Reeling, the second-oldest LGBTQ film festival in the world, celebrates its 35th anniversary with an exciting slate of movies that showcases the amazing diversity of the queer experience.
Chicago's international festival unreels Sept. 21-28 at Landmark Theatres' Century Centre Cinema, with the opening-night premiere at Music Box Theatre. Reviews to just a few of the films are below:
HELLO AGAIN ( *** ) ( Sept. 21, 7 p.m. )
For better or worse, you'll never see the like of Hello Again again. Based on a 1994 Off-Broadway musical by Michael John LaChiusa that was suggested by Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde, it tells ten short, sexy stories, with one character from each rolling over into the next. The first half is wholly hetero, but the gayer second half pairs Martha Plimpton with Audra McDonald, Tyler Blackburn with T.R. Knight and Blackburn with Cheyenne Jackson. While far from loving Hello Again, I admire director ( and Northwestern alum ) Tom Gustafson for being true to his vision, even if many viewers won't share it.
AFTER LOUIE ( ** 1/2 ) ( Sept. 22, 7:30 p.m. )
After Louie divides the world, especially the gay world, into the young, the middle-aged and the old. Sam Cooper ( Alan Cumming ), 54, is an AIDS activist who hasn't moved on. He's attracted to younger men but doesn't respect them. An obvious surrogate for director Vincent Gagliostro in this semi-autobiography, Sam also ignores the accomplishments of previous generations. He's befriended by Braeden ( Zachary Booth ), "nearly 30," but it doesn't improve his attitude. Cumming can't be totally unlikable, but he comes close enough that After Louie isn't very likable either.
THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P. JOHNSON ( *** ) ( Sept. 23, 12:15 p.m. )
Nostalgia for some and a history lesson for others, this true crime( ? ) documentary recalls a beloved drag performer and activist who, with her friend Sylvia Rivera, helped put the "T" in LGBT. At 46 she was found floating in the Hudson River in July 1992, ruled a suicide by police who didn't bother to investigate. Victoria Cruz of the NYC Anti-Violence Project resurrects the cold case and determines to solve it. Director/co-writer David France, Oscar-nominated for How to Survive a Plague, has done a praiseworthy job of telling and illustrating the various stories that come together in the process.
En Algun Lugar ( *** ) ( Sept. 22 at 5 p.m.; Sept. 23 at 2 p.m. )
Writer-director Tadeo Garcia mixes the timeless with the timely with a film about a relationship involving a same-sex couple ( Nelson Rodriguez and Andrew L. Saenz ) that has to deal with the controversial U.S. immigration system. The acting is pretty solid, overall, and Chicago is almost another character in the film. Also, there's a twist in the plot that will probably surprise almost everyone. ( Note: This review is by Andrew Davis. )
SENSITIVITY TRAINING ( *** ) ( Sept. 23, 7 p.m. )
I've found my soulmate! Dr. Serena Wolfe ( Anna Lise Phillips ) is a bad-tempered blonde with a low tolerance for the imperfections of others. She's required to undergo sensitivity training to keep her job at a university research lab. Her trainer, Caroline ( Jill E. Alexander ), is a bubbly red-haired lesbian with a partner and a five-year-old daughter. Can this be a romcom without breaking up a happy home? Writer-director Melissa Finell finds a brilliant way out of the corner she's painted herself into for a happy ending. Phillips is sensational and Sensitivity Training made me laugh out loud.
I DREAM IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE ( *** 1/2 ) ( Sept. 24, 4:30 p.m. )
This marvelous film about preserving ancient cultures mixes the natural, the unnatural and the supernatural. A young linguist visits a remote Mexican village to record the last living speakers of a vanished tribe's language. Unfortunately, one dies and the other two haven't spoken to each other in half a century. Two heterosexual love stories develop, one in the present and one in the past, while you wait for a gay angle to be revealed. Writer Carlos Contreras and director/brother Ernesto Contreras make their world accessible on their terms, if you'll leave yourself open to enchanting surprises.
B&B ( ** ) ( Sept. 24, 9:15 p.m. )
This British would-be thriller about a gay couple and a homophobe left me wondering whose side it's on. Marc ( Tom Bateman ) and Fred ( Sean Teale ), now married, return to Josh's ( Paul McGann ) B&B after winning a discrimination suit against him. Paul ( Callum Woodhouse ), Josh's 16-year-old son, comes out to them but not his dad, and goes to meet Alexei ( James Tratas ), an imposing Russian, in a gay cruising park. It doesn't end well. No one's entirely sympathetic, the photography is often too dark, everyone bickers about everything and some plot points are confusing but not worth the effort to clarify.
Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall ( *** ) ( Sept. 25 at 9:30 p.m. )
This documentary takes the viewer into the life of ( hold on! ) singer, rapper, dancer, actor, director, American Idol alum, RuPaul's Drag Race judge and YouTube superstar Todrick Hall and the creation of his full-scale musical Straight Outta Oz. Fans of the likeable trailblazer will eat up every moment of this 100-minute film ( including his recounting of his numerous achievements ); however, fans of the genre will also like this mostly engrossing film, despite the movie occasionally delving too deeply into minutiae. ( Note: This review is by Andrew Davis. )
SATURDAY CHURCH ( *** ) ( Sept. 28, 7 p.m. )
Think Moonlight with drags instead of drugs, but this coming-of-age story of a gay African American is really a hybrid of Moonlight and La La Land. When teenaged Ulysses' ( Luka Kain ) father dies, stern Aunt Rose ( Chicago's Regina Taylor ) helps mind him and his younger brother. Already caught wearing his mother's clothes, Ulysses visits Greenwich Village, where he's adopted by four former runaways, three of whom dress as women. Writer-director Damon Cardasis softens the story's intensity with songs, low-"Rent" but serviceable, and dancing. Kain's performance ensures your sympathy, and Cardasis' approach keeps you from being traumatized by things that befall Ulysses.
APRICOT GROVES ( ** 1/2 ) ( Sept. 28, 7:15 p.m. )
LGBT viewers may guess the surprise ending, but a critic shouldn't reveal it; so I'll let you wonder why the festival's showing a drama about an Armenian-Iranian, raised in America, who's reunited with his brother in Armenia on a mission to propose marriage to his lady love. Trust me, it belongs. Much is really good, yet Apricot Groves has serious flaws too, including being padded to feature-length with overlong shots, speeches and scenes. An enlightened and enlightening film from a region where you'd least expect it, it would be moreso if its gimmicky structure didn't make it conceal so much.
For complete festival information including locations, and to buy tickets, visit reelingfilmfestival.org .
Also: Read a Reeling-related interview with actor Nelson Rodriguez, of the film En Algun Lugar, on page 24.