Film Reviews

TICKED-OFF TRANNIES WITH KNIVES

By • Oct 18th, 2010 •

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It’s not for its sensationalist value that I’m recommending this film – though there’s nothing wrong with that, as all of John Waters’ early work attests to.

And I’m certainly not touting it for its technical virtuosity – it’s a low-to-micro-budget production, one whose flawed lighting, editing, and shooting ratio are things viewers must accept and run with, much as they accepted and ran with Waters’ early productions, but also as more recent films like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, PARANORMAL BEHAVIOR, or this year’s FISHTANK and CATFISH have also admirably demonstrated, that the baggage that comes with a low budget is no impediment to other inherent and satisfying qualities in a work.

Both of the above observations are true of course: TTWK’s budgetary constraints are hanging out like a tampon string (possibly an inappropriate analogy in relation to this film), and its title merrily screams exploitation. But I’m highly recommending this film for its humanity, its sense of humor, its clever screenplay, and its impressive direction.

The film was written and directed by Israel Luna, who performed several other tasks on the production [other names pop up repeatedly as well – a dead giveaway as to the scope of the production]. This is the only film I’ve seen by Mr. Luna, but based on this one alone, some production company ought to snatch him up right away. He’s got it. This could have been so tawdry, and so bereft of human warmth and insight, and yet what works best about the film is how much it makes us care for its characters.

I was partial to Willam Belli as Rachel, a transvestite stripper who initially comes across as hostile and stand-offish, then blossoms into a sweet, relatively innocent and clueless, naturally funny, and caring character who could easily go on to co-star in a TV or Web-series. He/she has so many nuanced expressions, and such a wonderful voice, that I couldn’t wait for each cutaway, and if Hollywood were more daring than it currently is, he should seriously be considered for a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, just as Jaye Davidson was back in 1993 for THE CRYING GAME. Belli has been in a number of other films, including, somehow not surprisingly, NIP AND TUCK, as well as CSI New York

Which is not to diminish the performances of the other actors. It’s an ensemble piece, and they’re all good, disarmingly natural, and great fun. Krystal Summers (who probably can do a dynamite Striesand) is effective in the lead role of Bubbles, and has a stand-out brush with a concussion-induced lisp. Kelexis Davenport as a protective nightclub manager is terrific. Tom Zembrod (who also was stunt co-ordinator) is a genuinely menacing villain who invokes Brad Pitt and has been in a dozen other productions including WALKER, TEXAS RANGER. And Erica Andrews and Jenna Skyy are both wonderful…and their pictures on IMDB are spectacular.

Any flaws other than those excusable budgetary ones? A few. There are a great many disruptive transitions consisting of black leader, ‘run-out’ light flares, scratches on the film, etc. I suspect this was to compensate for actual ‘run-outs’, damaged film stock, etc., but there must have been another way to make these transitions work. It’s only fun for a few minutes, and it doesn’t enhance the story in any way.

And one character – Richard Curtin – who plays Fergus, a doctor/guru/mentor to the targeted trannies, goes into caricature mode. Since none of the female impersonators sink to that level, he shouldn’t have either. A miscalculation, perhaps made under the assumption that he would inject some necessary near-third-act broad comic relief. It wasn’t necessary.

I could also complain that while there’s some upsetting violence (upsetting because we care about the characters), there’s no nudity. I kinda wish there’d been a little. [In fact there was a little; but so little – one shot – and so far from the camera lens, that it didn’t really qualify.]

The press notes declare that this film is partially a protest against discriminatory violence inflicted on the transgender sub-culture. Personally, the reasons I warmed up to the film were not political, nor do I feel that such a protest is an over-riding message the film endeavors to offer – rather I took the abusive red-neck mentality more as a compelling and dramatic narrative thread. But I’m sure that the kind of venomous behavior depicted in the film has gone on, and continues to go on, and for someone in that demographic it would be a pressing issue that needs addressing.

TTWK is being released with a limited theatrical strategy, in order to generate some buzz and garner some reviews. Its real market will be home video, where I hope it does gang-busters.

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