Sunday, May 25, 2008

categories under construction

I have just begun the process of adding category labels to make it easier to look for a particular film whose title you don't have within Googling range. I've started with a few basic categories, still working on sorting the older entries, but also looking at some additional possible categories: music video, drama, comedy, musical, political, foreign-language, countries or regions, or whatever seems a pertinent grouping. If you have suggestions for category labels beyond those currently in the sidebar, please leave them in the comments on this thread.


We start with a fairly typical family, Mom, Dad, and 15-year-old daughter Alex. Another family comes to visit, bringing their slightly older son Álvaro. (Alex's mother doesn't mention that she invited Álvaro's father specifically because he is a plastic surgeon.) Alex and Álvaro haltingly approach each other, carefully testing each other's trustworthiness. Alex, though, has a secret: she has an intersex condition, in this case resulting from having XXY sex chromosomes instead of the more common XX or XY, resulting in a condition called Klinefelter syndrome. In the vast majority of cases, the parents whose child is born with an intersex condition are pressured to surgically and hormonally alter the child to choose "male" or "female." Alex's parents resisted the pressure, deciding to let Alex make the choice of one surgery, the other, or neither. Álvaro, of course, has a few secrets of his own, which complicate his interactions with Alex and her friends and add a poignant dimension to his relationship with his father. The situations of both teens are handled with sensitivity and depth, making a real winner of a film. MUST SEE.

XXY, dir.

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Priscilla Sing-and-drag-along

InsideOut let loose with a "sing-and-drag-along" to the classic 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It was good fun, but unfortunately the drag queen Mistress of Ceremonies was caught in a train delay and didn't make it to the screening, and none of the folks in neon wigs was bold enough to step forward to lead us in Abba-esque revelry, leaving the audience to stumble through the first verse or so of each song before giving up and just watching. Still a merry romp, but a bit of a letdown.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, dir. Stephan Elliott, Australia 1994, 104 min. 35mm, also available on DVD.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

The World Unseen

The setting is Cape Town, South Africa, 1952. Near the height of the apartheid era, black South Africans are not even second-class citizens: they are third-class citizens. The middle slot is taken by "Coloureds," a designation encompassing mixed-race individuals and also South Asians. Unfortunately, the Indian men treat their own women, including their own wives, little better than the white police treat the black townspeople. Enter Amina, a free-spirited young café proprietress with a preference for slacks and a shirt over a dress and a skirt, and her friends. She meets Miriam, a traditional Indian housewife, and the two feel an electricity between them. I had to skip out on the last few minutes of the film to catch a train, but the first 90% is beautiful and at the same time infuriating and depressing. Highly recommended, but don't expect a comedy.

The World Unseen, dir. Shamim Sarif, South Africa/UK 2007, 96 min. 35mm (on video)

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Save Me

Actor Chad Allen, perhaps best known as Matthew Cooper on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, was outed in the tabloids a few years ago, with a grainy photo of him in a hot tub, kissing another man, splashed on the front page. In Save Me, he portrays Mark, a gay drug addict whose brother enrolls him at Genesis House, a Christian treatment centre that claims to cure both drug addiction and homosexuality. Mark resists the message and the program, torn between the illusion of nose candy and the illusion of religion, but he gradually finds himself feeling more a part of a community than he could ever have expected. He forms an especially close bond with his mentor, Scott (Robert Gant from Queer As Folk [U.S.]). Likewise, the film is surprisingly sympathetic to the Christian element of the story. Strong performances by several of the actors make the film far more than a polemic against "ex-gay" therapy. "Praise Jesus and pass those contraceptives!" Strongly recommended.

Save Me, dir. Robert Cary, USA 2007, 97 min. 35mm (on video)

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Berated Woman

An Orthodox Jewish woman is having trouble fitting in with the "Stepford Wives" around her. Her blonde-haired, devoutly Christian neighbour leaves helpful videotapes explaining her transgressions and politely threatening to take legal action for violations of the Cavendish town charter. Oddly, the protagonist is drawn to her, with dark and dirty fantasies of the two of them together, and she is willing to go to almost any length to get close to her. Top quote:
[blonde]: I hold personal congress with Jesus.

[other neighbour]: On Thursday nights, by the bird bath.
Funny and well done, highly recommended.

Berated Woman, dir. Anya Meksin, USA 2008, 14 min. video

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Queer Youth Digital Video Project

InsideOut started the Queer Youth Digital Video Project in 1998, taking a half dozen or so young people each year and giving them mentors, workshops, professional help with tasks like editing, and, of course, access to a video camera. The results are screened in the InsideOut festival. Just to give you an idea of the quality of these short films, the program was sold out for a matinée time slot — I had to do the "rush" line!

This year, for the 10th anniversary, we saw highlights from previous years, including even blue (Ryan English, 2001), with a cross-dresser musing about his gay uncle [somewhat ruined by really bad sound]; Ohm-ma (Ruthann Lee, 2002), a film about a Korean tomboy [recommended]; in the dark (Niko Blaxxx, 2005), about two women raping a third, who then has to confront the double shame of lesbian rape [highly recommended]; In Search of My Chinese Girlfriend (Lisa Wong, 2006), in which the narrator returns from a trip to Hong Kong, determined to find herself a Chinese giirlfriend, full of sharp dialogue — "Oh wow, Chi and New Age! — leading up to a surprise decision [highly recommended], and Hello, My Name is Herman (Karine Silverwoman, 2007), an interview with the filmmaker's 91-year-old grandfather [highly recommended].

Dear Selection Committee (Suzanne Carson): You've been invited to apply for the QYDVP, but you haven't got a clue what your film should be about. What do you do? You make a film about figuring out what to make a film about! I usually don't like the "what it's like making a film" shorts that often come out of film schools, but this piece can relate to those of us who aren't currently enrolled. Highly recommended.

Familiarity Unknown (Phil McCaffrey): A music video for a song I'm not familiar with and whose title I didn't catch; sorry 'bout that. InsideOut says, "Acceptance, uncertainty and the urban milieu intersect, forcing two young people to look inward." Well made, recommended.

The Coming Out (Juan Antonio Llamas Rodriguez): InsideOut: "A perfect friendship is radically altered by the revelation of a secret." A coming-out story as seen through the eyes of someone whose peers are right in the throes of the issue, but with a couple of significant twists. In particular, a young gay man made this film with two female characters; the other twist you'll just have to see for yourself. Strongly recommended.

Gone (Jayme Spinks): The filmmaker's home burned down in a major fire that claimed several large buildings. She returns to the ashes of her former apartment and tries to wrap her mind around the loss. Poignant and effective, highly recommended.

f[l]ight (Alison Leigh): InsideOut: "Sexual orientation labels take flight in this paper-airplane skirmish." This one just really didn't get off the ground for me, not recommended.

Seeking Conclusion! (Leonardo Zuñiga): The filmmaker, Leonardo Zuñiga, is a Mexican immigrant to Canada, currently facing deportation proceedings. In this short, he documents the struggle to live with dignity and hope, even if that means leaving his native land. Highly recommended. [click on Leo's name for updates and more info on his struggle to stay in Canada]

DAY/MONTH/YEAR (Marc Cleary): InsideOut: "A young guy attempts suicide in this story about how we deal with fear." Suicide among LGBT teens is about three times more prevalent than among teens in general. This short is disturbing in its imagery, but it's meant to be. Highly recommended.

I Heard It through the Grapefruit (Zara Ganj): InsideOut: "Peeled, squeezed, and juiced through life — in the end, there can be a sweet taste after that sour beginning." Sorry, I must have missed the "sweet taste" part. This one really didn't work for me. Not recommended.

The Check-Up (Gabrielle Zilkha): InsideOut: "A patient emerges with an unusual diagnosis after a visit to the gynecologist." This insightful film takes only five minutes to call into question the binary dichotomies of male/female and gay/straight. Reality is far more fluid, with a range of genders and orientations. Strongly recommended.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Razzle Dazzle: A Journey into Dance

The cutthroat world of pre-teen dance competitions in Australia is the subject of this daring exposé, tracing two troupes as they vie for the national title in the Sanosafe Troupe Spectacular. One troupe is guided by Miss Elizabeth, who reminds her young charges that eating is bad for you and any praise you receive is likely unearned, because you can never be good enough. Mr. Jonathon, on the other hand, tries to involve his students in works of "ripped from the headlines" social relevance, asking them, "How do you think you would move if you were enslaved by a multinational corporation?" When he finally settles on a piece about women's rights, he is troubled that the burqas are a bit drab: "There's no reason a piece about the oppression of women in Afghanistan can't have a little glamour!" You've never seen such flashy red and gold elegance in a head-to-toe body covering.

A thumbnail description would be to ask what would happen if Christopher Guest (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman) made a sequel to Little Miss Sunshine. Laugh-out-loud funny, definitely a MUST SEE.

Razzle Dazzle: A Journey into Dance, dir. Darren Ashton, Australia 2007, 95 min. video

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This documentary is an intimate and personal portrait of filmmaker Derek Jarman (1942 – 1994; Sebastiane, Caravaggio, Blue) with actress Tilda Swinton (a close collaborator who appeared in nine of Jarman's films) as narrator and guide. Director Isaac Julien weaves together a previously unreleased interview from 1991, home movies from Jarman's youth, clips from Jarman's films, and archival material, to create a touching homage to a trailblazer in the world of gay film. Highly recommended.

Derek, dir. Isaac Julien, UK 2008, 76 min. video

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Berlin Hair Today

A flamboyantly gay hairdresser from Copenhagen, Denmark, tours Berlin with a film crew, looking for epic bad hair in need of his immediate attention. The idea is cute and well executed if you speak German, but Berlin Hair Today is cursed with the absolute worst subtitles I have suffered through in years: purple text outlined with fuchsia. I would almost rather see white-only subtitles on a brightly lit black-and-white film. I would hope that it would be reasonably easy to re-render the subtitles in a colour pairing that won't cause headaches and possible seizures; until then, not recommended.

Berlin Hair Today, dir. Ole Bendtzen, Germany/Denmark 2008, 14 min. video, in German and English with illegible English subtitles

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Walker

This one's got a Hollywood cast, so expect to see it in at least a few arthouse theatres. We've got Woody Harrelson, Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin, and Kristin Scott Thomas (Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Other Boleyn Girl, and about three score others). We also have a murder mystery amongst the wives of the power elite in Washington, D.C., and their elegantly, tastefully flamboyant social companion, Carter Page III (Harrelson), whose boyfriend is an agit-prop photographer of German-Turkish descent. Carter, or "Car" as the ladies call him, is smarmy and at times fawning, making him almost a caricature of a gay man. But if you've seen some real Southern belle-fags like Maurice Bonamigo in Wash Westmoreland's 2004 documentary Gay Republicans, you know that Harrelson is not clumsily overacting: Carter is a self-caricature. Highly recommended, most especially if the political angle appeals to you.

The Walker, dir. Paul Schrader, USA/UK 2007, 107 min. 35mm

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Falkenberg Farewell (Farväl Falkenberg)

Several young men, ranging from early twenties to early thirties, spend the summer in their southern Swedish seaside home town of 20,000 people, Falkenberg. They are working through the choice between an uncertain future somewhere else or the certainty of boredom and emptiness if they remain in Falkenberg. We see footage tracking these friends from childhood — apparently some old family "Super 8" footage — through to the present, when a tragedy strikes. As the InsideOut program notes pointed out, there isn't any overt expression of homosexuality, but enough of the characters are somewhat ambiguous in their interactions that the odds are pretty good that at least some of them are queer. The film evocatively builds the town around us, as well as both the joy and the despair these young men feel for their lives there. Definitely not a feel-good "cinematic cotton candy" comedy, but strongly recommended.

Falkenberg Farewell (Farväl Falkenberg), dir. Jesper Ganslandt, Sweden 2006, 88 min. 35mm

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(short film screened before Falkenberg Farewell (Farväl Falkenberg))

Quoting InsideOut: "Cédric is an 11-year-old who has stopped talking after his mother's death. His only friend is Bruno, a strange boy stubbornly determined to get Cédric talking again at any price." Bruno propounds, "What we can't see, won't hurt us, and they can't see our angel wings, which will protect us." It's not a literal telling of the story, but a vivid portrayal through Bruno's eyes. Recommended.

Cédric, dir. Sadrac González and Sonia Escolano, Spain 2007, 13 min. video

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Be Like Others

In many ways, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a mass of contradictions. On the one hand, transsexuals are openly accepted — as a matter of official government and religious policy, if not in everyday society. Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa more than 20 years ago, decreeing that it is not un-Islamic to have a sex change if you are a "diagnosed transsexual" — provided, of course, that you fully embrace the social role of the gender to which you reassign yourself, including consorting solely with the "opposite" gender. On the other hand, homosexuality is vilified, with death by hanging sometimes a reprieve from more barbaric methods of execution. Be Like Others features interviews with several Iranians who have had or are preparing to have gender reassignment surgery (G.R.S.). At least some of them, whether or not they admit it, are not true transsexuals, but just gay men confronted by the choice of surgery or a life of persecution probably ending in horrific execution. It saddens me deeply to see their knee-jerk rejection, if they even mention it all, of the third option: fleeing the country. Some of them are rejected by their families, leaving them no alternative to support themselves post-surgery but to become "temporary wives": with a fully religiously valid wedding ceremony, a transwoman can get married and divorced within an hour, several times a day. The official policy sounds supportive, until you actually need any help after your surgery. Most of the world outside "The West" is far less accommodating to genuinely transgendered people than Iran, although that's a bit like saying that you beat your spouse less often than half the couples on your street. Iran's persecution of homosexuals, though, stands in abject mockery of any conception of human rights, leaving most of the governments of the world in silent complicity because they or their people are too squeamish to stand up publicly to proclaim that fags are still human.

Sorry for the rant, but I'm also a political blogger, so I couldn't resist the soapbox. Back to the movie review, this film is a powerfully moving and masterfully illuminative documentary on a subject that has gotten scarcely any attention at all. Here are a few pull quotes, paraphrased from the subtitles:
God, please don't create any more people like me. — MTF who wants to be "gorgeous!"

[A transwoman, or MTF] is more of a woman than a biological female. She can attract men more easily. — Dr. Bahram Mir-Jalali, gender reassignment surgeon in Iran

It is my duty to know if a person is man or woman. — female Iranian TV reporter, filming a different documentary about transsexuals and G.R.S.

If I weren't in Iran, I would not operate. I would not touch God's work. — man awaiting G.R.S.

If I am laughing, it is a laughter sadder than tears. I have no more tears left. That is why I laugh. — man helping a friend through the transition and considering G.R.S. himself

No other country changes birth certificates to reflect a sex change operation. — the Iranian TV reporter. [By the way, it's not even remotely true: Canada, most EU countries, and several US states, just for starters.]
It's a MUST SEE — just don't expect that you'll leave, feeling cheerful.

Be Like Others, dir. Tanaz Eshaghian, USA/Canada/Iran 2008, 74 min. video

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Australian surfer boys — need I say more? Well, yes, actually. Filming surfers in action is an incredible challenge, because the camera operator has to be out in the water, right alongside his or her subjects. The surf photography in Newcastle is top-notch, enough to make me hop on a surfboard for the second time in my life. The central characters are a trio of brothers. Vincent, the oldest, was rising in the world of competitive surfing when an accident sidelined him; he takes out his bitterness and frustration on his two younger brothers, his creepiness softened only a bit at the end of the story. Jesse and Fergus are fraternal twins and near polar opposites. Jesse is a natural athlete, torn between his love of surfing and the feeling of being overshadowed by his brother, and hitting on the bikini babes in his free time. Fergus (a.k.a. "Faggus"), on the other hand, is an introvert with a bit of a goth sensibility — black fingernails, black and purple hair, and an all-black wardrobe counterpointed only by his really spiffy accessories. He develops a sudden, out-of-nowhere interest in surfing one day when he sees one of Jesse's buddies at the door. Jesse winds up having to take Fergus along on a weekend camping and surfing trip in order to get past Mom's well-placed misgivings about the real object of the excursion. The others mock him, but Fergus holds his ground and the other boys soon occupy themselves with other matters, like which of the four straight boys will pair off with the two girls.

The bottom line, as the director noted in the Q&A at the screening, is that Newcastle isn't so much a gay film as a surfer film with a gay character, striking a careful balance of being gay enough for a gay film festival audience — and you can be damned sure gay outlets like Wolfe Video will carry the DVD when it comes out — but not so gay as to scare away a significant straight audience, especially surfing fans. It works as a surfer movie, it works as a coming-of-age family drama, it works as a deftly worked gay subplot, and it has plenty of eye candy, both in the positively tubular surf scenes and in the rest of it. An excellent choice for InsideOut's "Centrepiece Gala" slot. MUST SEE.

Newcastle, dir. Dan Castle, Australia 2008, 95 min. 35mm

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Drifting Flowers (Piao Lang Qing Chun) (漂浪青春)

Drifting Flowers (Piao Lang Qing Chun) (漂浪青春)

Taiwanese lesbian film, North American première. I had a ticket for this screening, but decided to sacrifice it upon the altar of the "Rush" line for the Australian surfer boys in the following time slot. Oh well; it will probably be at Frameline next month. Buzz was positive.

Drifting Flowers (Piao Lang Qing Chun) (漂浪青春), dir. Zero Chou (零蝶), Taiwan 2008, 97 min. video, in Taiwanese (Mandarin Chinese) with English subtitles

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Andrea, a man from Genova, Italy (a.k.a. Genoa in English), drops an e-mail to his online buddy Mark in Dallas, to let him know he's coming for a weekend visit. Trouble is, the buddy in Dallas died in a car accident, and his best friend Jeff is left to tell the would-be visitor the bad news. Andrea decides to come to Dallas anyway to meet Jeff and see the mementos of Mark's life. There were several passages where I felt painfully aware that the dialogue was scripted, including in some of the "spontaneous" moments. The music was at times ponderous, and the slow pace of the film seems intent on mirroring Jeff's grief. However, the story is emotionally rich; it tries and mostly succeeds at drawing the viewer in. Recommended.

Ciao, dir. Yen Tan, USA 2008, 87 min. video, in English and Italian with English subtitles

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Water Lilies (Naissance des pieuvres)

The French title translates literally as Birth of Octopuses. Adolescent girls on the synchronized swimming team. Sexual feelings just beginning to emerge and take form. Experimenting with social identities, including the positive and negative of being labeled a slut. Struggling to balance friendships with romantic interests. It could be the stuff of an after-school TV movie, but the story is handled with finesse and genuine affection for the characters. We feel for the main character, her best friend, and her new love interest as they navigate the emotional and social minefields of high school. Highly recommended.

Water Lilies (Naissance des pieuvres), dir. Céline Sciamma, France 2007, 85 min. 35mm, in French with English subtitles

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By the Kiss

Quoting the program guide: "A series of men grope and kiss a woman to her obvious displeasure. Only another woman can redeem the situation." Again, as with the short At the River earlier in the day, if I hadn't read the program notes beforehand I would have had no idea what was going on or why. In this case, without the key contextual references, the film is nothing but disjointed images. Not recommended.

By the Kiss, dir. Yann Gonzalez, France 2006, 5 min. 35mm, no dialogue

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It's Christmas Eve, 1969 (1969-12-24), and we join a Portuguese army outpost in northern Mozambique, East Africa. The Mozambique Liberation Army has taken up arms to free their country from European colonialism, but we see only the incoming fire from the shadowy rebel forces. The rebels seem to be attacking at whim, trying to unnerve the army and/or deplete their ammunition. Within the army camp, though, the rebels aren't the only mortal danger. The loyalty of the officers comes into question, a thief takes advantage of the festivities to prowl the barracks, and there is a rather literal femme fatale in the person of the captain's mistress, who seems unfazed by the arrival of his wife. 20,13 — a reference to Leviticus 20:13, one of the verses used to condemn homosexuality — is a dark and bloody, but ultimately compelling, look at, as the InsideOut program notes put it, "sexual and colonial repression becom[ing] menacing mirror images of each other." Recommended.

20,13, dir. Joaquim Leitão, Portugal 2007, 114 min. 35mm

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At the River

Quoting the program guide: "In the shadow of the Confederacy, two young men on the verge of adulthood confront their sexual identities one hot summer day down at the river." This film, completely free of dialogue, captures just a single brief incident. However, if I hadn't read the program notes beforehand, I would have had no idea that it was set in the U.S. Civil War; the only clues are one officer's cap and the antique firearms we see briefly. Without that key bit of context, the film makes much less sense. Recommended, but only with that caveat.

At the River, dir. Todd Raviotta, USA 2008, 7 min. 35mm (on video), no dialogue

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The Beirut Apt

Documentary about gay and lesbian people in Lebanon. Not only are homosexual acts criminalized in Lebanon under "Article 534," but even speaking publicly about the topic is illegal. The title of the film refers to a quiet apartment the filmmakers found where their subjects could speak without fear of being overheard by the neighbors. Lebanon is a complicated mix of ethnic and religious groups, including Sunni and Shi'a, plus various flavors of Christian (Eastern Orthodox, Druze, Catholic), all overshadowed by the 2006 battles between Hezbollah and the Israeli military. The interviews include a clinical psychotherapist who speaks candidly about "corrective therapy" (trying to "cure" homosexuality), a practice widespread in the Arab world but viewed as unethical in the West. Recommended.

The Beirut Apt, dir. Daniele Salaris, UK/Italy 2007, 50 min. video

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Secrets (Ha-Sodot) (הסודוח)

The Secrets (Ha-Sodot) (הסודוח)

Avi Nesher takes us inside an all-female Orthodox Jewish seminary (midrasha) in the spiritually infused ancient town of Safed — birthplace of Kabbalah. Naomi is a passionately devoted student of the religious texts. Her mother has just died, and she postpones her marriage to a humorless Rabbinical student who responds like an automaton. She and a fellow student befriend and try to save a dying woman named Anouk (Fanny Ardant) by bringing her back to G–d before she dies. The two students begin a complex relationship, including the steamiest backrubs I've seen in a long time. The performances were spot-on emotionally, and the story does draw in even those in the audience (certainly including your reviewer). The insight into Orthodox theology, and especially its treatment of women as incapable of full religious understanding and participation, not to mention condemning lesbianism without thinking it important enough to mention even once in the Torah. I couldn't help thinking, though, that the struggle the women of the seminary undertake to pry Orthodox Judaism from its misogynist roots, is inescapably futile. The theology is so rigid and dogmatic that it seems to an outsider to be irredeemable — there is no way for Orthodox Judaism to be both Orthodox and modern, even in the very loose sense of the last millennium. It is a testament to faith that these women hold unswervingly to their own beliefs in the face of all obstacles, but certainly in this case I would say that unquestioned blind faith is not a good thing. Recommended for general audiences, highly recommended for those especially interested in the subject matter.

The Secrets (Ha-Sodot) (הסודוח), dir. Avi Nesher, Israel/France 2007, 120 min. 35mm, in French and Hebrew with English subtitles

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Dream Boy

Based on a novel by Jim Grimsley, directed by James Bolton (Eban and Charley, 2000). Introverted, artsy boy Nathan (Stephan Bender) moves with his family to a string of Louisiana towns and cities. We find him in 10th or 11th grade, seeing out the window of the car the beautiful boy next door Roy (Maximillian Roeg) as he pulls up to his new house for the first time. They become close friends, exchanging help with English for Algebra, but then tutoring each other in more personal classes. The dark cloud over their explorations is the deeply religious backdrop, including both sets of parents. Roy's friends begin to suspect, and then things get ugly. Meanwhile, we go a bit deeper into the character of Nathan's father, with his bad side coming even more sharply to the fore. The complications reach a decidely non-Hollywood crossroads and resolution. Thoughtful and emotive performances by the two leads give a real sense of the stiflingly religious swamp and the soaring ecstasy of the two boys' time together. MUST SEE.

Dream Boy, dir. James Bolton, USA 2008, 90 min. 35mm

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College boy Tyler takes his pal Chase (Charlie David, writer/director/actor, a.k.a. Toby on Dante's Cove) with him to spend the summer with his family at their summer house by the lake. The pal doesn't seem to be able to get laid, but doesn't to be trying — in fact, he turns away from some blatantly sexual female attention. Finally, the pal comes out of the closet. That makes a few ripples in the lake, but the big splashes are yet to come. It feels a little bit soap operatic at times, but mercifully far less so than Dante's Cove. (In fact, it makes me wonder if Charlie David shouldn't have been given more of the reins at the Cove.) Some finessed, nuanced performances, especially by David's foil, Dan Payne, as college boy's father, make this one far more than eye candy to sell detergent. Highly recommended.

Mulligans, dir. Chip Hale, Canada 2008, 92 min. video

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Montréal, mon amour

This is InsideOut's selection of short films from "the next generation of québécois directors." [2ème accent aigu ajouté] As much Canadian film as we get in the Frameline (San Francisco) festival, I figured InsideOut (Toronto) would have québécois films I wouldn't otherwise see. As with any shorts program, though, it's a mixed bag, a potpourri of ecstasy and "can we please just get through this one and on to the next short?" On balance, the ecstasy carried, but here are my individual verdicts in brief:

Turning Point (La Sortie): A 17-year-old and his traffic reporter father are on the freeway shoulder, waiting for a tow truck. They have a conversation much deeper than "Can I borrow the car?" I could go on about the actors, the director, etc., but the summation is that it was spot on. Highly recommended.

A Marriage Like Any Other (Un Mariage comme les autres): Husband and wife are having (clearly, "yet another") argument. But then the neighbours, a lesbian couple, come up as a topic, more or less by the tortured argumentative logic of screaming, "I hate you! Why won't you stop screaming at me??" I felt, though, that the end of the film was a bit too abrupt; I wanted to see the emotional impact on the screen, but most of it was left to the audience's imagination. Still well worth seeing, though. Recommended.

Agnieska 2039: This is the sort of avant-garde crap that reminds me that there's always a nice slot to take a break from watching the screen. Pop down for a restroom break, get some popcorn [but not at the Isabel Bader Theatre], check my voicemail [from the lobby], or just "rest my eyes," as my mother likes to say. Imagine Eric Cartman's morphing psycho robot-from-the-future "Trapper Keeper®" notebook crossed with a psychotic interstellar mechanical sunflower. (Hello, Burning Man!) Toss in dreary scenes of post-communist Polish cities and downbeat music and you've got a summary. Look up dystopian in the dictionary, and you'll see a poster for this film — or maybe it's under bad acid trip. It's far from the worst short I've ever seen, but I've seen a helluva lot of shorts. AVOID.

Mirrors (Miroirs d'été): A family at a summer cottage by a lake. The teenage son is drawn to the neighbour's house. I thought it was a little long on symbolism, but the performances were good and I do highly recommend it.

DJ Frigid: Documentary about the genderqueer deejay who's all the rage on Montréal's queer scène (or was in 2004, at least, when the film was made). Well-done slice of the life of someone who is as skilled with a makeup brush as a turntable, with some wild couture. Recommended.

For a Relationship: Rapid-fire "slideshow" of photos of the filmmaker, with voiceover musings on the relationships in his life. Good film, interesting dialogue and an engaging visual feel, but I'd be a lot happier with the "flip-flip-flip" sound effect reduced by at least half. It should be background to the narration, not its competitor. Recommended.

Quality Time with the Family: The filmmaker is at dinner with his family of origin. We hear various relatives carping about being recorded at the table, but we see only him. If you want to see a visceral visual expression of the feeling alone in a crowded room, this'd be it. Highly recommended.

Montréal, mon amour, collection of short films

Turning Point (La Sortie), dir. Vincent Champagne, Canada 2007, 7 min. 16mm (on video), in French with English subtitles

A Marriage Like Any Other (Un Mariage comme les autres), dir. Anne De Léan, Canada 2007, 5 min. video, in French with English subtitles

Agnieska 2039, dir. Martin Gauvreau, UK 2007, 12 min. 35mm, no dialogue

Mirrors (Miroirs d'été), dir. Étienne Desrosiers, Canada 2007, 14 min. video, in French with English subtitles

DJ Frigid, dir. Catherine Rouleau, Canada 2004, 8 min. video, in French with English subtitles

For a Relationship, dir. Jim Verburg, Canada 2007, 4 min. video, in English

Quality Time with the Family, dir. Owen Eric Wood, Canada 2007, 6 min. video, in English

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Were the World Mine

Take an archetypal all-male private high school. The "airy-fairy but wise and magical" English teacher chooses Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream for the class play. The class "fag" is cast as Puck, the mischievous hobgoblin also known as Robin Goodfellow. So far, we're in familiar cinematic territory. But Were the World Mine does a superb job weaving The Bard in with original plot twists, particularly the pairings that Timothy/Puck (Tanner Cohen) creates with his fairy magic love potion. The serious moments are treated seriously, but even there you can't help feeling that the cast genuinely had fun playing their roles. The singing — confirmed, no off-screen voice doubles — is superb, and the choreography of the rugby players is worth the ticket price just for starters. The director was at the screening of this, the Canadian premiere, and all I can tell you is, I'm eager to see the next Tom Gustafson film. I can't find any mention of this film at Frameline, but I certainly hope it makes it to the big screen in San Francisco, one way or another, and then to cable and DVD. (Update: Were the World Mine screened twice in Frameline32, to enthusiastic audiences.) MUST SEE

Were the World Mine, dir. Tom Gustafson, USA 2008, 91 min. video

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Boystown (Chuecatown)

Chueca is the trendy gay neighbourhood of Madrid. Several flats have become available after the suspicious deaths of their elderly female residents — followed, of course, by being remodeled to within an inch of their lives. Part of Boystown is the unraveling of the murder mystery, but there is also some more personal drama involving the neighbour of one of the victims, his husband, his mother-in-law, his boss, and a mother-son police detective team. I should preface my comments by noting that the film was in most respects very well made, and most of the audience seemed to quite enjoy it.

The mother-in-law was so relentlessly despicable, so irredeemably evil, so unremittingly obnoxious as to negate all humor value for her character and indeed for the second half of the film. I would almost describe her character as "over the top," but it would be more accurate to say "under the bottom," because she was utterly beneath contempt. I literally didn't chuckle once in the second half of what was meant to be a comedy. Despite the audience reaction, I cannot recommend this film to anyone, unless you despise all mothers.

Boystown (Chuecatown), dir. Juan Flahn, Spain 2007, 100 min. video

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A Jihad for Love

This documentary, co-produced by the director of Trembling before G–d, explores the struggles intrinsic to being a gay or lesbian Muslim, with interviews in 12 countries and 7 languages (all subtitled in English, of course). One of the interviewees was on the "Queen Boat" in Cairo when it was raided by police, sending 52 men to prison for terms up to several years. Another, a lesbian now living in Paris, is still struggling with the belief that her own sexuality is forbidden by God, with the hope that He will somehow cure her. Yet another, an openly gay imam in South Africa, faces excommunication for speaking out against the hard-line interpretation of Shari'a law, although he explains that only two verses in the entire Quran make oblique references to "the cities of the plain" (Sodom and Gomorrah), whose sins were of rape and robbery, not anything remotely similar to a consensual homosexual relationship. Another interview focuses on a young woman in Egypt who takes her girlfriend to meet her mother, a happy 80-year-old lesbian with a lesbian pet parrot.

Unfortunately, I found it a trifle jumpy, skipping from one interview to another and back around again. Still, the insight into a dark corner of Islam is invaluable, coming from a perspective that Islam and homosexuality can be reconciled. Recommended.

A Jihad for Love, dir. Parvez Sharma, 2007 USA/Germany/UK/Australia, 81 min. video

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Friday, May 16, 2008


I attended the world première of Shelter at the Frameline31 LGBT film festival in San Francisco last June, so you can read my review from last year. Executive summary: when I saw this film on the schedule, it was an easy decision that I had to see it a second time, and it was every bit as much a joy as seeing it the first time.

Shelter, dir. Jonah Markowitz, 2007 USA, 90 min., 16mm to video

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The ne'er-do-well son is bringing his new(est) girlfriend to dinner to meet his parents. His father is pessimistic before the couple arrives, since the son seems to be attracted only to "trouble," but it is the mother who seems far more flustered at actually seeing them, starting the drama rolling. This short was well made and thoroughly enjoyable, and the news gets better: it's an excerpt from a feature-length script, so we can hope to see the full story in a future festival, or maybe even a theatrical release. Highly recommended.

Happenstance, dir. Joyce Draganosky, 2007 USA, 7 min. video

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Out at the Wedding

New York City girl Alex has to sneak away from her new fiancé to attend her sister's wedding in South Carolina, because she's told the fiancé that her entire family is dead. When she arrives at the wedding, the gay friend she brought along makes a clumsy attempt at coming out, inadvertently leaving the other guest with the impression that it's Alex who's gay. When the sister wants to come to NYC to meet the new girlfriend, the lies and half-truths pile up into a trainwreck that we can only watch with detached amusement. As Alex says at one point, "It was one of the most real conversations I've had with my family — even if it was all lies...." Bitingly funny, well paced, tightly written, well played, and in all respects a joy to watch.

Out at the Wedding, dir. Lee Friedlander, 2007 USA, 96 min. video

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

InsideOut: Films I've Already Seen

[originally posted 2008-05-20 11:16 AM; posting time altered to move it to the beginning of the InsideOut listings]

I'm still doing the InsideOut LGBT film festival in Toronto, Canada. I'm lagging a little behind on posting my reviews, owing to some cranky WiFi, but I wanted to mention a few films in the festival that I saw and reviewed at Frameline festival in San Francisco last year. I'll give you my summary evaluation here, with a link to the full reviews.

Shelter, so good I saw it again here. NOTE: InsideOut has added an additional screening, Sat. 24 May, 4:45 PM, R.O.M., in the time slot originally scheduled for With Gilbert & George, which was cancelled. Tickets are now available. If you missed this one the first time, go see it on Saturday!

This Kiss, so boring I walked out the first time, but not horrible. Not recommended.

Vivere, I can only hope that some of you here in Toronto saw my review and were thus spared suffering through any part of this film. AVOID AT ALL COSTS.

You Belong to Me, definitely one for a narrow audience.

Le Weekend [short in "Some of My Best Friends Are," Tuesday 7:30pm R.O.M.], haven't seen this one, but here's another short from the same director, Timothy Smith.

41 Seconds (41 Sekunden) [short in "SoMBFA"], very well done, recommended.

The Best Men [short in "SoMBFA"], very well done all around, highly recommended.

Working It Out [short in "Going Down, Under," Thursday 5:15pm Is. Bader], worth seeing, recommended.

Prada Handbag [short in "GD,U"], an audience favorite, I found it dreary and tedious. I can't recommend it, but it has won awards.

eddie [short in "What It Feels Like for a Girl," Thursday 9:45pm R.O.M.], a well-written and well-made challenge to the gender binary; highly recommended.

Do the Math [short in "Every Picture Tells a Story," Friday 5:15 R.O.M.], annoying — unless you're ... really into that ... spo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ken worrrrrd cadence. Not recommended.

The Witnesses (Les témoins), Friday 9:45 Is. Bader, a bit contrived, but a visually stunning presentation of a compelling story. Highly recommended.

25 Cent Preview, Friday 10:00pm, Cinecycle, some interesting passages, but not enough. Not recommended.

Color Me Olsen [part of "I Think We're Alone Now," Saturday 2:15pm R.O.M.], wonderful over-the-top farce, highly recommended.

Lez Be Friends, Saturday 7:30pm R.O.M., please, please, get these people a TV deal, or at least a DVD! Funny enough even for a straight audience. Highly recommended.

Police Box [part of "Hide and Seek," Saturday 9:45pm R.O.M.], cute and funny, definitely worth seeing.

Stealth (Commes des voleurs [à l'est]), Sun. 7:30pm R.O.M., even worse than Lionel Baier's first piece of crap, Garçon Stupide, so bad that Baier doesn't even get a third chance. AVOID AT ALL COSTS. In particular, if you can't get tickets for XXY, just go home.

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InsideOut 18 Toronto LGBT Film Festival

I'm in Toronto for the InsideOut film festival's 18th year, getting an early look at some of the films that will no doubt show up at Frameline32 next month in San Francisco, and getting a chance to see some of last year's entries again. I'm on tap for over 20 programs, so keep an eye on this space for the latest buzz.

update: I saw a total of 24 programs, including some wonderful stuff and only a few clunkers. The only film I walked out of, was because I had to catch a train.

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