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By Adam Lippe

shank00001Opening with a coke-filled clandestine Internet hook-up in the woods, quickly followed up with a painful headbutt, Simon Pearce’s Shank successfully treads the line between sweet romance, gay soft-core porn, gang violence, and aimless exploitation. The combination of all of these elements is the only way the movie is unique; otherwise, it’s just a coming-out story where the lead character, Cal (played by Wayne Virgo), is a closeted British gang member with intimacy problems.

shank00007A dead ringer for a paler, teenage version of Martin Lawrence, Cal goes about his adult-free days smoking weed, jumping queers, and finding anonymous bareback partners who can videotape him servicing them. His fellow gang members obviously don’t have a clue about the last part (though there’s plenty of shirtless homoerotic bonding with Cal and his best friend). Otherwise, he’d be first in line for a beating.

shank00005First-time director Pearce owes a lot to Larry Clark’s Kids, as Shank is basically the same movie, but [well] shot on video, with a few more savage attacks and considerably less HIV. Cal’s boyfriend, Olivier, a French exchange student, looks like a skinnier Telly from Kids. (Well, if you mixed Telly with E.T.) Their love story is convincing only from Cal’s perspective. He’s needy, lonely, and scared. But Olivier has little to no reason to embrace this thug; especially since he was on the receiving end of one of the gang’s attacks (an interesting meet-cute though).

shank00008Since Cal is realistically stupid, as are most of the other characters, condemning his point-of-view isn’t easy. So we watch Shank from a distance, waiting for the eventual car wreck of gay bashing and emotional confusion to pile up. Pearce loses his way by the third act as the movie attempts to literally rub your nose in its grime and intensity. The film goes off into ridiculous melodrama-land, where there are apparently only seven people in the world. And they’ve either been beaten up by or had sex with Cal.

shank00002Obviously, these soap opera contrivances dissolve the interest that had been built up by Cal’s self-discovery and his romanticizing of his relationship with Olivier. But, while Shank is certainly a mess (it has nowhere near the insight into British gangs as Shane MeadowsThis is England), it isn’t boring. And Pearce should be congratulated for hiring actors who were not only effective, but handled the graphic sex scenes quite well.

shank00003The fact that his movie is all over the place is hardly an anomaly for a first film. And hopefully next time, much like Cal, instead of trying to cram everything in, he can just relax and enjoy himself.

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By Adam Lippe

Whenever there’s a genre parody or ode to a specific era of films, such as Black Dynamite’s mocking of Blaxploitation films or Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, the second half of Grindhouse, the danger is that the film might fall into the trap of either being condescending without any particular insight, or so faithful that it becomes the very flawed thing it is emulating.

Black Dynamite has nothing new to say about Blaxploitation films, it just does a decent job of copying what an inept [...]

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Featured Quote (written by me)

On Cold Fish:

Though the 16 year old me described the 1994 weepie Angie, starring Geena Davis as a Brooklyn mother raising her new baby alone, as “maudlin and melodramatic,” Roger Ebert, during his TV review, referring to the multitude of soap-operaish problems piling up on the titular character, suggested that it was only in Hollywood where Angie would get a happy ending. “If they made this movie in France, Angie would have shot herself.”

Well Cold Fish was made in Japan, where Angie would have shot herself and that would have been the happy ending.