Here are reviews of some of the movies that will be shown at Reeling: The Chicago LGBT International Film Festival Nov. 7-12. ( Next week's issue will feature films that will be shown Nov. 13-14. )
G.B.F. ( Nov. 7 ): Director Darren Stein returns to the "campy John Hughes" territory of his 1998 breakthrough, Jawbreaker, with another socially conscious high school comedy that's sometimes silly, sometimes hilarious. North Gateway High has a Gay-Straight Alliance but no out gays. You'd think everyone would know about Brent ( Paul Iacono ), "the queeny one," if not his BFF Tanner ( Michael J. Willett ), but if they do they respect the boys' right to come out when they're ready. Tanner is accidentally outed, but because we're trendy he finds three girls fighting to get him for their Gay Best Friend ( see title ). Talented, "sassy Black" Caprice, religious ( Mormon ) 'Shley and bitchy ( but secretly brainy ) Fawcett lead the school's largest cliques and are competing to be prom queen. They see Tanner as a desirable accessory. Megan Mullally plays Brent's mother, who can't wait for him to come out so she can be accepting.
Who's Afraid of Vagina Wolf? ( Nov. 8 ): I fell in love with Guinevere Turner in 1994 when I saw "Go Fish," an amateurish but endearing indie film about a group of lesbians. Most of the cast quickly abandoned acting careers but almost 20 years later Turner's back in another amateurish indie film about a group of lesbians. Having continued to develop as an actor, she stands out like a healthy thumb among the cast, even veteran Carrie Preston. This is a vanity project for producer-director-star Anna Margarita Albelo, who also conceived the semi-autobiographical story about an indie filmmaker turning 40 and trying to reach her annual goals of making a film, losing 20 pounds and getting a girlfriend. Incredibly, none of the women are attached, leaving open all kinds of romantic possibilities; but the focus is on Anna ( Albelo ), whose self-pitying, self-destructive behavior ( including chain smoking ) wins her no sympathy here.
Truth ( Nov. 8 ): Truth features more telegraphing than Western Union in its heyday. The first few seconds, with a closeup of crazed eyes and a hand grabbing a large knife, could come from another Psycho remake. There's a lot of flashing back and forth but once we settle into a story we have a long wait for those eyes and that knife to get down to business. A psychiatrist ( Blanche Baker ) is interviewing Caleb ( Sean Paul Lockhart ) in prison. Caleb claims he doesn't know why he's there, but agrees to tell his story "from the beginning." Although we go further back to explore his abandonment issues, life basically began for Caleb when he met and fell in love with Jeremy ( writer-director Rob Moretti ). The men lie around naked a lot discussing their miserable childhoods ( but in eight months Caleb never wonders where Jeremy lives ) before Truth becomes a somewhat more effective horror film than it was a romance.
Southern Baptist Sissies ( Nov. 9 ): Fans of Sordid Lives have doubtless bought their tickets to Del Shores' latest, which should ensure a sellout. Being a film of a Los Angeles stage production has its disadvantages but gives you closeups of actors crying real tears that the theater audience may have missed. It's about four boys growing up gay in a Baptist church in Dallas, and you know what that means. Mark ( Emerson Collins ) questions everything he hears in church. Benny ( William Belli ) floats above it all on a pair of high heels. Andrew ( Matthew Scott Montgomery ) believes it all and hates himself. TJ ( Luke Stratte-McClure ) believes it and fights temptation the "ex-gay" way. There are enough of Shores' fabulous one-liners to make you think you're watching a comedy, but there's a lot of seriousness too, especially toward the end. When things get too heavy Shores cuts to Leslie Jordan and Dale Dickey as a couple of barflies, but even they have serious moments. There's still potential for an actual film adaptation, but it's better to see "SBS" this way than not at all.
The Battle of AmfAR ( Nov. 9 ): I guess the headline should be that Elizabeth Taylor has a new movie! We don't need another AIDS documentary now, but this brief ( 40 minutes ) one by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman is classy and star-studded. Liz, Rock Hudson, Sharon Stone, Woody Allen — but the real star is Dr. Mathilde Krim, who used her husband's showbiz connections to jumpstart the American Foundation for AIDS Research ( AmfAR ) and begin searching for a cure and vaccine before Ronald Reagan made his one public utterance of the word "AIDS" ( at an AmfAR benefit ); and before Congress, lobbied by Ms. Taylor, passed the Ryan White Care Act to provide federal funds for HIV treatment and care. Epstein and Friedman find some new faces and angles to what's become an old story.
Geography Club ( Nov. 10 ): Another 21st-century version of a John Hughes movie, or maybe a very special episode of "Glee," "Geography Club" convincingly shows the pressures high school students are under: peer and parental, academic and athletic. Of course, lesbian and gay teens have it worst of all, especially at Goodkind High, where their miniscule support group ( including Alex Newell, Glee's Unique, and Nikki Blonsky, Hairspray's Tracy ) masquerades as the Geography Club to avoid discovery. Russell ( Cameron Deane Stewart ) isn't ready to come out until he's kissed by football star Kevin ( Justin Deeley, the current guardian angel on "Drop Dead Diva" ); then Russell's ready but Kevin isn't. Some contemporary kids won't believe school was ever like this, while others will be empowered to make sure it never is again.
I Am Divine ( Nov. 10 ): LGBT history is about more than struggle and disease. It's also a world of entertainment, including the most outrageous. Jeffrey Schwarz's documentary is nostalgia for the Stonewall Generation, bringing back memories of midnight movies that shocked us back when people could still be shocked. John Waters was "The Sultan of Sleaze." His muse and biggest star was his Baltimore neighbor, known to his family and friends as Harris Glenn Milstead but known to the world as Divine. This entertaining film tracks Glenn's story from a chubby, bullied kid to an international cult figure who had brought cross-dressing into the mainstream before dying too soon at 42. What's most heartening is how many goals he was able to achieve in his short life, including hit records, off-Broadway shows and being accepted as a character actor who could play male roles as well as female.
Hot Guys with Guns ( Nov. 11 ): Like a Scary Movie, Hot Guys with Guns takes a scattershot approach to spoofing various genres, starting pretty well with some film noir-style narration and a 007-inspired credit sequence; but what follows is neither noir nor Bond. It's about two amateur detectives, with a little help from a professional, investigating a series of crimes against L.A.'s gay community. Someone is robbing a series of circuit orgies in the private homes of Hollywood hotshots too famous and closeted to report the thefts. Danny ( Marc Anthony Samuel ) is an actor studying detective work for a role. He isn't over his ex, Pip ( Brian McArdle ), who assists him in his sleuthing. Pip still lives at home with his mother, although she and the miscast McArdle look about the same age. Samuel is the better actor, though a little low on personality. The hot guys are the extras in the orgy scenes but they get very little camera time. Despite better production values than many gay indies, Doug Spearman's direction fails in some key scenes and the plot would work better in a one-hour TV episode than a movie almost twice that length.
Interior. Leather Bar. ( Nov. 12 ): The mystery of James Franco deepens as the straight actor-filmmaker immerses himself in the gay scene once again. We'd all like to be the "right boy" we hope he just hasn't met yet. "Interior. Leather Bar." is a movie about the making of a movie about the making of a movie, William Friedkin's controversial Cruising. Now it gets complicated. The central figure is a straight actor, Val Lauren, who's conflicted about playing straight actor Al Pacino playing a straight detective who's conflicted about going undercover in the gay leather community. Franco and his out gay co-director Travis Mathews are ostensibly recreating 40 never-seen minutes of footage Friedkin was forced to cut to get an R rating, but about 50 minutes of this hourlong film takes place before or behind the scenes, as straight actors, including Franco, discuss boundary issues. A gay couple shows they have no boundaries in one of the few scenes from the actual shoot. Franco offers a few clues to his own motivation. Love it or hate it, you've never seen anything like this.