Two queer films with themes of betrayal offer varied experiences

From left, Jack Stratton-Smith as Randy and Manuel Kornisiuk as Hunter in ‘The Winner Takes It All.’ The two men lay shirtless in bed together.
From left, Jack Stratton-Smith as Randy and Manuel Kornisiuk as Hunter in ‘The Winner Takes It All.’ (Credit: TLA Releasing)

Two queer films with themes of betrayal are available on VOD this month. Both are micro-budget productions, but whereas one is sexy and fun, the other is more of a missed opportunity.

“The Winner Takes It All” is frothy, sexy fun

“The Winner Takes It All,” available Aug. 26 on VOD and DVD, is an amusing tale from Down Under that revolves around money, sex and revenge. Outsized drag queen Maxine Fowler (Maxi Shield) agrees to help her bestie Kiki (Jessica Marchi) by holding her money as a means of keeping it away from Kiki’s cheating, gigolo husband, Hunter (Manuel Kornisiuk), whom she is planning to divorce. (Kiki foolishly never signed a prenup, hence the setup.) However, given what transpires between Maxine and Hunter in a shower, it is clear that Maxine and Hunter are friends, not enemies, and Kiki is being double crossed. 

When Hunter finds Kiki dead, he calls Maxine who advises him to dispose of the body, which he does. (Hunter can’t call the cops). But Hunter then insists the couple lay low, so as not to have their relationship (or plans to steal Kiki’s fortune) discovered.

Turns out Maxine is not the only person Hunter tells to lay low. He is cheating on Maxine (and Kiki) with Randy (Jack Stratton-Smith) — who happens to be Maxine’s favorite porn star. Maxine, of course, is none too pleased to discover this, and is hellbent on getting justice. As the characters all suffer literal and figurative reversals of fortune, “The Winner Takes It All” builds to a climax where only one person comes out on top. 

The film, written and directed by James Demitri, gets mileage out of Shield’s campy performance. She is funny in a running gag involving her passion for Cheezels (ringed chips), and deliberately irritating when she whines to Kiki or Hunter about wanting something. Demitri gives Shield a terrific showcase — she is Divine to his John Waters — and gets to perform a terrific musical number. 

The other asset here is Kornisiuk, a tattooed dreamboat that Demitri objectifies at every opportunity. In his film debut, the handsome actor rarely wears a shirt, and frequently displays his cute nude caboose. He is utterly convincing as a possible con artist who plays the ends against the middle to get both money and sex. 

In support, Stratton-Smith is a bit underused. An early scene of him in a porn film is weak, and the potentially interesting plot twist of Maxine and Randy teaming up to screw Hunter is never quite realized. But Stratton-Smith does get a few choice scenes with both Shield and Kornisiuk, which does suggest he should have had more to do in the film.

“The Winner Takes It All” is frothy, lightweight fun.

‘Parallel Lies’ is underdeveloped, goes nowhere slowly

From left, Alex Hall as Amanda and Lucy Crawford as Cheryl in ‘Parallel Lies.’ The two are sitting on a bench looking off into the distance with despondent looks on their faces.
From left, Alex Hall as Amanda and Lucy Crawford as Cheryl in ‘Parallel Lies.’ (Credit: Ariztical Entertainment)

In contrast, “Parallel Lies” available Aug. 22 on VOD, has Dirk (Darren Haywood) newly released from prison after eight years for killing a teenager while he was driving. Dirk insists the police presented false evidence; he fell asleep at the wheel, but he was not drunk. 

Now living in a halfway house, Dirk reunites with Josh (Tom Bloemsma) a corrections officer he had a romantic relationship with while incarcerated. The chemistry between the two men is minimal, despite their passions reigniting.

“Parallel Lies” is a modest drama in which Dirk implores he has been persecuted not only because he is gay, but also because he was denied justice. Haywood’s expression conveys his feelings of detachment. But Dirk becomes hellbent on vengeance when he is given his case file and discovers something regarding his arrest involving Josh and upends his world. 

Rather than continue down this narrative path, however, screenwriter Christopher Bourne shifts inexplicably to Dirk’s mother, Amanda (Alex Hall), a sex worker, whose lover, Rosa (Anca Vaida), has gone back to Spain. Meanwhile, Amanda’s younger sister, Cheryl (Lucy Crawford) has returned after 30 years away. She is escaping from a toxic relationship. The sisters slowly address the difficulties between them, which may form the “parallel lies” of the title, but this storyline is far less interesting, and indifferently performed. The relationship between Amanda and Rosa is also unconvincing. Amanda’s interactions with her lover and her male clients are all done via tablets, indicative of the film’s poor production values (or COVID restrictions). 

Another underdeveloped storyline involves Dirk’s parole officer, Peter (Luke Lovejoy), who may or may not be helping Dirk, and a subplot involving Trent (Mark Spayne), who holds the key to Dirk’s case. Trent is a drunk whose phone call to a liquor delivery service is one of the lowest moments in a film where there are few high points.

“Parallel Lies” feels amateur as if the filmmaker, Christopher Clark, does not know what he wants to say, or how to say it. The film’s interesting ideas go nowhere slowly. 

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