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Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival

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Reeling 2000, the 20th Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival, runs Friday, November 3, through Friday, November 17; screenings this week will be at the Music Box. Advance tickets can be purchased at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark, between 10 am and 6 pm on weekdays, and between noon and 5 pm on Saturday; same-day tickets can be purchased at the venue box office only. Tickets are $7.50, with discount passes available. For more information call 773-293-1447 or the festival hot line at 312-409-4919. Films marked with a 4 are highly recommended.

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 3

Gypsy Boys

Steven is in love with Blair, who has a one-night stand with Noel, who's come from England to visit his boyfriend, Aaron, who's struck up a friendship with Manny; this is but one of the amorous roundelays depicted in this likable if mindless social comedy set in San Francisco, where boy ogling and catty one-liners keep everyone horny and entertained. The ethnically diverse characters don't seem to have much on their minds but getting laid or meeting their knight in shining armor, and first-time director Brian Shepp shows them at play in discos, cafes, and trendy restaurants (how they manage to live large without visible means of support is apparently beyond the film's scope). This is Where the Boys Are for boys, and little disrupts our tour-bus view of a superficial, narcissistic culture but Manny and Steven (winningly portrayed by Alberto Rosas and Adam Gavzer respectively), who come to fear the emptiness of a life without commitment. 103 min. (TS) (7:00)

Muriel's Parents Have Had It up to Here

Philippe Faucon directed this 1995 French film about a teenage girl who comes out to her mother, moves to Paris to attend school, and falls under the sway of another woman. 74 min. (9:15)

Attack of the Giant Moussaka

This 1999 midnight movie by Greek director Panos H. Koutras has all the giddy freakishness of John Waters: a flying saucer commanded by scantily clad bimbos zaps a slice of moussaka, turning it into an immense blob that terrorizes Athens on its march to the sea. Among the characters drawn together by this crisis are a team of bisexual astronomers in pink lab coats, an ambitious government minister and his coke-snorting American wife, a bitchy TV reporter, and a pudgy fashion designer (played with campy insouciance by Divine-like female impersonator Yiannis Aggelakis). Never mind the black holes in the plot, the cheesy special effects, the occasional limp jab at the media or Greek food--Koutras is most interested in paying homage to 1950s sci-fi and other genres, the flamboyant peformances and decor heightening the sense of delirious excess. 103 min. (TS) (11:00)

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 4

French Twist

Four short films from France: Martial Fougeron's I Can Just Imagine (1999, 20 min.), Francois Ozon's anthology film Bedtime Stories (1997, 26 min.), and Philippe Barassat's Transit (20 min.) and My Pal Rachid (1998, 19 min.). (1:00)

Straightman

It's obvious that Ben Berkowitz and Benjamin Redgrave were thinking of John Cassavetes's Shadows (1960) when they made this impressive Chicago-based feature. Both films grew out of acting classes and were written by their leads, and both even have titles that relate allegorically to their themes, with sexual orientation playing a role in Straightman similar to that of race in Shadows. Berkowitz (who also directed) plays the heterosexual manager of a comedy club, and Redgrave plays his best friend, a construction worker; the two become flatmates after losing their girlfriends, and only later does Redgrave admit that he's gay. The actors' delicacy, originality, and depth are what make this sensitive movie so affecting and justify the comparison to Cassavetes. But only up to a point: the two Bens dominate the proceedings, for better and for worse, making this more a two-man show than a genuine ensemble piece. None of the other able actors is given enough time or leeway to establish herself or himself as fully as one might like, and at times this even limits our understanding of how the two leads handle their various relationships. The plot, moreover, doesn't seem fully shaped and concludes rather awkwardly and arbitrarily. But both these demurrals are minor next to the sizable achievements of this feature. 101 min. (JR) (3:00)

Fag Hag

If you manage to drink enough to find this funny, the hangover will stay with you longer than the humor. This gay version of Waiting for Guffman is set in Hope Springs, California (home of the world's largest parking lot), where unlovable loser Destiny Rutt, a blank slate who keeps filling herself in as she goes along, resolves to win the local beauty pageant. She teams up with Scott Bushey, a gay drifter who dreams of becoming "T-Cell," the first white HIV-positive rap star, and the film turns pseudoinspirational as these ciphers cheer each other on to further mediocrity. Director Damion Dietz has an eye for cheesy spectacle, and the script includes a few zingers, but the relentless camp wears thin and the film's notion of shock value will probably seem dated by next week. 75 min. (Lawrence Bommer) (5:00)

Chutney Popcorn

An Indian-American lesbian (Nisha Ganatra) agrees to carry a child for her infertile sister and anxious brother-in-law; predictably, the laughs in this 1999 comedy come from cultural clashes (the protagonist's Indian-born mother refuses to acknowledge her daughter's homosexuality, her lesbian friends can't understand her willingness to give birth) as well as the nuts and bolts of artificial insemination. As director and cowriter, Ganatra brings to the project an insider's view and a sure handling of girl talk, but she isn't particularly good with actors (only Jill Hennessy as her statuesque girlfriend and Madhur Jaffrey as her exasperated mother stand out), and her own character is underwritten, an impassive, petulant madonna who somehow commands adoration. It doesn't help that the film runs out of comic situations after the first hour and resorts to too many senseless montages (accompanied by the entrancing fusion sounds of Karsh Kale). 91 min. (TS) (7:00)

Red Dirt

Writer-director Tag Purvis hails from Meridian, Mississippi, and his debut feature, a Faulknerian tale of family secrets, simmering anger, and repressed sexual desires, vividly captures the drowsy desolation of the Deep South. Griffith (Dan Montgomery), a morose young man who was orphaned as a child, longs to go west but feels tied down by his cousin and lover (Aleksa Palladino) and his invalid aunt (Karen Black playing a stock Tennessee Williams neurotic). An itinerant worker who's renting the family cottage (Walton Goggins) tantalizes him with the possibility of escape and homoerotic fulfillment, but gradually he realizes how attached he is to the women. Purvis is best known as an installation artist, yet his script is well observed, with terse evasions between the men and flowery dialogue between the women. His stately evocation of a time and place fostering inertia and regret reminded me of Days of Heaven, while the landscape cinematography self-consciously references Corot and Wyeth. 111 min. (TS) (9:00)

Razor Blade Smile

This tragically hip gorefest by Jake West chronicles the adventures of Lilith Silver, a lascivious vampire loose in contemporary London. Played by Eileen Daly as a Diana Rigg-style dominatrix, she works as a hit woman, engages in torrid lesbian sex with a willing victim, and battles Sir Sethane Blake, the 19th-century rogue who initiated her into the ranks of the undead. Daly's performance owes more to her rubber outfit than her acting, but credit should also go to her prosthetic fangs. Judging from the ending, West considers all this a kind of cosmic joke--and the joke's on us. 101 min. (Lawrence Bommer) (11:00)

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 5

Rollercoaster

Five Vancouver teens raise hell in an amusement park that's been shut down, enjoying the rides, swilling down whiskey, and sucking joints, but their solitude begins to seem more a symbol of abandonment by the adult world than some teenage fantasy. Chloe is pregnant by the leader, Darrin; Stick, a macho lout, is secretly gay; and the only adult in the film, a security guard for the park, is worse than anything these punks could imagine. Filmmaker Scott Smith knows how to use silence to speak pain, and no doubt he considers the film's utter bleakness a perverse proof of its honesty, yet he has to stack a lot of cards against these apprentice losers. Brendan Fletcher is terrific as Stick, the kid with the most to hide. 90 min. (Lawrence Bommer) (1:00)

The Weekend

A young, well-to-do couple in upstate New York (Jared Harris, Deborah Kara Unger) struggle with anxiety and painful memories when the former lover of the husband's dead brother arrives for a weekend visit with his new boyfriend. Down the road, the imposing widow of a famous architect (Gena Rowlands) engages in a psychological tug-of-war with her daughter (Brooke Shields), a movie starlet who fools around with married men. Brian Skeet (The Misadventures of Margaret) wrote and directed this adaptation of Peter Cameron's novel, showing a strong ear for the rhythms of intimate conversation as the two dysfunctional households edge toward their climactic dinner together. Rowlands and Unger deliver sensitive performances, Shields is surprisingly good, and cinematographer Ron Fortunato bathes the exteriors in summer glow. With D.B. Sweeney. 97 min. (TS) (3:00)

Small Town Boys in Love

Four short films about gay relationships in small American towns: Phillip J. Bartell's Crush, Vadan Less's Rockwell (1999), Dustin Lance Black's Something Close to Heaven, and Lawrence Ferber's Birthday Time. 96 min. (5:00)

King of the Jungle

John Leguizamo is a retarded man-boy living with his political activist mother (Julie Carmen) and her lesbian lover (Rosie Perez) in this message-heavy feature written and directed by Seth Zvi Rosenfeld. The mother organizes rallies against police brutality on Manhattan's Upper West Side and clashes with her ex-husband, a derelict poet (Cliff Gorman), over their son's upbringing. But Rosenfeld needs to kill her off to score points for nonviolence and parental responsibility, and afterward the story becomes less plausible, its combustible urban drama settling into a prolonged, teary search for reconciliation. Leguizamo's Oscar-mongering performance is brilliant in spots, yet his twitching, grimacing, writhing character often seems like a parody of Forrest Gump. With cameos by Marisa Tomei and Annabella Sciorra. 93 min. (TS) (7:00)

International Male

The most accomplished entry in this shorts program is Doors Cut Down (17 min.) by Spanish filmmaker Antonio Hens, in which a handsome, narcissistic teenager describes his compulsive cruising of the men's room in a shopping mall. He's picky about his partners, who must be young and attractive like the biker and the English tutor he seduces, and rather than cast judgment on his character's shallowness, Hens condones his promiscuity, turning it into a triumph over parents and police. In Duncan Tucker's The Mountain King (20 min.), a "straight" guy and a hustler meet on a deserted beach and later have sex in a nearby house; the sense of sexual panic and control are potent, but Tucker goes overboard at the end, suggesting that a switch in identity can resolve both men's insecurities. In the Norwegian short A Kiss in the Snow (22 min.) two boys are drawn to each other, exchanging furtive glances and discreet touches, but despite his sensitivity, director Frank Mosvold never explains their mutual attraction, and his film's home-movie look adds to the impression of amateurishness. The same can be said of B. Lenin's Mathi (11 min.), in which the corpse of a gay Indian man anchors a panorama of people telling the particulars of his life; suffice it to say that the Hindu view of homosexuality is severe and pathetic. In Patricia Balfour's Icarus (13 min.) a dead Greek's male lover and girlfriend go over the last minutes of his life--an eternity of guilt and psychic pain, in their terms--to figure out whether his death was an accident. The myth of Icarus is underscored, of course, but the metaphysical discussion only blurs the point of this precious psychodrama. (TS) (9:00)

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 6

The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me

Tim Kirkman's 1999 film version of the long-running one-man show by David Drake. 90 min. (7:00)

Criminal Lovers

According to writer-director Francois Ozon (See the Sea, Sitcom) this sadomasochistic tale of two working-class suburban teenagers is based on "Hansel and Gretel," but it also references Hollywood film noirs in which a manipulative bitch cajoles her weak-willed partner into committing murder. Alice (Natacha Regnier of The Dreamlife of Angels) tells her impotent boyfriend, Luc (Jeremie Renier of La promesse) that she's been gang-raped and persuades him to kill the ringleader, an athletic schoolmate to whom she's secretly attracted. After burying their victim in the forest they stumble on the cottage of a woodsman, who locks Alice in the cellar and releases a grateful Luc's latent homosexuality by sodomizing him. Ozon may be right not to psychoanalyze his characters, but ultimately they come off as ciphers driven by inexplicable impulses; the astute casting, fluent storytelling, thoughtful mise-en-scene, and smooth cinematography fail to redeem this gleefully amoral and grossly misogynistic film. 90 min. (TS) (9:00)

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7

The Vampire Lovers

This eroticized vampire tale (1970), based on Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla, belongs to the last significant surge of creative energy experienced by Hammer Films, a company that thereafter descended to abject self-parody. Ingrid Pitt is the bisexual bloodsucker on the loose in a girls' boarding school; Peter Cushing remains the perennial nemesis. Roy Ward Baker directed; with Dawn Addams, Pippa Steele, and Madeline Smith. 88 min. (DK) (7:00)

Disk-O-Boyz

The title characters are a quintet of teen idols (a la the Backstreet Boys), one of whom doesn't love the girls quite as much as they love him. Morris G. Sim wrote and directed this 1999 feature. 90 min. (9:00)

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 8

International Gems Pour Les Femmes

A fairly engaging assortment of lesbian-themed shorts, all but one in English. In Sylvia Calle's touching and humorous French film Troubled Waters (1998, 10 min.) a young woman struggles to tell her roommate she's in love with her. Equally engrossing are Samantha Bakhurst and Lea Morement's UK short 4pm (15 min.), in which a woman's one-night stand with a politician initiates a series of disasters, and Laurie Colbert and Dominique Cardona's Canadian short Below the Belt (1999, 13 min.), a moving snapshot of teenage love and acceptance. Tina Gharavi's French-English "experimental documentary" Closer (24 min.) takes a real college student named Annelise and re-creates the time she came out to her mother; blurring the line between documentary and fiction seems dubious, but the girl's winning personality makes for an enjoyable portrait nonetheless. Among the duds are Gretchen Hildebran's Restroom (1999, 7 min.), about a woman's bizarre hallucinations while sitting on a toilet in a public rest room, and Carla Drago's garish Above the Dust Level (1999, 9 min.), from Australia. Nursery, a short by Randal Kleiser (Grease, The Blue Lagoon), was unavailable for preview. (Reece Pendleton) (7:00)

Sordid Lives

To call this campy would be charitable: an assortment of southern stereotypes (women with big hair, men with beer guts, gay sons and their Blanche DuBois mamas) flit in and out of this family melodrama set in a small Texas town, squabbling and commiserating as they prepare for the funeral of a matriarch who died tripping over the wooden legs of her adulterous lover (Beau Bridges). Director Del Shores adapted his own semiautobiographical play, and his overbaked dialogue labors to explain the convoluted family history rather than reveal character. (In one truly scary scene the institutionalized uncle, dressed as Tammy Wynette, is seduced by a shrink in a desperate act of "dehomosexualization.") An ensemble of TV and B movie actors, including Delta Burke, Bonnie Bedelia, and Olivia Newton-John, roll out their southern accents and manneristic tics, and the choppy editing and silly camera angles heighten the impression of a freak show. 111 min (TS) (9:00)

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 9

Revoir Julie

Jeanne Crepeau directed this 1998 Canadian drama about two old childhood friends reuniting and the long-buried conflict that surfaces between them. 91 min. (7:00)

Punks

Exuberant and entertaining, Patrick-Ian Polk's deft comedy combines the showbiz excess of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert with the sharp romantic observations of Sex and the City. Four African-American men fall in and out of love in fabulous west LA, and when they're not riding the relationship roller coaster they perform as a drag-queen act called the Sisters, whose music provides a camp commentary on their personal adventures. Among the attractive cast are Seth Gilliam, terrific as the incurably romantic fashion photographer who must learn how to get in front of his own lens, and Rockmond Dunbar, a hunk whose uncertain sexuality serves as a tease through most of the film. The other characters wrestle with drugs, jealousy, the reality of HIV, and the temptation of anonymous trysts; though the film can be manipulative and predictable, it carries some hard-won lessons about love and sex. 103 min. (Lawrence Bommer) (9:00)

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