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Amazingly, The San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival has been around for thirty years. Thirty years ago, the pickings may have been slim, but this year, Frameline has over 100 feature films and 18 shorts programs. The fest opens with Puccini For Beginners, directed by Maria Maggenti (The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love (at the Castro June 15) and closes with the Spanish film Reinas (Queens)—reviewed below. The annual Frameline Award goes to French wunderkind François Ozon; Frameline will screen five of his films, including the new Le temps qui reste (Time to Leave) on June 20 at the Castro, with award presentation. For an interesting film lecture (with plenty of film clips), check out Alonso Duralde's 100 Must-See Movies for Gay Men, based on his new book (June 17 at the Victoria). And for kids of all ages, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh will screen Sunday June 18 at the Castro, no doubt with a fair amount of appropriate and inappropriate laughter.
To review a complete festival schedule, go to www.frameline.org.
Backstage (screens 6/20 at the Castro) Emmanuelle Bercot's Backstage is a creepy and admirably subtle look at the borderline personalities on both sides of the line between celebrity and citizen. Madonna-like French pop star Lauren (Emmanuelle Seigner) grudgingly participates in the botched reality-TV ambush of one of her biggest fans, 16-year-old Lucie (Isild Le Besco). After a meltdown in front of her idol, Lucie worms her way back into Lauren's presence and winds up squatting in her hotel as an assistant who winds up a bit too close for comfort. Both actresses are magnetic in their depictions of women on the edge, and Bercot cleverly uses suggestive lyrics and well-staged stress tests to tease out themes of the remote sexuality of celebrity and the unreasoned sense of ownership among fans. Recommended.
Colma: The Musical (screens 6/24 at the Roxie) The musical tale of three diverse but comparably self-centered teenage friends: callow actor Billy (Jake Moreno), saucy Maribel (L.A. Renigen), and sarcastic Rodel (H.P. Mendoza, who also wrote the songs). All three are troubleshooting relationships, an especially complicated task for Rodel when his father discovers he's gay and evicts him. It's a literally dead-end existence in Colma, a problem compatible with the musical archetype of a dream of escape. Colma: The Musical may be low-Rent (with dimly lit digital photography) and overlong at two hours, but it's hugely and likeably ambitious, with charming geek-rock music. It also has the distinction of being the first movie musical created by Asian Americans (and, if you like, the first "Asian-American musical" since Flower Drum Song). Recommended.
Follow My Voice: With the Music of Hedwig (screens 6/19 at the Castro) John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask could not have been prepared for what they wrought with Hedwig and the Angry Inch: a hit off-Broadway and then on Broadway, a Golden-Globe-nominated musical film, and then a tribute album people by many of the artists that inspired them. Katherine Linton's Follow My Voice examines the creation of that album (produced lovingly by Chris Slusarenko), but also a handful of students at the Harvey Milk High School in New York City. As a part of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, Harvey Milk High continues to benefit from the charity album, Wig in a Box, which features artists such as Yoko Ono, Rufus Wainright, Frank Black, Cyndi Lauper, The Polyphonic Spree, They Might Be Giants, The Breeders, Sleater-Kinney, and a trio of Bens (Lee, Folds, and Kweller). Follow My Voice spreads itself thin, but the students' stories are heartfelt, and the music rocks. Recommended.
The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green (screens 6/23 at the Victoria) George Bamber's adaptation of the Eric Orner comic strip starts out unspeakably bad and gradually becomes watchable as the viewer comes to accept its inveterate silly streak. Daniel Letterle (Camp) stars as Ethan, a majorly screwed-up twenty-six-year-old bachelor with too many options and too little sense. Ethan and his various boyfriends collide in a farcical finish, but not before Meredith Baxter (formerly of Family Ties) shows up to casually toss-off profanities and veteran character actors Richard Riehle and Joel Brooks thoroughly embarass themselves as Ethan's "Aunties" in matching dresses. David Monahan is a voice of sanity with his understated performance, and Dean Shelton turns on high-wattage charm as teenage dynamo Punch Shelton, but The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green is a bit like staring at a beauty-queen's phonily tight smile for ninety minutes. Skip it.
Queens (screens 6/25 at the Castro) Pleasantly fluffy but depthless, Manuel Gómez Pereira's Queens depicts the run-up to Spain's first legal gay wedding, a mass affair with twenty couples. The title is a pun: though partially about four gay couples, Queens focuses on their neurotic, drama-queen mothers, played by four of Spain's top actresses (Verónica Forqué, Carmen Maura, Marisa Paredes, Mercedes Sampietro) and Argentinian Betiana Blum. Pereira and writers Yolanda García Serrano and Joaquín Oristrell construct Queens cleverly, with intersecting timelines, but each story develops a worst-case scenario that proceeds to a too-comforting, too-swift resolution. Still, if you can stand the overacting and cheeky in-jokes (Marisa Paredes' actress character being mistaken for famous actress...Carmen Maura), Queens is colorful and fun. A toss-up.
Red Doors (screens 6/21 at the CineArts@Empire) Before its theatrical release, Red Doors has been distinguished multiply: it won Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival, a distributor, and a pilot order from CBS, which hopes to turn the film into a weekly series. Unfortunately, the storytelling here (by writer-director Georgia Lee) is disjointed, precious, clumsy, and self-consciously quirky. The Chinese-American Wong family is comprised of three ambitious daughters, a worrying mother, and a father (Tzi Ma of The Ladykillers) whose nervous breakdown leads him to run away to a Buddhist monastery. One daughter's having cold feet about her wedding, another is a lesbian replaying Saving Face, the third is a precocious high-schooler in a prank war with her puppy-lover. Skip it.
Strangers With Candy (screens 6/22 at the CineArts@Empire) The long-delayed screen version of the Comedy Central series arrives at last. Fans will thrill all over again to the high-school adventures of Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), a middle-aged, potbellied ex-con with the chipmunk overbite and droopy eyelid. Blank's back in school in the hopes of restoring her comatose dad (Dan Hedaya) to happier days, but in the process she creates havoc for her stepmother, stepbrother, and high school "peers." Ian Holm, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Matthew Broderick are among the guest stars as the bisexual Jerri tears through her own personal Afterschool Special, this time concerning a science fair. Sedaris created the concept and wrote the film with Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello, who play teachers and gay lovers. Colbert, in particular, goes a long way to goosing the one-note premise. Recommended.
Two Drifters (screens 6/22 at the Castro) João Pedro Rodrigues' twisted melodrama—titled Odete in its native Portugal—overreaches in its attempt to sculpt two troubled characters into two sides of the same coin. One is Rui, a gay man experiencing powerful grief after the death of his lover Pedro; the other is Odete, a supermarket employee whose desire for a child sends her over the edge. Odete antagonizes Rui by claiming to have been Pedro's lover and insisting that she's carrying his child. The pregnancy is psychosomatic, and the woman's increasing obsession with Pedro, and refusal to leave Rui alone, lead to an unusual bond between the distraught man and the looney-tunes woman (and tired references—by way of Almodóvar—to Vertigo and Breakfast at Tiffanys). Excellent lensing, colorful design, and attractive actors can't save Two Drifters from itself. Skip it.
Whole New Thing (screens 6/16 at the Castro) This Canadian outing embraces complication: gifted thirteen-year-old Emerson (Aaron Webber) resists a displacement from the comfort of home-schooling (with his eco-liberal parents) to the fearful unknown of a public high school. But as the boy warms to his gay English teacher (Daniel MacIvor), Emerson begins to act out in ways none of the adults can handle. Written by MacIvor and director Amnon Buchbinder, Whole New Thing finds its strengths in rich characterization, queasy humor, and fine performances—film fans will recognize Robert Joy (now appearing in The Hills Have Eyes) as Emerson's cuckolded father. Recommended.