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Reeling 2020 reviews
by Steve Warren
2020-09-12

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For complete festival information and to buy tickets, visit reelingfilmfestival.org/2020. Ratings are on a **** scale but I'm a tough grader, so nothing gets over ***.

Note: This year's installment of Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival officially takes place online and begins Sept. 24. The festival lasts through Oct. 4, although select films will be available for screening for a few days past closing.

Breaking Fast ( *** ) ( Sept. 24-27 )

What I don't know about Islam could fill the Quran. Breaking Fast provides a lot of insight without being didactic. A discussion of how Muslim parents react to their sons' coming out reveals a surprising support spectrum of 0-100, like almost any other group, and the religious reasons behind their attitudes. Set in West Hollywood, it's billed as a romantic comedy but is really more of a drama, not even a dramedy, though it does have some comic relief, including a couple of really funny lines and a major character who's the kind of flaming stereotype we rarely see anymore. The story begins one Ramadan, the holy month during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. When he learns his partner is going to marry a woman to avoid coming out to his 80-year-old father, Mo ( Haaz Sleiman ) refuses to be part of his life under those conditions. A year later, Mo's best friend Sam ( Amin El Gamal ), a non-practicing Muslim, introduces him to Kal ( Michael Cassidy ), who speaks Arabic because his father was stationed in Jordan when he was young. He also learned how to make Arbaic cuisine and offers to cook Iftar, the sunset meal, for Mo every night during Ramadan, after learning they're both big fans of Superman. ( There's a stupid scene where Kal surprises Mo with a movie, as if Mo couldn't see the huge marquee on the way in. ) Romance develops accordingly, although there are moments when you might want to tell one man or the other to turn and run. Overall this is one of the better gay romances I've seen lately.

T11 INCOMPLETE ( **1/2 ) ( Sept. 24-27 )

The most WTF? title of the festival refers, as all you practicing physicians know, to the thoracic spinal nerve 11, which affects a woman's uterus, among other things. If it's damaged but not destroyed so there's still some sensation, the status is logged as "incomplete." That's the info home health care aide Kate Murphy ( Karen Sillas ) records on her first visit to paraplegic patient Laura ( Kristen Renton ), who needs help with her catheter because she fell and injured her left arm. Can you tell where Cupid is aiming the arrow? We already met Kate when she was caring for a dying old man during the day and her dying cat at night, so we know we're in for some heavy suds. The screenplay by director Suzanne Gaucci makes us fill in a few gaps, but I think Kate is a recovering alcoholic whose husband left her 10 years ago, and Laura, who still drinks, was responsible for a car accident four years ago that killed her girlfriend and left her crippled. Kate needs money to spoil her six-year-old grandson, so when she learns where a client stashes their cash she helps herself to some. With these and other character flaws to examine, the lesbian love story is slow to develop and not the most interesting part of the narrative. Melodrama fans will find a lot to like here, but I was most impressed with Sillas' strong presence. I've seen her many times, but don't think she's had to carry a feature before, and she does it well enough to move up to the actors' A-List.

These Thems ( Season One ) ( *** ) ( Sept. 24-27 )

In the midst of all the ambitious festival features, it's kind of refreshing to watch some simple television. The subject matter may not be ready for prime time ( Who knew Pose was? ) but creator/writer Gretchen Wylder is going for a queer version of Friends. There are four main characters, two pairs of BFFs who could also become two pairs of lovers. In the first episode Gretchen ( Wylder ) and Vero ( Vico Ortiz ) cross paths at a gynecologist's office, where Gretchen, 30, realizes she's a lesbian, and non-binary Vero, "a human with a vagina," winds up explaining modern gender terminology to the doctor. Their skill leads Vero to give up dog-walking and start a "new career trajectory" as a "straight whisperer." The two run into each other again in a bar where they go with their friends. Kevin ( Nick Park ), an old-school queen, is introducing Gretchen to her first lesbian bar, while Vero and Asher ( Shaan Dasani ) are just hanging. Asher is struggling with coming out as trans at work, where an LGBT account is up for grabs, but doesn't want to because they're already "the only brown guy at the office." Most of this is established in the first two episodes of the seven in the first season, which average about ten minutes each except for the double-length finale. Gretchen will become a lesbian sex fiend in her "kid-in-a-candy-store phase," while the others move slowly and cautiously toward possible relationships; and two of them will have solo musical numbers. Only some slight toning down, and of course reconfiguring the episodes to 22 minutes, would be required to make These Thems acceptable for broadcast television; and audiences might be readier for it than you think.

Cicada ( **1/2 ) ( Sept. 25-28 )

Cicada is a movie only a festival could love. I don't mean that quite as sarcastically as it sounds, but it can be very frustrating for a viewer who just wants to be told a good story. Unless you're familiar with the life cycle of the title insect, which comes out after 17 years underground, you won't know that's what Ben ( Matt Fifer ) and his mother are talking about in the final scene. But if you've gotten that far, you've had a lot more to wonder about. We're told at the outset that this is "Based on true events." Since Fifer is also the writer and director, we can assume he's playing himself, which many actors say is the hardest thing to do. The film begins with a montage of shots of Ben cruising and having sex with men, women and himself. Eventually he meets Sam ( Sheldon D. Brown ) and pretty much settles down. But Sam, who is Black, isn't out to his father ( though I sensed that Dad knows ) or the world. He eschews PDAs and accuses Ben of exhibiting him to show his white friends "how woke you are." By extension, this dialogue seems intended to show us how woke Fifer is. Despite all their intimate scenes together, I didn't feel any chemistry between the actors ( even though for all I know, Brown may be playing himself too ). Ben suffers physical symptoms that are probably psychosomatic reactions to having been molested as a child. There are several shots of young Ben, often in dreams, but we never learn those specifics. One brief mention of a stepfather may be a hint. The film's quite an acting exercise for Fifer and lets cinematographer Eric Schleicher show off too; but for viewers it's too much of an exercise in mindreading to fill in gaps in the script. Fifer needed advice from someone who hadn't lived the story, but he was too proud to take it.

The Strong Ones ( Los Fuertes ) ( **1/2 ) ( Sept. 25-28 )

Let me start by saying I couldn't watch Samuel Gonzalez and Antonio Altamirano make love for more than three weeks...without a lunch break. That's good, because there isn't much more to do during the 98-minute run of The Strong Ones. Lucas ( Gonzalez ) is visiting his sister in Valdivia on Chile's southern coast. He lives in Santiago but is soon to leave for Montreal to study architecture on a scholarship. He meets Antonio ( Altamirano ), who works on a fishing boat when he's not taking part in historical reenactments of the 1820 battle that won Chile independence from Spain. They meet again and it's not long before I'm setting my stomach alarm for three weeks. Lucas' sister's marriage is in a rough patch because her husband found out she was having an affair. Lucas is estranged from their parents because they don't accept his homosexuality. Antonio is dealing with local homophobes and a closet case he rejected. That may sound like a lot of plot but writer-director Omar Zañiga stretches it pretty thin, with little in the way of development. It's a terrible ( but honest ) thing for a critic to admit, but this review would have been far more negative if I had found the leading men far less attractive. Still, The Strong Ones won two major awards in L.A.'s Outfest, so someone must like other aspects of it.

Give or Take ( *** )( Sept. 26-29 )

Give or Take deals with a situation that's thankfully not as common as it was before we were allowed to legally marry, but has rarely if ever been dealt with on screen. A gay man dies without leaving a will, and his family swoops in, virtually ignoring the man he lived with for the last six years. In this case it's his son, Martin ( Jamie Effros ), who hardly spoke to his father after he came out when his wife, Martin's mother, died. Martin comes up from New York to his boyhood home in Cape Cod and takes control of everything away from Ted ( Norbert Leo Butz ), compromising only on cremation instead of burial; but he won't let Ted speak or sing at the funeral. "You're exactly the way he described you," Ted says with no flattery intended, as Martin treats him like a tenant who's about to be evicted. A local realtor ( Cheri Oteri ) immediately produces a buyer for the house with an offer that's hard to resist. There's a glimmer of hope when Emma ( Joanne Tucker ), an old friend who's now married and runs the local bar, softens Martin somewhat. He seems to prefer her to his girlfriend in New York. It's not a funny situation, but a bit more comic relief wouldn't hurt Director Paul Riccio, who co-wrote the film with Effros, should have reined in Oteri and occasionally Butz a bit more. But overall it's a moving story presented in believable fashion. The screening should be sponsored by a lawyer who specializes in wills, because I'm sure a lot of viewers will realize they have unfinished business.

Goodbye Mother ( *** ) ( Sept. 26-29 )

Probably the funniest and saddest film in the festival, Goodbye Mother is the story of a young Vietnamese man who went to college in the U.S. and stayed on, becoming a citizen. Van ( Lanh Thanh ) returns to visit his family, bringing along his "friend" Ian ( Vo Dien Gia Huy ). Van fully intends to come out to his mother ( Hong Dao ), but the time never seems right. Most of the humor comes from his demented grandmother ( Nsut Le Thien, my new favorite actress! ), who locks onto the idea that Ian is Nau and won't let go of him. Grandma is anxious for Nau to marry and have children, so they can inherit whatever's left of her fortune. Finding the right girl for Nau becomes a family obsession, making it even more difficult for him to come out to them. It's not easy for us to get oriented in this rather large family. At least some of them are in business together, though Nau's mother is the one who holds it together. Nau has two or three aunts, one of whom has a hostile, often drunk son we know will be homophobic when he gets the chance. It takes some effort to follow a scene near the end in which enough family secrets are spilled to fill a full season of a soap. Vietnamese director Trinh Dinh Le Minh keeps the mood varied enough that things never get dull. This may well be my favorite film in this year's festival.

Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story ( **1/2 ) ( Sept. 26-29 )

When I see documentaries about musical artists, my frequent response as they drone on and on about themselves is "Shut up and sing" ( or "...play" ). I had the opposite reaction to this film about Beverly Glenn-Copeland, who lived as a female for nearly 60 years before transitioning almost two decades ago. He has such a sparkling personality, I loved hearing him talk about himself, from growing up in a middle-class Black family in Philadelphia, to being the only out lesbian at McGill University in Toronto in the early '60s, to having a 1986 recording rediscovered in Japan in 2015 and earning him worldwide acclaim. He's got a lot of stories to tell and only scratches the surface here. What I found less interesting was his music, a blend of folk, jazz and electronica with touches of classical, gospel and blues. I'm sure it's very good, but I had trouble staying awake as he and his band, Indigo Rising, toured and performed in several countries. Director Posy Dixon is aware that Glenn-Copeland can hold the audience's attention, and doesn't go overboard trying to find visual gimmicks to keep the images constantly changing. There's a large gap in the story, mostly years Glenn-Copeland spent working in children's television in Canada, so you may come away wanting to do some research, like I did, about one of the most interesting people you'll encounter in this festival.

Tahara ( ** ) ( Sept. 26-29 )

Tahara's plot is basically triangular. Carrie ( Madeline Grey DeFreece ) has a crush on her best friend, Hannah ( Rachel Sennott ), whose crush is a boy, Tristan ( Daniel Taveras ), who is crushing on Carrie. The setting where this story plays out is Temple Beth El in Rochester, NY, where they're attending a funeral for a classmate, Samantha, who killed herself. Said to have been "a total lesbian," Samantha wasn't very popular, but the others show up to be respectful, or because it's the place to be today. In Judaism and Islam, Tahara is a purification ritual for a body prior to burial. After the funeral there's lunch, followed by a long Hebrew school class in Judaism and Grief, during which the main characters take long social breaks in different combinations. Hannah goads Carrie into kissing her "for practice." Carrie enjoys it but Hannah is just concerned about her own performance, to be sure she'll be ready for Tristan, if and when. Written and directed by Olivia Peace, Tahara has no technical problems. I just couldn't find much to interest me in it.

Are We Lost Forever ( **1/2 ) ( Sept. 27-30 )

Gay relationships in Sweden are assembled as easily as Ikea furniture, and fall apart as easily too, according to this romantic drama by writer-director David Fardmar. Sometimes the hardest part of ending a relationship is admitting it's over. "I love you, but there's no more 'we,'" Hampus ( Jonathan Andersson ) tells Adrian ( Bjarn Elgerd ) as he prepares to move out. It's not the first time—Hampus has left before—but Adrian says it will be the last. After three years together, they can't live with each other and can't live without each other. As the months go by, they try to move on, with varying degrees of success, but never completely get over each other. It's a movie so it has to end sometime, but that doesn't mean there can't be a sequel, even though the situation seems to be resolved. With changing hairstyles—especially Hampus'—indicating the passage of time, it's confusing when we see Adrian in bed with Rasmus ( Micki Stoltt ), who looks like Hampus in the opening scene. Speaking Rasmus' name might keep us from wondering if it's a flashback, or if we've jumped forward, and see Adrian and Hampus are together again. No, Adrian just has a type. Fardmar throws in some interesting observations, including that today separating physically isn't as final as changing your status on Facebook. Adrian is a professional photographer. We never learn what Hampus does for a living, but he writes the title song near the film's halfway point. A relationship between a control freak ( Adrian ) and an overly sensitive guy ( Hampus ) may be difficult, but when they really care for each other, breaking up can be more difficult. Are We Lost Forever makes that point over and over, but it makes you care about the guys, too.

Pier Kids ( **1/2 ) ( Sept. 27-30 )

Elegance Bratton shot some terrific material, mostly in 2011 ( there was a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 to complete the film, but apparently it didn't work then ), but his editors weren't able to assemble it to best advantage. An introduction gives statistics about youth experiencing homelessness in the U.S., stating that more than half of some two million are LGBT, and 40% of those are people of color. Then we're on New York's Chelsea Piers in 2011 — or maybe not, because there are several mentions of Christopher Street, which is several blocks south and has its own pier. Almost everything that follows takes place on landlocked streets anyway. We meet a couple dozen young-ish people—mostly gay or trans, mostly Black—who hang out there. Some are interviewed in what look like low-rent apartments and we never see anyone sleeping outdoors, so they are experiencing different levels of housing instability. Some speak of making good money through prostitution. Eventually three of them, including bisexual Jusheem "Casper" Thorne, will recur enough that we begin to know them. What street life is really about, as expressed beautifully by DeSean Irby, is the sense of community they feel: "This is home...where everything takes place." If that sounds like the ball culture, we meet Krystal LaBeija, named for one of its founders, the Crystal who started the House of LaBeija in 1977. We don't know if Krystal has a house but she has two "gay children," Melissa and Daniella. She also has a family she visits, first in Kansas City, later in Bethlehem ( PA ). They're supportive, but her mother insists Krystal will always be her son. An epilogue in 2016 gives her a happy ending that leaves out a key detail, as does the unhappy ending for another subject. From our point of privilege, these may seem like a lot of sad stories, but most of these pier kids seem capable of experiencing happiness more powerfully than we do.

Taiwan Equals Love ( ** ) ( Sept. 27-30 )

The good news is that last year Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. The process took over two years with the outcome in doubt several times. Sophia Yen set out to make a documentary on the subject and found three couples to follow on their long trip to the altar. There are two women raising a young daughter; two older men, one of whom has Parkinson's Disease, who have been together 35 years; and two men in their twenties who moved to Taiwan from Macau to start a business. That aspect of the film is handled pretty well ( though I have a couple of quibbles ). What is infuriating for someone who's trying to follow the historical details, as well as the way they're affecting some couples, is the incompetence of whoever handled the subtitling. News bulletins appear on screen in Chinese and are translated in blink-and-you'll-miss-them subtitles Evelyn Wood couldn't read, inflated with unnecessary information like the numbers of resolutions that were voted on. Sometimes someone is speaking at the same time and that is also translated, giving us twice as much to read. The courts did this, the Legislative Yuan did that; nearly two million people signed petitions to reverse a decision. I guess if you want facts you can read a book on the subject, but then why frustrate us repeatedly by building to the announcement of a decision when we won't understand what it is?

The Whistle ( **1/2 ) ( Sept. 27-30 )

They're not so quirky in Albuquerque. The Whistle features a dozen or so lesbians talking about their high school days in the '70s and '80s. That city was somewhat behind the times, with police still raiding gay and lesbian bars; but most of their stories are relatable to many of us from some time in our lives. As some of the women point out, it's a lot easier for today's LGBT high schoolers to be out, but it's also more dangerous with hate crimes on the rise under the Trump administration. So, we hear their tales of being closeted, finding others like themselves, having crushes on coaches, sneaking into bars, and getting a wide range of reactions from parents—from total acceptance to being sent packing, to being sent to therapy, where many doctors were supportive. The title comes from one thing that sets them apart from the rest of us: a high-pitched whistle they could use in public places to identify others like themselves. It's probably the least interesting thing they discuss but it's also the only one that's unique. The one commenter who stands out from the crowd is the film's producer-director-writer-editor, StormMiguel Florez, a trans man who was still female-identified in high school. Amid horror stories like a girl getting fired over a kiss on the cheek in a fast-food parking lot, a heroine emerges in a lesbian teacher, Havens Levitt, who was out enough that many girls went to her for counseling. There are a dozen or so happy endings as the women introduce their partners/wives of many years. Nothing extraordinary here, just a bunch of people who are nice to spend an hour with.

Family Members ( Los Miembros de la Familia ) ( *** ) ( Sept. 28-Oct. 1 )

If I hadn't been reviewing Family Members, I would have stopped watching after 15 minutes, tired of long takes of people sitting or walking and teasing hints of a backstory that could be summarized in a couple of sentences but will never be fully disclosed. I can't explain how I got sucked in, but I did. Perhaps writer-director Mateo Bendesky is some kind of bruja/witch. Lucas ( Tomas Wicz ) and Gilda ( Laila Maltz ) are siblings who travel by bus from Buenos Aires to their small coastal hometown. They cut through police tape to enter their late mother's home. They're here to dispose of their mother's remains. We don't learn how she died, but both children refuse to enter the bathroom. Gilda is twentysomething, Lucas 17 or 20, depending on which of his stories you believe. We follow him when they separate. On a morning walk, he stops at a public workout spot and chats briefly with Guido ( Alejandro Russek ), revealing that he's into Brazilian ju-jitsu. They meet again at a party that night, where Lucas dances with Romi, who gives him some cocaine and introduces him to Charly, who can get them some more. In the car Charly plays music both by a band he's in and an Israeli band called Mindfuck. That would have been an appropriate title for this film, which includes discussions about the universe being a computer simulation—something Guido is into, while Gilda practices Cosmogenic Therapy. I know I'm not making much of a case for Family Members, and I should add that the gay aspects are so incidental it was probably a marginal selection for this festival. All I can say is that if you're open to a different kind of cinematic experience, you may be as surprised as I was to find yourself enjoying it.

Gracefully ( **1/2 ) ( Sept. 28-Oct. 1 )

I didn't realize how little I knew about Iran until I saw this documentary about an 80-year-old dairy farmer there who likes to dance as a woman in spangly clothes of many cultures ( Iranian, Arabian, Indian, Turkish, etc. ) that he makes himself. My first impression was that he should wear makeup, which he finally does briefly near the end. I was frustrated that for about two-thirds of the film we don't learn the man's name: Amir Voshtani. He says he danced for a living until the 1979 revolution put a stop to it, but his talk of wanting to dance for 30-40 years confuses that timeline. Is it only women who are forbidden to dance? Amir avoids arrest once by proving he's a man, but another time he and his son are arrested and all costumes and musical instruments in their house confiscated. A common religious rite involves men playing female roles. We see Amir dancing as a woman in wedding parties and rest homes. "Everywhere is the stage for someone who wants to dance," he says. It's noted that the members of his old band are all dead, but not whether they died of natural causes. Is there anything sexual about his compulsion to dance in drag? He has a wife ( who hates his dancing ) and has given her six sons, but there's an odd moment at the start of the credits where he's dressed as a man dancing with another man. I'm still not an expert on Iranian culture, but I spent an interesting hour observing bits of it.

Lulu en el Jardin ( **1/2 ) ( Sept. 29-Oct. 2 )

Have you ever been driven crazy by a film about psychiatry? Well, now's your chance. Lourdes Benavides, a lesbian in her late fifties, is interviewed about the treatments she received as a teenager at the Chicago-Read Mental Health Center. If you don't catch a quick reference to "Grandma and Grandpa," you won't know the interviewer is her son, Jose Luis Benavides, the director of what's billed as an "experimental documentary." It's also not mentioned that he's as queer as his mother, or how she happened to have a son after coming out and leaving home when she was 18. It is mentioned, with what I guess is a recreation of the event, that the Read Center was investigated in 1972 by the Commission on Mental Health over allegations of abuse by reporters who posed as patients. Lourdes describes the patients in her time there, which would have been later, as being overmedicated to control them but largely neglected or abused. Her parents vetoed shock treatments. They brought her there for depression, suffered in part because she knew she was a lesbian because she had a crush on a teacher. This would have been after the APA took homosexuality off their list of mental disorders, but that didn't immediately stop all institutions from trying to "cure" it. A parallel track involves testimony from "Lulu," who may be the teenaged Lourdes but doesn't have a Latina accent, describing her feelings at the time and how she tried to escape them by spending time in nature. There are lots of shots of flowers and trees, whether Lulu or Lourdes is speaking. A psychedelic disco number provides an intermission of sorts. I liked Lourdes and her story but wish I didn't have to work so hard to learn it. Maybe someone could "experiment" with making movies easier to understand.

Stone|Fruit ( **1/2 ) ( Sept. 29-Oct. 2 )

Oenophiles may have specialized tastes in wine. Stone|Fruit will appeal to some cinephiles with specialized tastes, but if you don't know what oenophiles and cinephiles are, you're not among them. The conversation between Manny ( Matt Palazzolo ) and Russ ( Rob Warner ) that makes up most of the film often has an intellectual bent, as if it's too good for most of us. That's too bad, because Manny and Russ are otherwise relatable. After seven years of marriage, they're marking their "divorce weekend" by touring California's Wine Country on a tasting trip. Russ works in H.R., Manny is a barista who wants to be a ceramicist. ( Sorry, they've got me using big words now. ) Manny has a chance to move to Santa Fe to study on a fellowship, and while he still loves Russ, he wants to develop a life of his own. Russ loves Manny too, but is too much of a control freak to consider a move on his behalf. They spend most of the first day with Byron ( Thomas Hobson ), who has taken advantage of their open relationship by having encounters with them together and separately. The movie certainly has its moments, maybe quite a few, depending on your taste. As the guys rehash every argument they've had in their seven years, Manny says, "You gotta unpack everything if you want to close the suitcase. It's why they call it closure." A closing credit dedicates the film to Palazzolo, sadly revealing he died in 2018 at the age of 33.

Galore ( **1/2 ) ( Sept. 30-Oct. 3 )

If you wonder what the drag scene's like in Europe, you'll get a taste in this documentary about Lady Galore, a.k.a. Sander den Baas. Directors Dylan Tonk and Lazlo Tonk follow Galore over what's apparently a year, and a significant one at that. But while the subject is pleasant and entertaining, they're not as interesting as some of the things that go on in the background with little or no explanation. There's a European tour, at least to Dublin, Belfast ( identified only by a road sign ) and Belgrade, from their home base in Amsterdam. There are shows and parties, including a weekend in a chateau with workshops, which Galore helps organize; and there's talk of the danger young men face if they go out on the street in drag. But the main event is Galore's gastric bypass surgery, which slims them down by 60 kilos ( 132 pounds ). Although an early comment suggests Galore thinks they're the first fat drag queen, they look a lot like Divine and have a picture of the Divine-inspired Ursula on their wall. You can guess that a Pride parade by boat is on Amsterdam's canals, but where is the European Gay Ski Week? And who is the man who takes Galore to the hospital for surgery and looks after them? A friend, a lover, an employee? We don't find out until later, when Galore officiates at Diederich's wedding to another man. While Sander/Galore chatters endlessly about themselves ( much of it interesting enough ), I kept wishing for more information about the other people and places I was seeing.

Dramarama ( *** ) ( Oct. 2-5 )

We have festivals like Reeling so we can see ourselves represented on screen. Okay, I've seen myself. Gene ( Nick Pugliese ) is a 17-year-old closeted gay agnostic who's made it through high school by hanging with fellow nerds in the Drama Club. Tonight, one of them, Rose ( Anna Grace Barlow ) is throwing a going-away party before leaving for college in New York. Besides Gene, she's invited Ally ( Danielle Kay ), a future opera star; Claire ( Megan Suri ), who's going to a Christian college; and Oscar ( Nico Greetham ), who's going to UCLA. All five are virgins. ( There my resemblance to Gene ends, if oral counts. ) Oscar presents as a ladies' man, but he's never happier than when he and best friend Gene are rolling around on the floor, "wrestling." And Oscar gets jealous when Gene goes places with J.D. ( Zak Henri ), the hot ( and straight — he doesn't like musicals ) pizza guy who dropped out of school to be rebellious, and doesn't invite him along. Oh, it's the summer of 1994, when things were different from now. Or were they? At a time when most of our entertainment is as heavy as our reality, Jonathan Wysocki's film begins like a welcome alternative, but it gets weightier as it goes along. As the party progresses, three years of repressed feelings come out—but not Gene, although not all of his friends are as clueless as he thinks. I probably wouldn't be as enthusiastic about Dramarama if I hadn't lived it, but it's still a well-made film a segment of our community will relate to as I did ( although the guy who plays "me" should be taller ).

Ema ( ** ) ( Oct. 2-5 )

What ever happened to linear storytelling? I read a detailed review in advance of seeing Chilean director Pablo Larraan's new film. It warned me not to expect something relatively straightforward like his Jackie, with Natalie Portman as the former Mrs. Kennedy, but it didn't prepare me for this. ( Tenet might have, but I saw Ema first. ) I will try to prepare you, but with little hope of success. Ema ( Mariana Di Girolamo ) is a dancer married to choreographer Gaston ( Gael Garcaa Bernal ). When not dancing or teaching children to dance, Ema and her girl gang go around Valparaaso with a flamethrower, setting things on fire. Ema and infertile Gaston had adopted Polo, a young Colombian boy, but returned him to the orphanage after he set Ema's sister on fire, burning half her face. ( Wonder where he learned to do that? ) Now the childless couple wants Polo back. This may make sense on the page, but on screen it creeps out in bits and pieces between flashbacks and scenes of dancing and fire-starting. Ema learns who Polo's new parents are and sets about seducing each of them without the other's knowledge. Her actions don't make much sense until everything comes together in the end. Ema doesn't care who she screws, and there's even a lesbian orgy scene with her and her girl gang. Nicholas Jaar's musical score is one of the film's chief assets, so it's ironic that Gaston keeps complaining about dancing to reggaeton music. It must be Larraan's reputation that earned this film some knee-jerk acclaim at festivals and such. I'm used to dismissing bizarre concepts of "family values" because they're usually used against me and mine. At least the family values theme here is more open-minded — or is it empty-headed?

Single Street ( Singel 39 ) ( *** ) ( Oct. 2-5 )

I suspect more straight women than gay men will appreciate this well-made Dutch drama, directed by Frank Krom. Mo ( Lies Visschedijk ) tells us all about herself. Like her father before her, she's a respected cardiac surgeon: "I cut people open and tinker with their hearts." ( Not unlike what this film will try to do. ) She lost her virginity at 20 and currently ( the Dutch title, Singel 39, may be intended as a clue to Mo's age ) sees a married Canadian heart surgeon once a month when he travels to the Hague from Brussels. Her life changes when Max ( Waldemar Torenstra ), an artist, rents the space below her apartment for a studio/residence. She's aware that he's attractive, but before she can do anything about it, she finds out he's attracted to men. They become friends and Mo learns Max's goal is to have a child. She shows little interest until he finds his "ideal match," Marleen ( why do all the characters' names begin with M? ), on a website for that purpose. Then Mo gets jealous. Wherever you think things will go from there they probably do, as several possibilities are explored before the ultimate resolution. The story also follows Mo's work with a couple of heart patients, including her dad, and takes scenic side-trips to Barcelona and Marrakesh. You could shrug it off as just another soap, though better filmed than most; but if you have any inclination to be a parent, this tale of gay and straight worlds colliding could open your eyes to opportunities around you.

The Capote Tapes ( *** ) ( Oct. 3-6 )

You can't expect Truman Capote to play himself as well as Philip Seymour Hoffman played him in his Oscar-winning role in 2005's Capote. But Truman ( 1924-1984 ) does rather well here as more of a supporting player, though the main character. He appears in clips from talk shows and paparazzi photos, while much of the screen time goes to people who knew him and are no less inclined to talk about him than he was to talk—and write—about them. That writing emerges as the subject here, eventually focusing on what Capote joked about as "my posthumous novel," Answered Prayers. Three chapters were published, causing him to lose his friends in New York society because he revealed all their secrets through thinly-disguised fictional characters, but the rest has never been found. Raised in the South, Truman was left by his mother with two aunts when she took off for New York. She sent for him as a teenager and became the model for Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's—not the romantic Holly of the movie but the sleazier one of the book. Truman was noticed for his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, in 1948, when people didn't talk about gay men, let alone write about them. Bored socialites invited him to dinner parties to be entertaining, and used him as an escort when their husbands were too busy. There are on-camera interviews for the film ( most prominently Kate Harrington, the "adopted daughter" whose father Truman had an affair with ) and from other sources ( gay Dotson Rader talks of going to bathhouses with Capote, while straight Norman Mailer tells of going with him to a bar full of working-class Irishmen and expecting a fight ), but the audio "tapes" of the title were recorded by George Plimpton, researching a book about Capote ( "Infamous," published in 2006 ). This film by Ebs Burnough gossips about Capote in an entertaining way.

Drawn Back Home ( ** ) ( Oct. 3-6 )

In a small-town Northern Michigan high school ten years ago, they were a throuple of best friends. Drew ( Paul Michael Thomson ) was the kid everybody picked on ( and you know what that means ). Eric ( Chicago's Mickey O'Sullivan, whose weathered face looks far more than ten years out of school ) was his defender, and Sarah ( Clare Cooney ) was The Girl. When Drew suddenly moved to Chicago after graduation, he lost touch with Eric and Sarah, who married. Now they're divorced ( "We're better off as friends" ) and Drew wangles a work assignment that will bring him back to town for a few days. These details and more are revealed slowly and painfully in writer-director Thomas Awrey's first film, as the trio has an initially awkward reunion. Eric works odd jobs but is getting noticed for videos of local scenery he posts online. Sarah has a full-time job as a paralegal but also tends bar at night. Drew is working for an event planner "until my web comic takes off." They're not awful to spend time with, but the pace gives you too much time to think and the plot doesn't hold up to thoughtful examination. A day later I'm still wondering what went on in high school and what the other kids thought about it, especially when Drew wasn't out to his besties. There are no prizes for guessing the ending, though you deserve one for sitting through everything else until it arrives.

The Many Lives of Kojin ( **1/2 ) ( Oct. 3-6 )

If you were interested in the diverse views of Muslims toward homosexuality expressed by characters in Breaking Fast, you may want to hear a similar range from real people in Diako Yazdani's documentary. Yazdani never reveals whether he's one of us or an ally, but he finds Kojin, a 22-year-old Kurd living in Germany, on the Internet; and Kojin is willing to be interviewed for this film as openly gay. He knows he's risking his life by doing so, he says, but if he's going to die, he wants to have accomplished something first. This might have been called Conversations with a Homosexual, because most of it consists of Kojin talking with Yazdani ( who doesn't introduce himself to us properly ) and individuals or groups of people. At one point Kojin sits down to interview six straight men, only one of whom is sympathetic. The others get angry when they find out what the topic is, and get up and walk away. The most colorful character is an imam who claims to be able to diagnose and cure everything from AIDS to homosexuality. You can see why Kojin is nervous. One man says he used Kojin for sex before marrying a woman, but it was okay because Kojin acted as a woman. It's hard to keep up with Yazdani's location—Paris? Germany? Kurdistan? — or to know why a year passes at one point, then more time when Kojin disappears and becomes a refugee. But ignore such details and you'll find the talk as enlightening as it is frightening.

No Hard Feelings ( **1/2 ) ( Oct. 3-6 )

If you're a gay immigrant, you'll relate to the discrimination in No Hard Feelings at least twice as much as I did. Parvis ( Benny Radjaipour ) was born in Germany to Iranian refugees; and even though, especially with his hair dyed blond, he doesn't appear stereotypically middle-Eastern, he's looked down on for his race though generally accepted as gay. Amon ( Eidin Jalali ) and his sister Banafshe ( Banafshe Hourmazdi ) are recent arrivals staying in a refugee shelter where Amon doesn't dare reveal his gayness to his neighbors. They meet and become friends while Parvis is doing community service at the shelter. For what, we don't know. Neither do we learn later why Banafshe is threatened with deportation while her brother isn't. Director and co-writer Faraz Shariat isn't too generous with exposition, unless it's in German or Farsi and not subtitled. Speaking of which, Parvis is supposed to work as a translator at the shelter but only does that in one scene. The rest of the time he's doing odd jobs or just hanging out. Parvis has an active sex life, of which Amon eventually becomes a major part. Banafshe even shares a bed with them on occasion, but not when they're having sex. When it's suggested she could avoid deportation by marring a German, the possibility of Parvis as a fake husband is never raised. Instead the trio runs away to somewhere for one last outing before Banafshe leaves. No Hard Feelings introduces us to people we can care about and takes us with them through some pleasant and unpleasant events, but the screenplay omits so many details we often feel like strangers in a strange land.

AHEAD OF THE CURVE ( *** ) ( Oct. 4-7 )

Having achieved her goal of lesbian visibility through the magazine she founded 30 years ago, Frances Stevens, known as Franco, gets some more personal visibility in what is actually three films in one. It's Franco's biography, directed by her wife, Jen Rainin. It's a course in modern lesbian history that should be required viewing for baby dykes. ( Do we still use that term? ) And it follows Franco as she meets with younger LGBT people to ask if glossy magazines are still relevant and if not, what should replace them? Montages of magazine covers are confusing as they mix Deneuve with Curve, until it's finally explained that the name was changed in the mid-'90s after actress Catherine Deneuve sued over the use of her name, shortly after the magazine took off with national advertising and celebrities on the cover. A few of these celebs pop up in the film, including Melissa Etheridge, Jewelle Gomez and Lea DeLaria. You'll also meet some lesser-known women who deserve their own films. There are controversies over the use of the word "lesbian" on the cover and which labels are acceptable today, and a list of goals yet to be achieved, including rights that have been taken away during the Trump administration. TV clips include an awkward moment from "The Facts of Life" in the '80s and a triumphant "Geraldo" show about "Power Dykes" from 1994. Stay through the credits. You won't want to miss the punchline. Ahead of the Curve is a good story or several, very well told.


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