September 21, 2016
Comedies, dramas and docs, oh my!: Selected highlights of Reeling 2016
Reeling: The 34th Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival runs from Sept. 22 through 29 with screenings at The Music Box on Southport, Landmark's Century Cinema on Clark Street in Lakeview and Chicago Filmmakers on Clark Street in Andersonville. As in past years, the films represent the cinematic rainbow of our community and run the gamut from funny to serious to informative and, sometimes, all three at once. Below are selected highlights of Reeling 2016. Before you ask, no, Hurricane Bianca was not available to the press for advance screening.
bwoy (Novo Novus), from writer/director John G. Young (Rivers Wash Over Me), middle-aged, closeted bisexual doctor Brad (out actor Anthony Rapp) was setting up his profile for an online sex site when his young son Benjamin (Austin Randle) drowned in the backyard swimming pool. Never the same since, Brad's marriage to Marcia (De'Adre Aziza) is barely holding together. He's taken a job as a delinquent accounts collector for a credit card company which is particularly ironic as Brad is having his own financial issues.
Closet Monster (Fortissimo Films) by a long shot.
In the Vermont-set indie Fair Haven (The Little Film Company), James (Michael Grant), who has deferred his first year at Berklee College of Music, returns home to his widowed father Ricky (Broadway and TV star Tom Wopat) after being sent to a conversion therapy program. James, 19, tells his father he thinks he's "better now."
Nothing could be further from the truth. Initially James avoids Charlie (Josh Green), with whom he had been in a relationship. He even tries going out with Suzy (Lily Anne Harrison), the perky and virginal minister's daughter. But the flashbacks to his de-gaying sessions with Dr. Gallagher (Gregory Harrison) provide little help. When James finally admits that he's still in love with Charlie, who also feels the same for him, he must confront his father and his future. [Sept. 23, 9 p.m., Landmark's Century Cinema.]
You could consider Lazy Eye (Breaking Glass/T42) the gay comeback of writer/director Tim Kirkman (the acclaimed doc Dear Jesse and the fantastic Loggerheads), it's that good. The timing of the film, around the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, only makes it even more potent.
Bearded ginger graphic designer Dean (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) is having an eye exam. He's experienced a dramatic change in his vision problems, including amblyopia (aka "lazy eye"), as he approaches middle age. It's something he noticed recently when he was on laptop, especially after getting email from Alex (Aaron Costa Ganis), a "ghost from the past."
At Dean's office, where he's getting used to his new trifocals, he meets with his business partner Mel (the wonderful Michaela Watkins), whom he's known since college. While working on the design for a movie poster, Mel mentions that Dean's been in "weird, funky state." He agrees and tells her he's going to drive out to the desert, to his house near Joshua Tree, to clear his head.
It's obvious that Dean's unsettled state of mind is due to the email from Alex, which is causing him to flashback to his past with Alex, 15 years earlier New York, before Alex broke Dean's heart. Naturally, Dean responds to Alex's email and they begin corresponding. Alex lives in New Orleans. Dean extends an invitation to him to come to Joshua Tree. Wouldn't you know it? Alex accepts.
Alex arrives and they immediately have sex. Over course of the next couple of days they hash out a lot of stuff, some of it nice (reminiscing about seeing Harold & Maude together early in their relationship and stuff like that) and some not so nice (the way Alex disappeared on Dean 15 years earlier, shortly after 9/11). As the two fill in all the empty holes of the past, and a few other holes, you almost begin to root for them getting back together. That is until Dean drops his bombshell revelation.
Sexy, funny and dramatic, sometimes all at once, Lazy Eye manages to avoid being another standard gay indie. The credit is shared by Kirkman and his reliable cast who make the movie well worth seeing. [Sept. 28, 7 p.m., Landmark's Century Cinema.]
With Shared Rooms (Guest House Films), gay filmmaker/screenwriter Rob Williams returns to the season of his best movie, Make The Yuletide Gay, demonstrating that the holidays are his best subject matter. As the narrator who opens (and closes) the film reminds us, gay men have a history of choosing their own families. This is something especially true around the holidays, as "boyfriends – and increasingly husbands," create their own families and traditions.
Opening with an intimate dinner gathering hosted by Cal (Alex Manley Wilson) and Laslo (Christopher Grant Pearson), with guests Blake (Eric Allen Smith) and Ivan (Christopher Patrino), we see each couple's reaction to the idea of raising children. Blake and Ivan, who are "pregnant," may join other male couples who have been crossed off the social list as they became consumed with parenting obligations. Little do Cal and Laslo know that their own little bundle of joy is about to be delivered just before their annual New Year's Eve party.
Not far away, Dylan (Robert Werner) calls his roommate Julian (Daniel Lipshutz) to check in with him. Dylan, who travels a great deal for his job, has no idea that while he's away, Julian rents out his room via a gay Airbnb service. Frank (David Vaugh) is the current guest utilizing the business and renting Dylan's room. He's in L.A. on a private matter involving trying to find someone. Everything is disrupted when Dylan, who has been harboring a crush on Julian, arrives home early from his business trip and is forced to share Julian's bed with him.
Meanwhile, Dylan's hot ex, restaurateur Gray (Alexander Neil Miller) has a holiday hook-up with painter/photographer Sid (Justin Xavier Smith) that develops into something more, a la Andrew Haigh's Weekend. In fact, much of Shared Rooms feels like a gay version of the inexplicably popular straight Christmas classic Love Actually. Regardless, Gray and Sid discover that they have much in common, aside from sex, including interest an interest in the late writer David Foster Wallace.
The final piece of the puzzle, alluded to above, is the unexpected arrival of Cal's high school-aged nephew Zeke (Ryan Weldon). Zeke, whose homophobic parents kicked him out of the house after he was caught with his classmate boyfriend, becomes a part of the ever-expanding family. Additionally, there is a slightly calculated twist involving one of the characters who was abducted by a stranger as a child. That said, Shared Rooms is definitely one of Williams' better movies, funny and sexy -- the men are better looking and the bodies are hotter (and more naked) – and thoroughly entertaining. [Sept. 27, 9:15 p.m., Landmark's Century Cinema.]
The recent overturning of Brendan Dassey's (Netflix's Making A Murderer ) murder conviction is especially timely as Deborah Esquenazi's award-winning doc Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (Motto/Naked Edge) makes the rounds at film festivals. Spanning a period of more than 20 years, the film touches on several hot button issues, with homophobia being at the top of the list.
Based in San Antonio, Texas, Anna, her girlfriend Cassie, Kristie and her sometime girlfriend Liz, are wrongfully accused of sexually molesting Liz's young nieces Stephanie and Vanessa while babysitting them for a week. Where did the story the girls came up with come from? There are several possibilities, including outside influence from their father Javier, the ex-husband of Liz's Rosemary, and his mother Serafina. Javier, who had been rebuffed by Liz, might have been motivated by revenge. Also, at the time of the supposed assault, the country was "convulsed" with the idea that there was an international satanic cult infiltrating day care centers and preschools in order to sexually abuse children and destroy their minds, which took hold in the early 1980s.
Combining video recordings from 2000, at the time that Anna, Cassie, Kristie and Liz began their incarceration, as well as footage from as recent as February 2016, Southwest of Salem effectively illustrates what life is like for some Latina lesbians in conservative regions of Texas. For example, Anna's mother Maria observes that Anna and Cassie "were totally devoted to each other, like a husband and wife," while Cassie's mother wasn't happy about the relationship and resorted to calling her daughter names.
The doc follows the trajectory of the gang-rape allegations made against the four women, the arrests, the unfortunate experiences with attorneys, homophobic jurors, the children's testimonies, the inconsistencies and accusations without concrete evidence, and ultimately the lengthy sentences that were handed down (Liz received 37.5 years and the other three women received 15 years apiece). By the time they reached out to the LGBT community (Maria, for example, spoke at a Pride rally), it was too late and they were destined to serve their sentences.
Everything changed for the four when Canadian research scientist Darrell Otto came across their story online and began to visit them every year while researching the case. Otto, who truly believed in their innocence, was joined by The Innocence Project of Texas in Lubbock, to work on having their conviction overturned. When Liz's niece Stephanie, now a mother herself, recants her testimony, there is an unexpectedly bright light at the end of what was a very dark tunnel. What follows is the slow and agonizing process of each woman's release, the exoneration hearings, the complicated results and the ongoing appeals. A powerful portrait of a troubled legal system and the effects of unending homophobia, Southwest of Salem, which recalls the Salem witch trials, is recommended viewing. [Sept. 28, 7:15 p.m., Landmark's Century Cinema.]
Spa Night (Strand), but there is something gay about it.
Upstairs Inferno (Camina Entertainment) is a doc about the tragic and devastating 1973 fire in the New Orleans gay bar the Up Stairs Lounge, which resulted in 32 deaths and multiple injuries. With anti-gay hate crimes and other such activities on the rise in the heated political climate leading up to the November 2016 Presidential election, this film is extremely timely.