Tuesday, December 11, 2012

DVD Review - The Men Next Door (Special Features)

Eric Dean as Doug in
"The Men Next Door"
The Men Next Door is about a 40-year-old pilates instructor who dates two men at the same time. One is a 50-year-old retiree and the other is a 30-year-old business executive. It's a sexy, light-hearted, romantic comedy with a wrinkle, a crazy twist. I go into more detail in my lengthy review of the plot and its themes. I even delve into spoilers of what the twist is in my article where I interviewed writer-director Rob Williams. Yet, here I wanted to focus more on the DVD's Special Features.

The disc contains a commentary track with Williams and his three main actors, including Eric Dean who plays Doug, the man in the middle, Michael Nicklin who plays Jacob, the 50-year-old, and Benjamin Lutz who plays Colton, the 30-year-old. All of them are funny to hear. There's a little bit of an argument though between them. It's nothing too intense, but it's over whether audiences bother listening to these such commentaries.

Many people are generally curious about the filmmaking process, just as people are generally curious about how a magician does his tricks. Some people at this point, after about two decades of DVD commentaries, have grown tired of commentaries where the people on them spend the whole movie praising those with whom they worked or praising the work itself ad nauseum. People either want specifics about the process, to pull back the curtain and reveal what really happened, or else some funny, on-set stories.

Of the four guys on the commentary track, Lutz is the one who continually has to remind the others not to veer from what people want from commentaries and to keep providing pertinent or interesting stories. The others don't veer off too much, but, ironically, the veering off is probably some of the best stuff, perhaps thanks to the fact that wine may or may not have been flowing during the commentary. I'm not sure, but if it was, it definitely helps to maintain a loose and lively feeling, as well as helps to get lewd or lustful comments flowing too.

It was fun listening to the guys argue over whether Dean knew his lines, as Dean drops words, which no one knew the definition. Dean also reveals the line in the script he hated the most, while Lutz reveals there are parts of the script he didn't even read. It's also revealed too that unlike his character, Lutz doesn't like bacon but does like a certain pop star. Nicklin whispers continuity errors, while Williams points out references to Doctor Who and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Lutz adds how he wore his father's coat, as Dean adds how he wore his husband's underwear.

The other special features include a 11-minute featurette where Williams talks more about the process, deleted scenes of which there are two, and a 6-minute blooper reel. Yet, I want to go back to the commentary because I have a bit of a bone to pick at something they say. At about 51 minutes into the commentary, all of them have a conversation about the group nudity scene in the movie, what was involved and how much they worried about having their own penises shown.

I wouldn't make an issue out of it, if it wasn't for the fact that they do. Two of the actors say that apparently it was stated in their contracts that their penises would not be shown. If that's the case, I would love to read that contract, just for the language and to see the specific phrasing alone. Yet, all the actors do show their naked rear-ends.

It makes me curious as to why they would even agree to partial nudity because it's not even that partial. The filmmakers show everything except the penises of the main actors. One of the main actors is even in a scene where the only other actor in the room does do full-frontal nudity, so apparently that main actor is not opposed to the idea of showing a penis on screen or even when he's in the room, just as long as it's not his own, but the question is why? What's he afraid of?

That some actor says in the commentary, "Oh Lord, I don't want this... to get out on the Internet." I'm guessing he's referring to not wanting stills of his penis to get out on the Internet, but he has no bones about his butt crack getting out on the Internet. What is really the difference?

This whole conversation on the commentary, which goes for about four or five minutes, just had me wondering where it was coming from or what was the root of it, considering all the other things that happen in this movie. What does this fear of showing the penis come from? Again, I only make a big deal out of it because the actors on the commentary make a big deal out of it, literally a big deal if it's something that had to be written in a contract.

I could care less if this actor shows his penis or not, nor did I care if he showed his butt crack or not. I don't care about nudity in a movie at all, except if it's pertinent to the story like if the story is about sex, but it just seems that if you're going to go there, you might as well go all the way.

Because a lot of movie studios and companies are at the mercy of the MPAA ratings board, I get how they have to be careful. Often, showing a penis will push a movie rating toward NC-17, which greatly limits the amount of theaters that will carry that movie, thus limiting how much money that movie can earn.

This was the argument against John Hawkes showing his penis in the film The Sessions, despite Helen Hunt doing full-frontal in that movie. Some people pointed out the double standard, but in an article about it, the director admitted that being at the mercy of the MPAA was the reason he had to hide Hawkes' penis. Rob Williams and his company Guest House Films are under no such mercy. His movies are truly independent and enter the world without any MPAA rating.

Nonetheless, on the commentary, Williams says that during a take where an actor loses a towel a little too early, he specifically had it redone to make sure nothing was seen. He even confirms that he and his director of photography worked carefully with camera blocking to make sure certain objects blocked the penises of his main actors from being seen. I understand if he's fulfilling contract obligations or if he's trying to make a joke like in the Austin Powers movie where a naked Mike Myers is walking around and objects are strategically placed to ensure his penis is obscured. Yet, prior to the 51-minute scene, Williams had shown the penises of two other guys in blatant ways, so if he's making not showing penises a joke later, it's incongruous.

Going back to those actors here who refused to have their penises on screen, I have to ask again why. Is it personal or is it cultural? Is it both? A shy actor might sound like an oxymoron or a contradiction in terms, but is it shyness? If so, why is that line drawn at the penis? Why not the rear end too? Is it because you think you won't be taken seriously as an actor if you show your penis?

If there's a fear that doing full-frontal nudity would hurt your career, let's look at it for a second. The HBO series Oz had almost every male cast member show his penis at one point, including Christopher Meloni who went on to do Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for over a decade and recently True Blood. Daniel Craig showed his penis in Love is the Devil (1998). He went on to become James Bond in one of the biggest movie franchises ever. Michael Fassbender showed his penis in two films, Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011) and clearly he'll never work again. Jason Segel showed his penis in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) and he went on to do The Muppets (2011) for Disney because when you think Disney, you think obviously men who have done full-frontal nudity. Yes, Mickey Mouse always had his shorts on, but how many decades did Donald Duck walk around without pants?

It wasn't the real body part, but Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights (1997), Felicity Huffman in Transamerica (2005), Joe Lo Truglio in Wanderlust (2012) and recently Joe Manganiello in Magic Mike (2012) all wore a prosthetic penis and showed if off. There are enough examples now that I think the reticence by the actors of The Men Next Door represent a taboo about male nudity that seems to be trending downward. Obviously, unless a radical shift occurs, the MPAA and FCC will continue being puritanical, and, in order to secure the billion-dollar industry that is film and television, Hollywood will continue to appease the strong religious and conservative sensibilities that pervade America.

This film and its commentary, despite the nudity remarks, as most films centered on LGBT characters, are part of the changing tide. The tide is moving toward a more liberal, more open, more sex positive culture, but it's evident that waves of that traditional, reserved, modest, buttoned up view still exists. It's not that this view is bad, but it does present an interesting conflict for gay films and their marketing, which tend to want to show more skin. It'll be interesting to see that conflict play out here and in the future.

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