Monday, October 22, 2007

SLGFF #7 - Before I forget...

So, another Festival of the Gays has come and gone. Things I enjoyed: The awesome Jane Lynch evening, the delightful Nina's Heavenly Delights, the glory that was Olivia Newton-John on the big screen in the Xanadu Sing-Along, the nice range of international films, and especially the Gay TV Dinner events at the Central Cinema. Heck, sitting down, drinking beer and eating while watching TV... wouldn't we all be doing that at 5:30 anyways? What an excellent idea to dig up 1970s gay-themed episodes from popular TV shows and give us food and drink! Loved this!

Things I could do without: The sub-par films that only make it into the festival because the genre is smaller, therefore there's less to choose from (when there are crappy gay films, they tend to be really crap-o-rific, and this has always been a problem -- which is no fault of the programmers); the loss of bigger screens in the second weekend (all the screenings at the small Broadway Performance Hall the second week were packed); and the Opening Night party at the big, open Naval building felt a lot like the Senior Prom I never went to.

But I really wanted to be sure that I mentioned that I thought the festival's official trailers were some of the best ever. When you see multiple movies at any fest, you tend to get tired very quickly of the trailers, but these made me laugh every time. They were directed by David Quantic, and you can see them all here. The "tres jolie, Coco, tres jolie" made me chortle every time, and I loved Camile Schwartzbaum (Simetra Jones) the enthusiastic host of every session. Nothing like a fist-in-the-air freeze-frame hurrah after TOP GUN: THE MUSICAL to make me laugh!

[2007 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival]

SLGFF # 6 - Spicy delights and an Itty Bitty Closing Night

Just when I'm about to give up on seeing a movie that I really and truly enjoy (no, Xanadu doesn't count), I finally lucked out on seeing the charming Nina's Heavenly Delights (7/8). Admittedly, this is a movie that could have gone very very wrong: A family dramedy, the film takes place among the Indian immigrants that have settled in Glasgow, Scotland. Nina (Shelley Conn), the prodigal daughter, has returned (albeit late) for the funeral of her beloved father who ran a famous Indian restaurant in town. Alas, everyone is still annoyed at Nina for fleeing town on her wedding day three years ago and moving to London with no explanation. Among the piles of family and friends are Lisa (Laura Fraser), whom Nina mistakes for her brother's girlfriend. Apparently Nina's dad lost half the restaurant in a bet to Lisa's dad, and yada yada, all people involved -- except Nina! -- wants to sell to Raj (Art Malik, who cleverly runs the restaurant "The Jewel in the Crown"... don't think I didn't get the reference!). Raj is the competition and already seems to have designs on Nina's newly widowed mom! But wait! Dad had already made the finals for the Best of the West curry competition... and it just may be Nina's chance to save the farm! I mean the restaurant! Actress Veena Sood (who plays Nina's mom) introduced the film has having "a little bit of girl-porn and a LOT of food porn!" And how! Food lovers will LOVE this film, with it's mouth-watering extensive scenes of chopping, stirring, frying, and sizzling. Mmm... you can practically taste the curry wafting from the screen. As the title character, Shelley Conn is appealing and gorgeous, and there is a nice tension and chemistry between Nina and her, er, "cooking" partner Lisa. If it weren't all about spicy food, I would compare the movie more to a pile of delicious frosted donuts. Nice to look at, and a sweet snack going down. It just makes you feel good, and is very very cute.

This time I said, "That's it! I won't ruin my evening by risking another film!" And I went home. But got some food on the way. :)

Finally, Closing Night, in the glorious packed Cinerama theater, was the unfortunately, awfully-titled Itty Bitty Titty Committee (5/8). No matter how many times I say it or read or or hear it, I still hate the title... A LOT. Anyways, the title deterred no one, and the theater was full of hipster young women with L-Word haircuts and fashionable Castro hats, plus all the men who wouldn't dare skip the final party. No guests were to be seen, which is too bad because though the film doesn't really have anything to do with Seattle, the film was bloated with an Olympia-rific soundtrack (Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Le Tigre, heck, even Heavens to Betsy!). I had to blink my eyes and wonder if this was 1992, or 1995, or even as late as 1997... but no, the radical chicks on the film were definitely using the internets -- but were curiously causing mayhem to a soundtrack from a different era... dare I say a different generation? Yes, that would be, um, my era. Riot Grrrl was quite a ripple in the musical pond, but did it really start and end in the same town? Is that it? (Discuss.)
Anyways, the film is about meek young Anna (Melonie Diaz, Raising Victor Vargas, aka the best film that no on saw but me). After a day at work at a breast augmentation clinic, Anna crosses paths with sexy Sadie (Nicole Vicius), who is spray-painting the windows of Anna's workplace. A bit of flirting later, Anna has joined Sadie's radical feminist tribe C(I)A (Clits In Action). Made up of artists, rejects, and outspoken feminists, these group of women (well, one "guy" named Aggie, who "was born with a clit"), go around vandalizing stores and such in the name of women's rights -- fight the man, and all that. Among the peripheral characters are Daniella Sea (proving that, hot as she is, is not really the strongest actress), Jenny Shimizu (ditto), and Guinevere Turner (again). Often, very often actually, IBTC played like a music video... in fact, much of the movie WAS a music video, set to the tune of the Riot Grrls o' Olympia, whilst the characters ran amok in grainy video montages, giggling, spray painting, vandalizing, and such. Despite the iffy thespian skills of many of the supporting cast (hey! you're a lesbian and/or my pal! be in my movie!), luckily the leads of Anna and Sadie could act, and carried the film nicely. Anna's good-girl-to-angry-girl transformation was a bit eyeball-rolling, but haven't we all been there? Anyways, the audience ate it up. One of the side characters was criticized as being a "nine-to-fiver"... and I have to admit I related more to her. I suppose though this film seems very after-the-fact to me, in message and music, it will find an enthusiastic audience.

[2007 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival]

Saturday, October 20, 2007

SLGFF #5 - Thank goodness for Jane Lynch!

The house was packed Friday night for An Evening with Jane Lynch, and the audience was jovial and super-excited to see the woman who has been a comedic scene-stealer for years. The introductory film-clip montage of course opened with her screamingly funny "fuck buddy" line from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and went on to highlight roles as varied as A Mighty Wind to The Fugitive to The L-Word to her breakthrough as a "butch dog trainer" (Christopher Guest's only instruction for the character) in Best in Show. She and moderator Jenny Stewart of PlanetOut were both chomping gum when they took their cushy chairs on stage, and it was emphasized over and over that the evening was for the audience. And a friendly evening it was! Alternating from being questioned by Stewart, to taking direct questions from the audience, Lynch proved (unsurprisingly) to be a very funny storyteller, and had the whole audience charmed. The interview culminated with a spirited game of "Who would you sleep with?"(aka who would you do)... some of the more interesting answers: Suzanne Pleshette over Mary Tyler Moore (two actresses that Jane crushed on as a kid), and George Clooney over Brad Pitt (mainly because she wanted to be reincarnated AS Brad Pitt). My opinion of her is unchanged: Jane Lynch is friendly, wickedly funny, and all sorts of awesome!

I decided to hang out for the next show at the theater, since I was in a good mood and hoped for another winner. Alas, I should have called it a night. The next screening was completely packed with men, despite the film 2 Minutes Later (3/8) being promoted as a hot ticket for guys AND gals. The lead actress Jessica Graham was in attendance, and it was announced she had just won a Best Actress award at another recent fest. Alas, she was the best thing about the film, which had the audience inappropriately giggling in the first scene where a hot photographer named Kyle fights off an attacker at a remote gas station, and then gets shot (and supposedly killed) while running off into the woods. Peter Stickles, playing the attacker, was probably the only "name" person in the film, simply for being in the movie Shortbus (he was the peeping Tom). Alas, his resume didn't help, as he was pretty stinky. Two private eyes, Michael (conveniently Kyle's long-lost twin) and Abigail (Jessica Graham) try to solve the mystery of the photographer's disappearance, and in the meantime encounter lots and lots of naked men and their bits and pieces. Oh, and Abigail gets to make out with a couple of women in bathrooms. Graham was much more enjoyable and spunky than the film deserved, especially being burdened with her co-star Michael Molina (as Kyle/Michael) who had the personality of cardboard. I fled before the Q&A.

[2007 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival]

Friday, October 19, 2007

SLGFF #4 - Mental catapults and Lovelorn rent-boys

I know I'm not the only one that oft finds themselves sitting in a movie theater simmering with hateful feelings towards mankind (aka the people in my immediate vicinity). At my Thursday night screening of No Regret, I found myself in a room full of almost all gay men, and, well, me. I should have first been suspicious of this guy when I asked if I could take the empty seat on the aisle right next to him. He barely uncurled his body away from his companion, coolly turned to look at me, then simply turned backed to his pal and kept dishing. Fine. I sat down in front of him. Alas, he and his man were the type to comment throughout the whole film their own little cute isms, gasps, and catty comments. "MMMmmm-hmmmm... yum" (whenever a good-looking young man was on screen), "What is he DOING?" (whenever they didn't understand something), "Ohmygaaaawwwwwdddd..." (muttered under their breath, but not really, whenever something shocking happened). Not to mention the poorly stifled giggles and conversations that had nothing to do with the film. Mentally, I was concocting a catapult. You know, one of the really big ones, like the one that flung a piano in Northern Exposure, or the one crafted to hurl the Trojan Rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Except my catapult would have these two bitches, and all of their bitchy scenester friends, strapped together, ready to be flung miles away as soon as I severed the rope with my big flaming torch. Why did they bother seeing the movie? Go straight to the bar. I simmered pissily through the film.

As for the film, the gay South Korean love story No Regret (Huhwihaji anha) (5/8), I think I may have appreciated it more sans the catty audience. The story of a very pretty rent-boy named Su-min who is pursued by his ex-boss's son Jae-min was an interesting story of obsession and loneliness. Su-min is a sweet orphan boy who is kicked out of the orphanage when he comes of age, then after getting laid off at a factory, finds he can use his good looks to earn money at a male-only host bar where the young men turn tricks in the back room for cash. He is appalled to service the factory boss's son, then can't understand why that same young man grows obsessive with romantic interest. Of course, the good son Jae-min is expected to get married, and is certainly not supposed to be gay, so it is obvious to both that rent-boy-boyfriend Su-min may not fit into the picture. I was actually enjoying the film (despite my neighbors) until it completely derailed in the bizarre final act, and closed with a moment between the two leads that had the audience bust out into (warranted) fits of giggles. Too bad, as it was an intriguing story until then.

[2007 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

SLGFF #3 - Trans trauma and TV drama

I was slightly intrigued to go to see Monday night's "International Centerpiece" The Witnesses, but opted out of Emmanuelle Beart's ducky lips and instead decided to check out Another Woman (Un Autre Femme) (6/8). Apparently made in 2002, this film pre-dated the award-winning Transamerica by a couple years. In Another Woman, Nathalie Mann (appearing in the opening credits as the gender-free N. Mann) plays Léa, a nervous woman who is a bit of an overachiever at her newish job in Geneva. Léa gets an offer to really prove herself to the big boss by scoring a sought-after business trip to Paris to land a particularly big contract. But Léa freaks out, initially refusing the opportunity. Turns out that Léa not only has a secret past in Paris, but she also has a family... that is an ex-wife and children.

Her family hasn't seen their husband and father Nicolas in ten years, so Léa makes the choice to re-enter her family's life. Anne (the excellent Micky Sébastian) freaks out when she finds out that this mysterious woman Léa, who has made friends with her daughter, is actually her ex-husband. She goes through the range of emotions from disbelief, to anger and betrayal, to hesitantly recognizing the person beneath the skin whom she fell in love with, to somewhat uneasy acceptance. Others, like Anne's longtime boyfriend Pierre, don't react as well. Nathalie Mann is very good as Léa/Nico, and her encounter with a male co-worker who fancies her is particularly well played-out. He simply wants an affair with his beautiful co-worker, while she freaks out over the fear that he may find out her previous identity. Many of the reactions portrayed are very realistic and complex. Though the film seems to drag on a bit, and ends with a closing shot that is both cutesy and eyeball-rolling, Another Woman is certainly a worthy addition to the small-but-growing list of sympathetic transsexual-themed films.

After taking a night off, I decided to check out one of the "Gay TV Dinner" events at Central Cinema (which my pals and I like to call Cinnamon Grill... but that is a whole 'nother story). This is a small neighborhood theater with some cushy seats sidled up to tables, where you can eat and drink while enjoying anything from a classic to a new release film. For the fest, there are three special presentations where 70s gay-themed TV shows are shown, with a set menu to enjoy. Wednesday's theme was "Predatory Lesbians and Teen Tales" featuring the 1974 “Flowers of Evil” episode of Police Woman, and a 1976 episode of Family, starring, among others teenage Kristy MacNichol as the tomboy daughter Buddy. Police Woman oozed with cheese... the plot involved a passel of lesbians running a killer nursing home where all the patients were drugged and eventually killed. Classic moments included one of the deranged lesbians getting a full-on, head-snapping bitch-slap from her dominant girlfriend in order to make her shut up, and the lip-quivering mastermind (who "looked like she should drive a diesel truck") whisper something apparently so crass and unspeakable to one of the police officers, that we can only be tantalized wondering what sort of horrible language the lesbians know. At one point, gorgeous Angie Dickenson looks wistfully off into the distance and says, "I had a college roommate once...", which invoked hoots from the audience.

Family, however, was more serious minded, involving son Willie's best friend Zeke getting arrested at a gay bar, and basically getting outed to everyone because of it. Willie's response is harsh, while Willie's parents are more sympathetic to the neighborhood kid they've all known for years. Mom basically gives Willie a talking-to, letting him know that he is being a complete ass by pushing his best friend away. It was actually really well done, despite some dated costuming choices, and made me a little teary-eyed at points. I've heard Family is out on DVD... I'd kind of like to check out more episodes.

[2007 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival]

Monday, October 15, 2007

SLGFF #2 - Inspiring doc trumps soft-focus girl-love

Maybe it was because just last week I sat through hours and hours of Ken Burns' epic WWII documentary The War. The best thing about that very good series were the testimonials by veterans and civilians, reminiscing about both the good and the bad of World War II. The simple yet moving documentary Tell (6/8) (as in "Don't ask, don't tell.") plays like a missing chapter of that mega series.

Interviewing military veterans from conflicts ranging from World War II to the current war in Iraq, the film spans generations of gay, lesbian, and even transgendered folks who have served the military with honor. Some were kicked out for admitting that they're gay, others stayed quite until they were honorably discharged or were able to retire. They range from soldiers and sailors, to linguistic experts, to reconnaissance pilots, to one of the highest-ranked officers of the Coast Guard, an Admiral who literally went to the personal ads to hire a female escort to bring with him to functions. I'm not surprised that there are gays in the military, I'm just surprised at literally how many there are. More than one of the interviewees point out that these closeted folks often prove to be the best soldiers, simply because they are out there to prove they CAN be. What the film lacks in visual interest (it is almost entirely a series of talking-head interviews), it makes up for with the stories shared. This screening was preaching to the converted, but I think Tell should be seen by all those in Congress that are waffling about repealing this ridiculous law. The military should be literally taking all volunteers they can get right now.

Unfortunately, I decided to follow-up with The Chinese Botanist's Daughters (Les filles du botaniste) (4/8). As there are so few lesbian movies to buzz about, this movie has apparently gotten some word-of-mouth on the festival circuit (which we all know means nothing--see Loving Annabelle). The film itself is undeniably gorgeous. The cinematography is mind-bogglingly beautiful, with China's lush green foliage, craggy cliffy mountains, and deep gray water serving as much of the backdrop, plus the actresses involved are both very attractive and alluring. But the story of an orphan girl Min Li (Mylène Jampanoï) sent to be an assistant to a master botanist (Ling Dong Fu) only to fall in love with his beautiful daughter An (Xiao Ran Li) comes across as shallow and boringly soft-porny. Heck, when Min Li stumbles upon An lying in luxurious sleep across steaming leaves in a misty greenhouse, her bare skin luscious and glistening with sweat... well, I just about had to suppress a giggle. An abandoned greenhouse serves as a tropical Eden-like Den of Love, and, with its clear walls, is just made for someone to stumble across the undercover lovers (which of course is how it all comes to an end). There was sniffling in the theaters at the end, and my friend T turned, stone-faced, to check my reaction at the conclusion. Without smiling, I pointed to my face and said, "Dry."

[2007 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival]

Sunday, October 14, 2007

SLGFF #1 - Or as we like to call it, The Festival of the Gays!

'Tis that time of year again, when The Gays emerge from their bars, nightclubs, and knitting circles, and head into the movie theater for the promise of *perhaps* catching a good gay-themed film at the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. Having seen a lot of these films, they tend to be hit or miss (and when they miss, whoo-boy, they tend to be exceptionally stinky... the type of movie where if it were straight, it wouldn't even be touched by festivals with a 10-foot pole). But when there is something good out there... something perhaps so good that it is good as a movie-movie, rather than just a gay movie, well, everyone can rejoice. So, without further ado, we delved into Opening Night of the 2007 Festival of the Gays...

The Opening Night film looked promising. The Walker (3/8) has a stellar cast, ranging from Kristin Scott Thomas, to Lili Tomlin, to Lauren Bacall, to Ned Beatty, to, well, Woody Harrelson in the title role. A "walker," in the world of Washington, DC, is a man who escorts big-shot politician's wives to phancy-pants events when her man is not available. Woody plays Carter Page III, a foppish man with cheesy 80s moustache and nice wig that he keeps in a jar by the door. His Virginia drawl is so thick that it sounds like his mouth is full of molasses, and I know that I wasn't the only one who couldn't understand a word he was saying for the first 20 minutes. Regardless, he is a walker who charms his lady-friends like Lily, Lauren, and Kristin--so much so that they meet weekly to play poker and dish political gossip. That is until Kristin finds her lover (who is NOT her husband) dead in his home, and Carter decides to cover for her, unwittingly finding himself in the middle of an investigation. The concept of the film is interesting... it takes place in the modern Bush administration, and points out that a homosexual man is the most convenient fall-guy to destroy in a scandal, but at the same time it goes nowhere with this, except to imply that all of Carter's old girlfriends drop him like a hot potato as soon as his name is unfairly tainted. Woody's weird accent aside, the movie is a contrast of exceptionally good acting (by Scott Thomas) and welcome screen company (like Tomlin and Bacall), with bafflingly poor side plots, like Carter's relationship with his edgy artist lover, played by hottie German actor Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run). There is no compelling reason to explain why these two are together, and there is absolutely no chemistry between the actors. Plot-wise, the film kind of muddles along, and is strangely dull when it should have been scandalous. Overall, the vibe at the party following the film is that people thought The Walker to be one big MEH.

I have the theory that foreign films are often inherently better than American ones, so I next decided to see Vivere (6/8), the latest film by German director Angelina Maccarone (who directed the very good Unveiled previously). Francesca (Esther Zimmering) is a weary young woman who is basically supporting her Italian father and teenage sister Antoinetta (Kim Schnitzer), taking the place of a mother who abandoned them years before. It is Christmas Eve, and Antoinetta runs away from home, off to Rotterdam to be with her rocker boyfriend. It is up to Francesca to literally drop everything and take off in her cab for a three hour drive to find her little sister. On the way, Francesca comes across a car accident and picks up the victim, a 60-ish woman who we find out is named Gerlinde (Hannelore Elsner), who has her own sorrows and lost love to be slowly revealed. With nowhere else to go, Gerlinde stays in the cab all the way to Rotterdam, and soon the three characters' overlapping perspectives are revealed, one at a time. At first, after half an hour or so, when the story suddenly seemed to come to a head, and then flipped backwards to start at the beginning with Gerlinde, I thought the leap of narration was a bit of a jolt. But it all slowly started to come together, and it was an interesting twist (especially when two characters interpret the same moment slightly differently). Yes, it is an old trick, going all the way to Rashomon, but it worked. The three actresses were very good, especially Esther Zimmering as Francesca, who was so hungry for affection and attention, that her attempt to seduce Gerlinde is both sweet and heartbreaking. All three female roles were well-written and complex, which is always a delight in any film.

Finally, my first Saturday night of the fest was topped off by the Xanadu Sing-Along. It is hard to rate Xanadu (4/8 for the film, 7/8 for the Sing-Along). It is by no means a good movie, but now that I've seen it a couple times recently, I appreciate its cheesiness, bad acting, and dull-to-delightful plotline. And you have to love Gene Kelly's adorable earnestness in a role that would literally destroy his big-screen career. Plus, I just had to see it on a big screen. Everyone knew that when I watched it at home recently, for the first time in years, I was agog at how HOT Olivia Newton-John was in the closing climactic "Xanadu" medley. When she comes out prancing awkwardly in high heels, wearing her parachute-pants-glitzy-disco-diva one piece... WOW. Her hair is crimped and fluffy; her smile open, inviting, and flirty; her lips glossy. Her skin is so dewey and California-golden that you just want to lick her oft-exposed shoulder. Or whatever. Needless to say, a fun time was had by all, and big points go out to my pal ShehryBobbins, who dressed up fantastically as 40s-crooner-Olivia and was robbed... ROBBED in the costume contest! Drat to the winner! Rollerskates and a big Dolly Parton wig do NOT an ONJ make! Cheers also go to the woman in line who dressed as one of the muses (she was also robbed in the awards, coming in third!). We didn't realize how perfectly right-on her costume was until the opening credits when she not only stood in front of the theater audience, under the movie screen, reenacting her likeness coming to life and bursting out of the mural, but she pranced, muse-like, up and down the aisles for the entire song. Hoorah!

[2007 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival]