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SIFF's second week of GLBT cinema
by Herb Krohn - SGN Contributing Writer

For a full list of LGBT SIFF films visit www.siff.new or www.sgn.org.

Apron Strings
New Zealand
Coming-of-Age Drama
Rating: Very Good

An attractive young man goes about in search of his roots in modern New Zealand. The son of a popular Indian TV cooking show host, he ends up meeting and working for his aunt, who has no idea who he is, since she is estranged from her sister. A second intertwining plot revolves around a white woman who owns a bakery and her interactions with her middle-aged alcoholic problem gambler son and her adult daughter who is pregnant with a mixed-race child. This well-made drama intersects the lines of race, ethnicity, family lines, and sexual orientation in a realistic and yet sensitive manner.

The Baby Formula
Canada
Comedy
Rating: Bomb

What can you say about a comedy that really isn't very funny? The premise has potential, however, the screenplay is a bomb. The plot centers on a mockumentary theme involving a Lesbian couple who are in the midst of having a child through artificial insemination - or is it genetically engineered semen made from the stem cells of one of them, or is it the semen from the brother of one of them? The story quickly becomes so convoluted and the filmmakers so desperate for laughs that they bring in the in-laws. On one side, we have a fundamentalist Christian mother, an alcoholic grandmother, and a father who we learn in what is supposed to be a humorous scene that has Alzheimer's disease. On the other side we have a Gay male alcoholic couple as the other partner's parents. Throw in a biological development lab, scientists, and a mockumentary filmmaker who is completely intrusive and disrespectful to the subjects. The only thing missing is the kitchen sink; we already have lots of attempts at bathroom humor, arguments between the couple, clandestine pregnancy by the other partner, and family confrontations that are supposed to be funny. This film really stinks, and not just from the fart jokes. If you want to waste your hard-earned filmgoing dollar to see what is one of the worst North American LGBT films of the year, here is your chance!

Beauties at War
France (subtitled)
Comedy
Rating: Very Good

A longstanding rivalry between sister villages - one up on the mountains and wealthy, the other down at the base and working class - which centers on the annual beauty pageant, a preliminary round which eventually leading to the Miss France contest. The upper village has won nearly all of the contests over the years, and the lower village leaders - who learn that the two towns may be merged - realize this may be their last chance at victory. When they found out that the upper town hires a professional coach, they seek out and hire a non-resident village native who now is a middle-aged bit part actor in Paris. Of course, he knows nothing about running a beauty pageant, but is willing to give it a try since he is down on his luck. He returns to his hometown and becomes involved with his high school sweetheart, and goes about trying to help his hometown win. Once the upper village gets wind of this, they pull out all the stops to try to defeat their rivals once again, going so far as to hire a beauty queen from Hungary and arrange a temporary marriage to an aging local so her entry into the contest will be legal. While the humor is more subtle throughout most of the movie, the last 20 minutes erupts in madness. It's another well done French comedic entry at SIFF 2009.

The Firm Land
Iran/France/India
(subtitled)
Satire
Rating: Average

This film has an interesting plot: in a small village, people are getting sick and dying. The village elders choose a group of men to go to the big city and get help. They provide the men with cash to pay for attorneys and instructions not to return without assistance. When they arrive in the big city, they contact a former village resident who is well connected and give him the money to hire the lawyers, of course he takes the money and never delivers. The men become frustrated and begin a search for someone who will help them, finally meeting a retired professor who advises them to contact the Government Health Ministry. What this tale becomes is a profile of greed, incompetence, and the persistence of these unsophisticated villagers to get someone from the government to respond. Using humor and satire, this is an interesting plot and a worthwhile film - while a bit slow and plodding - and we can all relate to the experiences of these provincial countrymen who are far outside their league in trying to work through the bureaucracy and their first experience in a big city.

Miao Miao
Hong Kong (subtitled)
Romantic Comedy
Rating: Average

This is the tale of a new girl in school who is an exchange student from Japan, and her interactions with her new friends. When she goes on an expedition looking for a bakery from her grandmother's past, she stumbles on a record store run by a young man and former musician who hates listening to music. What the plot really amounts to is a four-person love square involving the two schoolgirls and two musicians, one of whom is deceased. It is a film that will keep your interest and is cute and humorous as well as touching. While there is nothing really outstanding or new in this flick, it is still a worthy effort, providing the viewers with a modern youthful Asian perspective on same-sex love. High production values, solid performances, and a worthwhile screenplay combine to make this film a reasonably entertaining entry.

Patrik Age 1.5
Sweden (subtitled)
Comedy
Rating: Very Good

This Swedish SIFF entry centers on a professional Gay male couple. One partner is a pediatrician who wants to raise a family. They apply with the state, set up a nursery, and await the arrival of their adoptive child. Soon they receive a letter telling them that an infant named Patrik, who is 18 months old, will soon arrive. When a 15-year-old teenaged juvenile delinquent by the same name and who despises homosexuals arrives at their door, things don't turn out as expected. The screenplay and the performances are rock solid, the humor is well done, and the plot lines are realistic and believable (except maybe for the storybook happy ending), all resulting in an absorbing and enjoyable film experience. This is another example of the progress of other countries in producing LGBT films that are a cut above such cinema made in North America. This one is worth your film going dollar just to see what films are produced elsewhere. Yes, this one is a little bit saccharine, but who cares when you find yourself engrossed in a movie.

Rain
Bahamas
Drama
Rating: Good

Rain is the title character, a teenaged girl who leaves her remote Caribbean island to go live in Nassau with her biological mother once her grandmother and primary caregiver dies. Soon after she arrives, she learns that her mother is an AIDS-infected, crack-addicted prostitute, but that doesn't make her a bad person. Rain finds a role model in the older female school track coach who takes her under her wing to give her the support she needs. The performances in this drama are excellent, and the audience will really relate to the characters and situations. What is even more well done is the conveyance of the message about the human condition and how even Rain's mother has value, morals, and is redeemable as a caring parent. This is an unusual film that is well worth seeing, especially due to the subject matter and the nation where it was produced.

Telstar
United Kingdom
Black Comedy
Rating: Very Good

Joe Meek was an early musical production pioneer who lived in London. This film centers on approximately seven years of his life, the music he made, and how naturally gifted as recording producer he was even without any formal instruction. Meek was also Gay, mentally unstable, and clearly addicted to speed, which obviously had a significant impact on his emotional instability. This film is fascinating to see because it covers the very early growth of rock and roll as a market and demonstrates how remarkable that many of the top rock hits of that era were produced in such primitive and wildly experimental recording studios. This film does not tell a very happy tale; nonetheless it is based on factual events and conveys a part of rock and roll music history that needs to be told. See it and be amazed!

A Woman's Way
Greece (subtitled)
Drama
Rating: Excellent

Wow! This one is a very challenging film. A middle-aged man gets out of prison after many years (we learn why he was imprisoned later in the film) and goes looking for his son. Instead he ends up hooking up with Transsexual prostitute he meets in an Athens hotel. Soon he begins a relationship with her while he continues to travel around to search for his lost son and sell the property he left when he was initially incarcerated. It isn't long before he finds his son, has to face the demons of his past - including why he went to prison - and as a result things begin to spiral out of control and he is forced to re-evaluate his entire life. To tell you any more would give away this excellent film's plot. You must see it and judge it for yourself. Nonetheless, it gives the viewers lots of things to think about. Let's hope this gets an American release.


Brothers Bloom a yarn of thieves and liars
by Maggie Bloodstone - SGN Contributing Writer

The Brothers Bloom
Now Playing


A couple years back, a book of highly unique and individual comic art was released under the title Art Out Of Time, a collection of graphic work from 1900-1969 that resisted categorization by a profit-driven industry and a readership interested in little more than a few fleeting moments of entertainment.

The Brothers Bloom is, in every sense, art out of time. Taking a cue from director Rian Johnson's brilliant Raymond-Chandler-goes-to-high-school debut Brick, The Brothers Bloom straddles several different genres and time periods from the Grimm's fairy tale-like opening to the bittersweet, not-exactly-Hollywood ending. It's part '30s screwball comedy, part '60s caper film, part '40s adventure serial, steeped in '90s indie spirit and served with '70s savvy - which might be why, like the comics The Wiggle Much and Hairbreadth Harry, it will probably have a tough time locating its audience. Your average spectator nowadays is strictly of the "Here we are now/ Entertain us" variety, with little time to ponder any creative work before moving on the next diversion. (They just don't make audiences like they used to.&)

Johnson's tale of fraternal fealty among flim-flammers trots energetically from the "one-hat town" of Stephen Bloom and Bloom's youth to Montenegro, to Greece, to Prague, to St. Petersburg, in pursuit of one last epic con before the baby Bloom (Adrien Brody) quits to seek an "unwritten life." The stage manager of their lives up to now has been Stephen (Mark Ruffalo), who "writes his cons the way dead Russians write novels" and who locates their "mark," Penelope (Rachel Weisz), the original madcap heiress who fills her idle moments teaching herself origami and chainsaw juggling. Bloom is smitten, and Penelope ends up an accomplice instead of a victim - for a while. Along with taciturn demolition expert Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), they pull off an intricate heist with the assistance of "The Curator" (Robbie Coltrane) and cross paths with their former mentor, "Diamond Dog" (Maximilian Schell). But the story doesn't end there&.

Speaking to Bloom about his brother, Diamond Dog compares Stephen to Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff: "If you look down in doubt, you'll fall." While watching The Brothers Bloom, one would do well to incorporate that sentiment - if one's attention wavers from the action for a moment, one is likely to miss a vital plot point or a quip worth repeating to friends, or an intricate bit of detail in the rich background scenery (Johnson & Co. actually manage to make New Jersey look, well, exotic!). This is not a film for the passive - like a successful con, it requires participation and belief on part of the mark/viewer. But unlike a great con, the mark is rewarded instead of manipulated. Johnson clearly trusts his audience to catch what's going on with deceptively simple, cleverly applied nuances - even a throwaway gag with a sugar dispenser underscores the Brothers' contentious relationship and a reference to Dickens, plus a hand on a knee, says all one needs to know about their relationship with Diamond Dog without going into gratuitous (and revolting) detail.

Even when the action seems to flag at the two-thirds point, it's in the service of setting up the darker and poignant final act, which spirals into a truly wrenching, multi-layered denouement. And the performances are uniformly flawless; Brody works hapless and huggable with equal skill, Ruffalo exudes properly boyish vigor, Weisz is a firecracker in the Carole Lombard mold (though I doubt Ms. Lombard would have been filmed waxing orgasmic during a thunderstorm onscreen), and Kikuchi's mostly mute Bang Bang says more with a sideways glance and a carafe of nitroglycerin than most actresses can muster in an entire film. And the supporting characters borrow from the best sources - Coltrane's dyspeptic, trigger-happy Curator could easily have been played by Peter Ustinov in another decade, and Schell's Diamond Dog leaves a Vincent Price-flavored trail of slime across the screen even when only his voice is heard (though Schell portrays a considerably leaner slice of ham than Price ever could).

With Pixar whimsy, Star Trek dreck, and the interminable Terminator hogging the box office this month, The Brothers Bloom stands a good chance of being overlooked. In the '80s, it would have promptly become a popular midnight movie with a devoted, dialog-repeating audience, but technology and the persistent existence of sincere film lovers should make it a must-have DVD, with oodles of great special features. Seldom has a story so dependent on dishonesty and manipulation succeeded in being so thoroughly honest and so downright, gosh-darned sweet. (And did I mention the drunk camel and the one-legged cat yet?)


Drag Me to Hell outrageously bad
by Rajkhet Dirzhud-Rashid - SGN A&E Writer

Drag Me to Hell
Now Playing


Some time ago, I got this screener for an Italian movie called The Beyond. Since my own technology isn't completely into the 21st century (I do at least have cable and a computer now), I took the DVD to view on my ex's bigscreen TV. The good news about that rather awful film was that at least it was funny, and to this day just the mention of it will provoke much laughter from both my ex and daughter, who saw it with me.

Unfortunately, Sam Raimi's newest experiment in terror, Drag Me to Hell, isn't funny - okay, there are moments that could be, in a future Wayans brothers spoof, and I'm sure there will be a spoof - and it isn't that scary, either. In fact, it was another one of those films where, at a certain point, I started looking at the main character's shoes - not a good sign for me if I'm reviewing a film, and believe me, even those shoes were pretty boring after a while.

Raimi, who did such a good job with Spider-Man (and, I guess, with the Evil Dead trilogy, since I never saw them and I can only guess), uses the sledgehammer technique this time, and not to good effect, trust me.

Alison Lohman stars as a lackluster loan officer in a divey bank, where she's in line for a promotion to executive loan officer (or something like that), if only she can get her snarky boss to notice and get him to ignore her brownnosing co-worker. So, one day, a cliché in gypsy garb - an old woman who looks like she'd be at home in the Hansel and Gretel stories as the wicked witch - shows up, begging Christine (Lohman) to give her more time on her loan so she's not on the street.

To her credit, mousey Christine does have a moment's sympathy and appeals to her boss to take pity on the poor old soul. Ah, but he holds that executive position out like a carrot, and, horse that she is, Chris falls like a house of cards, setting in motion a horrible curse from the outraged gypsy woman, who sends a lamia (a purely evil spirit who taunts the victim for three days, then on the third, drags them to hell) to make her pay.

With her lame-assed boyfriend (Justin Long, that guy from the PC/Mac commercials) in tow, she seeks help from yet another gypsy fortuneteller and the woman who first met the lamia after a young boy was dragged to hell in front of her.

Growing increasingly desperate after she's spewed blood all over her boss and co-workers (you know you're in the wrong job when your boss is more worried if blood got in his mouth than why your nosebleed has turned into a torrent), Chris slaughters her innocent cat (to no avail) and sits in on a useless séance that only makes matters worse. Finally, following the gypsy psychic's advice to return the object that bears the curse (a button from Christine's coat that was torn off by the old woman in a fight that's as much comic as horrifying), our completely clueless "heroine" digs up the old woman, who died after losing her house, and forces the envelope she thinks the button's in down the dead woman's throat. And even though she nearly drowns after an instant rainstorm floods the open grave, Christine survives to meet her boyfriend and make a dash to get away from her recent past. Ah, but things don't go her way after all, and maybe someone who forces a clerk to open a store just so she can buy a new coat and who kills her cat and who puts a promotion over an old woman's ability to keep her home should suffer going to hell. Hey, I didn't say this film made any sense, now did I? Personally, I'd wait for the DVD to see Drag Me to Hell, then you can invite friends over, make popcorn and make fun of the many outrageously bad acting moments and ridiculous special effects.


The Hangover an intoxicating good time
by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

The Hangover Opening June 5

You've seen this movie before - a group of guys head to Vegas for a bachelor's party and get tangled up with hookers, local police, and seedy characters. There's lots of booze, nudity here and there, a bitchin' soundtrack, a wedding chapel scene, and casino shots a plenty.

So if you're going to re-hash a concept that's been tried before, even with horrible results (Very Bad Things, anyone?), you may as well go for louder, crazier, wackier, vulgar-er, and ultimately funnier. The Hangover, a new film starring a reliable cast led by Bradley Cooper (Nip/Tuck), succeeds in most, if not all, of these departments.

Doug Billings (Justin Bartha) is two days away from marching down the aisle when he embarks on an overnight trip to Sin City with best friend Phil (Cooper), dentist buddy Stu (Ed Helms), and almost brother-in-law Alan (comedian Zach Galifianakis). After checking into a swanky villa at Ceasars Palace, the 30-something quad begin the festivities atop the hotel's roof with a Jagermeister toast. From there, it's entirely downhill.

Signs of a wild night appear in the next scene: beer-can pyramids, smoke rising from an electronic device, live chicken on the loose, tilted flatscreen, feather boa draped over a lamp, a full grown tiger in the bathroom, and a crying baby in a closet. No one seems to remember a thing, and it's quickly discovered that the groom-to-be is missing - that's right, gone with just 24 hours to get him back home for the wedding. With no memory of the previous night's chain of events, thanks to a surprise ingredient in their drinks atop that roof, the only way to find Doug's current whereabouts is to retrace their steps upon arrival.

As information is pieced together from various sources, we learn that one of the men got hitched to a prostitute, the silver Rolls Royce they drove into Vegas has been replaced with a stolen police car, a broken tooth was part of a stupid dare, and the tiger actually belongs to a well-known athlete. Enter a flamboyant Chinese man named Mr. Chow, who mysteriously leaps out of a trunk buck naked, plus a liquor store clerk/drug dealer, and the plot becomes a bit zanier.

Similar to dude flicks like Superbad, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Role Models, The Hangover is a film about guys, for guys - it's intended for a young male demographic, and it works. Homoerotic references are everywhere, something that grew from the American Pie franchise in the late '90s and has been welcomed by Gay movie fans. During a scene in which Phil calls Stu "Dr. Faggot," I laughed as much as the guy sitting next to me, a Seattle Art Institute student who I befriended minutes before the start of the film. I also thought a scene, in which a jock strap-wearing Alan hugs a surprised yet receptive Doug, was hilarious and strangely cute - we seldom see straight men showing affection to one another, though we know they're capable of doing so.

Eye candy is provided first and foremost by Bartha, who's steadily gained popularity from Failure to Launch and both National Treasure blockbusters. His bookend appearance in The Hangover gives him little screen time, but when he's on the screen you just can't look away. Cooper, who stripped to his underwear on this season's Nip/Tuck, will undoubtedly see his star rise with this role and an upcoming stint as the Green Lantern. Galifianakis is one of America's top comedy performers, packing audiences to sold-out shows from Seattle to New York - his inexperienced acting chops are evident, though he's such an oddball you can't help but laugh just by his presence in every scene. Incidentally, Galifianakis is the lone cast member to bare any skin in the film - twice, in fact. Helms is widely known for playing Andy Bernard in the Emmy Award-winning series The Office and is delightfully maniacal in this motion picture.

The Hangover isn't anything special; it isn't competing for any awards or critical acclaim. This is a movie that isn't supposed to be taken seriously, there's nothing in it with an ounce of seriousness - it's all fun and games. In attempting to be hysterical and silly, it makes its case, and there were many times the capacity-filled theater erupted in thunderous laughter. I was quite entertained by it, and will take my straight roommate to a screening of it for his birthday when it opens this weekend - what's not to love about booze, harmless shenanigans, and a backdrop of Vegas, nicely promoted with gratuitous exterior and interior shots?

You can form a queue with the pretentious types for a SIFF screening, or you can see The Hangover and double your fun. If what you really want is a good dose of the giggles, the line starts here.



SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Stars of SIFF's American Primitive
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: RENT's iconic Anthony Rapp
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Fischerspooner turns in disappointing results
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Wunderkind Joshua Roman returns to Seattle
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PNB scores with "Director's Choice"
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SCUBA provocative and edgy dance
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SIFF's second week of GLBT cinema
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Brothers Bloom a yarn of thieves and liars
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Drag Me to Hell outrageously bad
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B-52s, JoBros, Staples all in June
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Q-Scopes by Jack Fertig
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American Idol, Sticky & Sweet, Hannah Montana, Asher Roth
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Trans dating adventures with my slave
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Deep Inside Hollywood - Romeo San Vicente
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The Hangover an intoxicating good time
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Book Marks
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