teenaged boys is still too much for a lot of people to handle, but this is just a great book showing people in the early stages of accepting their sexuality taking their first awkward steps forward.

The three main characters are in their senior year of high school. Jason Carillo is the jock who decided to attend a gay youth group after talking to someone on a teen hotline. At the meeting, he sees two classmates (everyone's big fear when attending a local meeting for the first time), Kyle Meeks and Nelson Glassman. Jason isn't as surprised to see Nelson there, since he is called "Nelly" at school, and is flamboyant. But Kyle? That's a whole different story.

Legally Blonde: Pre-Broadway Review

By Jeff Walsh

With an opening song entitled "Omigod You Guys," Legally Blonde: The Musical clearly establishes itself as the latest offering in the trend of popular movies being turned into Broadway musicals. Whether or not you think that's a good idea overall, the real question is whether it will be the next Hairspray or The Wedding Singer? The Producers or High Fidelity?

But, having just gone to the show's opening night in San Francisco, two months before it opens on Broadway (it plays at the Golden Gate Theatre through February 24, details here), the show was certainly a crowd-pleaser. As much as I love to go to the theater to watch an emotional journey, learn about myself, and watch characters make breakthroughs that speak to the universal truths that we all know, well... that kind of expectation would make this show lethally bland. Besides, who would expect anything like that from Legally Blonde?! Duh!

The source material itself was a breezy movie starring Reese Witherspoon that sold itself largely on the spirit of her character and the way Witherspoon sold it so convincingly.

Mika "Life in Cartoon Motion" CD Review

By Jeff Walsh

"Life in Cartoon Motion," the debut album by Mika (released today in the UK, March 27 in the US), is the most assured, infectious first album to come out in quite some time. It is pure pop brilliance.

From the opening strains of "Grace Kelly" to the album's coda of "Happy Ending," Mika takes listeners on an aural journey through many styles of music. But each one is done with such authority, it never has the fractured OCD feel that plagues many albums that switch between many different musical styles.

"Grace Kelly" is the first track of the album, written as a kiss-off to music executives who wanted him to change his sound. The chorus of the song touches on his identity quest

Spring Awakening: CD Review

By Jeff Walsh

Spring Awakening: A New Broadway Musical features music by Duncan Sheik, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater.

The caveat is that I can only review this from the perspective of having heard it after seeing the show on Broadway. So, in my mind, many of the songs have choreography, lighting, and visuals, which augments my enjoyment of the CD.

Right up front, I will say that John Gallagher Jr. as Moritz was my favorite lead performer in the show. He also does the most rocking songs in the show, so I have heard his stuff most often while working out at the gym. But his tracks, such as "The Bitch of Living," "And Then There Were None," and "Don't Do Sadness" are some of my favorite up-tempo songs, along with "Totally Fucked," where the entire ensemble erupts to release their pent-up angst in a burst of dance and song.

Geography Club: Book Review

By Jeff Walsh

With his first novel, Geography Club, Brent Hartinger captures the angst and loneliness of feeling that you're the only gay person in the world. How it is difficult to imagine that, in the segregated high school social scene, your "different" sexuality is hidden under the surface and can unite you with people you otherwise wouldn't know, talk to, or considering hanging out with.

In the novel, Russel does his best to avoid anything that might tip people off that he's gay. He plays along with the jokes in the locker room, dates girls, whatever it takes. Online one night, Russel finds a chat room for his small town in Idaho on a gay website. He starts chatting with the person known only as GayTeen in the room. They are the same age. They are in the same grade. And.. they go to the same school?! Russel is a perfect blend of fear and excitement, unable to consider anyone else in his school, his grade even, could also be gay, while also fearing revealing his own identity. Neither will reveal their real name first, fearing the other person won't do the same. Instead, they decide to go meet in person and, that night, they come face to face.

Once the two characters meet, Russel's desire to talk about everything (meeting this guy, his being gay, etc.) leads him to come out to friends, who eventually form their own secret society within the high school. A group of them decide to meet twice a week for "Geography Club," picked because it sounds so boring no one else would ever show up to attend. And safer than a GSA, because no one has to come out as gay to talk about geography.

The Order of the Poison Oak: Book Review

By Jeff Walsh

In The Order of the Poison Oak, his sequel to Geography Club, Brent Hartinger avoids the 'haven't we been here before' feeling sequels sometimes often evoke by changing up everything but the main characters. This time, we still get Russel, Gunnar and Min from the first book, but the premise of the book is that to get away from everything, the trio become summer camp counselors.

Russel sees it as a way to go somewhere where no one will know he's gay, after starting his school's GSA and becoming the school fag in the process. Gunnar wants to use the summer as a way to avoid girls in general. And Min, who helped start the GSA as well, agrees to go with them.

The book is a fun read where we see the main characters have crushes on other counselors, as they have to learn how to make young camp attendees behave and follow instructions. Even when things could be perceived as heavy-handed (a camp full of burn victims with a forest fire approaching?), Hartinger makes it all work somehow.

"Split Screen": Book Review

By Jeff Walsh

"Split Screen: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies / Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies" is not only the longest book title we're ever likely to review on Oasis, it is also the third book in Brent Hartinger's Geography Club series.

Reading this book, my thoughts kept returning to E. Lynn Harris, who had a very successful string of books that featured the same recurring characters. Every time you would open the books in his Invisible Life series, you immediately fell right back into step with that world and its inhabitants. Some people dismissed them as lightweight, but an ongoing series with a storyline of almost entirely black characters dealing with sexuality isn't lightweight by its very definition.

With "Split Screen," Hartinger continues the paths of Russel, Min, Gunnar, and Kevin that began in Geography Club, and continued in Order of the Poison Oak.

Chorus Line: CD Review

By Jeff Walsh

Anyone who knows me realizes me objectively reviewing the New Cast Recording of A Chorus Line is silly. When it comes to this CD, they had me at "Again...," the first word spoken in the opening number.

This is one of my favorite shows of all time, if not my absolute favorite. This show was Broadway's version of reality TV back in the 70s. The stage is bare, a line runs parallel to the edge of the stage, as dancers tell their life stories in prose and song to try and find work. Seeing it onstage always inspires me. There is no artifice in Chorus Line, no chandelier falling in Act Two, no revolving stage, and no helicopter coming down from the rafters. Whatever happens onstage is there because of bodies, breath, heart, sweat, and yearning, and the result is always magic. The songs are their stories, and by the end many of them are our songs and stories on some level, too. It shows the true power of theater.

Umm... anyway, this is a CD review...

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