Presented by Chicago Filmmakers, the 29th Reeling festival runs Thursday, November 4, through Saturday, November 13, at Chicago Filmmakers, Columbia College Film Row Cinema, Instituto Cervantes, Landmark's Century Centre, and Showplace ICON. Unless otherwise noted, tickets for all screenings are $10, $8 for matinees (before 5 PM), and passes are available for $45 (five shows), $80 (ten shows), $125 (all shows, excepting special admissions), and $150 (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 11; for more information, including a complete schedule, see reelingfilmfestival.org.
The Adults in the Room This 2009 debut feature by Andrew Blubaugh is a thoughtful account of his own attempt to make an autobiographical drama about his teenage affair with a 30-year-old man he met on the Internet. Employing a film-within-a-film strategy, Blubaugh cuts back and forth between the narrative drama he's trying to make and a documentary of his efforts, gradually merging the "real-life" and "fictional" aspects of his work. Shot in Portland, Oregon, the film examines how Blubaugh's experience has affected his own thoughts—as a teacher as well as an artist—on the responsibilities of friendship, love, and mentoring. 85 min. —Albert Williams Mon 11/8, 7 PM, Landmark's Century Centre
Children of God Shot on the scenic Bahamanian island of Eleuthera, this 2009 coming-out drama by Kareem Mortimer concerns two young men—a white art student and a black musician—whose budding romance is threatened by an antigay political crusade led by a closeted right-wing preacher. Meanwhile the preacher's wife struggles with her own denial of her husband's homosexuality and hypocrisy. Mortimer contrasts the acceptance of liberal Christians with the condemnation of religious conservatives; his film can be tender, moving, and sweetly erotic, but ultimately it's a depressing look at the cost of homophobic prejudice. 103 min. —Albert Williams Thu 11/4, 7 PM, Showplace ICON. Screening as part of the opening-night program; tickets are $15.
Eyes Wide Open Like The Secrets, another in the spate of recent Israeli films about strictly observant Jews, this melancholy 2009 drama explores the near impossibility of reconciling religious community life and same-sex love. An ultra-Orthodox butcher (Zohar Strauss), bereaved over the death of his father, reopens the old man's shop in Jerusalem and charitably hires a down-at-heels yeshiva student (Ran Danker) as his assistant. Ignoring rumors about the young man's moral iniquities, the butcher brings him home to his wife and children and into his Torah circle, and gradually the bond between the two men becomes more than spiritual. Strauss and Danker give finely calibrated performances, but this directorial debut by Haim Tabakman is unadventurous, borrowing from the gay-cinema canon but adding nothing new. In Hebrew and Yiddish with subtitles. 91 min. —Andrea Gronvall Wed 11/10, 9:15 PM, Landmark's Century Centre
Flight of the Cardinal In Robert Gaston's formulaic psychological thriller, an attractive young sociopath joins the staff of a lakeside resort lodge. His scheme: to drive the lodge's bipolar gay owner to suicide by preying on the man's paranoia, which has already been stoked by his boyfriend's decision to end their relationship. The only distinctive thing about this derivative film is its setting—the scenic Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. 87 min. —Albert Williams Thu 11/11, 7 PM, Landmark's Century Centre
Grown Up Movie Star Shawn Doyle (featured on HBO's Big Love) stars in this rough-edged soap opera, as a heavy-drinking and divorced former hockey star who's trying to raise a rebellious, reckless teenage daughter while having a furtive affair with the girl's hunky gym teacher. Writer-director Adriana Maggs starkly contrasts the dreary small town where the characters reside and the snowy, ruggedly beautiful landscape that surrounds them. 95 min. —Albert Williams Sat 11/6, 12:15 PM, Landmark's Century Centre
I Killed My Mother Local moviegoers got their introduction to the young French Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan when his second feature, Heartbeats, screened last month at the Chicago International Film Festival. That movie, a faux-New Wave tale of pretty young scenesters in a bisexual love triangle, struck me as more flash than substance, but there's a lot more going on in this 2009 drama, Dolan's directing debut. He stars as a closeted gay teen chafing under the restrictions of his hardworking single mom; their relationship has turned so poisonous that when a teacher asks him to write something about his mother, he claims that she's dead. Anne Dorval gives an extraordinary performance as the mother, who lashes out at the boy but can't disguise her own suffering when he lands an emotional punch; their scenes together reminded me of Paul Schrader's Affliction for their sense of familial love gone hopelessly sour. In French with subtitles. 96 min. –J.R. Jones Sat 11/6, 7:15 PM, Landmark's Century Centre
Is It Just Me? J.C. Calciano concocted this trite, formulaic comedy of errors about a shy, slim blogger in LA who goes online to find Mr. Right, then realizes he's been communicating with a prospective lover under the profile of his muscular go-go-boy roommate. Earnest performances from an attractive cast partly redeem a mediocre script. 93 min. —Albert Williams Sun 11/7, 5:15 PM, Landmark's Century Centre
Rock Hudson: Dark and Handsome Stranger This illuminating, well-constructed German documentary focuses on how shy Roy Fitzgerald of Winnetka became closeted gay matinee idol Rock Hudson, an embodiment of rugged heterosexual masculinity in Hollywood from the 1950s into the '80s. Hudson died of AIDS in 1985, and the documentary captures the worldwide impact that his death and the revelation of his homosexuality had on public awareness of the disease. Writer-directors Andrew Davies and Andre Schafer juxtapose clips from Hudson's action flicks and romantic comedies with commentary from his friends and colleagues, including writer Armistead Maupin, film critic Richard Dyer, and actress Salome Jens, who costarred with Hudson in his favorite (and the most atypical) of his films, John Frankenheimer's paranoid thriller Seconds (1966). Davies and Schafer probe the emotional cost of Hudson's social situation and also highlight the ironic subtext of his screen performances; in the end the actor's greatest role was "Rock Hudson" himself. 95 min. —Albert Williams Tue 11/9, 7:15 PM, Landmark's Century Centre
Role/Play This engaging comedy focuses on two men—a soap opera star and a gay activist—who meet at a Palm Springs guest house and fall in love. The actor has just been outed in the media, while the activist, an advocate for same-sex marriage, has been discredited after divorcing his husband. The romantic storyline is utterly predictable, but writer-director Rob Williams has some smart things to say about the Internet's corrosive invasion of privacy, the responsibilities of the gay press, and the difficulties that public figures in the gay community have balancing their public and personal lives. 85 min. —Albert Williams Sat 11/6, 2:30 PM, Landmark's Century Centre
The Stranger in Us Honest, idiosyncratic performances by newcomers Raphael Barker, Scott Cox, and Adam Perez drive this debut feature by Scott Boswell. Cutting back and forth in time, Boswell fashions a character study of a young, emotionally blocked writer and two guys he knows who embody different aspects of San Francisco gay life: a successful style consultant and a teenage runaway who survives by hustling on the street. 107 min. —Albert Williams Fri 11/5, 7 PM, Landmark's Century Centre
Strapped Tall, lanky newcomer Ben Bonenfant stars in this sexy, seriocomic chronicle of a young male prostitute's emotional odyssey. Wandering through the maze-like hallways of a San Francisco apartment building, the handsome hustler adopts a different persona to suit every new customer's needs—but a long night of erotic encounters helps him discover his own identity. Joseph Graham directed his own script. 95 min. —Albert Williams Sun 11/7, 7:15 PM, Landmark's Century Centre