Black, blue and broken

Gregg Shapiro, Staff writer

Franco takes on Hart Crane

“The Broken Tower,” writer/director/star James Franco’s non-traditional biopic about the late gay poet Hart Crane, is overly ambitious but admirable. It follows Franco’s impressive turn as gay poet Allen Ginsberg in “Howl.”

Franco seems to want “The Broken Tower” to be a visual poem on par with Crane’s work. Shot mostly in black and white, it is nice to look at, especially the New York scenes involving the Brooklyn Bridge.

For a film about someone so conflicted toward his family (Crane kept his homosexuality hidden from his parents), “The Broken Tower” is a family affair, with Franco’s brother Dave playing the younger Crane and his mother Betsy playing Crane’s mother Grace.

Franco is brave in his frank and sometimes graphic depiction of Crane’s gay life, including dalliances with truck drivers and sailors, as well as his relationship with Emile (Michael Shannon). Franco’s appreciation for Crane’s poems, whether they’re being read aloud in the background or at poetry readings given by the poet, is a valuable addition to the film.

Although the audience never gets a clear picture of Crane, Franco does what he can to inspire viewers to explore the poet’s work.

DVD bonus features include Franco’s Skype interviews with literary scholars.

The dark side of gay life

The six “Black Briefs” referred to in the title of this compilation are all of a dark nature. For instance, Hong Khaou’s “Spring,” the DVD’s first film, involves a 20-year-old university student negotiating an intense sexual scene with slightly older man. There’s a noose, a blindfold and commands to bark and fetch like a dog. There’s also respect and a sense of release and relief.

In “Remission,” directed by Greg Ivan Smith, Sam (Michael Fitzpatrick), a gay man, weekends in a Maine cabin awaiting the Monday results of a biopsy. Accompanied by his Boston terrier, Sam finds his trip to the country quickly goes off the rails. His cellphone is dying and he can’t find the charger. Then he begins to hear, see and smell things. Is it just his anxiety or his meds? Or is there really a shadowy figure lurking outside the window and in the cellar? Prepare to be horrified.

The other shorts follow a similar path to the dark side. “Video Night,” the shortest work in the collection, manages to horrify viewers at warp speed. The most exotic short on the DVD, “Communication,” features an Orthodox Jewish character in New Zealand.

As this kind of compilation goes, this one rates better than average.

Lavender and blue

The six shorts compiled on the DVD “Blue Briefs” are more of a mixed bag. The best of the series, Sal Bardo’s “Requited,” deals with Nicholas (Christopher Schram) and Gregor (Max Rhyser), a couple in New York facing issues of commitment and separation. Nicholas and Gregor are spending their last weekend together before Gregor relocates. Their time is not their own, as the weekend also includes a going-away party for Gregor and the wedding of Nicholas’ best friend Aaron (Matthew Watson), with whom he is in love. Good writing and acting make this required viewing.

“Boys Like You,” starring and directed by Sal Armando, examines the complicated relationships between gay men and straight men and the dangers of drinking and flirting. Alain Hain’s “The In-Between,” “based on true stories,” incorporates interviews with men about infidelity while a story of infidelity is depicted on-screen.