Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Morgan (2012)

Written by: Sandon Berg and Michael Akers
Directed by: Michael Akers
Film Distributor: United Gay Network
Leo Minaya as Morgan Oliver
Jack Kesy as Dean Kagen
Supporting Cast:
Madalyn McKay as Peg Oliver
Darra ‘Like Dat’ Boyd as Lane Williams
Benjamin Budd as Wesley Blake
Theodore Bouloukos as Dr. Thomas
Dane Anton as Physical Therapist

Official Film Trailer:

Morgan Oliver is recently paraplegic, T-10 incomplete, as a result of a bicycle accident during a race he was competing in. He has recently returned home from rehab and he’s now unemployed and living on disability, adjusting to his new life and the new adaptive setup in his apartment. His preferred way to pass the time is drinking beer and watching television, and the main events of the film begin when he runs out of beer and neither his mother, Peg, nor his best friend, Lane, will enable him any further. They refuse to buy him more beer, forcing him to leave the house on his own. It is during his trip out to replenish his beer supplies that he meets Dean Kagen, which is where our romance begins.  The dialogue seems a bit forced at first, but it gets more natural as the film progresses. 
The drama unfolds once Morgan decides he wants to compete in the wheelchair division of the very same race that cost him his ability to walk, where Morgan, because of his hyper-competitive nature, caused an accident involving himself and two other competitors on a very dangerous part of the course. This same hyper-competitive nature leads to his doing things he ought not to be doing and refusing to listen to reason from Dean, his doctor, or anyone else.
This film is a journey for Morgan where he must confront his past and his present, and he must find a way to learn from his mistakes and move forward. This is also, to a lesser extent, a journey for Dean in finding a new way to live following the death of his mother. But most of all, it is a romance featuring a paraplegic romantic lead, which is something that is very rare to find. And better yet, it is a romance that delves into the issue of disabled sexuality, which we almost never see on film. And Morgan is pretty cute, too, so that helps.
Fanvid by JJstrikesback1:

So how does it fare with regard to portrayal of a disabled character and disabled sexuality?
This is a male/male romance, but it is not a coming out story; rather, the central focus of the story is Morgan’s disability. The film addresses both the disability and the romance from a variety of angles and is, I think, one of the most comprehensive films I’ve seen with regard to disability and romance. It’s a low budget film with acting that could be better, but the writing/directing/production team of Michael Akers and Sandon Berg, as well as Leo Minaya, who played the title character, Morgan, did quite a lot of research in preparation for this film (though there are certainly some important gaps). Leo Minaya is not paraplegic himself, and this was a deliberate casting decision on behalf of the filmmakers because the film originally was going to contain scenes of Morgan before his accident which ended up being cut from the final version of the film. I think that things like Photoshop and body doubles could get around the reasons they cited for hiring a non-disabled actor instead of a disabled one, but the actor they cast was very dedicated to portraying the reality of Morgan’s paralysis. There was a scene early on in the film where Dean helps Morgan with his leg exercises, and the director had instructed Leo Minaya to keep his leg up during the scene after Dean let go of it, and Mr. Minaya insisted that this would be impossible for Morgan to do and he made sure that the film reflected this. There was another particular scene that was very physically intense, and in the commentary, the filmmakers point out multiple times that Leo Minaya refused to use his legs to help him with this very difficult scene, insisting on pulling himself back up and over the wall using only his arms. A lot of actors, particularly in low budget indie films, might not have this kind of dedication to the role they were playing, and so although I think a paraplegic actor would have been preferable, Leo MInaya did a great job of being Morgan. Leo Minaya and Jack Kesy are not gay in real life, either, but they managed to do a great job with that aspect of their roles, as well.
There are three areas where I think the film suffered from the decision not to use a paraplegic actor –
· First, in simple physical realism. Morgan had a lot of muscle tone, and even for a guy less than a year post injury who is still actively doing physical therapy, there are just some things you can’t fake, and the appearance of a paraplegic’s legs and abdomen is one of them. There were two scenes in particular where abdominal strength and control were slightly unrealistic. The first is a scene where he’s in the shower on a shower chair and not using either of his arms to maintain his balance or keep from falling or sliding down. The second is that there are a couple of scenes where he’s doing sit-ups, and I just don’t think that a T-10 paraplegic would be able to move the specific muscle combination necessary to do those particular exercises.
· The second area the film suffered from not casting a paraplegic actor is, of course, realism regarding bladder and bowel issues. That’s something that is not touched on even one single time in the film, and Morgan doesn’t seem to use a catheter or go to the bathroom for anything other than a shower, ever. Men I’ve known with SCI have always gone to the bathroom to sort everything that needs to be sorted before coming to the bed and being intimate, and I think it’s pretty standard to have at least one conversation about bladder and bowel issues at some point in the relationship. This just wasn’t a feature in the film, but it’s something that really can’t be ignored in an intimate relationship with someone who is paraplegic. I think this would have been very different had they used a paraplegic actor in the role.
· And following from that, the third area where I think the film suffered from not using a paraplegic actor was that, although they did significantly address Morgan’s erectile dysfunction, one thing they forgot about was making sure he took his little blue pills before having sex with Dean, and also, for that matter, addressing whether and how much he could feel, as an incomplete paraplegic, when having sex. Also, sex with a paraplegic guy is not a spontaneous act. It requires preparation. And also, I would have been really curious to see how they actually figured out the right positions and the best way to do things for both of them, which wasn’t really spelled out. There were one or two great conversations before they became sexually active that addressed Morgan’s erectile dysfunction and Dean’s openness to figuring things out as they went along, but nothing at the time they finally did have sex for the first time or any time after that. Also, there is a single scene in the film where, during sex, they show the scar as Dean runs his arm down Morgan’s back, and it’s not quite the Joel Brown “Personal Rockstar” video, but it is sensual and shows that they are making an effort to show this aspect of Morgan’s disability. However, I think that the film would have been more realistic in this regard if the actor playing Morgan had been paraplegic himself.
Other than these areas, though, I think that the research the writers did paid off, and you really can tell that they did their homework. Also, they made Morgan and Dean both into well-rounded characters with flaws and quirks and issues that are not related to Morgan’s disability. Morgan is hyper-competitive, afraid of public displays of affection, bad with money, and drinks a bit too much. The writers say that the overarching theme for understanding Morgan’s issues is his issue with his own masculinity that dates back to when he was about 12 years old and his father left the family not long after finding out that Morgan was gay. Dean has just gone through a long period of caring for an ailing mother who has recently died, and he never came out to her when she was alive and is still getting the hang of being an out gay man. Their conflicts come not from Morgan’s disability but from his character flaws, and Dean is quite comfortable with Morgan’s disability from the very beginning. This is also not a coming out film, although Dean is more recently out than Morgan. This is a romance between two men whose major conflict is over Morgan’s hyper-competitiveness rather than his disability. The romance is complex and grows organically, and their relationship is multi-faceted and fairly realistic. Having watched not only the film, but also the deleted scenes, the Behind the Scenes Featurette, and the commentary, I’ve gotten to be quite familiar with the filmmakers’ thought processes as well as with the characters and the film itself, and I really think the filmmakers and the cast did an outstanding job at accomplishing this, despite my continued belief that the role would have been even better with a paraplegic actor.
Ironically, the writers got the idea for the film itself from a paraplegic actor who auditioned for another film they did together, who was kind enough to sit down with them and really talk about issues of being gay and paraplegic and dating, sex, etc. During their conversation, they even touched on the topic of guys who wanted to be with someone who they perceived as “needing” them and guys with a “wheelchair fetish”. Later on during the preparation for the film, they went to a disabled dating site and talked with two paraplegic men they connected with on there about their experiences and preferences when dating and their issues with sexuality. Perhaps this is why I have such an issue with the fact that they went with a non-paraplegic actor, but really, they did do their research, and Leo Minaya did work very hard to ensure as much authenticity as possible in his portrayal of Morgan Oliver.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Reprobate: Amsterdam Assassin Series

Reprobate: A Katla Novel
Book one in the Amsterdam Assassin Series

by Martyn V. Halm


Katla is a professional assassin for hire, specializing in hits that can't be traced. When the novel begins, she is taking out the owner of a shop selling antique Japanese swords, with his own merchandise, when she is interrupted by a blind man who has come to pick up his order. Katla has a firm policy of not allowing witnesses to her hits to live, but Bram is blind, and totally sexy. She lets him go, but can't seem to stay away from him. So begins an unlikely but fascinating partnership. How will a cold-blooded killer and a pacifist musician find any common ground?

Meanwhile, American DEA agents are brought to Amsterdam to help IPOL break up a drug ring run by a local gang. Katla is unwittingly drawn in to a law enforcement sting operation by a double-crossing client. There is some gory violence as Katla carries out her hits, but the emphasis is firmly on procedure: descriptions of guns and knives, techniques, and the autopsies and forensics afterward.

But of course, Devo Girl was way more interested in Bram. He is a terrific character, very realistic and SUPER devvy. He's well-adjusted and capable, but not superhuman. He plays the saxophone, practices shiatsu on the local yakuza, and studies aikido. He's just the right combination of strong and vulnerable, and it's oh so sexy. And Katla pursues him with the single-minded obsession of a dev. His blindness and the scars on his face and eyes make him more sexy to her. It's awesome.

There is also a second blind character who shows up in a small but great scene. And another character who is a DAK amputee, but that is very minor.

I also like that Katla is a tough, strong woman who doesn't have trauma or abuse in her past. She's just good at what she does. It's quite a trick to get the audience to root for the killer and the police equally, but the author pulls it off. The Dutch setting is also unusual and interesting. I'm looking forward to the next books in the series.

ETA: The sequel, Pecadillo, is even better than the first volume. A lot more Bram, too!

Read my interview with author Martyn Halm on Ruth Madison's blog.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

In The Eye of the Beholder by Beverly Cialone

In The Eye of the Beholder


I really didn't like this book. The female mc was very insipid and weak. She was a thirty year old virgin who considered herself as unattractive. Her actions seem contradictory to the personality the writer had shared with us. In that she is very insecure and self-analytical but yet has confidence to wonder over to a doctor and introduce herself. That just doesn't fit with the rest of her personality.

My main objection is with the male mc. The story opens with him reading a book and leading her around, he is fairly sweet but as the synopsis on the "cover" tells us he is going to be blind so when he drops his "bombshell" we aren't that shocked. But I was shocked as to how completely implausible this character was portrayed. He moved around his environment without any assistance, he managed to read books in the conventional way without any braille or speech apparatus, and carried a pager around with requires sight to read the message.

I wish the author had either just made this a tale about a doctor falling for an ugly duckling or had made far more concessions to the character's disability. I do really hope that, with this book being electronic, she may revisit it at some time and make adjustments to his character.

I could not recommend this to anyone because of the failings of the portrayal of disability being completely inconsequential to a persons life that it is only paid lip service. I sincerely hope that should Beverly Cialone tackle another character with disability, she does research and writes it with more realism.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Young Adult

Dev Rating: ***

The movie Young Adult with Charlize Theron was not at all what I was expecting.

 Being about a YA author, I thought it would be zany and fun, an upbeat comedy. It came up on Netflix and I watched it last night, discovering that it was anything but upbeat. It's actually very difficult to watch.

The main character is struggling with depression and her behavior can be very difficult to empathize with. The only thing that kept me watching was discovering a character played by Patton Oswald who has a disability.

The story is that Mavis leaves the big city of Minneapolis to go back home to Mercury, Minosota when she sees her ex-boyfriend's announcement that he and his wife have had a baby. Mavis becomes convinced that Buddy, her ex, is trapped in his marriage and would want to escape with her. When she arrives, she bumps into someone else she went to high school with, Matt. She doesn't remember him, even though his locker was next to hers, because she was a cool kid. Her memory is triggered when she realizes that he is "the hate crime guy." Meaning that Matt had been attacked and brutally beaten by other kids at the school because they thought he was gay. He says because he actually isn't gay, it turns out it wasn't a hate crime. But his legs were damaged beyond repair and he walks with one forearm crutch. Mavis gets drunk and tells him her plan to get Buddy away from his wife. Matt tries to talk her out of it, but she is entirely delusional. Throughout the movie, Matt and Mavis start to become friends since he's the only one who is seeing the real her.

I found his character to be deeply moving. The crutch was not something that he just carried around for its metaphorical value to the movie. He really does move with it. He has the insight that Mavis lacks and she is not able to see it when she hurts him. I was really surprised by how sensual and sexy I found him to be.

 There's a rather hilarious scene when they bump into Mavis's cousin who is a paraplegic and the "happiest cripple in town" according to Matt. The guy is cheerful and upbeat, telling them about his wife, his kids, his rock climbing, and how he and Matt were "rebooted for extra positivity."

 Overall, though, it is a really sad movie. It ended on a note of hope, but not nearly the happy ending that this American viewer loves! It left me feeling bleak. Still, it was totally worth watching for Oswald's performance. I never would have expected to find him sexy, but he really was. Just make sure you have someone nearby to cuddle with when it's over.

The Boy Next Door

The Boy Next Door

by Annabelle Costa


This is the third offering from Dev Love Press, and a book that originally appeared on Paradevo. So hopefully most of you already know it, but for any new readers, here is a review:

Jason and Tasha have been best friends since they were kids, even though Jason is kind of a nerd, and Tasha is a little teenage hottie. They go their separate ways in college, then reconnect as adults in New York. Somehow, without quite realizing how it happened, Tasha finds herself still single at 32, wanting to settle down, unable to find the right guy. Someone like Jason, but they're just friends. And he doesn't even think of her like that, right?

This book is so much fun to read. The writing is snappy and funny, and the romance goes down as sweet as candy, filled with pop culture references. In between the chapters are clever charts that poke fun at the chick-lit genre.

Tasha and Jason are great characters--flawed but loveable and believable. Even though the action takes place when they are adults, there are lots of flashbacks to their childhood and teen years. I really liked that Tasha slept around a lot but there's no slut-shaming. She has a slightly embarrassing past, but it's not that big a deal. So refreshing after reading so many prudish romances.

Jason's disability is also handled really well. A paraplegic from a car accident when he was 5, it's not that big a deal to him or to Tasha, but the book does a good job of showing how he's adjusted and how people react to him. And the author doesn't cheat on the details. It's very realistic without being a huge downer. The wheelchair is part of who he is, but it doesn't define him.

Having a dev author makes all the difference! Even though Tasha is not a dev herself, the narration lingers over just the right details. Even if you have read this story on PD in the past, please support Dev Love Press by buying a copy, so they can continue to bring us great dev books.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

They Say Love Is Blind

They Say Love is Blind by Pepper Pace

By Pepper Pace
Dev Rating (The first half **** the second  ***)

I really enjoyed this book.  Victoria is an anti heroine, she is overweight, insecure, low self confidence in other words a real woman and not a barbie doll.  She is plodding through her average life, going to work, slobbing in her pj's and trying to shed her unwanted pounds.  On a clumsy bus journey she spots Lee and it is lust at first sight.

Lee was everything I like in a romantic lead.  Hunky, funny, kind and very sexy.  Victoria watches from afar, never believing that he'd ever be remotely attracted to her.... But sparks fly.

Pepper Pace faces Lee's disability head on, with a positivity that brightens up the story.  A couple of places I felt her research was a little too forced fed to the reader and rather than have Tory ask loads of questions we could have had a bit more show not tell.  But saying that I did find it interesting to learn what computer programme he used and was surprised at the cause of his blindness, so much so I had to have a google session.  I really like the discovery of his blindness, to me it was plausible.  I also got a zing out of the early dating sections and after an incident which made him lose confidence but he seemed to recover rather quickly from that.

There were enough story plots to keep me turning the page.  So all in all a very enjoyable read!