Thursday, August 22, 2013

BEN & ARTHUR (2002)


Directed by Sam Mraovich. Produced by Sam Mraovich. Starring Sam Mraovich. Written by Sam Mraovich. It looks like Sam is trying to make it clear to even the dimmest of bulbs that we’ve got an auteur situation going on here. A vision wrought from the guts of an artist. A Casio preset sample rendition of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” plays over these title cards, possibly because it’s public domain, but more likely because it’s Sam’s way of calling his shot; thou will be entertained. The balls on this motherfucker. Oh, and he was also the cinematographer and the casting director and he wrote some of the music. Dude is playing every position on the field and still guaranteeing victory. I’m all for balls but perhaps this is tipping over into out-and-out hubris. 


Anyway, Sam plays a balding gay schlub named Arthur who is dating Ben, a hot Jewish Vincent Spano. There’s a reason the star of a movie shouldn’t be allowed to cast the other parts. Regardless, Ben desperately wants to get married to the annoying Arthur, even though he could land any gay man he wanted and probably 20% of straight men. 


News comes over the radio that gay marriage has been legalized in Hawaii, so they pack their bags against the will of god to the tune of a god awful “upbeat” rock tune.


Most of the music sounds like tuneage that might’ve played on the soundtrack for a 90’s gay cheesecake video, like something Scott Thompson might’ve masturbated to in between filming Kids in the Hall sketches, but at least Scott would’ve had the human decency to mute it. Not that I would know about gay videos and gay music and such. I’m a straight guy who's into metal bands like Slayer, Manowar, and Judas Priest. 


Two major problems prove a rift in their relationship. The legal decision is overturned because America hates the gays, even though Hawaii barely qualifies as America. If that wasn’t enough, Ben drops the bombshell that he’s already married...TO A WOMAN! Not just any woman, but the craziest gay bashing bitch in California. Ben knew he was gay for the entire 5 years of their no doubt uncivil union, but apparently got married anyway due to “peer pressure”. If his gay buddies were pushing him to get married to her, they were probably being sarcastic, and maybe Ben is incapable of understanding sarcasm. You know what, they probably did the same thing to accidentally trick him into a relationship with Arthur. It’s the only theory that makes sense. 

More conflict arises. Arthur is unhappy working at a café with Ben despite the seemingly relaxed atmosphere. He has to occasionally fill the coffee cups of a scant number of customers who occasionally disappear into thin air, and even gets to wear sandals with socks to work. I don’t know if I could trust coffee from a man wearing sandals with socks. The only type of person that can wear sandals with socks in public and not arise suspicion is a Korean dad, and even the most Korean of dads isn’t going to wear sandals with socks while at work. 

Regardless, Arthur has dreams and pouring coffee is a prison sentence for his soul, so he quits. He wants to go back to college and earn a business degree so he can ultimately fulfill his ultimate goal of opening up a porno shop. That makes sense. You don’t want to dive head first into a career of selling dildos without the proper background and education. 

Arthur is now desperate for money, so he visits his crazy brother Victor to ask him for $2000 for college. However, Victor doesn’t even recognize him at first because he hadn’t seen him in several years. Maybe Arthur got a new nose or something at some point. Either way, Victor tells him that he’ll give him a whopping $8000 if he ungays himself and accepts Jesus Christ as his savior. You see, Victor is one of those ultra religious nutballs, evidenced by him clutching a bible for no reason. He later mentions that his motive for getting Arthur ungayed is because he “wants nieces and nephews”, even though he didn’t so much as recognize the guy a few days prior. Victor also likes to give away large sums of money under the guise of the lord, as he later mentions that he donated over $10,000 to his church, despite living in a shitty apartment and not having any discernible employment. I guess trying to apply logic to the life of a religious nutball is a game where victory is impossible because the rules are made up as the game goes along. 

Anyway, Ben does eventually get his divorce and they head to Vermont to get married amidst the tranquil beauty of palm trees and sunshine that Vermont is famous for. 


This is the final straw for Victor, who murders Arthur’s lawyer because she advised him on how their Vermont marriage translates under California civil union laws. I guess if Arthur had Googled it on his iMac, Victor would’ve shot Steve Jobs. Victor’s next plan of attack is to hire an 19-year-old private investigator to track Arthur’s every step, and later tapes a holy water potion to Arthur’s front door with the hopes that he’ll drink it and ungay himself. I guess these qualify as legitimate strategies in the mind of a nutball. Similarly, Ben’s ex-wife Tammy comes after him with a gun demanding that he, a gay man, remarry her. Again...crazy person logic. I think Victor and Tammy should get together so they can get off on yelling and pointing guns at each other. 

 Production values yo.  Take special note of the Jesus painting.
Based upon the hatred that Ben and Arthur’s union seem to inspire, you’d think the movie takes place in 1950’s Alabama and not post-millennial Los Angeles. You’d be hard pressed to even raise an eyebrow with a gay relationship in modern L.A. Maybe some insults get thrown your way if you live in East L.A. and go out every morning walking your pug while wearing daisy dukes and a see-through mesh shirt, but then you can just move to West Hollywood and be as accepted as is possible to be accepted. 

The whole thing escalates as you might imagine. Senseless violence abounds, like when Ben gets shot in the head and has to spend a day in the hospital and comes home a bit groggy. Maybe that sounds a unrealistic, but keep in mind these guns are made of plastic and might be filled with BB’s, and one of them looks like a Buck Rogers water pistol spray painted black, and I’m pretty sure that even water guns from the future can’t kill people. 

If Ben & Arthur is famous for anything, it’s famous for its ineptitude. The mid 90’s home movie digital camcorder look, the non-existent continuity, the mind numbing editing and shot selection. Then there’s the never consistent dialogue recording, an ever shifting audio river of ambient and white noise underneath the silly words. It’s sort of a precursor to the first half of Birdemic, but injected with gay issues filtered through an ultra diva prism. Maybe fans of shitty no budget movies will happen upon Ben & Arthur expecting the likes of Birdemic, but come away learning something about issues that modern gay people are forced to deal with, albeit lunatic soap opera extreme versions of these issues. Inadvertently, Mr. Mraovich may have cloaked these educational ideas within a genre piece. Granted, they may only be educational to dumb people who never leave the house, but you gotta start somewhere. 


These low rent nuggets of dumbass joy are slightly tempered by the inescapable vanity project aspect to the film. As if the endless title cards bearing the Mraovich name wasn’t clue enough, there are many other moments of vanity sprinkled throughout. Sam gets naked at one point, showing off his pudgy delights, and even applies for a job as an exotic dancer. The interviewer asks to see his penis while smacking his lips, as if Sam’s body is irresistible to both the audience and the characters. He has a big angry speech against the U.S. government where he says “if we ever get into a war, and they draft my ass, first thing I’m going to tell them is ‘If I’m not good enough to get married in this country, then I sure as hell ain't dying for it!’” Yes, Arthur/Sam’s 40-year-old schlub fighting prowess (possible his mastery of schlub-fu) would prove such a weapon for the U.S.A. that they’ll be forced to reinstitute the draft and greatly expand the draftable age. 

Then there’s the casting of the guy who plays Ben, who has never acted in anything else despite being as handsome as he is and a decent actor, considering Sam was probably too busy gaffing and catering and setting the lights to give him much direction. This is pure speculation on my part, but it sure feels that Sam cast him for vain reasons (considering this guy undyingly loves Arthur for no discernible reason) as well as to sell his movie (considering the cover art for the DVD features Ben shirtless). This entire experience may have soured the guy on acting all together, and maybe he fled Los Angeles to raise sheep in Omaha, because that’s what gay people do if they want to get away from the big city if hack stand-up comics from the 80’s are to be believed. 

In the end, the movie is best described as an exploitation movie; a cross between a gay-sploitation movie and a vanity project-sploitation movie and an ineptness-sploitation movie, and sometimes the exploited take it to heart. Either that or the guy that played Ben is so embarrassed that he starred in a movie this shitty that he’s too ashamed to ever audition for another role lest somebody recognizes him. I’ll let the viewer choose which one is correct, although bear in mind that I completely made both of them up. 



  1. I always regret that I missed watching this with an audience when it was the film that was screened in its entirety after the famous "Five Minute Game" at Cinefamily in LA a couple years back. Somehow I don't know if I could survive watching it all alone.

    Meanwhile, I have given you a blogging award. If you want to participate in passing it around yourself, it's all presented here.

    1. I heard about B & A from a post by Brian Sauer, who heard about it from Alonso Duralde, who "champions" it apparently. A drunk crowd is probably the way to go with this one, but I have a high tolerance for this kinda stuff.

      thank you!