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Reeling: The Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival

Thursday, November 5, through Sunday, November 15 at multiple venues

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Presented by Chicago Filmmakers, the 28th Reeling festival runs Thursday, November 5, through Sunday, November 15, at Chicago Filmmakers, Columbia College Film Row Cinema, Landmark's Century Centre, and Music Box. Unless otherwise noted, tickets for all screenings are $10, $8 for matinees (before 4 PM), and passes are available for $45 (five shows), $80 (ten shows), $125 (all shows, excepting special admissions), and $175 (all shows and events). Tickets can be purchased online at reelingfilmfestival.org, in person at Chicago Filmmakers, and at the venue prior to the show. Following are reviews for selected films screening through Thursday, November 12; for more information, including a complete schedule, see reelingfilmfestival.org.

The Baby Formula The controversy over stem cell research informs this 2008 Canadian mockumentary about married lesbians (Angela Vint and Megan Fahlenbock) who make news as the first women to conceive alone, using their own cells to fertilize their eggs. Alas, the comedy proves to be even shakier than the science: the low-key leads get the movie off to a slow start and sap any momentum generated by the arrival of their dysfunctional in-laws. As Fahlenbock's two gay dads, Hal Eisen and Michael Hanrahan give the liveliest performances; as Vint's mother, Rosemary Dunsmore manages to turn her homophobic Christian character into something more than a stereotype. Once the comic possibilities have been exhausted, the story sours with a detour into Alzheimer's disease and suicide and a gratuitous slam against Israel. Veteran stunt woman Alison Reid directed. 82 min. —Andrea Gronvall  Fri 11/6, 9:15 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

Baby Jane? Drag queens stand in for Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in this crude, amateurish lampoon of Robert Aldrich's twisted 1962 thriller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? The original film is already a camp classic, so the question here isn't "what ever happened" but "why even bother." Billy Clift directed. 97 min. —Albert Williams  Sat 11/7, 2 Pm, Landmark's Century Centre

The Big Gay Musical This comedy by Casper Andreas and Fred M. Caruso focuses on two young actors (newcomers Joey Dudding and Daniel Robinson) costarring in an off-Broadway spoof of religious-right antigay bigotry called "Adam and Steve Just the Way God Made 'Em." One of the men is a virgin terrified of coming out to his Baptist parents; the other is a compulsive cruiser using promiscuous sex to avoid emotional commitment. Juxtaposing the heroes' campy onstage antics with their unsettled offstage lives (whose action ranges from West Village cabarets and pickup bars to an HIV-testing clinic), the film is by turns clever and cloying. 90 min. —Albert Williams  Screening as part of the opening-night program; tickets are $14, $10 for members of Chicago Filmmakers. Thu 11/5, 7:30 PM, Music Box

Boy Set in a small town in the rural Philippines, this thoughtful, heartfelt drama chronicles the sexual awakening of a shy teenager (Aeious Asin) who falls for a "macho dancer" (Aries Pena) he sees performing at a gay bar. The teen, an aspiring poet, lives with his mother, while the dancer, who hustles on the side, is holed up in a slum; the social gulf between them is only widened by the difference in their sexual experience. Aided by Asin and Pena's honest and appealing performances, this gently erotic film makes up in emotional authenticity what it lacks in sophistication. Auraeus Solito directed. In Tagalog with subtitles. 80 min. —Albert Williams  Fri 11/6, 7:15 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

The Boy With the Sun in His Eyes A blandly handsome gay man (Tim Swain) and a black actress with a cult following for her Italian horror films (Mahogany Reynolds) are brought together by the suicide of a mutual friend who was dying of AIDS. On a whim, the man follows this high-maintenance diva to Europe, where she's the toast of an A-list party circuit despite having all the charisma of a mollusk. Director Todd Verow, a specialist in no-budget adaptations of gay-themed novels, strives for an atmosphere of decadence and sophistication, but the vibe is weak and the acting uniformly terrible. 81 min. —Cliff Doerksen  Sat 11/7, 9:15 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

Chef's Special A temperamental gay chef (Javier Camara in a wonderful performance) finds his life upended after his ex-wife dies and he's forced to care for their rebellious 15-year-old son and inquisitive 6-year-old daughter. A sexy but closeted soccer star (Benjamin Vicuña) teaches the chef that the way to a man's heart is indeed through his stomach. Directed and cowritten by Nacho G. Velilla, this Spanish comedy stresses family but takes a decidedly adult tone, with blue, bitchy humor and clever animated sequences. In Spanish with subtitles. 111 min. —Albert Williams  Tue 11/10, 7 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

City of Borders and Shunned These two documentaries illuminate LGBT communities in Israel and occupied Palestine, where fundamentalist Jews, Muslims, and Christians are united only by their condemnation of homosexuals. Both movies argue that amid the region's ethnic, religious, and cultural tensions, lesbians and gay men represent the forefront of a movement for freedom and tolerance. Directed by Yun Suh and shot over a three-year period, the superb City of Borders focuses on denizens of Jerusalem's only gay bar: an Israeli doctor and her Palestinian lover, a young Israeli scarred from a knife attack during a gay pride march, a Palestinian youth who performs in drag as "Miss Haifa," and the bar's owner, who doubles as the Holy City's first openly gay councilman. Shunned, an Israeli-Canadian coproduction by Igal Hecht, looks at gay and lesbian Arabs living in Israel, where they constitute a minority within a minority. The documentary deals with such issues as cross-cultural relationships and lesbians' efforts to bypass Western role models and to forge identities that mesh with their own culture. In English, Hebrew, and Arabic with subtitles. Total running time is 126 minutes. —Albert Williams  Tue 11/10, 9 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

College Boys Live Veteran PBS editor George O'Donnell makes his directing debut with this documentary about young gay men living together, under the scrutiny of 32 webcams, in suburban Orlando. At the site Collegeboyslive.com, users pay a membership fee to watch streaming video of these "college boys" as they talk, eat, sleep, swim, shower, floss, and fuck. Among those interviewed are the owner of the house and site, who brags that he clears about $20,000 a month from the operation; his boyfriend, who says his self-esteem rose after viewers commented favorably on his sexual performance; and their neighbors, who sued the owner for running a porn business in a residential zone. This is a straightforward account of a phenomenon that will strike some as cutting-edge and others (like me) as creepy. 94 min. —Albert Williams  Tue 11/10, 9:15 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

Eating Out: All You Can Eat Before creating the TV series Rick & Steve the Happiest Gay Couple in All the World, Q. Allan Brocka wrote and directed the feature Eating Out (2004), which proved so popular on the gay-festival circuit that it's generated two sequels, Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds (2006) and now this gleefully raunchy comedy. The proudly slutty Tiffani (Rebekah Kolchan, very funny) and her stripper ex-boyfriend try to arrange a romantic match between Tiffani's nervous friend Casey (Daniel Skelton) and a hunky guy he met at the "Larry Craig LGBT Center." Packed with campy jokes, lewd sight gags, and explicit sex, this is clumsily made and amateurishly acted (except for Kolchan), but that rather enhances its horny, home-movie charm. Glenn Gaylord directed; with cameos by Leslie Jordan and Mink Stole. 78 min. —Albert Williams  Sat 11/7, 5 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

Hollywood, Je T'Aime Lured by a California travel poster showing a hot guy on the beach, a gay Frenchman (Eric DeBets) abandons his dead-end life in Paris (shot in black and white) and heads to LA (shot in color) in search of a movie career. The best he can do is a pizza commercial, but he establishes a network of offbeat new friends—a scruffy pothead, a gorgeous transsexual, a tart-tongued drag queen—even as he pines for his fickle ex-boyfriend back home. The quirky and engaging cast brings life to a meandering, formulaic screenplay by director Jason Bushman. In English and subtitled French. 98 min. —Albert Williams  Sat 11/7, 9:30 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

Make the Yuletide Gay College student Olaf Gunnunderson (Keith Jordan) is afraid to tell mom and dad he's gay, so he's a little freaked when Nathan (Adamo Ruggiero), his boyfriend from school, shows up unannounced for Christmas after being ditched by his WASP family. Writer-director Rob Williams combines heart with sly humor, and the actors are engaging—especially Kelly Keaton as Olaf's jolly Wisconsin-cheesehead mother, Derek Long as his stoner father, and TV veterans Gates McFadden (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Ian Buchanan (The Bold and the Beautiful) as Nathan's tight-ass parents. 89 min. —Albert Williams  Sat 11/7, 7:15 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

Mr. Right This tedious 2006 British feature by David and Jacqui Morris chronicles the couplings and uncouplings within a circle of gay men (an actor, a painter, a model, a producer of reality TV, etc). The story unfolds in flashbacks as a straight woman's "cautionary tale" explaining why "I'd never introduce my man to my gay friends again." The excellent actors—many of them familiar from such UK television series as Rome, Foyle's War, and Absolutely Fabulous—can't redeem the predictable, patience-testing script. 86 min. —Albert Williams  Mon 11/9, 9 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

Pornography: A Thriller Written and directed by David Kittredge, and produced by former off-Loop theater director Sean Abley, this slow-moving but polished suspense drama explores themes of reality and fantasy, identity and perception, and love and desire. An author writing a book about the porn industry is intrigued by the mysterious disappearance of a gay star rumored to have been killed in a snuff film, and as the story twists and turns, Kittredge teases us into wondering whether the solution to the mystery is psychological or supernatural. 113 min. —Albert Williams  Sun 11/8, 9:30 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

Shank In this compelling, sexually explicit, sometimes brutal British drama, a teenage member of a queer-bashing gang (Wayne Virgo) sublimates his secret passion for a fellow gang member (Tom Bott) by engaging in anonymous sex with men and then assaulting them. After rescuing another youth (Marc Laurent) from the gang, the conflicted young thug falls for him, and the only person they can turn to for help is the other kid's schoolteacher (Garry Summers), who turns out to be one of the gang member's former tricks. By turns lyrical, tense, and graphically violent, Shank is an impressive feature debut for director Simon Pearce, writers Darren Flaxstone and Christian Martin, and its young cast. 90 min. —Albert Williams  Wed 11/11, 9:15 PM, Landmark's Century Centre

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